This year has been pretty stellar for RPGs, ranging from strong early-year releases like Nier: Automata to late-year gems like Divinity: Original Sin II. With so many impressive releases to already established series, it’s not easy for a brand new IP like Horizon Zero Dawn to have stood up and solidified itself as a Game of the Year contender and memorable RPG for years to come. The game’s one and only expansion, titled “The Frozen Wilds,” is out tomorrow and despite not being sequel content, it does exactly what it needs to do: remind you of the things that make Horizon Zero Dawn so good.
The Frozen Wilds is intended for you to access around the middle of the game’s main campaign. It’s recommended that you be at least level 30 to enter the beautiful winter landscapes that await you in Banuk territory. The Banuk are a tribe you meet in the main game, but their homelands lie in a region known as “The Cut,” where few hunters are skilled and strong enough to endure the harsh climate and face some of the most dangerous machines. As a result of this adversity, the Banuk are a fascinating people that place their worth on survival, viewing life as a series of hardships they must prevail over.
Something that Horizon Zero Dawn does superbly well is establishing lore. Despite this being a new IP, it managed to create a fully-fleshed out universe within a single game, and The Frozen Wilds highlights this strength by providing plenty of new lore regarding the Banuk people and even your mysterious companion, Sylens. In the story of The Frozen Wilds, Aloy must solve the mystery to a mysterious entity called the Daemon, which is making machines even more aggressive and lethal. This mission takes her on a variety of quests that span over different locations and have you meet many new characters; it also takes her on the exploration of a vastly different culture that highly contrasts her own, further diversifying the already colorful world of Horizon Zero Dawn.
Speaking of things this game excels at: The Frozen Wilds will show you some of the most beautiful visuals you have seen -- and if you’ve already played the main game, you know that’s saying something. I appreciate Photo Mode in games but never find myself reaching for it too much - I’d rather get on with a game’s story. However, while Horizon Zero Dawn’s story and characters are certainly engaging, the game is so gorgeous that it’s impossible for me to not pause every five minutes to play around in Photo Mode. Visually, The Frozen Wilds is every bit as spectacular as the main game and, in some instances, even more so due to the new snowfall effects that really enhance the new environments you’ll see. Additionally, in this expansion, Guerrilla Games addressed two of the game’s most common criticisms by vastly improving the lip synching and mocap animation. This is unfortunately only in this additional content rather than something that will be patched into the rest of the game, but it’s great to see nonetheless.
For its price, The Frozen Wild contains a substantial amount of content. The new area that is seamlessly integrated into the rest of the world map is massive, and the content in it takes up to fifteen hours to complete. You’ll gain access to a few new skills, weapons, and clothes; solve several puzzles; and fight against a couple of new monsters. No matter what difficulty you’re playing on or even if you’re a few levels ahead of the curve, all the battles in this expansion prove to be thrilling, intense, and most importantly, a lot of fun. Horizon Zero Dawn's combat system is one of my all-time favorites; It's fluid, exciting, multifaceted, and—as just about anything in this game—a spectacle to watch. I still love how creative it allows me to get, as well as how it reminds me of the uncertainty of every major battle; having high-quality armor and weapons doesn't mean an automatic success if you're not also equipped with a proper strategy.
The plot of the expansion is neither one of the weaker plot lines of Horizon Zero Dawn nor one of its absolute best. While I found some of the narrative direction to be a bit predictable, it was still compelling because of the two new characters that you spend most of your time with. Ourea and Aratak are both memorable characters for reasons that I don't want to spoil in this review; it's best if you get to know them, their relationship, and their stories yourself. Most of the sidequests are also enjoyable, especially one that has you assisting three Banuk exiles with repaying a debt.
I really grew to enjoy this quest because it is as humorous as it is heartwarming. Horizon Zero Dawn is a serious game, but I always feel better playing a game that is unafraid to inject some humor every once in a while instead of taking itself too seriously the entire time. Despite taking place in a frigid land, The Frozen Wilds has a few moments that had me genuinely chuckling and grinning with warmth. It also doesn't have just humor: every now and then, Horizon Zero Dawn asks the big questions, and I particularly like how the aforementioned sidequest, and this expansion at large, touch upon identity and how we choose to define ourselves.
Since it hasn’t been too long since the main game’s release, The Frozen Wilds knows what makes the main game as fantastic as it is, and it effectively capitalizes on its breathtaking visuals, heavy lore, interesting characters, and exciting fights. It plays it relatively safe; the expansion is very good at doing what the game has always done well, but it doesn’t do too much more than that. Even so, Horizon Zero Dawn is a great game, and this expansion achieves its purpose of reminding you that in a year with a plethora of spectacular releases, this new franchise can certainly hold up its own. If you loved the main game, you will certainly enjoy being able to dive back into this world as Aloy. The Frozen Wilds has been confirmed to be the only additional content that Horizon Zero Dawn will have, so it's definitely worth playing if you want to know even more about this strange and captivating universe that's here to stay for some time to come.
Versions tested: PlayStation 4
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.