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It’s been 588 days since Monster Hunter World originally came out. That’s a staggering amount of time at the current pace that life seems insistent on moving at, a period that’s managed to encompass six massively successful Marvel movies, one whole “Game Of The Year” debate (and the nascent portions of a second), and 588 separate instances of waking up in the morning and thinking “Jesus Christ, is this really the world we have to live in?” (Your mileage may vary on that last.)
If you’ve spent a decent chunk of those nigh-600 days playing Capcom’s latest turning-monsters-into-snazzy-suits simulator, you already know that its new expansion, Iceborne, is for you. New monsters, new stuff to chop ‘em into, new food porn animations for when an anthropomorphic cat cooks you dinner: All the stuff that made World this franchise’s most delightfully inviting installment to date is here, but moreso, and it would be absolutely baffling to think you wouldn’t dive straight into its frozen embrace.
This article is not for you.
No, this piece is for… well, everybody else. The dilettantes. The backsliders. The quitters, to put not-too-fine a point on it. Distracted by other, flashier games—or just broken by one more cheap-ass Bazelgeuse dive-bombing run—you put the game down one night, telling yourself you’d be back. But once Monster Hunter World goes down—unlike its colorful, gigantic prey—it tends to stay down, because few modern games are more insistently, brutally systems—and-memory-heavy than this one. Step away for five mere minutes, and details of crafting, cooking, trading, and just plain fighting will all already have begun to Brigadoon their way out of your memory, evaporating like gossamer dew on the morning mist. Also, you’ll find yourself getting your ass kicked by the same Anjanath whose brothers and sisters you’re literally wearing as a hat, and that’s simply humiliating.
Iceborne offers a tantalizing chance to jump back in, though, an opportunity to gently re-immerse your creaky old bones in the franchise’s seductive rhythms. Surely it won’t go too hard on its old friends—you think to yourself, naive as a doofus—as you dust off their Dual Blades and reacquaint yourself with your estranged Palico. (“Jesus,” you think to yourself. “Why am I dressed like that?”) And so you venture out into the beautiful frozen wastes, engage in your first hunt, and… get your ass thoroughly and demonstrably kicked.
See, here’s a brief list of things you’ve probably forgotten about Monster Hunter World in the last almost-600 days, while you were too busy remembering things like your PIN, or your SSN, or breathing: How to prepare for a fight. How to do a fight. How mounting monster works. How the skills system works. How anything works. Eating food. Cooking food. Sharpening weapons. Dodging attacks. Checking menus. Putting on equipment. Working the map. Tracking monsters. Fleeing monsters. Trapping monsters. Not dying. Not dying a second time. Not dying that third time, which usually ends the hunt. And, obviously, every single button. Iceborne’s first new hunt—against vicious snow-swimming ice shark Beotodus—takes literally none of this ignorance into account. The game expects you (and your weapon) to be exactly as sharp as they were in early 2018, back when you originally beat the game. (Which you have to do to access the expansion, by the way, so buckle up if you left off early.) All of which means the first hour with Iceborne is pretty much absolute hell.
But then—and if you’ll pardon the thematically appropriate metaphor—that wintry misery begins to thaw, and you start to remember why you played the hell out of this game back in the day. Few other series offer up boss fights this single-mindedly, or this well, and the feeling of hunting a whole new host of mostly blameless—but oh-so fashionable—beasties is just as tense and potent as ever. It doesn’t hurt that the reward loop remains one of the most fiendish in all of gaming, relentlessly bribing you to ever-more dangerous heights of murder in pursuit of crafting outfits imbued with heavy-metal-album-cover-levels of sartorial excess. (You can also still dress up your cat.) Sure, the plot is still paper-thin, the grind insidious, the extraneous systems arbitrary and dopey as hell. And you’ll still find yourself facing a very cheap trip on the loser’s cart every now and again, just because some damn sabertooth dragon cat decided to go full ham on you while you were scrambling on the ice. But if you’ve still got the Monster Hunter itch buried somewhere deep beneath your skin, rest assured: Iceborne will dig it out.