Since purchasing it back in early December, I have adored the time I have spent playing Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds. The opportunity to dive back into a world I was so thoroughly immersed in was a prospect I couldn’t turn down, even as the cruel claws of post-university debt slowly suffocated me in their devilish, vice-like grip. Part of this near-uncontrollable desire that spurred me to once more stalk the mesmerizingly stunning landscapes of Horizon Zero Dawn was the chance to once more step into the shoes of Aloy, a character I found myself falling head-over-heels for during my original spell with the game. From her raging charisma which was as fiery as her hair to her unparalleled fortitude in seeking out the mystery behind her birth, Aloy was undoubtedly, for me at least, one of the stand-out gaming protagonists of 2017. As such, upon entering The Frozen Wilds for the first time, I was expecting to be as equally captivated by her as the first time I set eyes upon her. Alas, it would seem that my first impressions were somewhat unfounded.
The reality struck me upon starting the quest The Survivor. After conversing with the Werak chieftain while standing in the bitter cold of the frozen north, I was tasked with finding two missing recruits who were seeking to gain entrance to the Werak. This task, however, was not set by the chieftain, but by Aloy herself. During the conversation with the chieftain, Aloy discovers that the group refuses to intervene in the trails of those seeking to gain entrance into the Werak, even if it ends up costing them their lives. The chieftain explains this to Aloy, commenting that such a ruthless approach was due to their tribe’s beliefs. As you could expect – that is, if you have played Horizon Zero Dawn for any length of time – Aloy was not best pleased by such a revelation, being that it is in her nature to help those who are in need. As such, angered by the mutterings of the chieftain, Aloy sets out to track down the missing hunters and, ultimately, save their lives.
At this point, I was still enamoured of Aloy, and was unquestionably on her side in terms of wanting to help these hunters in stead of leaving them to their undoubtedly gruesome fates. After leave the camp and traversing through the turbulent, howling blizzards of Frozen Wild’s frigid northern peaks, I encountered Ikrie, one of the missing hunters. She reveals to me and Aloy that she is worried for her friend Malien, the other missing hunter, who is currently gravely wounded further up the mountainside. Of course, Aloy, almost immediately, wants to help, yet Ikrie is hesitant as the Werak’s rules forbid her from intervening and saving Malien.
It is at this point where by love affair with Aloy began to thaw. See, both Ikrie and Malien are adamant about upholding the beliefs and teachings of their tribe, and both are unwilling to break with tradition. Aloy, however, is unable to contemplate the beliefs and traditions of those other than herself, at least in this particular instance, and it left me feeling rather angry and disappointed.
Due to Aloy’s persistence, both Ikrie and Malien end up breaking with tradition and accept Aloy’s aid, effectively betraying the very essence of who they are. In Horizon, tribal roots and traditions are everything. They anchor people’s lives, help them deal with the harsh world they find themselves in as well as find companionship, something that is all so crucial when trying to survive in such an unforgiving world. The Werak’s beliefs, while undoubtedly barbaric to both me and Aloy, are there to ensure that only the strongest and most capable hunters/warriors can join so that the group is as strong is can be.
Upon being rescued by Aloy and Ikrie, Malien expresses anger towards Aloy for making her break the rules of the trial. By betraying the rules and beliefs of the Werak, Malien has destroyed all sense of her reality. Everything she knows, everything she stands for, has been blasted into smithereens and scattered into the swirling snows that encompass her homeland. Her whole being is shattered, and yet Aloy is unable to recognise this, instead chastising both Malien and the rest of the tribe for being so cruel, so brutal and unforgiving that they’d happily get someone die.
Now, I totally get why Aloy is angered by the tribe and their rules. I myself found it difficult to come to terms with the Werak’s traditions, but upon meeting Malien and listening to what she had to say, I came to respect her wishes and beliefs, and, by extension, those of her tribe. Aloy, however, does not have such an epiphany, and instead leaves the Weark the same person she was upon meeting them, her strong sense of right and wrong still intact, completely unchanged. While I admire the character for not wavering in relation to her own personal beliefs, I found the lack of recognition that others can think differently from you to be damaging to Aloy’s character. Over the course of the whole quest, she demonstrates little-to-no character development, ending the quest in exactly the same state she found herself in at the start.
It would have been nice to see Aloy’s fundamentals challenged, but alas, Guerrilla faltered when it mattered most, ruining for me what was previously one of my all-time favourite videogame protagonists. The studio had the chance to truly develop Aloy’s character; unfortunately, they squandered the opportunity. Seeing a character’s fundamentals challenged is thrilling, as it adds a sense of meaningfulness to, not only the character, but the story in its entirety. It gives the character the opportunity to grow, to blossom before us and become something greater than what we’d seen before. Guerrilla missed such an opportunity with Aloy, instead choosing to go the easy route and refrain from challenging the character’s ideals. As a result, the quest is pretty meaningless, offering little in the way of the meaningful character development I have mentioned above. I still adore Aloy, yet due too Guerrilla’s unwillingness to challenge her and make her grow as a character, I leave The Frozen Wilds slightly more lukewarm on our relationship that I was going in.