When Horizon Zero Dawn first released, it surprised many with its breath-taking vistas and deadly mechanical fauna. Developer Guerrilla Games created a post-apocalyptic world filled with rich lore, interesting people and a map jam-packed with copious amounts of side-quests to distract players with. With the release of The Frozen Wilds expansion for Horizon Zero Dawn, we are once again tempted to set foot in this masterfully created world as we discover more about the machine threat and the nomadic Banuk tribe that make the snow-covered valley.
The Frozen Wilds expansion takes place in a newly discovered part of the map called The Cut, a harsh environment where icy cold winds and an almost continuous snowfall makes survival there only possible for those tough enough to withstand the relentless onslaught of the cold. While most of the other tribes in Horizon Zero Dawn would stay far away from this place, one tribe, the Banuk, has made this winter wonderland their home. The tribe who was merely touched on in the main game now takes centre stage as we discover more about their culture, traditions and beliefs.
Although The Cut does appear as a place where there is relative peace between man and machine, something deadly is hidden below the surface, quite literally, as Alloy finds out that a nearby volcano, which the Banuk call the Thunder Drum, is spewing out new and powerful machines. Of course, its once again up to Alloy to uncover the secrets that lie beneath the surface. While the narrative does flesh out more of the post-apocalyptic world’s lore, Guerrilla Games doesn’t fully answer all the questions I had after finishing the main game. It seems that we will have to wait for the inevitable sequel. Even still, I found that diving into the Banuk culture and learning more about them did console me a bit. Ever since they popped up in the main game, I have always been curious about their tribe and culture.
Now, while Horizon Zero Dawn already was a beautiful game to look at, The Frozen Wilds ups the ante quite a bit as the new area is wonderfully detailed. Who would have thought that snow effects would look so impressive. I continually found myself pausing to take in my snow-covered surroundings. It’s the little things that impressed me the most, like how the snow deformed around Alloy as she trudged through it and how the colourful pigment pools glistened when the light finally broke through the heavy snow clouds. There is no doubt that it remains one of the best-looking games of this generation (so far).
The Cut is a dangerous place, filled with some unfamiliar mechanical creatures out for Alloy’s blood. Frozen Wilds introduces formidable new machines opponents, with the bear-like Fireclaw and Frostclaw being the deadliest. Taking down one of these fearsome machines not only takes patience but planning and a few well-placed shots. Making things even more difficult are the plant-like control towers that dot The Cut. These towers have the ability to disable Alloy’s mount, but even worse repair nearby machines making it critical to take them out first.
Of course, new opponents mean new weapons and Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds does not disappoint. Alloy gets access to a handful of powerful new weapons such as various elemental staffs and some impressive heavy weapons in the form of the Stormslinger, Forgefire and Icerail, which spew out their respective elements in a similar way a flamethrower would. Beyond the new additions to Alloy’s armoury, there are new armour types which she either acquires as a reward for completing the various side-missions or by purchasing them from traders. If you are looking for something special, there is a resource called Bluegleam strewn across the new area which can then be traded for more powerful and rare weapon and armour types.
Another addition, albeit not one that I found particular game-changing, is the new Traveller skill tree which unlocks skills such as shooting from your mount or expanding your resource stash. While these skills are a welcome addition, I didn’t find them impacting on my gameplay in the same a meaningful way the other skill trees did.
The Frozen Wilds is more of what we fell in love with when we first played Horizon Zero Dawn, and this isn’t a bad thing. While it might not give players the answers they were hoping to get narrative-wise, it does help flesh out some of the lore and, more importantly, the Banuk, a tribe we only met briefly in the main game. While the story might be on the short side, there is still more than enough to do, explore, collect and kill.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds is a reminder of why Horizon Zero Dawn, its world, characters and narrative are so captivating. If you loved everything about Horizon Zero Dawn you’ll fall in love with it all over again here.