Iceborne stands as the first major expansion to Monster Hunter: World and it introduces a new master class, countless improvements to the base game, and new story content fixated on side characters such as The Handler. At Cologne we entered the frosty new region and made battle with three different monsters that returning fans will likely remember fondly. Things were as punishing as we remembered though as we shamefully exited the demo booth only having slain one of the new beasts.
Within the demo build, there were three different quests of varying difficulty that we could select from and the first tasked us with slaying the mighty Banbaro. This mighty Brute Wyvern actually makes its debut within Iceborne and it proved to be a formidable foe, charging at us with its mighty horns like a bull and digging up snowballs and trees to toss in our direction. As we alluded to earlier, this was the only monster that we were able to beat within the short preview session and we think that this is largely because the beast was quite lumbering and slow and really set itself up for hits right after firing parts of the environment our way. We should also add that we encountered another monster in this quest, Brachydios, the poster boy from Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, which actually proved to be an unexpected ally engaging in a turf war with the Banbaro and depriving it of much of its health.
The next beast that we encountered was a Tigrex that long-time fans will likely remember as variants of it have appeared in Monster Hunter Generations and Monster Hunter Stories. This yellow and blue striped creature seemed like an odd fit for the cold as its scaly skin wasn't coated with thick fur to protect it from the harshness of the brewing winter. It was possibly the toughest encounter in this demo as its rapid and erratic movements were hard to predict and it would lunge forward, snapping its jaw and spinning around to smack us in the face with its tail. It also used the new environment as part of its attacking pattern as it slammed its claws into the ground and sent shards of ice hurtling towards us.
Another fresh face and perhaps the coolest monster that we have seen so far from the Iceborne expansion is Velkhana, an elder dragon with ice crystals infused in its head, wings and tail. This was the beast that featured prominently within the Gamescom day one trailer and we were excited to do battle once learning it was present in the demo. When grappling with this beast it would soar up in the air attempting to freeze us solid with its icy breath and would make shards of ice shoot up from the ground beneath us. This creature was our favourite by design and we felt it justified the setting of the expansion much more as a similar threat wouldn't be able to exist elsewhere in World. We lost miserably here but we should note that we were only given 20 minutes instead of the typical 50 and we were forced to play solo and not with the help of other journos.
The environment within Frostborne is absolutely gorgeous and it's the first time that we have seen frosty areas in the series in HD (as these were not present within World). Within the frosty landscape, we found woolly mammoths, caves lined with hanging stalactites, and new ways in which the environmental conditions affected the gameplay that we are used to. Now, for example, you will need to pack a hefty supply of hot drinks or else the elements will get to you and your stamina bar will be shortened leaving you vulnerable. In battle, we found that geysers under the ice would erupt sending us flying into the air and the ice beneath us once cracked sending us and the duelling monster hurtling down the edge of a cliff.
We should also mention that Iceborne is only playable when players hit Hunter Rank 16 and this requires that the main story has been completed. This means that new players cannot simply jump into the experience from day one but the devs have explained that they're introducing a master rank that starts after HR16 and that naturally builds on what was already in the game. We weren't able to experience the new master rank content nor were we able to see any of the story content that was teased to offer more of a backstory for the NPCs within World. That said, what we saw in Cologne and the recently announced crossover with Horizon: Zero Dawn - The Frozen Wilds still gives us plenty to mull over until the ever-closer release of Iceborne.
From what we've seen here at Gamescom, Iceborne appears to be more of the punishing yet deeply addictive monster slaying goodness from World and that is only a good thing. The newfound snow-coated setting makes for some stunning visuals and provides a habitat that feelings naturally appropriate for newer monsters Velkhana and Banbaro. We can't wait to delve into the new story content and see what collaborations the expansion might hold.
Monster Hunter: World - Iceborne releases September 6 on PS4 and Xbox One and is due to arrive on PC at the later date of January 2020. In the meantime, be sure to keep an eye out in the coming days for our interview with core developers Ryozo Tsujimoto, Kaname Fujioka and Daisuke Ichihara.