I am scared and awed by Monster Hunter World: Iceborne's final boss. The feral wolf-looking behemoth with six long, spidery arms protruding from its back is so weird that it doesn't even have a name the first time you face off against it. Even now, after besting the climactic boss of Iceborne over a dozen times (yes, I love the grind), I still dread going back and facing that damn thing. Monster Hunter: World excels with its exceptional creature design, and Iceborne isn't afraid to make things a bit weird.
The 'Shara Ishvalda,' as it is eventually named by Monster Hunter: World's Research Commission, is a towering behemoth that can shoot soundwaves out of its, erm, tentacle things sticking out of its back, which sounds cool until you find yourself on the receiving end of it. Usually we only get to fight monsters of these proportions in scripted scenarios involving cannons, cannons, and more cannons (looking at you, Zorah Magdaros), but this time your team of courageous hunters are actually let loose on a level playing field with a monster the size of a house.
The climactic boss of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne starts out looking like a dog encased in rocks. Shara Ishvalda lumbers around the battlefield with slow, deliberate movements, the spidery arms on its back-also encased in rocks- act like a pair of giant hands, sweeping the ground in front of the beast to pummel any poor souls.
To uncover the true form of the Shara Ishvalda, you and your allies have to literally hack off its outer shell. You need to rip the rocks off its head with as many swords, axes, bombs, daggers, and even falling boulders that you can muster. Saying that the true boss fight starts here would be doing the first phase a disservice, but there's an element of truth to it. The final phase of the Shara Ishvalda is like nothing we've ever seen in Monster Hunter before.
Imagine a team of trained professionals going into battle with the infected dog in John Carpenter's The Thing, but it's also the size of an office block, and you're nearly there. This version is a lot faster and deadlier than its first form, and it has some moves that really drive home how much of an excellent team-based game Monster Hunter: World has become over the last 20 months.
Ishvalda's signature move-the one I've died to the most-brings all six of its extra arms together in front of it, a bit like Goku pulling off a Kamehameha (except not with six arms), and fires off a giant shockwave of energy right across the arena, like a mammoth hadouken. Everyone who's done this fight by now knows what's coming, and the only way to avoid it is to sprint around Ishvalda as quickly as possible. Picture Scooby Doo and co. running cartoon-style from a monster, and you've got an idea of how this looks.
Shara Ishvalda will occasionally make you think it's retreating underground. Popping back out of the ground on a random side of the arena, it'll summon a giant ball of energy above its head, which causes the middle 90% of the arena to explode. The first time the retreat happens, there's an air of hesitant optimism; the second time, everyone is busy sprinting for the nearest wall. If someone gets caught in the blast, there's an unwritten rule that one member of the team needs to go back and help them back into fighting shape with an area of effect healing item like a Life Powder. Monster Hunter: World has always been a game about helping one another-with the "thanks for the help!" auto response flashing up whenever someone heals a teammate-but everyone needs to work together to survive the towering Shara Ishvalda.
A Monster Hunter Setpiece Done Right
All of this adds up to a boss fight that is remarkably successful as a setpiece. Monster Hunter World's previous setpiece fights included several missions where you needed to stave off Zorah Magdaros, a monster of Godzilla proportions, by running around an arena to fire off cannons against the behemoth. Arena setpiece fights like these simply aren't fun, because after 100+ hours of letting you bound around colorful terrain fighting monsters in fields, deserts, and mountains, forcing players down a set path in scripted scenarios just isn't enjoyable compared with what's come before.
Iceborne itself features one lackluster setpiece fight against the Velkhana. The icy dragon featured on the cover art of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, is bearing down on the new hub area of Seliana, and it's up to your team of hunters to keep it from wreaking havoc. To repel Velkhana, you need to madly dash around a small area, with two players bringing up ammo to a massive cannon at the top of the ramp, and anyone that's left baiting the Elder Dragon into staying in the middle of the arena.
It's a bit of a mess. The players distracting the Velkhana have to stand in the cannons' path, creating as big a diversion as possible, hoping they don't get ripped apart by flying ice shards or the razor sharp tail of the Velkhana. While they're acting as live bait, two players need to run to the side of the arena, grab cannon ammo, and haul it up a huge ramp. Oh, and they can't run or dodge attacks while carrying the cannon ammo, so good luck staying in one piece if the Velkhana spots you.
It's common in Monster Hunter: World to fight a monster across a series of locales in one type of setting. Unless you're one of those god-tier hunters who can somehow slay a Rathalos in under 60 seconds, you're likely going to be tracking a monster throughout an entire region; for example you might start fighting an Odogaron on the flat plateaus of the Rotten Vale, before finishing the fight up in murky underground caverns when it retreats back to its lair.
With the Shara Ishvalda fight though, there's no actual "hunting" of the monster involved since it's there waiting for you in an arena the size of a soccer stadium. There's all the trappings of a set piece battle-a relatively small arena, no areas in which you can hide-but the Ishvalda fight avoids the nonsense of loading up cannons and traps that the Velkhana fight was beleaguered by. It's just you and your friends, against the most twisted, disgusting boss Monster Hunter has ever seen.
As a final salute of sorts to Capcom's best-selling game of all time, Iceborne has the best final battle any Monster Hunter: World player could have ever asked for.