Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds Put Our Excitement On Ice

  • Playstation 4
  • Action-Adventure
  • Open World
  • RPG
NOTE: This article is a contribution and do not necessarily represent the views of Player One.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds Player.One

It’s been a long wait for the first Horizon Zero Dawn expansion. Sony revealed The Frozen Wilds back in June, four months after the base game debuted, and the nine month wait (from Feb. to Nov. 2017) suggested a major extension of Aloy’s story was en route. But the end result isn’t nearly as big or exciting as we hoped when our download code for The Frozen Wilds showed up last week.

The Frozen Wilds is set before the end of Horizon Zero Dawn, but the recommended levels for its side quests (30+) suggest developer Guerrilla Games built the new content with experienced players in mind. The expansion sends Aloy to a new region in the northeast corner of the map, about half the size of the eastern portion that acts as HZD ’s starting zone. Much of the local fauna will be familiar, from the goats and other normal wildlife to the giant robotic adversaries from the base game. But there are new enemies in The Frozen Wilds too, truly monstrous ones, along with new twists on some old foes.

Narrative justification for Aloy’s latest outing is pretty threadbare. The Banuk typically avoid all contact with the outside world, but now the other tribes are seeing signs of life again and it’s up to our protagonist to see what’s going on. Sony describes the DLC in greater platitudes – if Aloy can “[endure] the harsh landscape and [earn] the respect of the tribespeople, she will gain the allies, abilities and knowledge she needs to uncover a secret from the past – whilst fighting to stop a threat to the future.” But the expansion isn’t much more than a handful of side quests, a few new robots and some uninteresting dialogue that plugs holes in Sylens’ backstory. Because that’s what we all really wanted at the end of Horizon Zero Dawn.

The new encounters are certainly tougher than we’ve seen from the game previously. The harsh winter climate in Banuk territory slows Aloy’s movements and can make it much harder to avoid incoming attacks. The Frozen Wilds also has a penchant for stacking the deck against Horizon Zero Dawn ’s protagonist. I found myself fighting more than one gargantuan enemy frequently, at one point even coming face-to-face(to-face-to-face-to-face) with a pack of four Snapmaws, while scrappers seem to wander into ongoing battles much more frequently than they did before. One NPC justifies the influx by suggesting the machines can “smell metal” at farther distances in the thinner air. But that explanation doesn’t make their constant presence any less frustrating.

The expansion does introduce a new passive unit, the control post. However, its impact on the field of battle is minimal until you accidentally wander into the tower’s circle of influence without realizing it. The immobile tower broadcasts a signal that heals nearby robots, making it all but impossible to down enemies until the tower has been disabled. But disabling control posts is shockingly simple and nearby enemies tend to be easy targets without the added healing.

If the goal was to create something akin to Bethesda expansions, that grow the protagonist’s world and story tangentially, then Guerrilla fell a bit short. The map is bigger and there are new faces in Frozen Wilds, but it took the DLC a long time to explore anything interesting. The new areas don’t beg to be explored like the environments introduced in Nuka-World or The Brigmore Witches. We were ready to write The Frozen Wilds off entirely up until its last hour or so, when Aloy finally travels to a location that’s both visually and narratively arresting. And if you haven’t played HZD since early 2017, you might not even be fully re-acclimated to its controls by the time you’re nearing the end of the DLC. We’ve seen worse. But it’s still hard to recommend a mostly boring, undersized $20 add-on given the number of great games released this year.

If you finished Horizon Zero Dawn and wished you could fight some of its biggest robo-animals in larger numbers or wonder why fights in the base game never stacked the deck against Aloy, The Frozen Wilds will be a treat. But tougher combat scenarios are most of what it brings to the table. If you hoped the first (maybe only) Horizon Zero Dawn expansion would expound on the game’s ending, you’ll be disappointed. TFW does provide additional information on some of the people, places and things seen in the base game. But it doesn’t give us any more information on the state of the world after HZD ’s conclusion. And what little expository information we’re given is delivered in disappointing fashion. Even the new gear is a letdown. There are few upgrades, if you’ve already finished the game, and nothing that feels like a vital addition to Aloy’s arsenal.

We’re still excited about the franchise. Horizon Zero Dawn seems poised to be the next great IP in Guerrilla’s portfolio and there are moments in The Frozen Wilds that suggest we haven’t seen the last of the studio’s first open-world franchise. It's also worth noting the expansion didn't have any major balance issues or game-breaking bugs. It's a well-built piece of software. It's just kind of boring and mostly leans on the least-interesting parts of the base game. We’ll have to wait for a proper sequel to get the narrative continuity we hoped to see in the first HZD DLC.

Horizon Zero Dawn is currently available on PS4. The game’s first expansion, The Frozen Wilds, debuts Nov. 7.

Be sure to check back with Player.One and follow Scott on Twitter for more Horizon Zero Dawn news in what’s left of 2017 and as long as Guerrilla Games supports HZD in the months ahead.

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