It’s been nine months since we were introduced to Horizon Zero Dawn and flame-haired hero, Aloy, and now, just in time for a special edition for that all important Christmas market, we return. Despite the snow drenched fir trees, gobbling turkeys, and stunning winter mornings, this is not a festive time for Aloy as she heads north to a new area, the Cut, which is home to the Banuk tribe who created the large paintings in the original game.
The story for the DLC is fairly similar to that of the main game as something is causing the machines to go extra nuts, it’s just that instead of Corruption they have been tainted by the Daemon. Aloy must find her way to a smoking volcano, home of the Daemon and discover who or what it is, and destroy it. The corrupted zones and machines found in the main game have been replaced by areas with huge Daemon towers which will disable Aloy’s shield – if you have one – and repair any nearby machines, meaning you have to take the towers out first before tackling the robotic beasts.
Alongside Daemonic versions of the machines found in the original game there are a couple of new additions including the fearsome Scorcher, a wolf type machine with a mine launcher that you can knock off and use yourself, and my favourite, the Snowclaw, a giant bear with deadly ice attacks. Aloy can now reach level 60 and has a new skill tree alongside the existing three, although none of the new abilities are particularly exciting. There are three new bows to collect, three new weapons which turn out to be very useful when attacking the new enemy types, and Bluegleam, a new currency which is only accepted by the Banuk traders, so you’re going to have to find supplies of that rather than spend your metal shards.
The new area is packed full of locations to visit and is fairly sizeable, not just across but also vertically as some of the missions will have you weaving in and out of the mountainside, climbing thousands of feet into the sky. It looks stunning and the intense snow storms that reduce visibility to almost zero effectively convey the freezing conditions, so much so that when I had venture back to the blazing sun and desert for the main game I actually felt physically warmer. The realistic snow effects are some of the best I have ever seen and it really does look like Aloy is wading through snow. It’s not just her, as all the creatures leave realistic tracks and trails as they roam through the frozen lands.
The biggest changes to be found are in the characters and dialogue, most of which were rather wooden and perfunctory in the main game. In The Frozen Wilds you get to meet a number of NPCs who have genuinely enjoyable dialogue. My favourite is Gildun, a cheeky treasure hunter who may have pressed a wrong button or two and flooded a large area of the map. Oseram trader Burgrend also makes an impression, and Banuk leader Aratak, who accompanies you for a portion of the expansion, has a great emotional scene with some superbly nuanced facial animation which many other characters lack.
The first mission recommends that you’re level thirty before you start it, but I started playing with my level fifty character from the main game, having completed every quest, gained every weapon, and stockpiled supplies. I assumed it would be a walkover. It’s not. The new enemies are extremely tough and even the best weapons from the main game barely make a dent and you’re not going to get very far unless you’ve picked up the armour with the regenerating shield. One Snowclaw is bad enough, when you have three of them attacking you you have to think fast, dropping traps and making full use of the Ropecaster to immobilise the beasts, and don’t even think of trying to take down a Daemonic Thunderjaw until you’ve upgraded all your weapons.
Thankfully there is only one Cauldron to traverse and that comes toward the end of the DLC; it’s one of the biggest in the game but is not too arduous. This section also has one of the best boss fights I’ve ever played and, once again, you will need every weapon and trap in your armoury to take down the creature. Finishing the story part of the DLC unleashes loads more of these creatures into the wilds, so there’s plenty to do even when you have completed the main quest, which took me around fifteen hours. Not all of that time was spent on the main task as I had to run side quests to upgrade my weaponry, and I’d estimate that getting every collectible and finishing all the side missions and errands will take well over twenty hours.
Aloy has retained her perky, rather more sarcastic personality that she gained in the latter part of the original game and if you have completed that you get a lot more information on GAIA, Horizon Zero Dawn and other story lines when you finish the DLC. There are also plenty of hints about where the series will go next, and we get to discover a little more about the mysterious Sylens and his motives, clearly the developers have the next game mapped and it’s going to include more bizarre poetry written on metallic flowers.
Unfortunately Guerrilla haven’t improved the enemy human AI, a problem in the first game, which makes the one new Bandit camp found in the DLC a little dull. Other than that there is very little to criticise, beyond one small animation bug which was amusing rather distracting, and the last section of the Cauldron which becomes slightly confusing and had me stuck for a good hour while I worked out where to go.
The Frozen Wilds enhances an already excellent game. The improved dialogue for a number of the characters shows that Guerrilla have clearly taken onboard the criticism levelled at Zero Dawn, while the additional enemy creatures are welcome and make the game feel well rounded and complete. I really enjoyed returning to the world of Horizon Zero Dawn and simply can’t wait for the next game.