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The best way to play Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is nearly here

2020 is kicking off with a bang! And a crunch, bash, slice, stab—each several thousand times over, into the soft underbellies of very large and very panicked fauna. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is finally hitting PC on January 9, and we have early access to the grand expansion (shh, I know it came out on consoles months ago). I loved Monster Hunter World, so I'm jazzed the best way to play it is nearly here. Check out the PC version in action in the video up top. 

If you're a lapsed player like me, someone who tore through the base game but only dabbled in the endgame as new monsters and events were released, it's important to know what Iceborne is and what kind of Monster Hunter player it's for. 

I'm just a few hours in, and I can't talk about the story after a certain point (not that the MH lore is something to worry about), but I like what I'm seeing so far. It's cold and pretty and more difficult than ever, but the new layered armor system means I'll be making cool clothes out of every last organism in this world, no matter the challenge. Or ethical dilemma. 

Iceborne is difficult: it's balanced for the endgame crowd

It took 40 minutes to kill Iceborne's first monster with the gear I ended with in the base game, the product of about 60 hours of play. Puny numbers to a series vet, big numbers to a fervent but infrequent fan. 

I mean, I'm still getting to grips with the controls again and it took me a bit to realize that the default key assignments had changed since I last played, but I don't think those things mattered much. The damage I was doing wasn't enough, which is why it dragged on for so long. Iceborne marks the beginning of a new power curve, a steeper one that's going to be extra exhausting for the more casual crowd, but—hopefully—all the more satisfying in the end. I'm already feeling encouraged to dip back into the old zones to gear up and get truly prepared for Iceborne. The loop begins again. 

I have no doubt the MH loyalists with hundreds or thousands of hours will breeze through these early battles, but lapsed players shouldn't expect to hit the ground running. Iceborne introduces Master Rank and isn't joking around with the title. To be as prepared as possible to take some big hits, you should take on Behemoth to earn the Drachen armor.

Capcom has thrown new and lapsed players a bone with Defender weapons and Guardian armor sets, though. They're the new base level item, cheap and available right now, before Iceborne is even out. They're meant to help you plow through Monster Hunter World's campaign or original endgame challenges. Several of the Defender weapons are the best in their slot, meaning you can go into Iceborne knowing you're doing an appropriate amount of damage. The Guardian armor, though, is nowhere near the best, so take on Behemoth if you want better protection.

So far, having this gear hasn't made Iceborne that much easier. The first few monsters can still easily deplete half of my HP with one or two direct hits. If you haven't been putting the work in, you'll need to put it in now to be in fighting shape come January.

The fashion game is bigger and better

Layered armor opens up as you murder more wildlife.  (Image credit: Capcom)

Layered armor is a stand-in for the transmog system (which is also on the way, assuming PC gets the same console updates) where you can craft purely cosmetic armor sets that simply change the appearance of your actual armor. Looking good is my favorite aspect of the game— setting my own goals according to what cool clothes I want next, so more ways to update my look without busting my stats is great news. 

The environment is a much bigger factor

Now you won't just have to juggle health, stamina, and dodging monster attacks. Iceborne's frigid environment also wants to mess up your day.  

Deep snow can slow movement and reduce visibility, so steering the battle towards clear ground is always on the mind. You're also constantly fighting the onset of Iceblight from monster attacks, which makes you consume stamina faster. Then there's Cold, which reduces the size of your stamina bar over time. You'll need to craft Hot Drinks or know where the nearest hot spring is to offset those effects. It's a lot to take in at once, let alone manage constantly. 

Brrr... (Image credit: Capcom)

Some armor sets and stats eventually allow you to offset these new negative effects, effectively part of that new power curve, but getting the ideal gear won't be easy. 

It all emphasizes the scavenging and preparation game of Monster Hunter. I can tell I'll need to think harder about what to bring with me. Monsters hit harder, the snow wants to swallow me up, and the new area Hoarfrost Reach is one massive zone that's pretty easy to get lost in. Iceborne is about extending your stamina in every way. Fights are longer, filling out that 50-minute limit with ease early on. Keeping up on supplies, knowing where certain herbs spawn in the world, and knowing exactly what to bring for a particular fight feel more important than ever.

James is PC Gamer’s bad boy, staying up late to cover Fortnite while cooking up radical ideas for the weekly livestream. He can still kickflip and swears a lot. You’ll find him somewhere in the west growing mushrooms and playing Dark Souls.