A herd of Popo wander by the edge of the shore, their mighty tusks swaying with each lumbering step. Patches of grey snow are piled here and there. Thin plants with little white flowers grow in clumps where the water laps the land.
In the far distance a huge mountain stretches thousands of feet into the air, its summit wreathed in crisp white snow. Clouds drift by overhead, and above a semi-hidden cave a giant wasp buzzes lazily, waiting for me to come too close.
I don't need to, but I take a swipe at one of the Popo. They're ponderous herbivores, bulky mammoths who graze these plains. As my blade bites, the rest of the creatures scatter, disappearing towards another part of the level.
The great beast lets out a roar, so I slash at its back legs. A few more swipes and it lolls onto its back, twitching a little before it expires.
I slide my blade into a scabbard on my back, then cut up the dead creature for its meat and pelt. Satisfied, I scramble up a chest high wall, dodge past the now angry wasp, and duck into the cave.
Carve it up
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is a colossal game, but it cuts its gameplay into small, accessible beats. It's full of grind, but it creates its world so effortlessly that it feels less like a monotonous slog, and more like the day-to-day trials and tribulations a monster hunter would have to work through.
Some of the wow moments here verge on the ridiculous, and it's easy to get lost taking photos of the aurora-stained night sky, with its streaking comets and twinkling stars.
But as well as the huge scope of the adventure at hand, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite deals with the little things brilliantly as well. You need to keep your sword sharp, your temperature consistent, and your bag empty enough to grab all the spoils of a quest.
There's no story as such, just fetch quests and slaughter quests as far as the eye can see. But they brim and bubble with possibility. There are breathtakingly huge monsters to take down that require skills, armour, weapons, and equipment far beyond anything you have at the start of the game.
The touch controls are a little fiddly, but there are some clever tweaks here and there that make the violence simple. Tapping buttons performs attacks, but you can swipe them in different directions to perform more powerful attacks.
The game works best with an Mfi pad though, and if you've got one to hand with two analogue sticks you can bump the score at the bottom of the review up by a point. Dodging is far easier with a pad in your hand, and it makes the whole experience flow much better.
Teaming up with friends online makes the game even richer. There's something about co-operating with friends to take down a hulking monster that makes everything feel good in the world. And the snapshot you get of the killing blow cements your place in monster hunting history.
There's a rich blend of action, exploration, and teamwork here, and it works so wonderfully well on iOS that you really have to see it to believe it.
Port in a storm
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite might be a port, but the extra polish lavished on this mobile version makes it shine a little brighter than the game it stems from, and the sheer pleasure of being able to play on your phone and tablet is hard to deny.
It won't be for everyone, and some will find the weight of ploughing through quest after quest a little depressing, but for those who click in to the game's cycle of growth, pushing on a little farther becomes a compulsion.
If you've always been curious about Monster Hunter, then this is a great place to start. And if you happen to have an Mfi controller laying around, you're in for an experience unlike anything else on the App Store.