Monster Hunter is hilarious. I'm wading through a chest-high snow drift as a sinister fin roams around the clearing. The piranha-like Beotodus swims under the snow looking for an opportunity to explode from beneath like a great white puncturing a seal. My instincts tell me to unsling the enormous sword-axe on my back and fight back, but instead I'm chugging cocoa from a steaming flask. Seconds feel like minutes as my character glugs, glugs, glugs, and the fin lurches dangerously in my direction.
Just in time the animation finishes, I dive roll sideways as Beotodus erupts from the snow with a spinning tail attack. The monster's body clips me and I fall backwards onto my butt. A bit of health lost, but could be worse. The main thing is I have another window I can use to stuff my face. I pull out an enormous chunk of meat and watch the circling fin again as I chomp... chomp... chomp.
High-risk snacking is an integral part of the Monster Hunter experience, and that's still true in the massive Iceborne expansion, which adds a huge snowy zone, new monsters, new weapons, and new crafting opportunities. The game has very funny running-while-swigging animations because the developers know how tense and necessary these moments are to a successful hunt. The Beotodus's claws inflict a new chilling status effect that slowly eats away my stamina bar. The hot drink gives me some resistance to that and other cold effects, and the well done steak restores huge chunks of lost stamina bar. My feline Palico buddy hits me with a vigour wasp to restore my lost health—thanks, chum—and I'm back to fighting form.
Later I learn that instead of the hot drink, I could have taken a run through a hot spring to hold back the chill. You can spot these little oases by the gentle heat shimmer, warm colouration, and hosts of tiny otter-things taking a happy bath. Iceborne really wants you to feel the cold. Frost coats your weapon as you fight, snow deforms realistically under your feet, and drifts can slow you down at crucial moments. Watch out for cold streams too, I lingered in one too long and was reduced to a shivering wreck.
After spending a few hours with Iceborne, I don't know what more I could want from a Monster Hunter World expansion. I'm not particularly interested in new weapon archetypes—there are ten or so I still haven't mastered—but the addition of new grappling moves and combo possibilities does just enough to broaden the charge blade moveset I'm familiar with.
You use left-trigger to aim the grapple and press circle to launch it at a monster. The range is deceptively short, so it's something you use when you're already close to combat engagement range. If you hit, you grapple to the monster's hide. From there you can hop between sections—haunch, to back, to head—and land a couple of strong blows before dismounting. It's a different attack to the familiar leap-to-back attack that lets you repeatedly stab the monster until it falls over. The grapple is good for closing on a monster that likes to dart about quickly (*shakes fist at Odogaron*), and it lets you target bodyparts. Smashing Beotodus' legs stops it from afflicting you with that nasty chilled debuff.
The new landmass is larger than any of the existing zones. The four or five areas I explored were relatively flat, but the north of the map is dominated by a mountain where I'd hope to see taller locations reminiscent of the coral highlands. There are a few underground caverns too, where the floor is a glossy, transparent sheet of blue ice. The zone is rich with new plantlife and new types of ore to mine, and there is a lot of new ambient wildlife, such as skunk-like creatures that like to jump on you and claw your face until you shake them off.
There are a lot of other small but welcome additions. Overclothes let you keep your armour set bonuses but change your appearance to something more fitting for the wintry climes of Iceborne. There's a new camp where your utilities are much more conveniently arranged and easy to access. Crucially, there's a new chef brigade in the kitchen. I don't know why the sight of a homely cat massaging salt flakes into a hunk of beef makes me smile, but that's the peculiar charm of Monster Hunter. Sure, it's a game about hunting down beautiful creatures and stealing their bones, but it's all done with a powerful sense of enthusiasm and fun. Monster Hunter is hilarious.
Monster Hunter: World Iceborne is coming to PC in January 2020.