Monster Hunter has always had a unique tradition when expanding their already existing games. It’s  Capcom’s distinct flavour: re-release a game, slap an “Ultimate” on the title, and triple the amount of content within it. Needless to say, the announcement of a DLC expansion was quite the surprise deviation from their normal concoction, but so was 2018’s Monster Hunter World. Enter Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, an all-new expansion that aims to add a surprising amount of new features to the New World, alongside a staggering amount of new content.

From the offset, it’s obvious that Capcom has taken the core of World’s mechanics back to the workbench. Slight tweaks and new additions are masterfully soldered onto the main board, nary a hint of flux spilling over the connections.

Tweaks are best observed through weapons: each weapon now has new combo or utility options providing more tactical methods for weakening the titular monsters. The acrobatic Insect Glaive has been blessed with the ability to buff the Kinsect by feeding it a slinger shot. The fast-and-vicious dual blades now have an Evasive Shot combo option which lets them to dodge and shoot at monsters mid-combo. Compared to the game’s original launch, combat now flows more gracefully than ever; while MHW didn’t need drastic improvements, every new change is for the better.

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Most importantly, Iceborne sees the addition of the revolutionary Clutch Claw, which is hands down the best tool Monster Hunter has ever introduced. Traditionally, it’s used to grapple onto monsters, steer them like a Nissan, and then slam them into walls with a satisfying crunch. Other techniques hidden beneath the surface provide true mastery: the claw can be used to give allies time to heal by driving Monsters away, to guide Monsters into traps your team have previously set up, or even just to force aforementioned Monsters into an environmental trap. In some cases, you can even interrupt an attack that would otherwise be fatal. At the cost of your entire slinger clip, a good Clutch Claw can turn a fight in your favour in seconds.

On top of various combat improvements, developmental focus has clearly been shifted to tackle a large variety of quality of life improvements. The slinger can now be used with your weapon out which, while useful in tense situations, can be a bit finicky with weapons like the bow or glaive; monster materials are now easier to spot; there are difficulty adjustments for two players and bonus rewards for helping out lower rank players. Capcom has done well to reform World’s unusual quirks.

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No quality of life improvement is more obvious than the reinvigorated layouts of Iceborne’s latest Gathering Hub and Seliana. Gone are the days of painstakingly navigating the many chains of Astera like an urban Tarzan. Both the new town and hub have everything you need pre-hunt in a concise area, making it easy to navigate from armoury to cook. The additional boon of no loading screens between preparing for and partaking in your glorious cooperative Uragaan slaughter is also a huge plus.

There are even some new features to be found within these new areas. Moving into the Monster Hunter equivalent of the industrial revolution, Seliana sees the introduction of the Steamworks, an area which allows you to button mash your way to easy potion farming and other items. Despite being a simple minigame, there’s still a great deal of fun can be had. You also get a new room, both bigger and better than the last, with more room for pets, an aquarium and, to top it off, your room is fully customisable. From banners to beds, you can choose what to change, unlocking more options as you hunt and complete quests.

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Visually, both of these new locales are equally impressive. Seliana provides a feel that can only be described as chill in both meanings of the word. While, in contrast, the new Gathering hub, filled with its steam baths and hot springs, provides the perfect warm jovial atmosphere of a multiplayer meeting spot. If you ever felt like you needed a more energetic environment to trot around before taking on a particularly difficult quest, you’ve got it.

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And it’s the temptation of taking on Iceborne’s undeniably difficult quests that gets the hunting spirit truly flared; there’s often that “just-one-more-try” mentality that has always appeared upon quest failure. The instances of hunting down a particularly big beastie is as enthralling as ever, especially with the snow-blanketed mountains of the Hoarfrost Reach as your latest hunting grounds. You’ll spend most of your time searching the depths and highs of this beautiful snow covered landscape looking for monsters and recruiting new Grimalkynes, the Boaboa, and, of course, battling some terrifying monsters.

While some on the surface, some appear like a reskin, it’s clear that each and every monster feels unique. There are new monsters to battle, including the surprising chilling Beotodus; who doesn’t feel like a Jyuratodus reskin, though he rightfully should, alongside a number of unique subspecies evolutions of monsters from the base game. There are even some more basic Variation monsters which unfortunately just feel like the original monster with a couple attacks.  Ironic given that the original World monsters now have Master Rank fights with extra moves making them more interesting and occasionally more infuriating; I’m looking at you Tzitzi.

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Franchise veterans will also be happy to know a few favourites, like Nargacuga and Brachydios, make their explosive return. Some of the best fights in the game come from these tried and true behemoths, which makes witnessing their Turf Wars in World’s updated quality all the more sweeter.

Monster Hunter World Iceborne is a phenomenal addition to an already phenomenal game. While there are a few hiccups along the way, these are minor and are greatly outshone by the various new monsters, quality of life changes and new locations. Iceborne is potentially good enough to make World the ultimate version of Monster Hunter.

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