‘The Frozen Wilds’: Who Are the Shamanistic Banuk?

Jeremy Ray
Indie Games PlayStation
Indie Games PlayStation Games

Horizon Zero Dawn is about to get a major dose of DLC, and The Frozen Wilds is looking northward to a land of beautiful, yet barely hospitable glaciers.

At the recent PAX Aus, we sat down with Tim Stobo, game designer at Guerilla Games, to poke and prod him for tidbits on what to expect.

“We get to see more of the Banuk tribe,” says Stobo. “They’re a tribe that were in the main campaign. There are a couple of Banuk walking around in some places.

“The Frozen Wilds lets us see that they’re this really mystical tribe that has the belief that they can talk to the machines. And you get to explore that, and explore the mysteries in the area, and find out more about how they live.”

There’s an air of mystery around the Banuk in Horizon Zero Dawn‘s main campaign. The tribe is presented as hard northerners usually are, but perhaps even more aloof. Not exactly rude or hostile, but bred for a different land and culture. The harsh cold of their home creates a bubble in which they don’t interact much with southerners. A close comparison would be the Cimmerians of the Conan universe.

The 13th scanned glyph in Horizon has this to say about the landscape:

Though the Banuk speak of their territory in reverent tones, put plainly it is the most uncomfortable place in the world. There is beauty–soaring glaciers of jeweled hues, billows of steam that erupt from the earth, whirling auroras in the skies above–yes, yes, but the novelty quickly passes and the bone-freezing chill remains. It is a country of the Moon, for in the day the Sun is reduced to a needle’s eye through the grey, and in the night, the Moon rises four times the width.

In some of the art, we can see Aloy kitted out in the Banuk garb, known for its dominant blues surrounded by lots of other colours.

Though some Banuk can read glyphs, they prefer not to. Song is the preferred method of storytelling. Yet despite this supposed intellectual hurdle, there may be some truth to the myth that the Banuk can communicate with the machines.

The above glyph mentions a shaman with machine relics woven into his skin. He claimed to be able to sense machine spirits nearby, and after a short hunt, they were indeed found.

Could’ve been a lucky guess of course, or some other method of tracking. But I’m sure we’ll find out more as we stay with their small, nomadic tribes.

Horizon Zero Dawn Frozen Wilds landscape

You might want to be careful before looting downed machines though. In Banuk shamanistic culture, it’s a major no-no to handle a carcass without first offering it to a shaman so they can give proper thanks.

Expanding its Horizons

Guerrilla Games is hoping the new weapons and upgrades will entice players to experiment with new styles of combat. Stobo was cagey about specifics, but there’s a focus on increasing the variety of gameplay situations in Frozen Wilds. Thinking about combat in new ways might be very advantages when tackling it’s new enemies.

“I think it’s requiring a more tactical approach,” he says. “We want you to look at the machines and the threat that it poses, and we tried to give you new tools, and weapons, and skills to deal with them.”

While the answer didn’t reveal much information, I got the impression Guerrilla wants to not only give you weapons and abilities, but new styles. It’s about creating different gameplay situations. We’ll see how well the DLC achieves that soon.

While the Netherlands isn’t as cold or unforgiving as the land of the Banuk, I had to wonder how Tim Stobo felt about moving from sunny Australia to make games in a far colder (and rainier) landscape. Aside from working on a very cool triple-A game, what’s good about developing games in the Netherlands?

“One thing we always talk a lot about at Guerrilla is consensus,” is his answer. “It’s never about someone dictating to the team what should be done. It’s always the team working together to solve problems and tell stories. That seems to be a very Dutch characteristic and I really love that about Guerrilla.”

Jeremy Ray
Managing Editor at FANDOM. Decade-long games critic and esports aficionado. Started in competitive Counter-Strike, then moved into broadcast, online, print and interpretative pantomime. You merely adopted the lag. I was born in it.
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