|Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds
|Sony Interactive Entertainment
|November 7, 2017
|ESRB T for Teen
One major change in modern video games, for better and for worse, is that the internet has afforded developers the opportunity to make vast changes to their games post release. This has made giving a lasting review to said games a difficult process, much like it was for reviewing MMORPGs a decade ago. Reviews have always had a very subjective component to them, so they were never gospel to begin with, but now more than ever they should just be considered a screenshot to what the game was when that author engaged it at that point in time. The nice thing about expansion DLC reviews is that they give reviewers a chance to revisit the changes to the game since release along with reviewing the new content added with the story DLC. So, as with my review of the Final Fantasy XV DLC, I will be tackling some of the changes to Horizon Zero Dawn that were added along with the brand new story and area with the expansion The Frozen Wilds. In addition, the gaming award season is upon us, so this also provides a welcome opportunity to address how the game has held up against all the other amazing games released in one of the greatest years of video gaming ever.
It’s no secret that I absolutely adored Horizon: Zero Dawn, but that was also very early on in this packed year of games. The only new game (in other words, not counting Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age) that I was fairly certain I would enjoy more was Persona 5. Of course, it ended up being an amazing year with Nier: Automata, Nioh, Mario Odyssey, and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. But by even giving that list, I must address the elephant in the room that is conspicuously absent. I did briefly mention The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in my review for Horizon: Zero Dawn because they were so integrally tied releasing so close together and bearing so many gameplay similarities. I want to state definitively that I really don’t even want to talk about them in the same context anymore. Even as much of a Zelda fan as I am (A Link to the Past is one of my favorite games of all time), after trying really hard to love Breath of the Wild by completing every shrine in that game and exploring every corner of the world, I don’t think these two games are even in the same league. Horizon: Zero Dawn is simply a superior game in every single way. As we reach the end of the year, even with all those other amazing games, my prediction turned out to be quite accurate about Persona 5, even though Horizon gave it a huge run for it’s money. And this expansion, The Frozen Wilds, builds on what made the game such a classic as well as giving some new story threads that appear to lead into the inevitable sequel.
The main game of Horizon was surprisingly large and the depth of storytelling was also a shock, particularly considering the developer’s previous games. So perhaps it shouldn’t have been quite as shocking that in the expansion this trend also continued. The price of the DLC is on the pricey side compared to its peers at $19.99, but you are getting more than a bargain for that price. Not only are you getting a whole new area to explore that is about an additional 20% in landmass to the main map, but you also get an additional 10 levels to gain, more skills to invest in, several new gear and weapon types, and around 15 hours of extra story content. Perhaps the highest compliment that I can give this DLC is that the fairly recent comparison to make is with The Witcher 3 expansion Hearts of Stone. It’s not quite as large as Blood and Wine, but Hearts of Stone was still a massive piece of content. We are far enough from the release of the main game that I feel comfortable talking about the location of the story events, Western Colorado to Western Utah. And while they had to compress those locations quite a bit, it was still quite an accurate portrayal of that area of the country in a future where wildlife had returned to dominance. And as such, the announcement of The Frozen Wilds was very exciting for a whole different reason for me personally. The expansion would take place right where I live.
When you start up the DLC you will just notice that a new region of the map has been added in the far northeast of the rest of the map. Since the eastern region of the map is in western Colorado, it’s fairly obvious with rudimentary geography that the new region is in western Wyoming. Unlike most expansions, you are not immediately given a new quest to get you into that region. Instead it just allows you to dynamically explore that region by just going there and getting your new quest much like you would in any other portion of the game. However, when you get that first quest you will notice that it is a level 40 quest. For perspective, the final quest of the main game is a level 38 quest. And they are not kidding about that level recommendation, there is a gatekeeper to this new area of the game, an injured Scorcher (one of the new enemies, thankfully missing his normal Mine Launcher attachment).
For anyone who has finished the main game of Horizon: Zero Dawn, they realize that one of the highlights of the whole experience was finding new enemy types and coming up with strategies for taking them down efficiently. Most enemies in this game can kill you fairly easily, so it becomes increasingly important to figure out new strategies with your growing roster of weapons and traps to take them out in many different situations. There are 4 brand new enemies in this expansion, and also new daemonic versions of all the previous enemy types from the main game (except the main story exclusive enemy type). One of the new types of enemy is a control tower that sends out an energy pulse that heals up all the enemies around it. Interestingly, if you have obtained the shield armor from the major sidequest in the main game, that pulse also acts as EMP to take down your own shields. You are definitely recommended to take down the towers by either destroying their core or by overriding them. If you destroy the core the towers make a very large explosion that lights on fire any enemies that are near them. If you can make your way to the tower without destroying it, you can override it and send out an energy pulse that will instead stun every enemy within range of the previous healing pulse. But the towers themselves have no particular defenses, so they are mostly just a focal point for groups of machines taking advantage of the energy pulses. The more aggressive new types are the Scorcher, which is basically a large wolf with a Mine Launcher on its back, and the Frost Claw and Fire Claw, which are massive bears. This is, of course, apropos to this particular area of the country where we have both grey wolves and grizzly bears as native inhabitants. Make sure you have fully upgraded weapons before you enter this area of the game. For perspective I went back to the previous areas of the game and found that even the Thunderjaws had around half the health of the Frost Claws and Fire Claws, and were frankly much easier to kill.
If you do all the sidequests available in both the main game and the expansion, you will not need to be level 60 in order to have enough skill points to unlock every skill in the game. I was able to accomplish that at level 55, even before I completed every quest and sidequest. The new skill tree branch is called Traveler, and as such it is much more quality of life focused than combat focused. There are some loot based skills that are improvements to inventory management and looting, but most of the tree is about mounted combat. Not only do you gain some skills that improve your mounts abilities and give you the ability to heal up your mount or any other machine that you control as a pet, but you can also do the very cool looking Dismount Strike. These are some nice additions, but none of these things will really help you take out these new, more fearsome creatures. To do that, they give you all new weapons and armor, including three all new weapon types.
Through various story and sidequests you gain 3 new bows that blow away the damage of any of the previous weapons in the main game. They are a new striker bow, a new sniper bow, and a new warbow. And those three were enough that I would have not felt cheated by the upgrades in the expansion, they are quite a bit more powerful than even the weapons you gain from completing all the hunter trials in the main game. But they did not stop there, they also added 3 entirely new classes of weapons; the Stormslinger, the Forgefire, and the Icerail. As you can probably imagine from the names, they are all elemental types of weapons and you can basically consider them to be similar to the heavy weapons seen in the main game that were previously limited use and not able to have renewed ammo. Also, you thankfully are not weighted down by these weapons like those heavy weapons, and as such you can perform all your primary dodges and maneuvers. Getting good at these new weapon types is integral to getting through some of the more serious fights in the expansion as well as all 3 of the new hunting lodge sidequests (especially the insanely tough final Chieftain Challenge). However, you should be warned that they go through ammo components fairly quickly and by the end of the expansion I was running low on Chillwater and needed to farm up some more.