Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds review for PS4

Platform: PS4
Publisher: SIEA
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: None

With The Frozen Wilds apparently the one and only planned expansion for Horizon Zero Dawn, Guerrilla Games better have been damn sure that it was going to be a good one. Now that it’s here, and we’ve had ample opportunity to play through it, we can say they’ve held up their end of the bargain. Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds is not merely a good content expansion, it’s a pretty damn great one. The Frozen Wilds is very worthy of fans who have been itching to delve back into the wild world of Horizon Zero Dawn.

Being strictly a single player experience, the only way to really build upon Horizon Zero Dawn (without tacking on some multiplayer modes, blech) was to expand the boundaries of the map and/or add on a story chapter to Aloy’s already very excellent adventure — and that’s exactly what Guerrilla Games did. The Frozen Wilds is a fully fleshed out extension of the story experience, complete with harsh new lands to explore, new enemies to hunt, new quests, missions and secrets to find, additional game mechanics, weapons, gears and more.

The new stuff is fully integrated into the existing campaign in such a way that players do not even need to finish the original game to start working through the new content. While it’s apparently tuned for players that achieve level 30 or higher, even as a level 50 Aloy with the ass-kicking optional Shield-Weaver armor equipped and plenty of rare mods and gear, the new missions and machines are a challenge. These “demonic” mechanized lifeforms found in frigid new northeastern area of the world (known as The Cut) are aggressive, powerful and even more corrupt than the fiercest standard machines as found in the original world.

The Cut is home to the bad-ass tribe known as the Banuk, which played an important role in the original story. The all-knowing Sylens, who is of Banuk origin, of course plays a role in Aloy’s relationship with the tribe and many of the quests presented to her throughout the adventure. There’s no shortage of interesting new characters to interact and team up with in The Frozen Wilds and Guerrilla Games did not skimp on the backstories, voice acting and elaborate outfits for the NPCs that populate The Cut. On top of the main campaign, the new adventure is also pretty stacked with branching missions and optional questlines that will take more than several hours to play through. As mentioned before, many of the challenges are not for the inexperienced hunters, since the difficulty (on normal) is ramped up considerably. This is true for not only the new demonic machines, but the powerful enemy Banuk settlements as well.

In Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds, the constant threat of swirling snow and ice-covered trails can be a nuisance, but also a sight to behold with convincing particles that just fill the screen and even obscure your vision at times. With a 4K HDR setup, watching the sun rise or set over the icy mountain peaks during a storm is magical experience — assuming you’re not being hunted by demonic glinthawks at that very moment. Speaking of the mechanical beasts, the new breed of animals look quite distinctive in their updated exoskeletons, with additional armor and red pulsing energy flowing through their bodies. There is also a totally new bear-wolf hybrid Scorcher beast to hunt (or be hunted by) and strange tower structures which help heal and power up the mechanized animals in its radius. The game’s visuals are gorgeous on whichever PlayStation 4 model you game on and Guerrilla found a nice balance in creating distinctive and colorful, yet bitter, arctic environments within The Cut. Alongside the weather effects, the sights, sounds and attention to detail when Aloy stumbles and crunches through deep snow also stick out. This review was based on the PS4 Pro version which is unspeakably nice looking. There’s a lot to explore in the new environments, with unique structures to navigate, collectibles to locate and puzzles to tackle.

Depending on the path you take and missions you dedicate your time to, Aloy can pick up a number of new weapons including a shock charge blast and a selection of fire and ice weapons that do some hefty damage in close quarters. By halfway through the expanded adventure, players will likely have access to many more offensive options, and trust me, they’ll be put to good use.

In additions to refreshed and enhanced weapon options, there are new outfits to track down as well, and some enhanced rare mods as well. I always favor the Hunter-style bow weapons though the game does a nice job encouraging players to experiment with other variations. Oh there’s a new skill tree also, and anyone who has reached level 50 in the original adventure will be able to unlock ¾ of it right at the start. Many of the new ability nodes are centered around enhancing your mounts or scavenging, though they are still useful in the grand scheme of things.

I never had an issue running out of ammo crafting supplies before, but with the difficult battles found in The Frozen Wilds I had to remember to keep more stock on hand and seek out vendors to replenish — or change up the weapons slots more regularly. So there’s another layer of strategy to enemy encounters now. Here’s a pro tip: even though one may assume that all of the creatures which live in this frigid environment are more susceptible to fire weapons and abilities, that’s not the case. Use the focus to scan everything and plan accordingly.

One thing worth addressing in regards to actually beginning The Frozen Wilds content is it’s not particularly obvious how to do so. Aloy has to seek out and speak with one of three characters in the existing world who will then send her on her journey. There’s no indicators on the map or quest entries in the menu, so unless you just bump into these NPCs it’s not super apparent in how to get started. Thankfully Sony created a little map to help players get going.

For less than $20, Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds (which was supplied to us by SIEA free of charge) is a meaty story-driven, single player expansion for one of the best games of the year and comes very much recommended. While it doesn’t significantly expand on the some of the mysteries that lingered after the conclusion of the original game, the new content fleshes out the universe in a way that has us more excited for the inevitable Horizon Zero Dawn sequel.

Grade: A