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Forza Horizon 3: Blizzard Mountain review

Martin Bigg On March 12, 2017

Forza has traditionally been one of the best-supported racing game franchises for additional content, and Forza Horizon 3 is no exception, having been updated with a raft of regular DLC packs keeping the car selection fresh and up to date. It’s a testament to Microsoft’s close relationship with manufacturers that we’ve seen contemporary cars make their racing game debut in Forza Horizon 3, from the hybrid BMW i8, to the glorious Aston Martin DB11 grand tourer.

If, however, you’ve already conquered the campaign, completed every challenge and explored every mile of Byron Bay, some new cars aren’t going to add much more replay value when the core experience remains unchanged. This is where expansion packs come in. 
 
Forza Horizon 2 was notable for being the first game in the franchise to add long-requested weather effects, and the Storm Island add-on expanded this further, having you battle against intense tropical storms on a separate island away from the sunny shores of the picturesque Northern France setting.

For Forza Horizon 3, the Blizzard Mountain expansion takes a similar approach by also introducing extreme weather. As the name implies, in contrast to the sunny beaches, dense rainforests and dusty outbacks of Forza Horizon 3’s Australia-based Byron Bay, you’ll be trailing across treacherous snow-filled valleys and mountains while battling against blinding blizzards. And yes, before you ask, apparently it does occasionally snow in Australia.  

Forza Horizon 3 Blizzard Mountain screenshot
 

Breaking the ice

Much like Storm Island, Blizzard Mountain takes place on a self-contained map accessible from a fast travel on the Byron Bay map after receiving an invitation to a competition called King of the Mountain. If you ever wanted to know the difference between Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon, the high-octane intro to Blizzard Mountain effectively sums it up. Rather than simply flying you to the new location in a plane, your car is strapped to a cargo helicopter, before dramatically dropping you into the first event TrackMania Turbo style. 

Surprisingly, you can’t access the expansion unless you’ve unlocked at least three festival sites in the main game. Clearly, this expansion is designed for Forza fanatics that have explored everything the core game has to offer, but gating content you’ve already paid for will no doubt be frustrating if you haven’t progressed far enough in the main game. 

With only 50 roads to discover compared to 488 in the main game, Blizzard Mountain’s map is considerably more condensed than Byron Bay, but the snow setting inevitably makes the scenery samey. While there are several distinct areas to explore such as a village, frozen lake, and of course the main mountain, the map lacks the rich diversity offered in the main game. With very few landmarks to discover, the location can seem disappointingly sparse at times, but the wealth of activities littering the map more than makes up for it.

As with the main game, it’s easy to get distracted by Bucket List Challenges ranging from tricky time trials where you have to reach a destination in time to novelty challenges such as smashing into snowmen in a Bowler Wildcat, as well as the usual speed traps, drift zones and jump challenges which are just as addictive as they were in the main game. There's even an extra barn find to discover.

Sadly, there are no madcap Showcase events in Blizzard Mountain, which is disappointing as these Top Gear-style events were often the highlights of the Forza Horizon games pitting you against alternative vehicle types such as planes and trains. It's a missed opportunity because the snow map could easily have been adapted for Showcase events - cars versus snowmobiles, anyone? 

Forza Horizon 3 Blizzard Mountain screenshot 2

Blizzard Mountain is also a stark reminder of how jaw-droppingly stunning Forza Horizon 3's can look. Despite the environment being coated in snow, Playground Games’ attention to detail hasn’t been disguised: ice glistens in the sunlight, tyres leave dynamic treads in the snow, and cars get continually caked in the white stuff. By far the best visual effect, however, is the blinding blizzards that reduce visibility to a few feet, which are particularly harrowing at night.
The change in weather isn’t just superficial, however. Where Blizzard Mountain excels is how it addresses some of the core game’s fundamental flaws. Forza Horizon 3 was often too forgiving and lacked that vital hook to keep you playing. Blizzard Mountain's adverse weather conditions, on the other hand, significantly affects your driving style, as your tyres react to different surface types realistically whether you’re driving on snow, ice or slush.

Thick snow will slow you down so it’s not as tempting to veer off track and cut corners, while driving over ice patches and frozen lakes will result in a temporary loss of grip that will send you spinning out of control if you’re too hasty with the throttle, much like the standing puddles in Forza Motorsport 6.

Taming cars on slippery sludge means the cars are more tail-happy than before, presenting a steeper learning curve that requires you to feather the throttle while cornering, but it’s hugely satisfying and rewarding when you start to chain combos together while sliding in the snow. The extreme weather effects not only look stunning, they add a welcome layer of intensity and unpredictability that was often missing in Forza Horizon 3.    

Combined with tougher opponents that may prompt you to dial down the AI difficulty rather than increase it, Blizzard Mountain not only presents a steeper challenge than the core game, it also finally provides a hook that gives you an incentive to repeat events and improve your skill. The flawed fan progression system has been scrapped, and in its place is a new star-based objectives system. Instead of earning millions of fans to expand festivals and unlock new events, each round of events is unlocked by achieving a certain number of stars based on your performance. 

Rising star

In each event, you can earn up to three stars. All you have to do to secure the first two simply is simply complete and win the event, but earning all three stars is an altogether trickier task, as you’ll also need to complete a separate objective.

These can range from performing a set number of drifts in an event, finishing the race cleanly, or racking up a certain number of skill points. If you wanted a steeper challenge in Forza Horizon 3, the Blizzard Mountain expansion will satisfy you - one event, for example, asks you to rack up 250,000 skill points while battling the elements and your opponents. It’s a more rewarding progression system than the superficial fans of the main game that gives you a more satisfying sense of accomplishment. Progression paths aren't too linear either: if you grow tired of repeating events, it's usually possible to earn enough stars to unlock the next tier by completing side challenges catered to your skills.

While the extra objectives add more replay value and provide a considerable challenge for seasoned players, having to acquire a set number of stars to unlock each tier of events does get repetitive after a while, despite being an improvement over the fan system in the main game. This cycle is repeated across 10 rounds before you unlock the final Kingmaker event, an endurance race with a route that takes you on a tour of the entire map. 

Inevitably, routes also tend to repeat in later events as you unlock new rounds due to the small size of the map. Like the main game, it’s best to approach the campaign in Blizzard Mountain like junk food – digest it as a tasty snack, and it’s much more satisfying than gorging on it all in one go.  

Whereas Forza Horizon 3’s campaign was lacking in different event types other than underwhelming checkpoint races that were too brief, the Blizzard Mountain expansion introduces new Hill Climbs and Descents which utilise the environment brilliantly.

Hill Climbs have you climbing up to the peak of the mountain, but it’s the downhill Descents that are the real highlights. As you hurtle down the mountainside as fast as you dare, you’ll be fighting for control while battling with the AI and trying not to plummet off the edge. It’s utterly exhilarating – something that often couldn’t be said for Forza Horizon 3’s lackluster races.

The track designs add to the excitement, with frequent twists, jumps and elevation changes forcing you to concentrate, making for racing routes that are more thrilling than the flat, uninspired tarmac tracks in Forza Horizon 3.

Forza Horizon 3 Blizzard Mountain screenshot 3

It’s a shame, then, that the seven new cars included in the expansion aren’t quite as inspiring. Ken Block’s Ford Focus RS RX Gymkhana car serves as a reminder of Playground Games’ heritage with the DiRT games, and the Audi Quattro and Lancia Stratos are inspired choices that recall the original Forza Horizon rally expansion, but the remaining trophy trucks and pickups seem like variants of vehicles we’ve already driven in Forza Horizon 3.

There aren’t any surprises we’ve never seen in a racing game before like the Ford Fiesta MK2 which featured in Storm Island. You can at least drive any car you already own in Blizzard Mountain, but the game strongly advises you to fit them with snow tyres – advice that you would do well to heed unless you want to spend most your time spinning your wheels, though it would have made sense to have them fitted automatically since standard road cars are practically undrivable without them. It's not just your car that's equipped for the snow, either - even your driver avatar is wrapped up warm, sporting a cosy wooly jumper. 

With only 26 new race events and a small map, Blizzard Mountain is also on the pricey side. There’s enough content and replay value here for Forza Horizon 3 fans to gorge on, but it doesn’t quite justify the £15.99 asking price – especially when it isn’t included in the season pass.

Alternatively, you can buy an expansion pass for around £30 which grants you access to another forthcoming expansion (chances are it will be another Porsche Expansion) when it’s released, but this still isn't comforting to players who have already shelled out £80 on the Ultimate Edition at launch, which includes both the main game and season pass, thinking they would get access to all future content. 

Overall though, Blizzard Mountain is an excellent expansion for Forza Horizon 3 that will satisfy seasoned players, introducing new elements that fundamentally changes and improves the core game. The snow conditions provide a fresh challenge that changes your driving style and makes the races more intense and unpredictable. While the map is small and experienced players will blitz through the main events in a few hours, the wealth of content in Blizzard Mountain adds more replay value to a substantial game that’s already feature-packed. By adding race objectives, it also gives the core game a renewed sense of progression, resulting in a more satisfying experience. You can’t ask much more from an expansion than that.   

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