Monster Hunter: World Iceborne hands-on preview – winter wonderland

Monster Hunter: World Iceborne – Banbaro is not to be trifled with

GameCentral hunts some monsters in Capcom’s new expansion and finds the epic-sized co-op battles even more fun than ever.

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The problem with reviewing video games for a living is that you rarely get time to go back to a favourite after it launches, as you have to immediately move onto something else. That’s a particular problem for games as a service titles, as they can rapidly change out of all recognition in just a few months. When you do return, you find a mountain of new content has sprung up out of nowhere and it can all seem strangely unfamiliar. Or, as is the case with Monster Hunter: World, you’re simply reminded of what a good game it was in the first place.

At this point Monster Hunter doesn’t need much introduction, which is not something we thought we’d ever be saying. After spending decades as a niche title in the West, despite being one of the biggest franchises ever in Japan, the release last year of Monster Hunter: World proved the breakthrough the series had always need. In the end the secret to its Western success was simple: release it on home consoles rather than portables and switch the co-op focus from local to online.

Interestingly, relatively little else about the game was changed, and while the graphics were obviously better than ever before – with a proper contiguous open world environment – the game only offered relatively minor concessions in terms of accessibility and the depth of options. As it turned out, all that was needed was some tweaks at the foundational level, to make the game more suited to Western gaming culture, and the rest took care of itself.

Iceborne takes a surprisingly old-fashioned approach to expansions, in that it’s sold separately and requires the original game to run. But it does seem to be a very substantial addition, with Capcom comparing it to the difference between Monster Hunter 4 and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. Everything centres around an icy new landmass, which is filled with both familiar monsters and many new ones – some subspecies of existing creatures and others never seen before.

There are no new weapon classes, but not only do the new monsters mean new armour but there’s a new cosmetic layer that goes on top of old ones, so that even if you’re wandering around in a bikini-like outfit you can wear some warmer-looking furs on top. The cold is obviously a major problem and, like Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, picking berries to create hot drinks is vital to your survival.

We started our hands-on with a hunt for a Beotodus, a ‘piscine wyvern’ that is essentially a land shark that swims under the surface of the snow – so getting it onto rocks is key, if you can plan that far ahead with laying traps and bombs. We were tackling the hunt alone though, so most of the time we were happy just to be dodging out of its way enough to avoid being killed straight away.

Like we said, it’d been a while since we’d played the game, but we slipped back into it surprisingly quickly. Using a switch axe (which transforms from a sword to an axe) called Chrome Machina the trick to Monster Hunter’s combat has always been knowing when to time your strikes. Most of the weapons need a considerable wind-up and while you can do a fast dodge the combat can seem clumsy to new players expecting to be able to button bash their way to victory.

We even managed to make good use of the new clutch claw, which allows you to jump on top of a dizzied monster and either attack it or try and move it so that is knocks into a wall or off a cliff. In the end it took us about 30 minutes to beat him, which we were fairly satisfied with given there were a few streamers present, who play it every day, and it still took them around 15 minutes. Plus, some people apparently left the event without beating any of the monsters.

Monster Hunter: World Iceborne – there are now smaller critters you can ride around on

Not only is Iceborne a separate purchase but you also need to be level 16 before you can tackle any of its content, after which you can start to level up for the new Master rank hunts (equivalent to G rank from previous games). Given that requirement, we had feared that Iceborne would turn out to punishingly difficult from the off but it really wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t easy but teaming up with another player we then went on to tackle a Banbaro – a cross between a goat and a dragon with huge antlers that it likes to use to pick up and throw boulders or roll huge snowballs.

The other player was armed with a sword and shield combo called Chrome Fortress and together we started to get stuck in, trying to learn the Banbaro’s abilities and tells – the latter being vital given the long wind-up for most of your attacks. Up to this point we’d been enjoying re-immersing ourselves into the game but the real magic of Monster Hunter came when we caused enough damage to the Banbaro to make it try and escape, its mad flight causing it to run into another Beotodus.

What followed almost felt like an ad hoc Godzilla movie, in which we were happy observers, as the two huge creatures tore into each other in what looked like a choreographed fight but had happened purely by chance through emergent gameplay.

The Banbaro won but it was sufficiently injured that we were able to finish it off with relative ease. Flush with success we then opted to take on a Viper Tobi-Kadachi, a regional variation of one of the creatures from the base game that can poison you with almost every attack. It got into a fight with a different Banbaro and we thought our luck might be in, but the two had only a minor quarrel and although a relatively small beast the poison attacks of the Tobi-Kadachi did for us before we could reach for an antidote.

By then our time was up anyway and we were more than happy with everything we’d seen. Clearly Iceborne is not the place to start for new players but it should encourage them that Monster Hunter: World is a game well worth investing in, even though this is intended as an end to the Monster Hunter: World storyline. What comes after is currently a mystery but as good as it seems to be Iceborne alone is unlikely to sate the West’s newfound love for monster hunting.

Formats: PlayStation 4 (previewed), Xbox One, and PC
Price: £34.99
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: 6th September 2019 (PC TBC)
Age Rating: 16

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