Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4
Stepping back into Aloy’s shoes is as comforting as pulling on a thick woolly jumper during a chilly winter’s evening, which is appropriate given the frosty environment that Horizon’s first DLC drops you into. An extra fifteen to twenty hours of new challenges await you in The Frozen Wilds, set just before the finale of the original game. While there is nothing truly earth-shattering to be found in Aloy’s traversal of the vast expanse of snow, ice and forgotten tech known as The Cut, it doesn’t prevent this latest adventure from being an enjoyable blast.
The focus of this story is on HEPHAESTUS, a rogue AI daemon who — separate to the main story’s HADES — is churning out new and fantastic beasts from deep beneath a mountain. The writing, admittedly, isn’t as spectacular as the snow-covered glaciers on which the majority of your activity takes place. It suffers from the same issues as its predecessor, such as pedestrian dialogue and a lack of truly interesting characters other than Aloy herself. However, it places itself perfectly into the storyline to tie up a couple of loose ends, and reintroduces characters, mainly via datalogs, that you’ll recognise from earlier plotlines.
Alongside the usual item upgrade quests, bandit camps and hunting tasks, there are a number of new weapons to play around with. These are all variations on a ranged weapon theme, offering up fire, ice and electricity damage in either charged bolt or flamethrower-like flavours. They are interesting enough, but you’ll most likely find yourself using them purely for enemies weak to their specific damage as they are simply not great in close quarters combat, and the finicky weapon selection wheel still proves to be a menace at times. You can buy the new goodies with a specialist currency known as Bluegleam, but you’ll most likely pick them up as part of quests you complete, rendering its inclusion a little redundant.
Three new enemies make an appearance in the expansion. The wolf-like Scorcher has a mine launcher which can prove troublesome to overcome, while the Frostclaw is basically a robotic bear with the hit points to match. The Fireclaw is its reskinned and upgraded alter-ego, and if you’re planning on taking them on below level 40, you will have a significant battle on your hands. Conversely though, if you have maxed out Aloy prior to playing The Frozen Wilds, you may not find the new battles too challenging — especially if you picked up the overpowered armour which offers an additional layer of rechargeable protection. We actually died more from tumbling off cliffs than fighting enemies; your mileage may vary. Other basic enemies are reskinned too with a “daemonic” moniker, but this is just a variation on those found in the Corrupted Zones. Control towers take the place of those zones and heal enemies in their radius until they’re either overridden or destroyed, which adds a further level of complexity to battles.
Simple puzzles also make an appearance, though most are easily overcome through the combination of the overly helpful mission marker telling you exactly where to go, and Aloy’s gentle prodding on the occasions that you do get lost. Consequently, most of the real excitement can be found in the side missions which include another competition against a chieftain, and a frantic set of hunting lodge missions that will challenge even the most hardened time attack fan. There is plenty here that you’ve seen before, but it has been spun out with enough care and polish to make you overlook the familiarity.
However, in an attempt to maintain the status quo, Guerilla have played it a little too safe at times. New skills in the Traveler category are split between those focused on mounts, and those aimed at improving loot drops. While an increased inventory is a welcome addition for our overflowing pockets, the lack of anything particularly exciting in this area is perhaps the biggest disappointment we experienced with the DLC — and even then, the slightly larger carry limit isn’t sufficient to cope with the heaps of lenses, components, modifications and organic materials you’ll inevitably hoard. If you’re not a fan of mounts, there’s not going to be much in the skills arena to encourage you to level up.
It’s lucky, then, that the combat picks up the slack in that department, proving to be as satisfying as ever. Smashing pieces off enemies is still great fun and an overpowered Aloy is, in many respects, the warrior we have watched her grow into. Taking down Watchers in a single strike, or lining up a set of three arrows to peel a core component off a huge beast simply doesn’t get old. The tundra setting serves to showcase Horizon’s dazzling world even further, and 4K TV owners are in for a visual feast.
The Frozen Wilds is yet more Horizon: Zero Dawn, which is hardly a criticism. If it had pushed the envelope a little further, we would have been even more impressed — and we certainly hope that any future return to Aloy’s world will expand upon both the lore and the mechanics with more gusto — but there is a generous amount of content here for fans to enjoy. Wrap up warm and enjoy the ride.