No info, no camp, no way to go back.
That’s how my hunter landed on Hoarfrost Reach when I started Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. At this point, I’m no stranger to this kind of transition between ranks within the franchise, and this game isn’t even the most unforgiving of all of them. The rank system always worked like this: you reach a certain point where you have to go into upper layers of difficulty and the way you act in combat must advance as well; having no levels nor any form of experience points, the game forces you to improve as a player and how you move in the world that surrounds you.
As soon as the introduction finishes, we find ourselves in a new central town. Like Astera back in the day, Seliana houses all the facilities and NPC’s we need to craft our equipment and acquire the items we’ll need on our explorations. But the big improvement is the accessibility; while in Astera every NPC felt too apart from each other, this time both the town and the gathering hub are very condensed areas that allow us to travel fast from the blacksmith to the kitchen and back to our new house. If the new town wasn’t enough, now we have a fully customizable house where we can display all kinds of unlockable content, such as wallpapers, floor tiles, curtains, and even a cute Quest Handler portrait.
Story and plots never were a strong point in Monster Hunter, the whole idea is to hunt big monsters with a variety of oversized weapons anyway, but it’s fair to say that Capcom is getting better and better at story cutscenes in the franchise. While earlier games would feature wildlife documentaries as cutscenes, we now get to see the whereabouts of the secondary characters introduced in Monster Hunter World and even get to care about them while the Iceborne story develops, as they have to deal with the new monsters they come across.
And not only we got a cool amount of new monsters to deal with (three new elder dragons out of the blue? How cool is that?), we also got well-received comebacks in Iceborne, such as Tigrex, Zinogre, Nargacuga and Brachydios (round of applause, please). Those well-known foes come back with a new variety of movements, and new versions of their signature theme songs, but don’t get too comfy; while they still have some of the old movements, you’ll quickly notice that they are adapted to the new world dimensions and that can be a very hard challenge to overcome, as they generally are very aggressive and agile opponents: In example, Zinogre’s jumps or electric attacks with the new size scale can be way more complicated to evade, and the Nargacuga’s tail drop hits a lot harder than older iterations of that attack. It’s worth noting that Barioth got a wide variety of new movements and behavior, making it so annoying that it can catch you totally off-guard even if you are a veteran.
On the combat side, all weapons were re-balanced with the addition of the Clutch Claw; this new tool takes the fights to another level, adding a new variety of strategies involving climbing into the monster or even making them crash against walls. Several skills such as Tenderizer now work differently involving said tool, and while some will say they nerfed them, it just adds a few conditions that in the end helps us to get better at hunting. And thankfully, they finally balanced the elemental and status damage, with a new roster of skills that encourage the players to try more elemental-based builds and not only pure raw or critical builds. Skills like Coalescence or the Velkhana Divinity skill are now good options to make elemental builds, and Poison Damage got a big buff, making it way more viable than in older games.
In Monster Hunter World, areas took a new dimension that continues to develop in Iceborne. The amount of information in front of us when we first land on the Hoarfrost Reach is overwhelming, and you must move fast in order to find a way to settle in this newly discovered island (and of course, unlock the new content), only to get greeted by one of the new monsters, Beotodus. Just like that, with no clue of what’s going on, you start your journey into master rank.
Having advanced far into the base content and having reached the High-rank endgame, it gave me enough confidence to go against this newfound foe, but shortly after the start of the battle, the cold truth hits you right in the face: Your equipment, your skills, are not enough. To me, that’s what I like the most of Monster Hunter as a whole: the feeling of vulnerability that goes with you every time you meet a new challenge, and how uncertain the outcome of that battle seems to be until it happens. Every time I see a giant lizard charging fast to me I still feel the eagerness I felt with my first MonHan game, and every time I finish a mission in Iceborne, no matter if it’s an old or new monster, it fills me with pure satisfaction and accomplishment.