Although I missed the opportunity to gush about this game when it first released, Guerilla Games have given me another chance with the release of their first DLC, Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds. This is a game I get giddy about, so please excuse me if I seem to hyperbolize, but I will not apologize for getting excited about one of the most memorable gaming experiences in my life. Followed up by some of the most intricate storytelling and breathtaking scenery made for console, Frozen Wilds continues the story of Aloy. As she travels north into the frozen land of the Cut, Aloy searches for answers to expand her knowledge of the machines and the Old Ones.
One thing I think most people agree HZD does well is tell a gripping story with the open world setting. Frozen Wilds is no exception. Frozen Wilds does an exceptional job of expanding the story we are familiar with from the base game by introducing new interesting characters through a new tribe called the Banuk. It establishes a new setting in which these people inhabit, the likes of which only previously hinted at. Finally, this DLC tops it all off by introducing new mechanical threats that require an apt level of skill and determination to defeat.
In my opinion, the flow is smooth enough that is nearly indistinguishable from the original content. This maintains the immersive experience players witnessed from the base game. In a sense, you can “dive right in” if you have been away from the game for a while. After a brief introduction, Aloy finds herself in Song’s Edge, a werak (tribe) of the Banuk where she quickly learns of the trouble in the region. Many skilled fighters died in a recent failed expedition to the mountain known as Thunder’s Drum. Furthermore, the story expands through the machines. In this region, they are apparently much more hostile and suffer from a “derangement.” Aloy arrives just in time as the chieftain of the werak, Aratak rallies his troops to once again trek into the dangerous mountain where the source of the derangement seems to originate.
Without going into more detail, the setup of this narrative is similar to how the quests from the base game are established. While this setup promises more of the same trekking, climbing, and fighting that is familiar, the layer of mystery surrounding this quest gives the player more conjecture. The derangement of the machines, the unfamiliar territory, and not to mention the completely new machine Aloy must learn to defeat. All of this culminates into a secondary story that feels like it could be the main story to another game. Of course, the story itself is just as entertaining as predicted. However, I found this aspect of storytelling to be most praise-worthy.
On top of this, we learn more about the Old Ones and gain more information on how the past connects to the present, including more side quests that feed into the story and intrigue. Overall, when it comes to the overarching plot, I see this as an extension more than a separate entity. Although this tactic may be limiting in some games, HZD does a phenomenal job through its seamless transitions.
I’m already getting sick of myself lauding all of the qualities of this game. As a reviewer, I try to separate myself from a game so I can present a more objective point of view. However, when a game gets it right, it gets it right. It deserves all the praise awarded to it. Frozen Wild’s gameplay makes no change from the base game when it comes to gameplay. Based on what I’ve previously said, it would make no sense. The continuation calls for the gameplay to be consistent with the original content. Essentially, “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.” So, when I speak on the specific gameplay mechanics, know that I speak for the game in its entirety.
The default button layout for battle and action sequences are spot on from the get-go. There was no need for me to make any major adjustments, and the fighting mechanics are very easy to pick up. Above this is one of my favorite aspects of the game as a whole. Ammunition crafting is a very risky mechanic to add to any RPG. However, HZD manages to execute it perfectly through slow motion. The pop-up weapons inventory UI creates a seamless avenue in order to create ammo on the fly. This makes for smooth and quick battle sequences that keep the player focused on the task. Essentially, it maintains the immersive experience of battle and makes them all the more enjoyable.
The game continues its skill-upgrade system from before; however, Frozen Wilds introduces the “Traveler” skill tree. Anticipating the long journeys made throughout Ban-Ur, these skills improve usefulness of resources and mounts. One gripe I had with the base game was the difficulty to manage and carry the resources necessary for battle. It seemed the over-saturation of resources necessary to craft different kinds of ammunition hindered the gameplay experience.
In an attempt to remedy this, the “Traveler” skill tree gives players abilities like “Shard Salvager” and “Hoarder.” Respectively, you can free up inventory space by disassembling resources and mods for shards and increase resource inventory slots by 20%. Although it may not have cured one of the few flaws in gameplay, the helpful treatment lead to overall improvement. Other aspects of gameplay are in most generic RPGs. I touched on a couple that stand out, but the other expected traits come with little to no issues.
Finally, we come to perhaps the most significant portion of this game. This game…is beautiful. There is no denying that. The art style, the breathtaking scenery, the numerous settings, etc. I mean, the game comes with its own “photo mode.” Even if you aren’t as big of a fan as me, I think we can agree on the pristine aesthetic of Horizon Zero Dawn. Therefore, to get past the obvious, I will just touch on how Frozen Wilds adds its own flair to the design of the game.
As demonstrated with the story and gameplay, the DLC picks up right where it leaves off. However, at the same time, Frozen Wilds introduces an entirely new world. A frozen tundra of towering mountains that seem to stretch on forever. Furthermore, deranged machines that inhabit the land incorporate opposing senses of familiarity and brand-new.
Another example of this comes from the discovery of the EPSILON cauldron. The threat you face is a new and mysterious, but the familiarity of how to explore and maneuver in a cauldron from the base game gives you a strategic advantage. When it comes to design, that is what this DLC is: a combination of new and old. Familiarity and brand-new.
In my opinion, that is the only way it could work. The developers knew this too and fashioned a design that reflected the beautiful world known in the base game. At the same time, they introduced new elements which kept the player involved throughout.
Frozen Wilds successfully demonstrates what a solid continuation DLC is supposed to be. The open-world mechanic is perhaps the biggest advantage HZD has for this and any other planned DLC. The team has shown they know how to expand their world, and I would bet they are willing to do it again. As long as they maintain the system of keeping consistent aspects of gameplay, storytelling, and design, their world is their oyster. Introducing new and unusual features will keep fans coming back for more. Horizon Zero Dawn could prove to be one of the most lucrative games made for console. I can’t wait to see what they have in store next.