You’re reading this review so I’m going to assume you enjoyed, or are at least interested in, Horizon Zero Dawn. Well good news, you’re in for a treat. The Frozen Wilds expansion doesn’t shake things up like some DLC tries to, it sticks to the tried and tested formula that made the main game so wonderfully engrossing.
The idea behind The Frozen Wilds is standard for this kind of DLC. A new part of the map is added like it was always there (strange huh?) and it’s up to you to go and explore it. Excitingly though, and as you might have guessed from the title, the new area is in the northernmost part of Horizon Zero Dawn’s map meaning you’re going to be headed deep into Banuk territory. It’s cold and it’s pretty much constantly snowing here – so it’s a good job the snow is so realistically crunchy underfoot and soft as it falls.
Now unless you thoroughly explored the game during your main play through your exposure to the Banuk is likely pretty limited. But trust me, this tribe is the perfect setting for something that both builds on and expands the general theme throughout HZD.
You see the Banuk are spiritual, they revere the machines that you’ve come accustomed to killing. This spirituality forms a big part of the story in this DLC. You’re posed some big, difficult questions and the main quest revolves around saving a ‘spirit’ from a ‘daemon’. Obviously, this is Horizon, not Harry Potter, and as has become the norm for the game, what may appear spiritual and ethereal to Aloy and humans from her time seem like very possible (if distant) technological advances to you and me. I loved this aspect of the main game so it’s great to see that brought to life here too. Like I said, this is an expansion, not a reimagining of the game.
There’s a lot of fantastic new additions to the HZD from this expansion though. New animals (such as badgers and goats) give new crafting possibilities – if you’re skilled enough to hunt them obviously. There are new weapons and armour sets up for grabs – even completely new ‘automated’ weapons like a primitive flamethrower or stun baton. Most impressive of all though is the addition of new machines. Everyone knows the best part of HZD was the wonderfully refined machines.
They were metal and wires that acted and looked like living creatures, brought lovingly to life by one of the most skilled development teams there is: and the new machines are no exception. For example, the Frostclaw is a giant polar bear-esque machine that looks like it evolved rather than was created. It’s so wonderfully put together that it seemed a shame to have to destroy them when they attacked.
And boy do they attack. Don’t think for one minute that you’re going to be able to cruise through the Frozen Wilds with your fancy end game armour and overpowered weapons – you won’t. The devs made this DLC difficult enough to force you back into ducking, diving and timing your attacks to perfection. Even with the best armour, weapons and skills available some of the enemies were a real challenge, and for the first time in a while I found myself dying to machines. This is high level DLC. Don’t even bother attempting it before level 30 and don’t expect an easy ride at level 50. To explain the rise in difficulty the narrative introduces ‘daemonic’ machines – or rather, machines that have been powered up by the entity you’re investigating.
I also must mention the character development and the work that was clearly put into it. The new characters are likeable, relatable and slot themselves into the wider narrative seamlessly. One of my favourite parts of HZD was seeing real, human experiences and emotions play out against a surreal back drop and that shines through in the DLC. Again, for the most part through Aloy. She remains one of the most convincingly authentic protagonists I have ever come across.
At points during the main quest line in The Frozen Wilds a revelation would come to light and I would exclaim shock or something sarcastic only for Aloy to follow me the exact same way a moment later. It’s a small touch but one that makes all the difference when playing a game this immersive. The skill in crafting characters also comes through in the many side quests throughout the expansion – you’re constantly meeting new and interesting people who seem like they could be real.
I was also pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to pick up the controls again. I hadn’t played Horizon Zero Dawn since completing it around the time of release this year so was happy everything came back to me relatively quickly.