Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Console Corner: Review of The Frozen Wilds (DLC for Horizon: Zero Dawn)

There are numerous rumblings and grumblings in the scene these days regarding video game developers’ practices for releasing DLC as some DLC seems more like key material from the base game released separately in an attempt to earn more money.  Regardless of opinion, the days of buying a complete game in a cartridge are past us.  But if there is anything the community does agree on, it’s that The Witcher 3 did DLC right.  Releasing two massive expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, each was reasonably priced and offered players a tangential rather than imperative experience in the Witcher world, all with a large amount of content delivered with the same attention to detail and plot as the original game.  The former at roughly 14 hours and the latter at a whopping 28, they are longer, or at least the same length as a lot of stand-alone games.  It thus makes me glad that Guerilla Games opted to follow CDProjekt Red’s lead when developing DLC for Horizon: Zero Dawn. 

The Frozen Wilds is everything the player who enjoyed H: ZD could hope for, and, perhaps more.  A massive new section of the map is opened up, new machines are unveiled, new weapons are available, new characters appear, and a new thread of story is introduced—a thread that ties into the main storyline of H: ZD while offering something entirely new.  Venturing into the snowy northeast, Aloy encounters a Banuk tribe dealing with daemonized machines.  The tribe tearing itself apart attempting to deal with the threat, Aloy becomes the key to unraveling the mystery and putting it to rest.

Daemonized machines significantly more difficult to take down than the standard (even corrupted) machines, The Frozen Wilds ups the difficulty level of the base game, giving the more experienced H: ZD player a more challenging experience.  Most of the quests and side quests are level 30 and above, and a couple truly test the player’s skill.  (One encounter saw me empty literally my entire arsenal before I walked away with the skin of my teeth.)  To make gameplay more dynamic, there are several new weapons that focus on specific attributes, like freeze, stun, burn, etc.  In turn, there are likewise new ‘master level’ outfits that offer an additional modification slot over the base game’s—protection that really comes in handy fighting the daemonized machines.  (It goes without saying there are new modifications for said weapons and outfits.)  And there are (perhaps what everyone was hoping for) new machines.  Two are introduced to the player almost immediately upon entering the new setting, one is revealed in a wonderful fight a short time later, and the final machine is reserved for the main storyline’s climactic scene for a fight that truly feels to the death.

On top of the additions to fighting and story, Guerrilla offers additional content in The Frozen Wilds.  There is a new hunting ground with three new challenges, a new cauldron with its own puzzle-platforming challenge, a new tallneck (a very unique one, at that), and extensive new climbing routes among the peaks and mountains.  Bluegleam is introduced as a new form of currency (it can only be spent in the expansion lands).  There is a new set of animal figurines (similar to the Banuk figures in the base game) to find in remote places and trade for valuable goods.  There is likewise a new set of ink pigments to collect and trade for loot.  Moreover, there are new animals in the environment: owls, squirrels, mountain goats, and badgers.  And all this would be remiss not to mention the beautiful new setting. Modeled after Yellowstone Park, the mountainous region swirls in snow (complete with tracks and grooves left in real time by Aloy and other animals) as hot springs bubble in rainbow colors in the snowy fields.  Traversing the landscape once again looks stunning.  

Given the quantity of new content, does this mean Guerilla released an incomplete game in H:ZD?  I would say an emphatic ‘no’.  The end of H:ZD felt complete.  If there were no DLC, players could walk away satisfied.  What The Frozen Wilds does is enhances the experience.  By providing fresh material and more advanced gameplay, it acts simultaneously as a microcosm of the original game as well as a confirmation of the quality, forethought, and attention to detail that went into the making of the overall game.  As proof positive, to warm up I had gone back into the base game a couple of weeks before The Frozen Wilds’ release.  I completed several items I’d left open, e.g. finding all vantage points, eliminating all corrupted zones, destroying all bandit camps, and unlocking all cauldrons.  It served as an excellent reminder of what a solid and enjoyable game H: ZD is.  Having now completed The Frozen Wilds, I can say, if anything, I’m only more impressed.  

In the end, Frozen Wilds is as good as any modern gamer could hope for in terms of single-player campaign DLC.  It took me about 18 hours to do the majority of the quests and activities, which, like the DLC for Witcher 3, is longer than many stand-alone titles; it felt worth the $20 I paid.  As Guerilla Games have announced they will be releasing a complete edition (H: ZD + DLC) in December 2017, the implication is that The Frozen Wilds is the last of major H: ZD material to be released, which begs the question: will there be a Horizon: Zero Dawn 2?  (If yes, please change the title and do not continue Aloy’s story: time to move in a new direction…)

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