As it turns out, Aloy had it too easy in Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Frozen Wilds is proof of it. This major expansion is a wonderfully challenging 15-hour adventure that’s peppered with creative side quests, a thoughtful story, and the best battles Aloy’s seen to date.
Its story integrates with the main game and can be played after finishing the main quest, so it works both for completionists and those who never quite finished the story quests. You can travel to a new, gorgeous area on the existing map as soon as you install it (even if how to start the new questline isn’t immediately apparent), though you’d risk crossing the line between bravery and stupidity to attempt it before level 30. In this terrain, you’ll explore the mysteries surrounding the nomadic Banuk tribe – mysteries which made for one of the most memorable side quests in Zero Dawn. The Frozen Wilds delves deeper into into the fascinating intricacies of their structure and spirituality.
For her part, Aloy remains an endearingly warm character. At this point in the story she’s strong and skilled enough to pull rank when the situation demands it, and her personality fills that role nicely. She’s also the voice of reason, and whenever The Frozen Wilds stumbles into silliness, Aloy is there to point it out with dry quips delivered with bite by voice actress Ashly Burch.
She’s well matched by a new supporting cast, the most interesting and eccentric of whom appear in the many side quests peppered throughout the expansion. These adventures are some of the best we’ve seen yet, with a particular focus on Uncharted/Tomb Raider-style platforming as you climb up ominously vertical playgrounds, breathless battles, and hilarious banter.
They’re worth it on a practical level, too, as you’ll want to keep levelling up (if you’re not level 50 already) to get stronger weapons and materials. Though mostly familiar from Zero Dawn, the monsters that roam The Frozen Wilds are not playing around; if you’re ganged up on, expect to have an extremely tough fight on your hands. Developer Guerilla has justified this major stat boost by means of a ‘daemonic’ force that has infiltrated the robots’ systems, so fighting a ‘daemonic thunderjaw’ is going to be a much more frightening proposition than fighting its regular counterpart. It’s just as large and imposing, but deadly enough to restore the fear that’d been lost.
These battles are the most fun I’ve had in Horizon to date. Between levels 40 and 50 in Zero Dawn I’d found myself fighting complacently, especially equipped with the Shield Weaver armour that gives Aloy a regenerating shield, but The Frozen Wilds brought back the sense of danger. Even fully upgraded, I found fighting groups of Daemonic machines overwhelming (the only reason I didn’t repeatedly die was the absurd number of health potions and metal shards I’d collected during my 40 hours with Zero Dawn), and a handful of completely new machines that primarily serve as bosses of sorts tested my “roll at the very last second” twitch reflexes to their limits. I loved feeling like I was genuinely fighting for my life, even with my skill tree maxed out.
This all lends a real sense of danger while moving across the world. If Zero Dawn was like playing in Jurassic Park, The Frozen Wilds is like playing through The Lost World: it’s untamed and unregulated. Because even a Daemonic Watcher now proves as much of a threat as it did in the first few hours of the campaign, I was frequently spooked by rustling sounds in the bushes, or approaching roars, particularly while playing during one of its eerie night cycles.
It helps that The Frozen Wild’s far-north terrain is dauntingly beautiful. Its snow-blanketed mountains, ravines, and fields are peppered with day-glo lakes and framed by gorgeous blue-red sunsets. It may sound like a small thing, but considering how much time you’ll spend in it if you play to the end, the it’s important that the Frozen Wild’s snow feels crunchy and real. When Aloy comments on how cold it is, I could feel it.
The Frozen Wild’s other major point of difference from Zero Dawn is the addition of a new branch to Aloy’s skill tree, referred to as ‘The Traveller.’ With a focus on ease of movement while mounted on an overridden machine and making the most of your inventory, The Traveller doesn’t feel vital to the expansion itself, but rather to the longevity of Horizon as a whole. Being able to pick up resources while on the back of a broadhead or learning to disassemble resources and mods into 50% of their metal shard values feel like no-brainer ideas, and I’m glad Guerrilla finally included them.