Shea Reviews – Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds

Mountainous vista in The Cut

I had several small issues with some of Horizon Zero Dawn’s systems and design. The inventory management was incredibly tedious, and that problem was only compounded by how many variations of enemy drops there were. The world design, while impressively varied, did at times contribute to there being too much on screen. Focus mode often blended into the environment, especially in snowy areas. Enemies became repetitive. The platforming was less than stellar.

With all of this being said, the pros so outweighed the cons that I named Horizon Zero Dawn one of my favorite games of 2017. Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds continues the best aspects of the original game, while adding some excellent new pieces of lore. But it also accentuates some of the more tedious aspects of the base game.

Aloy shooting arrows at a machine
The combat plays as well as you’ll remember, though getting hit from behind is still annoying.

To start, pretty much the entirety of the DLC takes place in the frozen mountains. This begins to feel a bit samey after just a few hours and makes the bad platforming stand out even more. The neon colors also blend into the snowy whites too often, making it hard to use focus mode or tag enemies. That isn’t to say the game doesn’t look good, because holy crap does it remain a graphics powerhouse.

Inventory management is made a tad easier by expanding the total slots and encouraging you to dismantle items out in the wild, instead of always waiting to find a merchant. This definitely caused me to waste fewer resources, but I still spent an inordinate amount of time in my inventory, figuring out which items I should dismantle or keep. These are small problems, but it still seems weird to focus on DLC that only makes a game’s prior annoyances even larger.

The Frozen Wilds perk tree
There’s a new perk tree, but nothing that significantly changes the way you play.

But with the complaints out of the way, we can focus on the excellent story of The Frozen Wilds and the new weapons and enemies that add some much needed variety.

The Frozen Wilds focuses on The Banuk, who are introduced in the base game as having a more symbiotic relationship with the machines than any of the other tribes. There’s a daemon that’s inhabiting a nearby mountain in their homeland, The Cut, and it’s causing the machines to behave erratically. Aloy sets out to stop the daemon, learning in the process that GAIA’s subsystems are involved.

While I came to The Frozen Wilds after completing the main game, this DLC actually works quite well as a side story to be played near the end of the main one. It provides additional context for the AI that caused all of this to happen. It reminds me a bit of the Leviathan DLC from Mass Effect 3. There’s so much meat to this side story that it actually feels kind of essential to one’s understanding of the larger narrative. I enjoyed that, but I could see some folks being frustrated that this wasn’t included in the base game.

The area you explore feels about the right size for the content it has to deliver. There’s another bandit camp, some hidden treasures, a new ruin to explore, and a few Banuk camps where you can trade, interact with NPCs, and receive quests. Nothing fundamental has changed about the way you progress in the game; there’s just a bit more of everything.

Horizon Zero Dawn featured some surprisingly interesting side characters, and The Frozen Wilds continues this trend. Not only is it awesome to get insight from CYAN, the AI you discover, but quest-givers are brimming with personality. The character writing remains a strong suit of the game.

Aratak, leader of his werak
There are plenty of interesting characters to talk to (and argue with) in The Cut.

Throughout The Cut, you fight mostly familiar foes that are described as being “more aggressive.” I didn’t really notice a difference in their behaviors, to be honest. There are a few new machine types, most notably the Fireclaw and the Frostclaw. These machines are based on bears, and they’re quite the bullet sponges.

When first introduced, they take forever to bring down alone. Then there are multiple instances where you fight more than one at a time, and that obviously takes even longer. Frankly, while I liked the new tactics of these machines, the fights dragged on a tad too long, even using solid tactics and weapons to which they’re weak. It wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to fight several throughout the story, and even more optional ones after finishing it. It makes those “mini-boss” battles feel a tad repetitive and not as dramatic.

You can pretty quickly unlock even better versions of the bows you’ve been using, and they still feel great to fire. You also unlock three element-specific weapons, the Forgefire, the Icerail, and the Stormslinger. Each does absolutely massive damage to machines that are weak to that particular element type, but they burn through resources just as fast. They’re best used sparingly, but they are fun.

Frostclaw machine enemy
The Frostclaws and Fireclaws are pretty intimidating the first time you come across them.

It might sound like I was a tad underwhelmed with The Frozen Wilds. While it was frustrating to yet again deal with bad inventory management and world traversal, this DLC acts as a great excuse to revisit Horizon Zero Dawn. There’s a ton of story to be had, and the new enemies are mostly fun to fight — especially with the cool new weapons. I still think the true sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn will better address some of my issues with the base game, but this DLC does take baby steps in the right direction.

8.6/10

So, what did you think of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds? What improvements will you expect to see in the full-size sequel? Let me know in the comments below, and check out my other video game reviews!

Horizon Zero Dawn The Frozen Wilds

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