Earlier this year Guerilla Games released Horizon Zero Dawn to critical acclaim and commercial success, a brand new IP that brings it’s own unique twist to a post apocalyptic world. The game was exceptionally well received by fans and critics alike, even though it came at pretty much the same time as Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Guerilla Games are best known for their Killzone games, and I have been a fan of the studio for over ten years when Horizon was announced. However by the time the last Killzone game came my excitement about their games has cooled, so I didn’t really expect very much from Horizon when it first got announced. It looked interesting but it didn’t exactly make me squeal like a giddy fangirl (which I totally have never done about any game ever…).
That all changed within the first few hours of me getting the game. I was completely blown away by the world Guerilla have crafted and fell in love with it. It was a tremendous experience and in my opinion one of the best games I have ever played. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has a PS4 and wants to buy a very solid game that will provide them with countless hours of entertainment.
When Guerilla announced that they will be releasing an expansion for this already excellent game I was beyond excited. I pre-ordered it as soon as I could and danced around my living room with excitement (think your average Disney princess dance but done by a six foot tall bearded dude). In any case, enough random talk. If you want find out what I thought of this expansion then read on.
Setting, Story and Characters
The Foreboding North
The Frozen Wilds is a very accurate name for this expansion, because that is exactly what the new region added to the game is like. It is cold, dangerous and unforgiving but at the same time it is immensely beautiful. The Cut, as it is named by the the people that live here, is situated just to the north of the Sacred Lands of the Nora and is named the Cut simply because it acts as a buffer zone between the main lands of the Banuk in Ba-ur and the Carja Sundom.
The Cut is unique in it’s look and feel and is part of what was once the Yellowstone National Park. It is full of never before seen natural wonders, from frozen lakes and massive rivers to unique geological features such as hot springs, fumaroles, geysers as well as an enormous active volcano that is spewing smoke and ash to the surrounding areas, but also hides a secret from ages past.
Secrets of the Mountain
The story of the DLC can be started once you progress far enough in the base game’s main story. Once you reach the point where the new area becomes available you can hear about it from three different characters and journey to the Cut with a different mindset and for different reasons depending on who you approached to start the quest.
The story centers around a Banuk Werak, one of the nomadic communes that the people live in, and their attempt to reach the heart of the volcano to find out why deadly new machines are spawning from its depths. Along the way you will complete many interesting and well written side quests to earn the trust of the Werak and perhaps even directly challenge the decisions of it’s Warchief. From the exciting main quest to side quests that take you on many memorable adventures the narrative stands on par with the base game and maintains the same excellent quality of storytelling throughout.
Brushing Shoulders with the Banuk
Frozen Wilds lets us explore the mysterious tribe of Banuk that features very lightly in the base game. It shines some light on the origins of this mysterious nomadic tribe that can communicate with machines in ways that no other tribe in the world of Horizon can. It goes deeper into their philosophy, spiritualism and way of life, and in the process reveals some of the backstory for Sylens, a once upon a time Banuk Shaman that while helping Aloy through most of the main game until now remained a complete enigma.
We meet a wide variety of new characters in our travels. Warchiefs, shamans, traders, hunters and many more. Superb voice acting, facial movement capture technology and writing make all these characters feel real and relatable. Aloy herself remains an outstanding protagonist and approaches decisions and people with the same charm and wittiness you see in the base game.
New Skills and Gear
Frozen Wilds introduces some awesome new skills to the game, under the new “Traveler” skill line. Interestingly these new skills are largely quality of life stuff, but they do make the already smooth experience of Horizon an even bigger pleasure.
With skill points invested into the right skills you can now increase your overall inventory space and increase your chances of getting rare crafting resources from animals, to satisfy all your hoarding needs. But if even that additional space is not enough and you have trouble with letting go, fear not. There is now a skill that adds the ability to dismantle items straight from your inventory and turn them into shards. Very handy when you don’t fancy making a trek to the nearest trader.
Overriding machines is kind of Aloy’s whole thing, so it is perhaps not much of a surprise that there are now skills that expand that ability. You no longer have to abandon your pet Thunderjaw (named Tiddles) to its fate just because it’s close to death, instead you can simply repair it and stroll into the sunset together. Going one step further, you can now loot/pick up items directly from your mount as well as strike enemies immediately on dismount. Robo-horse truly has never been so useful before.
In addition to new skills there are also several new weapons, outfits and gear modifications. And there is a quest that will unlock the ability modify your spear with exclusive mods. New weapons come in two flavours: three bows which pack a bit more of a punch than anything in the base game and three “throwers” that do elemental damage. The new elemental weapons can all be acquired during the main questline of the DLC and improved through several side quests that are based around a charming Oseram weaponsmith.
When combined with the new outfits and unique gear modifications these weapons add a new dynamic to an already diverse combat system, allowing you to face the beautiful but harsh environment of the Cut and anything it can throw at you.
Environment and New Machines
While the DLC area becomes available fairly early in the main game, it is definitely not for the unprepared. The new environment and machines introduced in the DLC are designed with experienced players in mind and will not be a walk in the park even for them.
I started the DLC on a save file where the entirety of the base game was completed, I was max level and had all the best weapons available in the game, and yet I got my ass handed to me by the very first new machine that I encountered. A machine very menacingly named a Scorcher, that looked not so different from the Sabertooth machines I have encountered before and yet my usual fighting tactics didn’t work. It had more armour plating that I had to destroy before getting a chance to hit critical areas, it was faster and more agile than even Stalkers and in addition to all that it had a cannon that shot fiery balls at me… All in all it was an excellent introduction to what was waiting for me in the Cut.
While the mechanics are pretty much the same as they are in the main game, it definitely isn’t as forgiving as the base game can be, here you have to stay on your toes and be careful how you approach each fight and navigate the environment. Because if you aren’t careful Aloy’s journey can come to a very swift end.
The design of the new machines and the world they inhabit fits well with the base game while maintaining its unique flavour.
Visuals and Sound
Howling winds that carry snows through the wilderness of the Cut. Clear night skies with auroras spreading from one horizon to next. Giant machines making their way through the forest with trees creaking from the stress. Banuk tribes huddled around their campfires telling stories of times long gone.
The visuals and sounds in the game are fantastic. They immerse you in its world and only let you go once you forcefully drag yourself away from the screen.
So what did I think of this DLC?
I thought that it was absolutely superb. Guerilla expertly added to an already excellent game. The game world feels alive and real. It’s full of compelling characters and stories, beautiful vistas and fierce machines. The only disappointing thing about this whole experience is that it is finished.
I would rate it at 5/7, a perfect score for a perfect gaming experience (with or without rice).