Oddly enough, Horizon: Zero Dawn was a game I initially had trouble getting invested in. At its top level it had all the ingredients of something I would love — strong female protagonist, a post-apocalyptic wasteland, robot dinosaurs and the hunting thereof — and yet I did not immediately click with the game. I took some time away from it to play myriad other titles that dropped in the weeks after Horizon’s release, and then finally returned.
Halfway through my playthrough, as my skill unlocks and equipment selection hit its stride and the tide suddenly turned. I found myself truly enjoying the frantic dance of taking down the game’s robotic arsenal of animals, slaughtering wave upon wave of cuddly critters until one finally dropped the craftable bone I needed. I finally completed the game’s truly enjoyable narrative and discovered the secrets of Aloy’s origin and the truth behind her world. About three days after this, Sony and Guerrilla Games announced the game’s “Frozen Wilds” DLC.
After months of waiting, I was finally able to dive back in to Aloy’s world and explore its frozen north, complete with new robotic monstrosities to overcome. “The Frozen Wilds” sees Aloy venturing into the territory of the Banuk tribe, survival-focused people from an eternal tundra deep in the mountains. As you enter their territory, you learn that a mountain at the centre of the region has begun to spew ash and smoke, and the machines of the area have become possessed by a malevolent Daemon, different from the corrupted machines of Aloy’s own region. Your task is to learn the truth of this possession and the secrets of the mountain all while collecting new collectibles and fighting both the elements and the machines that inhabit them.
Mechanically, this region presents nothing new for Aloy. Your traversal options remain the same — run, climb, parkour and mount creatures to make your way around. If nothing else, the snow-covered landscape makes way finding more difficult, and can cause enemies to surprise you as the blue glow of the machines does not pop against a white backdrop as much as the richly-coloured vistas of the rest of the map. Thankfully, new skills are added as part of the DLC that will modify your playstyle. The ability to both collect loot while mounted, as well as the ability to launch attacks from your mount, make everything just a little bit easier than previous.
Couple this with new perks that increase rare loot drops or allow you to deconstruct resources for currency, and “Frozen Wilds” offers quality-of-life improvements that can carry out into the rest of the game — especially if you had not yet completed the main campaign. With new enemies to fight such as the aggressive, fire-spewing Scorcher and towering bear-like Frostclaws, you’ll need every edge you can get to learn their patterns and take them down.
Story-wise, this expansion to the original game is as rich as ever. Guerrilla Games continues to infuse not just their primary characters with rich personalities, but also its cast of side-quest and ancillary characters. One standout mission featured a happy-go-lucky treasure hunter diving headfirst into the exploration of an ancient ruin with you, only to reveal deeper layers at the end of the quest. For a character completely unrelated to the primary plot thread, it’s refreshing to see so much attention given to ensure the same level of polish to all characters throughout the game. Another character connected to this quest wants nothing more than to make music in the ‘ancient instrument’ of the Old Ones she has found, and will happily play for you once you lend your aid.
The primary characters you will interact with on the main quest, Aratak and Ourea, provide excellent drama and pathos as their narrative unfolds. Their interpretation of the area’s ancient technology informs you on both their personal history, and the greater narrative of the game world as well. And of course, Aloy continues to be a good-hearted but put-upon chosen hero, there to solve everyone’s issues with a cutting arrow and equally cutting words.
It feels like greater attention has been paid to bridge the gap between her understanding of the world’s technology and that of the general public — on multiple occasions, characters will ask her what she’s doing to highlight the fact that to those without the AR-powered Focus devices, she just looks like a crazy ginger waving her hands at walls. It’s a small touch, but it shows a greater attention to making this world feel real.
Overall, “The Frozen Wilds” gives one more taste of the game’s amazing combat, world and character animation to players like myself who loved Horizon (whether it was straight away or after coming back to it). It’s a pity that Guerrilla has stated this will be the game’s only piece DLC as it lays even more hints for a greater story in this world. Hopefully that’s just a sign that a sequel is on the books rather than the team being done with the world for good.
Whether you have completed the main game or not, the Banuk territories offer a whole new bunch of challenges for players to take on before putting Aloy’s world away. Now if you’ll excuse me, I still need to find the one bloody goat in this game that actually has bones so I can finish my crafting.
Horizon: Zero Dawn’s “Frozen Wilds” DLC was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale. This review first was published in November 2017.