I loved Horizon Zero Dawn. And back when it released I played it exhaustively. The game had a great and mysterious setting, excellent gameplay mechanics and above all – eye-watering graphics. Keep in mind I find visuals not so important for my enjoyment factor but nevertheless, pretty visuals make even the most boring of quests somewhat less of a chore since they still take you to places you can stare in awe at.
Frozen Wilds is much the same. It features a new setting, a mysterious story all the while retaining the excellent mechanics and amazing visuals – and even that has a bit of "new" sprinkled on top. It's nothing revolutionary or ground-breaking, but when your base game is great, more of that is never a bad thing.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds is available for purchase on the Playstation Store.
The story of Frozen Wilds takes you to a new snowy region, added on top of the base game map, called the Cut. It's a region that the Banuk tribe calls home. In the base game, they can be found in their encampment up north and were featured in the quest involving the mystery of docile machines living alongside them. Their isolationism coupled with their faith comes full force here as Alloy ventures there to help them with a "Daemon" that is corrupting their object of worship and wreaking all sorts of havoc across their valley.
The story and how it unfolds is similar in structure to the base game but that doesn't mean that it doesn't have its fair share of surprises and great revelations about the game world as it is now, as well as how it was before humanity's downgrade. The narrative is the main drive of most things you do so I won't spoil anything but know that the stakes are a bit lower in Frozen Wilds. Still, the final revelation is just as impactful as the ones from the main game and they tie in with them to make a pretty substantial whole.
With Horizon Zero Dawn, Guerrilla really sets itself as a prime narrative weaver. Narratives that feature interesting and lifelike characters that are leagues above those in their Killzone series. Frozen Wilds features a great cast of characters that, although sometimes falling into cliche, stereotype territory invest you into their well-written stories with great voice acting and animations.
Aloy remains the always sympathetic, "ready to help" type while providing some comedic relief in the face of often silly customs and beliefs of the Banuk people. While she remains respectful, she often says what the player is thinking in the face of characters whose beliefs and ignorance bring them more bad than good. With this, she is one of the prime examples of great characters that serve as player avatars without needing to be a blank slate with absolutely no personality.
Most of the 15 hours spent in the expansion are focused on the main story – going to places, speaking to characters, destroying machines, focus detective play and exploring ruins of the old world. Side quests remain strong and meaningful but there are very little of them compared to the base game. I found this very disappointing as Guerrilla gave me this beautiful snowy playground with little end-game to speak off to continue enjoying this world with a bit more context to it.
The content of Frozen Wilds is recommended for players that are lvl. 30 or higher. You can go there even if you are below that minimum but it's just a death sentence for all but the most skilled players who want a punishingly hard experience. Expansion throws a curveball by changing enemies present in the base game and adding a few new ones.
First, it introduces control tower machine that sends out pulses of energy which heals enemy machines while damaging friendly ones + it destroys the force field of the shield weaver outfit. It makes you approach some encounters with even more strategic care¸as these towers must be taken out first if you ever want to stand a chance of dispatching the machines in the area. They can be overridden which will stun enemy machines but also alert them to your presence so destroying them from afar is the preferred method.
Daemonic corruption or purple variants of the existing machines do the same that the red corruption did in the base game – makes machines a bit tougher. There are also the completely new ones like Scorchers and Claw variants which mimic the appearance and behavior of wolves and bears respectively.
Speaking of additions, the expansion brings new gear in form of region ready armors as well as new upgradeable weapons. Some of these can only be obtained by the resident currency called Bluegleam that you find in the world or sometimes get as a quest reward. I found little use for the new gear and ended up using most of what was already present in the base game, especially the shield weaver outfit which saved my life on plenty of occasions.
The new skill tree mostly deals with making being mounted a bit more intuitive which it succeeds. This, however, has little impact on the way you play with only one or two new skill being actually useful. Even then, some of these skills shouldn't even be locked behind such progression and should be a normal part of Aloy's skillset from the get-go in my opinion.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
As with the base game, the Frozen Wilds looks absolutely beautiful. Although we had cold, snowy regions in the base game, the Cut takes this to a whole new level. The dynamic way the snow behaves is especially impressive and the entire game is like a highly atmospheric winter theme park that's just a joy to look at.
This is helped by improved character and machine animations, interactions and just an insane amount of polish across the board. This is a game that will have you going to photo mode more often than any other and its a guarantee that no matter where you point your virtual camera – you're gonna get beautiful results. The game also runs very smooth at 30FPS, 1080p on the regular PS4 with some more options in terms of resolution on the PS4 Pro.
On the audio side of things, the expansion retains the high quality of the base game with excellent voice work that when coupled with the great facial animations really bring these characters to life, making you care that much more about their problems. The same goes for sound in general as the already thick visual atmosphere is highly supplemented by it and helps the immersion greatly. It also counts as an aid in combat where machines produce distinct sounds depending on what they are doing. This saved my hide multiple times as I knew what was happening around me, even if I wasn't directly looking at it.
Frozen Wilds as an expansion is larger in scope and length than some full-fledged $60 games. At a $20 price range, this is impressive in itself today where elsewhere two outfit DLC's can cost you just as much. It's an absolute must-have expansion for everyone who already owns the base game and more meat for those thinking of jumping into Horizon Zero Dawn for the first time.
+ Great self-contained story
– Not much new gameplay-wise
+ Amazing visuals (that snow)
– Not enough side quests
+ Added challenge