Looking back at 2017, Horizon: Zero Dawn was one of the best gaming experiences I had this year. While the gameplay can become repetitive, it’s the story, characters, and attention to detail that made this one of my favourite games this year (if not my favourite). What I loved about Horizon Zero Dawn is how Guerrilla Games blended this mix of primitive-era gameplay with a futuristic science fiction mystery. It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, had me excited to explore more of the map, and ultimately had me eager to learn about Aloy and the mystery that surrounded her.
Just over eight months after release, Guerrilla Games has released the expansion for Horizon: Zero Dawn called The Frozen Wilds. As you might have guessed, the DLC takes place in the frozen north of the world, just north of “The Cut” (similar to “The Neck” in Game of Thrones’ Westeros). You continue to play as Aloy as you explore this vast frigid hinterland and discover the fearsome machines and creatures that await you. This is not an expedition for the faint of heart (or someone who is too low of a level). This is a mission for experienced players and even someone (like myself) who had maximized the level status of Aloy may have trouble with these new quests. This will test our heroine’s limits as she fights off a new evil, the Daemon.
One of the greatest accomplishments Horizon: Zero Dawn has is the visual storytelling, the landscapes, the environments, and the art style of the game. Guerrilla Games has set a high standard for all developers with their attention to detail and the vast open spaces that they have created. The Frozen Wilds continues this amazing progress by adding the cold, snowy landscape to their world. There are so many details to notice as you traverse the terrain, whether it is seeing your (or another creature’s) footprints in the snow, or how Aloy holds herself to keep herself warm against the biting wind, or how the well-used paths etch themselves into various snowbanks. The Frozen Wilds is not perfect but visually gives you’re a sense of danger, not from the machines, but from the environment itself.
The Frozen Wilds integrates seamlessly with the main game and can be accessed early on in a play through. It is recommended that you’re at least a level 30 player before starting this voyage, although I would say it is a better idea to finish the main story quest of Horizon Zero Dawn so that you take full advantage of being a level 50 before beginning your adventure. In this new area, you’ll encounter the Banuk tribe, a nomadic group that prefers to keep to itself. The success of The Frozen Wilds, like Horizon Zero Dawn before it, is in the plot and the questions it poses to the player. Where Horizon Zero Dawn focused on human history and our relationship with technology, The Frozen Wilds delves deeper into the religious aspects of our culture and philosophizes on the nature of good and evil.
I’m not going to lie, as I leveled up in Horizon: Zero Dawn I didn’t vary my strategy very much from encounter to encounter. Especially once I discovered the Shield-Weaver Armor, I became relatively invincible and while I still had a lot of fun, combat became routine. But in The Frozen Wilds, Guerrilla Games has specifically changed the gameplay so that you encounter more difficult machines and that using the same tactics won’t be nearly as effective anymore. This change in style is especially true with the introduction of Control Towers. Control Towers are large devices that do two things that affect combat: they make machines more difficult to kill by continuously regenerating them and they send out a blast that takes down any sort of shield modification you have, rendering the aforementioned Shield-Weaver Armor relatively useless. With these control towers, you need to either override the towers or outright destroy them, but this new type of gameplay did mean I had to change my strategy a bit. Whether it was using a little bit more stealth to sneak up on the tower to override it or using long-range precision attacks to take it down from a vantage point, I did appreciate the additional challenge.
Aloy is the best part of Horizon Zero Dawn and The Frozen Wilds. Where at the beginning of the main game she is unsure of herself and still trying to discover her place in the world, in The Frozen Wilds her confidence and sense of self gives her the ability to bring a sort of levity and realism to an otherwise very somber situation. Her growth of character really shines as the voice actress, Ashly Burch (Rise of the Tomb Raider, Fallout 4), does an amazing job of portraying this character. I wasn’t as impressed with other voices in The Frozen Wilds in that they often feel like caricatures rather than complex people. Regardless of who you are interacting with, Aloy is consistently the star and the standout performance.
The Frozen Wilds does expand the level cap from 50 to 60 and does introduce 8 new skills to earn under the heading of “Traveller” in the skill tree. The problem I had with this is that it seemed very superficial at best. Gathering resources from a mount or repairing a mount seem unnecessary, especially when you have spent so much time in the game without these skills. It didn’t alter my play style or how I approached a situation. If nothing else it was a novel change but it seemed like these skills are not unique to the northern tundra. These additional skills could have been added at any time throughout the game and it wouldn’t have seemed any different. The one real benefit I could see, although again it’s not unique to The Frozen Wilds, is the ability to craft upgrades for your spear. Since the spear is a weapon I use regularly, it was the most useful but not much more beyond that.
Having not played Horizon: Zero Dawn since it was first released back in February, I was a little bit nervous about getting back into the game. Would I remember the controls, the exploration, and the combat? Within a few minutes of exploring The Frozen Wilds, it all came rushing back to me and I was quickly reminded why this is my favourite game of the year (thus far). The Frozen Wilds doesn’t add any additional gameplay elements that are very meaningful but it does add more story, relevant questions, and larger exploration of life in the 31st century.
- Incredible detail in snowy terrain and environments
- Clear character progression
- New traveller skills
- No new mechanics
- Encounters can be one-dimensional