Harsh Realities and the Gently Falling Snow: A Review of The Frozen Wilds DLC for Horizon Zero Dawn

Hello my fellow shards gatherers, I’m here to tell you why you should all be playing The Frozen Wilds DLC for Horizon Zero Dawn (previously reviewed here), and it’s basically because it’s my favorite DLC since Mass Effect’s Citadel DLC. It has a little bit of everything: new storyline, new machines, upscaled difficulty, new outfits, new weapons, and completely new spoilers!

This review assumes you’ve completed Horizon Zero Dawn but contains very few spoilers for the main storyline of the DLC.

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The storyline is pretty simple. Through conversations with any of a couple of different people placed throughout the map (I met two: one at the base of the new area and one in the Daytower fort, but there may be others), Aloy is told about a new sickness in machines up in the Cut, which is Banuk territory. Aloy, of course, feels the need to discover the cause of this sickness. In game play, it’s a lot like the corruption of the main game, but it makes the machines stronger and even more aggressive instead of just making them impossible to override, which is a clever way of giving an in-game reason for upscaling the difficulty.

And I’ll use that to transition into talking about the upscaled difficulty, because it’s a lot. A LOT. I’m not the most experienced gamer in the world, and I don’t find a lot of pleasure on playing at the most difficult level possible and dying a million times. I like to be challenged a bit but that’s about it. Prior to beginning The Frozen Wilds, I’d played the main game through twice, first on the narrative difficulty setting and a new game plus on the normal setting. If you’ve started a new game plus, you know that once you’ve set the difficulty setting, that’s what you’re stuck with. You can’t wuss out later and drop it down a notch or two.

It is actually a lot harder, and it’s not just the machines. There’s a side quest where you track down some bandits (not the bandit camp, though there’s also one of those), and I got killed with relative ease while doing almost no damage about four times in a row before I just abandoned that quest and went back to the main storyline. And then in the main storyline, I made it all the way through the end stages until I got to the final (literally, the final) battle, where I ran around in circles, firing off shots, doing very minimal damage, almost dying roughly a frillion times, actually dying four times, before I rage-quit and started a new game plus on narrative. And that is even with running around the room and laying a bunch of wire traps in between dying and initiating the battle again.

That’s right. I got so mad at the normal difficulty that I went back, played about 20 hours of the regular game to get it far enough in the storyline, and went back to the DLC. So, you know, at least it presents a challenge, yeah?

But that’s the lone detractor for me, and an upscaled difficulty level will probably be a draw for experienced gamers.

You can access the DLC pretty early in the game, basically as soon as you’ve left Nora territory, but there are a few reasons you might want to wait. One, the difficulty. So unless you’re playing on a new game plus, it’s going to be almost impossible for you, and not just because of the difficulty. You’re also going to want a maxed-out skill tree. Two, you can find out some things about Sylens that you won’t if you haven’t met him yet. You’ll notice he’s got the blue cables embedded in his skin, which is a distinctly Banuk thing to do, so he’s clearly spent some time in the Cut, right? Right. And finally, the end of the main storyline assumes you at least know what happened with Project Zero Dawn, what it meant, what AI was in charge of it, and who that AI’s subordinates were. Since I haven’t played the DLC without knowing that information, I’m not sure how the DLC would end without it, or how the end conversation would play out. So I still recommend getting at least to the section of the game where Aloy meets Sylens in the flesh, which is just post her confrontation with Helis and her fight with the behemoth in the Sun Ring.

frozen wildsIt’s about 15 hours of gameplay if you’re a completionist and want to exhaust every side quest. And why wouldn’t you? You’ve paid for this DLC, get the most out of it! Collect every single collectible, find every single person you can have a conversation with, walk every single place because there are a few things I discovered just walking about that aren’t even labeled on the map.

There’s also new machines, new outfits, new weapons, new animals to collect crafting materials from, and a new form of currency. Up in the north, this stuff called blue gleam grows out of old frozen machines. Collect enough of it, and you can trade it in for weapons that are the scaled up versions of things you already have that deal massive amounts of damage, or entirely new weapons. You can also receive some of the new weapons through side quests or the main quest, so spend your blue gleam wisely, as there’s a limited amount to gather. There are also adept master level outfits for the silent hunter, blazon, and ice hunter. Also two that would be spoilers so I’m not going to tell you what they are.

There have also been improvements made to the animation, particularly in two areas: conversation cut scenes and snow physics. Both have gotten massively better than in the main game, though that’s gotten a patch as well. Characters move their faces, bodies, and hands more in cut scenes, and we also see these scenes from more than just two angles. Content warning on this video: I chose this conversation because of the animation and how much I love what they did with Ourea’s character animations, but it is the first conversation of the main quest storyline, so it will give storyline spoilers. If you want to go into the DLC with absolutely no spoilers, don’t watch this.

And the snow, my gosh the snow. So it’s called The Frozen Wilds, because it’s up in the north, and they couldn’t just show the hard packed snow that Aloy stomps around on in the mountains of the main game, right? Right. So now there’s KINDS of snow: deep snow drifts, or the hard packed version where people have been walking a lot, like paths or camps. And Aloy walks differently based on what kind of snow she’s walking through. It’s hard to describe, so I’m just going to show you:

The leg movements are a lot wider and more gliding going through deep snow, and you leave footprints! That you can make shapes with! Use this knowledge wisely. And in photo mode, you can now make a snow angel, which is probably the coolest use of technology that I’ve ever seen:

I don’t know if you noticed this, but the snow angel is still there in the game after you exit story mode. You guys, this warms the cold cockles of my heart, I love it so much.

Time was also taken to animate different kinds of falling snow. You’ll get gentle snow falls or all out snow storms, with small little snow pellets or big fat flakes.

And finally, there’s a new skill tree which, after my second playthrough, I had gathered enough XP to fill out completely before I even started the DLC. It’s called Traveller and it basically just improves basic game play. It makes your inventory bigger, allows you to gather resources and machine parts while mounted, increases the likelihood of gathering rare loot and resources, and allows you to deconstruct items in your inventory that gives you the shards for them without having to sell them to a vendor or drop them for free (although you’d still get more from a vendor).

In conclusion: I had massive amounts of fun with this DLC, even when I was wildly outmatched by my computer opponents, and the storyline is actually really interesting and relevant to the main storyline of the game. If you’re a Horizon Zero Dawn fan already, I definitely recommend dropping the cash for this addition.

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