Better wrap up warm!
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds on PlayStation 4
Earlier this year, Horizon Zero Dawn released to critical acclaim. Its stunningly detailed world was a joy to be in, leading me to spend upwards of 50 hours completing the story, side quests, and grabbing as many collectibles as I possibly could. Skip forward nine months and I was excited to dive back into the world with The Frozen Wilds, and I’m pleased to say it’s a fantastic expansion to the core experience.
The Frozen Wilds takes players up to the very north of the map, into the territory of the Banuk tribe. Aloy catches word that there’s some strange goings on up in this area known as The Cut. New, hostile machines have appeared, and it’s believed that a spirit is behind it. So, of course, the badass Aloy steps up to the challenge and heads off to investigate. Though we won’t dive into details on The Frozen Wild’s story in this review, it manages to weave its way into the general lore of the experience, shedding light on some questions players may have had during the main game. The action comes at you thick and fast, and the story is concise and to the point. None of the quests feel like filler here, but there is a sense that things go by too fast. Gaining the trust of one of the most senior figures in the Banuk tribe seemed far too easy considering I was an outsider, not to mention an added plot point we won’t reveal here. As a result, the story seems to go at too fast a pace for itself, almost all too eager to reach its conclusion.
The Frozen Wilds also dangled a very alluring story reveal at its beginning, pretty much promising to shed some light on it once I proceeded through the quest. With it being a particular point of intrigue for me by the end of Horizon Zero Dawn, I was eager to reach The Frozen Wilds’ conclusion and get the answers I’d been waiting many months for. However, at the very moment I expected to be given the chance to get my answers, it was never given to me as an option. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a little on the way, but the big moment I was expecting just never showed up.
Outside of the story, The Frozen Wilds, as you may expect, plays and looks just as wonderfully as the base game does. The standout game changers are by far The Frozen Wilds’ new machines. Though I could have arguably done without one of these five new additions, the others proved to be challenging opponents in battle. Scorchers are close-combat specialists and will send Aloy to a very swift demise if you don’t keep your distance, while the others are straight up formidable powerhouses both up close and from a distance.
However, just as was the case with the base game, targeting weak points and exploiting elemental weaknesses is key to prevailing over your foes. Don’t expect these machines to fight back in a typical dumb AI kind of way, though. Guerrilla’s done a great job once more in ensuring that these machines really act like intelligent predators. If you burn them once with a tripwire, don’t expect them to keep barreling through them just to reach you. In my first encounter with a Scorcher, rather than running through my mess of traps and tripwires sure to doom it, the Scorcher ran around the other side of the nearby hill, avoiding the traps and closing the distance, giving itself the advantage in the process.There’s a cat-and-mouse feel to battles with these beasts that’s heart pumping when you’re on your last scrap of health. You really do need to strip these machines down to avoid tough and drawn out battles, making each battle feel like a satisfying and deadly puzzle to solve. This frozen landscape is also host to a number of the original machines you saw in the mainland of Horizon’s map ensuring that these enjoyable, albeit limited new machines don’t become a drag to keep taking on.
On the note of combat, it’s worth talking about the difficulty and exactly who The Frozen Wilds is aimed at. Going into the DLC, I had expected the adventure to be a walk in the park, especially considering Guerrilla had confirmed that this wasn’t end game content. Sitting pretty at level 50, I didn’t expect there to be as much of a challenge as I was faced with. Recommended levels for story quests, side missions and errands vary between about 30 and 50 depending on how far into the DLC you are. Going in at level 50 provided a fair challenge, so I suspect the difficulty might be pretty steep for those attempting to go in on or just below the recommended level.
Outside of the new machines and story content, The Frozen Wilds packs in a lot of other new additions for players. There’s new collectibles for dedicated explorers to locate, side quests, errands, a hunting ground and a bandit camp to beat, a new step into overriding a Tallneck, and a host of new weapons and outfits that can be purchased with a new currency you’ll find scattered across the world. Heading up into the Banuk’s territory isn’t just a fleeting visit, there’s plenty to keep you occupied here for some time after you’ve completed the main storyline.
Not all of The Frozen Wilds’ side quests are created equal, though. A standout that I stumbled upon as soon as I entered The Cut had me working with an eccentric fella to help drain a ‘Banuk Instrument,’ while helping him seek out a looking glass on the side. This latter part may seem incredibly inconsequential, and that’s because in the grand scheme of things it was. But it was important to that character, and in the 30 minutes it took me to complete the side quest, I empathized with the character’s plight and hoped I could keep him around for the rest of my journey. There are a ton of memorable characters in The Frozen Wilds, and the Banuk, a tribe we got scarce details about in the base game, have been fleshed out much more within the context of the world. Getting to see their strange customs first-hand is a joy and helps to emphasize their more traditional tribal feel compared to the likes of the established civilization of the Carja. On the other hand, a few side quests are forgettable ‘reach a location and defeat enemy’ deals just as a means of giving you more XP and the currency to trade with merchants.
There’s also a new dynamic camera and more realistic facial animations from the original game. Or so Guerrilla claims. These are a little hit and miss. At times, you’ll spot an intricate crinkle in the brow of a character, or a concerned look in their eyes. However, in the very same conversation, characters can unnervingly eyeball you or briefly glitch out. This didn’t happen a lot, but it’s still enough to break the immersion when it does happen. The Frozen Wilds more than makes up for these moments with its breathtaking views and otherwise perfect performance. Even when I was being hounded by two giant enemies with explosions going off left, right, and center, the framerate didn’t let up once, ensuring combat remained fast-paced and satisfyingly fluid.
Ultimately, there’s a lot of content here. The Frozen Wilds doesn’t drag its story content out for too long, letting its conclusion come in after about 5-6 hours, but the amount of content outside of the main story quests will keep fans going for another 5-10 hours depending on how intent you are on seeing everything the DLC has to offer.
If you enjoyed the gameplay experience in Horizon Zero Dawn, you’ll enjoy what’s on offer in The Frozen Wilds. Its machines pose even more of a threat than some of the most intimidating beasts you came across in the main game, side quests help to flesh out the concise story experience, and the new weapons and outfits on offer are powerful additions to your arsenal. The Frozen Wilds offers a delectable slice of familiar action in a new, dangerous, yet beautiful land with plenty of lore and content to keep you exploring The Cut long after you’ve completed your quest. Though not as polished and perfectly paced as the core experience, The Frozen Wilds is still more than worth the $20 price tag.
Score: 4/5 – Great
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