Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds preview

‘The Frozen Wilds’ is just more ‘Horizon Zero Dawn,’ and that’s great

Horizon Zero Dawn’s post-post-apocalyptic landscape, populated by tribal humans and robotic megafauna, was one of our favorite virtual worlds to explore in recent memory. Almost a year later, it’s time to hack and saddle up another Broadhead, because Aloy rides once more in the game’s first (and only) post-launch expansion, The Frozen Wilds. The new side story adds about 15 hours of gameplay onto the base game, centered around The Cut, a new, snowy region tacked onto the Northeast corner of the map. While it does not substantially elevate the base game, it is nevertheless as well-produced as anything that Guerilla Games has released so far, and fans of the slick, open-world action-RPG will no doubt be thrilled to hunt new prey and explore new territory in Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds.

Prime Cut

The Cut is a snowy mountain pass that separates the game’s main areas from the home territory of the Banuk, the elusive, shamanistic tribe of snowy mountain hunters. Once you’ve reached a certain point in the game, Aloy’s able to travel there to investigate rumors of newly-enraged, daemon-infected machines ravaging the region. The Banuk, with their rigid cultural taboos and elaborate machine-worshipping religion, were one of the most interesting and underdeveloped factions in the main game, and The Frozen Wilds nicely fleshes them out as another interesting and human lens on the fall and rebirth of human civilization.

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In addition to a story, The Frozen Wilds’ new zone offers a microcosm of the base game with new sidequests, collectibles, a bandit camp, challanges, and several new types of robotic prey for you to hunt (or be hunted by). The quests are nicely structured, such that you are gently encouraged to engage with all of it; For the most part, though, you only have to play what interests you.

The writing and gameplay is as well-crafted here as anything in the base game.

That said, fans will want to do everything. Even the two new sets of collectibles in the Cut (animal figurines and dye pigments) come from well-written quest givers that make these fetch-quests feel a bit more flavorful than their base game equivalents.

The game’s visuals — both aesthetically and technically — feel like a slight upgrade over the original release. The Cut’s powdery snowdrifts and technicolor hot springs are as detailed and visually inviting as any area of the game, and there’s been a notable improvement in the mo-cap acting of NPCs as well, who feel a bit more naturalistic here than in the wooden performances of the main story.

The hunter’s new tricks

The expansion content is balanced to be inserted in the mid to late game (around level 30 or later), rather than after the main story has wrapped up. As such, it is somewhat self-contained, fleshing out details about the game’s eponymous Project Zero Dawn and your mysterious frenemy Sylens without spoiling or altering the central narrative.

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Though it is siloed off, the expansion’s new content is among the best in the game as a whole. In addition to tougher, demonic variants of existing robots, there are four wholly new foes, such as the fire-spewing, mine-tossing scorcher, or the savage and hearty frostclaw bear. The most interesting new addition is the control tower: a static, towering tentacle that repairs and buffs robots within a wide range, forcing you to sneak in and destroy or override the tower before you can reasonably take down everything else in the area.

To help Aloy tackle these new threats, The Frozen Wilds adds several new tools to her arsenal. Several new weapons, which cast bolts of electricity and frost, open up new tactical options, as well of a higher tier of new weapons and armor (slightly more powerful than everything available in the base game). An early quest also allows her to modify her spear, allowing for more melee-centric strategies. All of the new items can be purchased with Bluegleam, a special new currency scattered around the Cut, and rewarded for Frozen Wilds quests.

Aloy also has access to a new, fourth skill tree, “traveler,” which mostly contains somewhat minor quality of life improvements for the more logistical elements of the game (such as carrying more resources, or picking up plants and looting corpses while mounted). For players who already maxed out their skills before starting the DLC, these might feel a bit underwhelming as endgame content, but playing The Frozen Wilds integrated into the base game from earlier will find them useful. We were especially fond of one that increases the frequency of rare animal drops like skins and bones, which created a major choke point for upgrades during our first playthrough.

The Frozen Wilds infuses a generous amount of content into Horizon Zero Dawn, expanding both the base game’s world building and its rock-solid combat mechanics. While it may not contain the earth-shattering revelations or gameplay-elevating evolutions that some might have wanted from the game’s sole expansion, the writing and gameplay is as well-crafted here as anything in the base game, and we’re more than happy to spend a little more time in Guerrilla’s colorful world.

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