Horizon Zero Dawns DLC A Reminder Of What A Great Year 2017 Was For Games

It’s been about a year and a half since “Horizon Zero Dawn” was released for the Playstation 4 and the photo mode remains the best in the industry. As I scrolled through my screenshots for this layout I was amazed all over again at how beautiful this game looks. All images were taken using a Playstation 4 Pro set to enhanced graphical fidelity. Playstation 4 Pro screenshots by Mike Rukavina

Entering this generation of video games, after such a long absence, has been a bit of a whirlwind. I was reminded of that recently after completing DLC for “Horizon Zero Dawn.”

DLC, or downloadable content, is one of the various aspects in gaming today that was foreign if not non-existent 15 years ago when I last played console games. Back in my day (read in an old man voice) video games were what came in the box you picked up at Electronics Boutique or Media Play. And that was it. If the game didn’t work or there was a game-crashing bug, tough, that’s all she wrote.

Today, well there’s an entire category of games of service that rely on constant updates to core elements of the game. A final, complete version of a game, usually only becomes available years after the original game was released. Updates to the game often come in the form of digital downloads saved to your systems hard drive. And if there’s a bug in the game, well, those are typically fixed in the form of downloadable patches shortly after the developer is called out on it.

In the case of “Horizon Zero Dawn’s” DLC The Frozen Wilds, an extended portion of the main game was made available via digital download only. Players must still own the original copy of the main game but can purchase the extra content for the low price of $15 ($19 for non-PS plus subscribers).

And let me tell you, it’s completely worth it.

You may remember my review of the original game earlier in 2017, the one where I went on and on about how I never thought a video game could look so damn good; not to mention how well written and believable a story the medium could produce.

I sunk a good 50 hours in my first playthrough of Horizon, and another 20 or so when I replayed the game on New Game Plus mode so that I could enjoy it all over again on my new 4K television. Going into the new DLC I expected a short, 3-5 hour experience. My only other DLC experience came in the form of the Left Behind DLC, a 2-3 hour sequence of gameplay sandwiched in between the main story of “The Last of Us.” Expecting this, I was pretty shocked when I finally completed every side quest/mission/and fetch quest some 20 hours later. I’m sure one could burn through the story in a handful of hours but this isn’t a game that’s worth rushing through; none are, frankly.

Gameplay

A few tips to begin because beginning the DLC is a bit of a disaster. Make sure you have a late-game save available, just before the final battle. You’re going to want to play the DLC as near the end-game as possible because the new area is very challenging. If you don’t have a late-game save available I would recommend leveling up to at least 40 before venturing into the new area.

That brings me to the second quibble. To find the new area you’ll have to head to the north eastern portion of the map, near the snow, because Frozen Wilds, of course. The missions and extended story are standalone meaning they can be played at anytime before the end of the game and they will not spoil or interfere with the plot. For those playing the complete edition of the game, which released at the end of 2017, this area will always be made available and chances are you’ll stumble upon it before your character is ready.

The two minor issues aside, there’s plenty this DLC does right. I thought the character models actually looked better in the expansion, and the voiceovers and personality for each character seemed to have a little more “umph” than the original. Most of the new people you’ll meet in the DLC are memorable.

New Stuff Abound

I expected some new twists to the game but, again, I was surprised by the amount. Aloy, the protagonist of the story, is outfitted with some new abilities that give new life to some of the game’s original elements I found lacking. For instance, you could always ride certain types of machines that you overrode but you couldn’t pick up items while riding and you surely couldn’t lunge off of them while riding into battle to perform a vertical attack. Because of those two additions I found myself playing the game in an entirely new way.

The new skills are available via skill points. Chances are if you were able to load a late-game save you’ll already have a dozen or so points to put towards these new skills. The rest will come fairly quickly into the new DLC, after you’ve completed a few quests/missions. There is enough new content that serves a purpose, like increased inventory slots and breaking down extra gear on the fly, that makes it feel organic to the main game and not shoehorned in for the sake of adding “something new.”

What A World

The new setpieces and environment are what you’d expect if you played the original – stunning. I found myself stopping and playing with photo mode even more so in the DLC than I had in the original.

As for the area itself, it’s actually quite large. Again, with most DLC environments you get what you’re paying for. The old adage didn’t hold up in The Frozen Wilds. The land you’re allowed to explore is large, probably a quarter of the original map, which was already very large, if you recall.

Conclusion

While the quests and mission storylines weren’t necessary for the overall progress of the original game, The Frozen Wilds provided more than enough to justify its existence. More artifacts in the form of audio dialogues provided new points of view prior to the fall of civilization; new robots and weapons reinvigorated the combat system; and new gear and clothing options brought out the Tim Gunn in me.

“Horizon Zero Dawn” received plenty of Game of The Year nominations, in several categories, and in my opinion deserved them all. What Guerilla studios was able to do with a brand new IP is truly remarkable. It’s a foregone conclusion that there will be a full-blown sequel to Horizon and I truly can’t wait.

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