It isn’t debatable, Winter is the undefeated titleholder for worst season ever. It’s also a very overlooked setting in video games. Austin Walker at Waypoint wrote a really good piece last week regarding seasons in games and, while I agree seasons are also underused in games, Winter is a setting too often overlooked.
Playing Frozen Wilds—the very good Horizon: Zero Dawn DLC—it’s got me thinking a lot about winter. As its title suggests, it takes place in a winter setting. You enter the settlement of Daytower in the early part of the DLC; an area that stretches white as far as the eye can see. The nearly blood-red sun is setting in the background casting a picturesque beam of light atop the snow-capped mountains. This looks like a really nice place to live.
Frozen Wilds isn’t just winter thrown onto the existing skin of the original game. It’s a completely new territory accessible across the northern mountains of the map. This DLC isn’t a wildly new approach to Winter landscapes in games. Like Frozen Wilds, Red Dead Redemption had the region of Tall Trees—a place you are most likely to be killed by a bear—where the grass is still green mere steps before entering the snowy territory.
The landscape in Red Dead progresses slowly but perfectly, from warm rolling grasslands in the Great Plains, through snow-covered impassable mountains around the edges of the Tall Trees region.
Skyrim also gets the Winter setting right. Obviously since Skyrim is set in the northern region of Tamriel there is a lot of snow, but the contrast to grayer and greener areas like Falkreath make landscapes like Winterhold and Solitude so profoundly unique and interesting. Like Tall Trees with bears, the winter settings of Skyrim also provide opportunities to introduce a variety of enemies that compliment the terrain, like frost trolls and frostbite spiders. Why aren’t more games doing this?
I can’t help but continue thinking how not addressing Winter in games is a missed opportunity. It gives a world a different kind of pulse, welcomes interesting survival elements, and basically shakes up the ways a video game can kill you. In my case it was always the frost troll.