Monster Hunter: World – Iceborne is one very dense expansion for a very dense game. It cakes on the complexity with all-new abilities, monsters, and weapons. But the real dirt doesn’t start to kick up until after the credits roll. Like the rest of the series, the new MHW endgame is where most hardcore players will spend the most time. It’s all about hunting for better weapons, farming materials, and grinding for Master Rank in a new locale called the Guiding Lands. This process does look very different in Iceborne than it did before. Sadly, it’s still quite a grind — and not in the way I like from these games.
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It all begins after you defeat the so-called Old Everwyrm. This bug-eyed beast serves a similar function as Xeno’Jiva in the main game; it’s a goofy lizard you get to beat up as the final boss. Once you do, you unlock the second new zone in Iceborne after the Hoarfrost Reach. This hidden area is called the Guiding Lands, and it functions very differently than anything else in MHW.
Most regions are just oversized combat arenas. You go there, find a monster, and fight it. Maybe it will leave to a different part of the region. But you basically always know what you’re fighting when you select a mission. The one exception is on Expeditions: when you enter a zone without any mission or target in mind. Almost nobody ever uses these. Why would you, when there’s no explicit reward? At least there didn’t used to be.
The Guiding Lands, while technically just one landmass, condense most of the other zones in MHW. There’s a desert (the Wildspire Waste), a jungle (the Ancient Forest), and so on. But the real big difference is that you can only go there on Expeditions. The monsters? Mostly random. The rewards? Mostly unique. Monsters and mining deposits drop special items only found in the Guiding Lands. When you’re done, you bring those back home to play around with a new system of weapon augmentations.
The modifications range from critical hit chance to elemental damage buffs. Some of the changes even alter how your weapons look. Maybe you’ve heard people grousing about weapons in Iceborne looking “ugly,” or not distinct enough. Well, you can make adjustments with the new augmentations.
Here’s the catch: The Guiding Lands are a big ol’ grind. The monsters may be random, but their overall power is determined by how much you farm. Kill a monster in the desert zone and you level that area up — along with the monsters that can appear there. Harvest ore and bones from the mini Coral Highlands, and they will start to be rarer and rarer over time.
Grinding in the New Monster Hunter Endgame
Every time one of the subsections levels up, though, one of the other areas has a chance to level down. Lost progress is never fun; it’s especially bad when you’re not actually failing. The XP reductions are clearly just designed to keep you fighting the same monsters again, and again, and again. Which is… fair, to a point. That’s Monster Hunter, baby! Not to mention the Iceborne bench is pretty deep, and only about to get bigger with free updates. There’s a Super Saiyan gorilla I’m very excited to tango with later this year.
But this isn’t the kind of grinding that makes MHW enjoyable. The idea is to kill or capture monsters, turn their hides into gear, and use that equipment to fight even bigger baddies. The downside is that you don’t always get what you want — rare drops can be annoying. Yet there’s usually something to put those extra parts you acquire towards. The Elder Melder, for instance, lets you melt down monster bits into useful items. Whereas these abstract XP bars serve no function but to gate creatures like Zinogre, Yian Garuga, and… some other surprises I won’t spoil here.
Monster Hunter: World had the same issue. You had to grind Hunter Rank to reach certain thresholds. It was annoying back then, too, and made it hard for friends to play together until everyone reached the arbitrary number. To see Capcom walk into the same rake is a bit of a disappointment. That’s especially true when the rest of Iceborne is so damn good. The new monsters, the Clutch Claw, improved weapon balance: it all feels great! It’s all in service of a new and different MHW endgame, but not necessarily a better one.
On the bright side, Capcom supported the hell out of Monster Hunter: World after launch. I have similar hopes for Iceborne. Assuming Arch-Tempered Elder Dragons and the Kulve Taroth siege were just experiments, the new MHW endgame could look very different in just a few months. At the launch of this new expansion, though, it could still use some work.