Review: Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds

 Taking another dip in a Frozen tundra.

Console: PlayStation 4 game played on a PlayStation 5.

When it comes to expansions, I usually don't play them directly after the base game. I booted up Torna: The Golden Country the same day I finished Xenoblade Chronicles 2 but quickly stopped because I got hit with that burnout feeling. With The Frozen Wilds, the expansion of Horizon Zero Dawn however, I wanted to give this back-to-back approach another shot. Putting off the expansion might mean no burnout but it also means one more game on the backlog. One game that gets completely forgotten by new releases, ala Fire Emblem Three Houses: Cindered Shadows. 

 

So without further ado, let's dive into Alloy's exploits in this frozen wilderness and if it's an expansion worth purchasing. 

 

 

Aloy travels to the secluded Northern region “The Cut", the home of the Banuk tribe, after hearing word of dangerous machines appearing there. In The Cut, she learns from a Banuk Chieftain named Aratak that the Banuk have attempted to slay a ‘Demon’ that has appeared on the smoking mountain “Thunder’s Drum”, but to no avail. This Demon is what has corrupted the machines in the area, making them more resistant to damage. Their Shaman, who is said to have great knowledge about the Demonic machines, disappeared not long ago. 

Thus, Aloy sets off to find this Shaman, Ourea, and uncover the mystery of these Demonic machines.

 

The story is a good, if a small-scaled, one. A side-adventure for Aloy that has no real consequences but does provide more insight into the world of the game. If not for Aratak/Ourea dynamic introduced mid-way through the story and the nature of the story’s villain you could mistake The Frozen Wilds ‘main’ quest for a side-quest. One placed in an entirely new region, but still. 

 

NOT that I think that this is a bad thing. It’s what I expected from it and the narrative is fun and engaging, but if you were thinking more along the lines of the Witcher 3 DLC in terms of impact then you should lower your expectations a tad. 

 

The Cut is home to some new machines, like the Wolf-like Scorcher.

No, for me the issues lie somewhere else. A small nit-pick is that the ‘main’ quests of the Frozen Wilds are all lumped into the ‘side-quest’ category. They don’t even have anything to denote that they are part of the Frozen Wilds. Makes it a bit difficult to keep track of them. Shame, because even though there are not that many quests they’re well made. A quality over quantity situation. 

These quests also have a very annoying difficulty curve/level-scaling system. You can start The Frozen Wilds anytime you want after the introduction but the quests are designed for players of lv. 30 and upwards. The quests are all around lv. 30-35 until suddenly it jumps to lv. 40 and then to lv. 50 immediately after that. Not very neat. 

 

Lastly, the experience is clearly padded. Around the halfway point of the 7-8 hour campaign, you’re basically tasked with completing activities to "make yourself known". This is nothing more than the game requiring you to complete a certain number of side-quests to progress to make the expansion feel longer than it actually is. 

 

With all of that out of the way, I’m actually nearly done! The Frozen Wilds is an integrated expansion after all so there isn´t that much new to talk about. I got the story and new quests done, now it´s time for the new area: The Cut. Located on the most northern part of the map, The Cut is around the size of the desert area in the main game. It’s full of snow and mountains, which I really like. Snowy areas aren’t that common in games so it’s nice to one be the focus of this expansion. Going for a mountain aesthetic over something like an Antarctica thing (full-on ice) is also a nice change of pace for a snowy area. 

The Cut is a well designed area. With its mix of snow, mountains and forest it’s unlike any other area in the game.


Some other additions are new weapon types, three heavy-hitting elemental weapons, along with some more powerful bows and armour sets. The weapons are the most powerful versions you can get. The armour sets are a bit more interesting. They don´t just look really nice but have some added effects that make one in particular quite worth your while. There are also a few new machines but I don´t have anything 

 

In a small but very welcome improvement over the main game, the facial animations are much better in the pre-rendered cutscenes here. In the base game, animations of the characters and especially the faces were stiff. Bad even. With faces that move awkwardly, lips that aren’t properly synced and mouths that keep hanging open. These issues are not present in the newly made animations for the Frozen Wild. Well done on listening to feedback there Guerilla Games! 

 

Conclusion


I think nearly everyone who buys/plays The Frozen Wilds simply want some more Horizon Zero Dawn to play around with and this expansion gives you exactly that. A new area with new machines, gear and quests alongside some new story content. The expansion is not the most innovative, but that’s OK. There is nothing wrong with such an approach and the expansion is a lot of fun, but if you were expecting more than that, if you were hoping for a small evolution HZD, you won’t find it here. 

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