Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds

I’ve never been a huge fan of expansion packs, something that I’m going to blame partially on buying too many games and feeling just a little crushed under the resultant backlog. With three or four hundred games sitting on the “play me!” stack, it’s always felt a little silly to go back for more once I’ve seen the end credits.

That changed a bit this year, mostly because I was feeling Souls withdrawal after finishing Dark Souls III. I wound up playing 8 different expansions this year, culminating in Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds, a title which I still think needs an extra colon in it somewhere.

Short version: if you liked the base game and wanted more, this is more. You get a new hunk of map opened up, with a new bandit camp, a new cauldron, a couple of new weapons, a couple of new robots to fight, some new collectibles to chase, and a largely self-contained storyline. You also get some new skills, mostly quality-of-life related, and you can level past the old cap of level 50. I’m not actually sure how far you can level, to be honest – I was at level 55 when I finished the expansion, so it probably stops at either 55 or 60.

Side thought: The inevitable sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn is going to need to address just how much of a walking juggernaut Aloy is at the end of the first game somehow. It’s either going to need to find some way to reset her skills and gear, or it will need to be “and now you are playing a completely different person.”

I half suspect they’ll go with a daughter or granddaughter, something that keeps Aloy around as a mentor figure. But that’s all speculative, really.

Anyway, some more thoughts on the expansion instead of pontificating on the potential issues of a sequel:

Because I’d finished the base game, maxed out all of my skills, and gotten the Super Secret Game Breaking Armor, I expected that the expansion would be a little bit on the easy side, and it was a bit of a surprise when the very first enemy killed me. It turns out that coming back to a fairly complex game nine months after beating it is not terribly easy. (So much for being Super Badass Aloy.)

Apart from the whole needing to relearn how to play thing, the expansion also has some very subtle ways in which it ups the difficulty, even leaving aside the new robots. There are areas where the shield functionality of the Super Secret Game Breaking Armor is disabled, and you are suddenly quite squishy indeed. Most of the enemies are “Daemonic” versions of the familiar robots, which makes them slightly tougher and – more importantly – means that you can’t override them to make them into temporary allies. There also aren’t, as far as I ever found, any Ravager-type robots in the expansion area, which means that there’s no easy access to heavy weapons.

Finally, while there are an awful lot of robots weak to fire weaponry, the component (“blaze”) you need to loot to make new fire ammo and explosives is in short supply in the expansion area. I ran myself completely dry of it fairly quickly, which was quite an unpleasant surprise.

Fortunately, while Aloy may no longer have been Super Badass Aloy, she was still Super Rich Aloy and I was able to restock from a merchant. Money truly is the best super power.

The best thing I can probably say about The Frozen Wilds is that I legitimately did not realize how long it took me to play through. My end-game save from March had a play time of just over 50 hours, and my post-Frozen-Wilds save was at nearly 64 hours. MATH says that I was playing for nearly 14 hours, but it felt so much shorter. That’s a neat trick to pull off, and it gets my strongest recommendation.

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