Monster Hunter World

Ichihara, where did it all go wrong? (My Iceborne retrospective)

MonsterHunterWorld4 - Ichihara, where did it all go wrong? (My Iceborne retrospective)
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Monster Hunter World was a pretty alright game. Considering everything they sacrificed in the name of graphical fidelity and accessibility, it all turned out to be a pretty darn good trade. It was the gateway game for many of my friends into the series and they loved it and I had some fond memories of coaching them through earlygame, fighting alongside them as relative equals in high rank, and telling them tales of my exploits in prevoius titles or discussing monster lore.

It was one hell of a time, but as things wound on and post-launch content began to come in, cracks began to show. A lot of cracks even, as the deluge of Arch-Tempered monsters and Behemoth and Ancient Leshen set an unfortunate standard for what was going to come. And while I don't hate my time with Iceborne, it picked up right where World left off with its post-launch updates and there's a lot I wasn't happy about. So let's dive in.

Weapons:

I'm a one-weapon kind of player whenever I play MH. I pick a weapon at the start of the game and come hell or high water, I stick with it. I started with the GS in Gen (later returning to it in GU much older, wiser, and skilled), then did bow in 3U, SA in 4U, Hammer in FU, and while waiting for Iceborne's PC launch I dove into Freedom 1 using the SnS. I also mained the SnS in MH Stories but Stories is an RPG so it doesn't really count.

But in World and Iceborne, my weapon was the Gunlance. And boy was it a blast. To Iceborne's credit, the Gunlance was not fucked up the way some other weapons were. All three shelling types made a return, and though Wide still was getting fucked over on launch, that was eventually remedied starting with the Guild Palace weapons. The Wyrmstake Blast also went a looooong ways towards making Long shelling even more powerful, to the extent that yeah there's no Long 7 Gunlance, but it's not like there needs to be one. FFs when you're shelling you don't even have to bother with tenderizing anymore!

Do to mostly sticking with the Gunlance, I'm hardly an authority on all the other weapons, so I'm not going to be too disparaging here. But it wasn't like I was not getting a first-hand view of systemic weapon imbalance though, specifically regarding the Guard skill.

Guarding in the old games was pretty rad. I've been doing G-rank Nakarkos recently a lot with different weapons. It's amazing how much that the Gunlance can block even without Guard + 1, let alone +2, and not take any chip. A far cry from World where after a point it feels like blocking is never worth it considering the chip damage and the knockback when you could just be a chad and dodge through it. And this really fucks over and de-incentivizes using your shield, which obviously hurts Lance worst of all.

Of all the major, endgame-y fights, it feels like the only one where blocking is the better option is Safi'Jiiva. But I'll rant about that fucker a little while later. I've got something else to complain about right now.

The Clutch Claw:

The slinger in World was a weapon that had a lot more depth put into it than was actually necessary. It made using Sonic, Flash, and Dung bombs more effective thanks to being aimed shots now, but otherwise it was just kinda there. Slinger ammo had extraordinarily niche usage and I almost never used it. I can't fault Capcom for trying to find a way to make it more relevant, it's just… the Clutch Claw was not the way to do it.

The Clutch Claw was the opposite of World's Slinger. Something meant to be used throughout the fight. You could tenderize body parts with it for more damage. You could bonk monsters into walls for more damage. It could even be used to yoink yourself to safety on the monster in the case of certain attacks. I don't fault Capcom for introducing new features; they've been doing that since Monster Hunter G, but the Clutch Claw felt obtrusive in a way nothing before it ever did.

It introduced a lot of new maintenance considerations into the fight where there hadn't been previously. Yeah Gen/GU had Hunter Arts, but those filled up as you did damage to the monster and in many cases you were only going to have an Arc proc a couple of times in the span of a hunt unless you were fighting an obnoxious damage sponge. And it was always just a matter of pressing a single button to get your intended effect. Not like in Iceborne where grappling onto the monster was just the start of the ordeal. Were you in the right place? If not, figure out which way to move the thumbstick so you move to the intended location. Is the monster attacking? Better hope you have a mantle on because otherwise you're coming off. Are you using a "technical" weapon? Better hope you're able to get to the intended spot a second time otherwise all this time will be essentially wasted.

And on and on and on.

And worse yet, the CC felt like it existed as a solution to justify the massive HP inflation in Iceborne, but then this became self-defeating with some post-launch monsters. Rajang could tear you off his arms for a free pin if you were careless, and Alatreon, Fatalis, and AT Velkhana could shred through your mantles when you were hanging off of them because fuck you, that's why. As hunters, we got drafted into a tech arms race where our supplier was also designing our enemies, and the closest we ever got to an admission of "yeah we fucked up" was the buffs that the Clutch Claw got in the Fatalis update.

You know: the last major update for the game.

The Guiding Lands:

I know I'm a minority but I didn't mind the endgame grind for decorations and Streamstones in base World. Throw yourself at it long enough and you'd get some good shit, and even if it wasn't good shit for what you specifically wanted, a Hero Streamstone was a Hero Streamstone was a Hero Streamstone. At worst it was an incentive for you to try out a weapon different than what you were using.

The Guiding Lands missed the mark for me because of the grind that was entailed for them. Different augments at different levels required different materials, and you were almost always bound to not have all the necessary regions leveled up. The grind thus became much more specific, such that your time and energy invested could only reward you with what you came for. In World, when I wanted Health augs I just kept doing quests until I got enough Streamstones and then called it a day. In Iceborne I'd need to level up the slots on my weapon, then do Tempered Namielle, and then do Tempered Whomever in the Volcano and then Tempered Other Whomever in the Tundra.

And if I wanted to do other augments? Well I'd have to sacrifice my setup, and fuck that because that meant when I'd decide I'd want to do it again, I'd need to repeat the process once more.

Now to Iceborne's credit, you can remove augmentations and be refunded the materials you used in the first place. I actually like this idea and wish it was more clearly expressed. But in my ideal world, World and Iceborne would have just married their two augmentation systems together and made something amazing. Streamstones like in World, but you could remove them and get the materials refunded whenever you wanted to stick them into something else.

The Story:

Story's not impressive. Yeah MH stories are never that big or complicated since all your problems have to be solved by "poke the big monster with a weapon until it falls over dead" but Velkhana was underutilized, Shara Ishvalda was just another "OH MY GOD, ANOTHER ELDER DRAGON WAS TO BLAME FOR ALL OF THIS!" and the Nergigante shilling got ridiculous by the end.

Yes, this monster that was interfering with the attempts to drive Zorah Magdaros away from the LIfestream is Nature's "correcting force". Which is why it was trying to interfere with the only thing preventing Zorah from going nuclear and destroying the New World. Nevermind all the apocalyptic threats in the Old World that Nergigante didn't so much as lift a finger to stop.

The reason why finally confronting Shagaru Magala in 4U is so great is because Shagaru wasn't a case of Elder Dragon Ex Machina. It was the same damn monster you'd fought three times prior, and y;our fight against Shagaru was the culmination that Low Rank had been building up to since your first fight with Gore.

Gear designs:

Mixed bag. A lot of the armor looks neat, and I appreciate Capcom finally at least giving us the original Brachy designs courtesy of Raging Brachy, as well as layered weapons eventually. But on the opposite side of things, didn't like how seemingly all the armor ran thighhighs for women or how fucking long it took us to get layered weapons.

And now, most importantly…

The Monsters:

Beotodus is pretty much fine. Not that annoying of a Piscene Wyvern. He definitely feels like a "proof of concept" fight to prove the legitimacy of the Clutch Claw, since one of his weak spots is his legs and the best way to get those exposed is to bonk him against a wall. Fairly inoffensive.

Banbaro though… not a fan of how this fuck is a new Party Crasher and can show up in any environment. Typically Party Crashers carried a degree of "danger" to them. Deviljho and Bazelgeuse were bad news because you weren't really ready to fight them by the time you were running into them. With Seregios it was a bit less of a concern, but 4U's story mode also focused on Steve so it was fine that he was a bit weaker. Banbaro though is literally the second monster you're likely to fight in Master Rank. There's no cat-and-mouse dreading running into him and preparing contingencies. You just ignore the fuck or kill him instead.

I hate Viper Tobi-Kadachi and Nightshade Paolumu. I found them way harder than the old returning mascots that are fought after them, purely because of their status bullshittery. Vobi has poison and paralysis, a godawful combination, especially when his poison feels like it lasts forever. Nightshade Paolumu's clouds of sleep gas are also pure bullshit and Palicos are much less reliable in Iceborne in waking you up upon falling asleep. I can understand trying to get the most bang for your buck and subspecies are easy to implement because you don't need to spend time or money making entirely new monster designs, and they're not really hard, but they're really annoying and it didn't feel like my familiarity with the original species helped at all vs. them.

Coral Pukei-Pukei was neat though. Bright and colorful, with very clear-cut distinction between it and normal Pukei-Pukei, and it felt like it hit a lot harder but it was also using element rather than poison so it all works out to be fairly evenly balanced in the long run. Fun fight.

The returning quintet: Tigrex, Nargacuga, Barioth, Brachydios, and Glavenus though were sights for sore eyes. They fought just about the same way they always had before and I was able to put my experience to good use vs. them. Really fun and engaging, and even Tigrex benefited from a decade+ of the hitbox getting cleaned up. None of my newbie friends bitched or moaned about them either.

The wave of subspecies though… that's a really mixed bag. Shreiking Legiana wasn't too terrible for me as a Gunlancer (long shells could knock it out of the sky) but I can see how it would be hell on Earth for other melee weapons. Acidic Glavenus felt like it lost the point of the original Glavenus (staying defensive and sniping the weak points for mega-huge damage) and I hated how hard it was to get the tail cut on it vs. how it was easier to get normal Glavenus's. Ebony Odogaron feels forgettable. It's Odogaron except it can inflict Dragonblight. Poor man's Stygian, made all the more redundant when Stiggy showed up. But I really liked Fulgur Anjanath. Unlike the other subspecies, it really felt like the previous knowledge of fighting the mosnter was of use and could be used to make informed guesses about how to deal with Fulgur. Looked cool too, and it felt kinda heartwarming that this Anjy could at least force draws in its turf wars.

Seething Bazelguese was pretty neat. I liked the color scheme and it felt "true" to my understanding of Variants, going "one step further" and the carpet bomber really did take it to the next level. Really did feel like I was fighting a monster that was going critical before my very eyes. Just wished it wasn't confined to just Elder's Recess.

Savage Jho was an exercise in frustration. This was where the anti-Clutch Claw bullshit came into the equation. "HEY, HAVE A MONSTER THAT'S PERMANENTLY ANGRY!" Made worse by how hard it is for weapons with short reach to hit his weak points, let alone cut his tail.

Blackveil Vaal Hazak is a toxic fucker and I love it. Finally a reason to use the Cleansing Booster, against a monster not so bullshit that I feel bringing the Cleansing Booster along feels like dipping my arm in boiling oil because some sticky goo got on it. I appreciate how busting up its fungus can make the fight easier and diminish the amount of miasma being released, and the Resident Evil collab version of the hunt was a blast. Love fighting it as a zombie.

Namielle is a fight I have mixed feelings for. It's music is one of the few themes in the game that sticks with me and I like how it uses both water as a range multiplier for its electric attacks, but at the same time it feels like the core idea of it as "the water/electricity Elder Dragon" feels uninspired. It exists to just tick a box off of a list. But the disinterest I have for it is nothing compared to the hatred I have for…

Velkhana. If Namielle is interesting visuals and mechanics undermined by feeling it it stems from a simplistic understanding of what can be done with Elder Dragons, Velkhana is a shit design with shit gimmicks and a shit core philosphy. It's the ice Elder Dragon. No, Kushala's not the ice Elder Dragon even though it's alwasy been associated with cold environments and its attacks get iceblight in those areas. Velkhana is. With its godawful turf war where it forces a draw vs. Nergigante by just kicking it with its spindly little hind legs (WHY THE FUCK DID NO OTHER ELDER DRAGON DO THIS?!?) and its essessive amount of visual clutter filling the screen, fighting it was always an exercise in frustration. I absolutely hate that the AT Velkhana fight also reduces your hunt length to a mere 30 minutes for no justified reason too.

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Shara Ishvalda is a fight that starts off interesting. Big dumb rock monster? Sure, it's kinda in the spirit of Akantor and Ukanlos. We haven't gotten anything like those two in a while. The reveal it's some freaky-eyed monster with sound beams though… eh. Looks kinda ugly. The eye move is freaky though. I kinda like the gimmick shit it does with the sand but I also kinda hate it. Back in World, Xeno'Jiiva was clearly "strange", being an alien with a strange color scheme. Shara, however, is just plain weird though. Fuck that beam that chips you to death if you have Rocksteady on though. Getting the Tenderplates wasn't hard thanks to shelling though.

Zinogre is Zinogre. The OG Fanged Wyvern. The little doggo that could for numerous games until World graced us with Dodogama and the rest of the pack. I don't like how they butchered his theme, but they fucked up a lot of returning songs. He's ultimately still really fun. Feel the same way about Yian Garuga too. The Angriest Bird and its Tempered/Scarred incarnation were fun to fight just by how bonkers-ass stubborn and crazy they were. Felt like the hitboxes were cleaned up a lot too. Didn't fight them much but it was never on account of not having the energy to go another round with it.

Metal Raths are shit. Always have been, always will be. I hate how cutting off all Rathian tails felt like pulling teeth come Iceborne. I don't remember them being that hard to knock off in base World, but now it practically justifies the use of Partbreaker. Their capture thresholds are ludicrously low too. Unlike Ziggy and Garuga, I did my time with these fucks and got out as soon as I could. You don't give mostly-airborne monsters super bullshit moves that can only be mitigated by hitting one of their sturdiest spots a whole bunch. That can just go wrong too many ways.

Brute Tigrex is… well I hardly ever fought him. Same went for most everyone else, apparently. He just about fits in with what I remember him being like in 4U, though I find myself also going "It should've been Molten Tigrex".

Rajang was okay except for how they made his legs no longer be a weak spot. This ruins the fight due to the importance of knocking Rajang quickly out of Rampage mode. Beforehand, even if you missed his tail you still did good damage against his legs… but now, when going for the tail is so important, the legs are now no longer weak spots WTF?!?

Oh, and I WAS FUCKING RIGHT ABOUT THE JHO VS. JANG TURF WAR. People called me crazy when I predicted that they'd just reuse Jho's turf war with Nergigante, but my most bitter and cynical prediction turned out to be right on the money.

There've been few times in life where I've been more angry and frustrated about being right than I was at that point.

Speaking of which

Ruiner Nergigante is a chump that doesn't deserve to be a MR99 fight. When the game first game out? Yeah, sure. It gave you something to work for. But with the glut of fights far, far stronger than Nergigante that can be fought at much lower MR levels, it really undermines what they were going for with Nergigante. Also just… it's just pretty much another Nergigante. Not even like that bullshit AT Nergigante either. Fairly unremarkable, should've been fought much earlier with some other monster being the MR99 unlock fight.

Stygian Zinogre was great. Kinda flew under the radar because of Safi stealing its thunder, but I liked its new Pyscho Crusher and how it Dracophage Bug moves tested you in different ways compared to normal Ziggy's. Also it had the rising tackle move it would cancel into out of the recovery for the back drop. Missed that so damn much from normal Ziggy.

I also really liked Raging Brachydios and Furious Rajang. Furious actually felt like it fixed my problems with normal Rajang. Because Furious's head is the weak spot to hit now to knock it out of Rampage mode, you're now no longer playing Ring Around the Rajang to hit its tail. The pace of the fight is thus more even. Raging Brachydios I have more mixed feelings on due to the steel cage deathmatch and barring the usage of Farcasters, but he's the same "Bigger and stronger, but also much slower" fight I've known him to be. And compared to my years of trying to clear Clashing Fists, he was nothing. His gear was godly too.

Frostfang Barioth came out too late but similarly I like his gear a lot. Fight is… a bit annoying due to freezing the ground, but otherwise the experience wasn't a bad one. Would've rather it have been Sand Barioth though. Hated the fact that it was event quest only though. No good reason for that, though now that most event quests are permanently available, that isn't an issue.

Now you'll notice I haven't discussed a few fucks yet, and the reason is I wanted to focus on the other guys who are postlaunch endgame-y first because, for the most part I like them well enough. Yeah Capcom wasn't trying to re-invent the wheel with Ruiner Nergigante or Stygian Zinogre but they were fun fights. I went, I did them, had some fun, and it was something to look forward to and to tell my friends about so they could prepare.

The problem is that those weren't the big post-launch releases. The ones that were really meant to draw people in. And unfortunately they just seemed to piss people off at best, and drive them away at worst.

We start with Safi'Jiiva. The raid boss. The monster that now scales for solo hunts even though it will still take a solo hunter about THREE HOURS for one kill. I fucking hate how people used "it's a raid boss. You can't complain about it being a raid because that's what raids are." I fucking know what a raid is, I just don't want it in my Monster Hunter.

Safi's moves have crazy bullshit tracking and AOEs. To their credit it's like the one fight in the game where Guard is better than Evade Window. I don't like how inexact the whole process of wearing it down is too. Say what you will about HR Kulve, if you were breaking off parts of her mantle or getting tracks you were building up towards P6. For Safi, you were only making progress if you were forcing it to draw energy from whatever region you were fighting it on. And dear fuck is it a damage sponge.

Then we got MR Kulve. The fight that was advertised as a "traditional hunt"… yet they still had DPS bullshit thrown in for no good reason whatsoever. Fucking hated it. Kjarr gear getting a new lease on life was good though, but fuck whomever made the executive descision and went "no, without the DPS check the fight will be too easy. We HAVE to include the DPS check. Fans will hate us if we don't!"

Then there was Alatreon. The fight that I feel irreparable split the fanbase. Iceborne's Alatreon is sure as fuck not Old World Alatreon. Anyone at Capcom claiming it was what they'd always wanted Alatreon to be like is a fucking liar whether they know it or not. Old World Alatreon welcomed player agency and players finding their own solutions to the hunt, be it raw, status, or some elemental build involving water (pretty good in both states), ice (good in ground state), or dragon (good in flight state). It was a calming fight for me, waiting for my openings and dashing in to snipe Alatreon's head before falling back to safety.

They couldn't even fucking give us Frostfang prior to Alatreon's launch either. Like wtf, Kulve and Safi were cycling back and forth with each other, the least you could do is give us a stopgap measure.

Alatreon broke at least one of my friends, making him vow he'd never fight the fuck again. I eventually helped him through it, but it was a depressing experience. He went in expecting bullshit but the Escaton Judgment was too much for him, and I'm firmly in the camp that had Alatreon not have had the EJ and maybe was a bit more vulnerable to status ailments, he would've been a lot more universally celebrated.

And lastly there's Fatalis. I've been on the record as saying the best Fatalis fight is the multi-phase hunt against him in Monster Hunter Freedom (and possibly the original MH on the PS2) and I am more than happy to die on that hill. But even then, Fatalis has just never been that great of a fight. I hate the lore revisions such that Fatalis explicitly is stated to have never been fought before (they kept it ambiguous regarding that issue with Alatreon) and I hate how we have only 30 minutes, again, for no good reason. Fatty also hits like a truck even with maxed-out armor, and I can't imagine what nightmare that fight would've been like had I not thrown Clutch Claw Boost into my build.

His gear is admittedly pretty damn great. Too great if you ask me in how it renders almost everything else obsolete. There's not really an incentive to go "hey, this weapon looks pretty cool, I'm going to make a build based on it!" like I can do in GU between various syngergies of Hunter Arts, Styles, armor skills, and individual weapons. You just get your Fatalis gear and you're good to go.

Also hate how the game again goes "Oh, you should probably attack this weak spot!" and then hilariously punishes you if you fail to make good on that. Spoiler alert: Fatalis's head is not always easily accessible for all weapons.

In general with the Big Four Problem Children, what hurts me the most is that I can see very simple changes that could've made things much more bearable.

For Safi'Jiiva, either lower the health (ESPECIALLY for solo hunts) or reduce the amount of times Safi'Jiiva can draw energy from a zone. Or make him drain more energy than he normally does. Anything to let you more easily wear him down.

For Kulve, just throw out the DPS check. Fight would be perfect. Had MR Kulve come out with no DPS check, nobody would've complained or demanded a DPS check be placed into it in order to "fix" the fight.

For Alatreon it's the same. Remove Escaton Judgment entirely. With the urgency of the fight diminished, you still have a really tough fight but you're not being punished for playing cautiously so long as it's not so cautious that you time out of a 50 minute fight. And again, had Alatreon come out with no DPS check, nobody would've complained or demanded a check to be put in place because otherwise "it's too easy".

For Fatalis, I'm actually fine with the nukes. They serve as a very useful metric to determine how far into the fight you are. But there are a host of factors that I feel should have gone under more scrutiny, because tweaking one or more of the factors would've led to a more universally well-received fight.

First, the time length is too stringent. Like Alatreon, it's a fight where you are punished for not fighting aggressively enough… but the monster is such a wrecking machine that over-committing to an attack will fuck you over. Giving Fatalis even fire more minutes, like how the old fights were, would've been great.

Additionally, they could've rolled back the damage of its supercritical state, or made its head easier to break. Older games where you had similar problems to try to deal with oftentimes gave you plenty of fallback options. Most notably, in Gen/GU, while fight Nakarkos, if you fail to stop its death ray it isn't a guaranteed cart. You can still dodge it just fine and the fight just continues on afterwards. Fatalis's hellfire state is just too penalizing, being able to one-shot hunters with 50 Fire Resistance, endgame defense, AND the Fireproof Mantle on. Like what's the point of prep if it's not allowed to be useful?

Oh and bring back actually damaging Fatalis's eye. Simply breaking off its horn is nowhere near as satisfying as tearing that fuck's eye out.

In Conclusion:

Iceborne hardly qualifies for my person "worst games I've ever played" list. I wouldn't even say it necessarily disappointed me that much either, since I went in with cautious expectations after all the missteps with World's post-launch content.

But it still feels like a letdown, especially considering Ichihara directed GU and I fucking love GU and still play it after 2+ years and can point to countless instances in the game where great ideas were built on top of good or even bad foundations. And it's also very frustrating, because I can look at many of the problems I have with Iceborne and go "all that needs to change is X, Y, and Z, and the problems would just go away!"

Do I regret my 1,274 hours spent playing it? Considering how many amazing games are still on my backlog like Deadly Premonition, Bayonetta, and the original Final Fantasy 7… I can't say I wouldn't mind trading some of those long exercises in frustration vs. bullshit fights in exchange for playing something else. But as a whole I think it's important to recognize when something you love takes some missteps. Recognize what you don't like in something, and be honest with yourself about why you don't like it. I play my MH solo, unless I'm doing a fight I know I've already won… at which case I afford myself the luxury of help to speed things up on my end and because maybe the other person really does need help and I do like lending a hand even though I'm so proud and stubborn regarding my own successes. Started out of necessity while playing the handhelds, and I always feel like I don't really come to "understand" a monster if I'm having other people cover my ass for me. That's why I'm so insistent that everything out to be soloable if there's concrete rewards behind it.

I hope to Gog that Rise lives up to my expectations. But I'll get my first taste of it next month with the demo.

Fingers crossed.

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