Back at E3 2015, Sony revealed a trailer that showed us a tough female warrior taking on robotic beasts with a bow and arrow. It was an original idea, and it was a pretty awesome gameplay trailer overall. With the release of the final Uncharted last year, it seems Sony needed a new title to have under it’s wing and add to it’s arsenal of great franchises. For the last 2 years, Sony has been marketing the hell out of Horizon: Zero Dawn, letting us know how much faith they have in it. I can say with full confidence that Horizon may be Sony’s new star-child. Guerrilla Games, (of the Killzone series) has crafted a beautiful open world with a deep combat system, a surprisingly moving narrative, and an abundance of content for players to sink their teeth into. It must be stated that it’s hard to talk about this game without referencing other games in the genre, as Horizon borrows heavily from other titles. Games such as Far Cry, Tomb Raider, and The Witcher all cast a shadow on Horizon. It doesn’t rip-off these games by any means necessary, but rather injects enjoyable aspects from other games while still carving out it’s own unique identity.
Horizon: Zero Dawn centers around main protagonist Aloy, who is considered an outcast since birth by the other tribes due to unknown reasons. Horizon’s overall concept feels incredibly original with the world it creates. About a thousand years prior to the game’s tale, some catastrophic event ended most life on Earth, causing everyone leftover to resort back to the stone age and live as tribes in a more hunter gatherer fashion. Oh yeah, and the world is overrun by mechanical beasts for some reason. I don’t want to get too much into the story, as it actually kept me interested for most of my 50 hour playthrough. This is due in part to Aloy’s likableness and sympathetic nature as a character. I genuinely cared about her journey to find out more about her past and her mysterious link to the world that came before.
Ashley Burch does a fantastic job voicing Aloy. She adds a sense of vulnerability to her personality, even though she’s tough as nails and never ceases to back down from a challenge. The facial animations in the characters add to this, as what’s not said is just as important as what is said. The other cast of characters do a good job as well. Even the main antagonist ends up adding depth to a villain who could’ve easily be seen as a one-dimensional, “I’m just super evil,” character. Overall, Horizon’s narrative will constantly keep the player engaged as there are always new questions that need answers. What happened to the old civilization? How is Aloy connected to all of this? Why does everyone hate Aloy? Why the hell are there freaking mechanical beasts roaming the Earth? It’s these questions that motivated me to continue playing the main story, which does end with an epic and satisfying conclusion.
In terms of visuals, yes, Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the most gorgeous open worlds I’ve had the pleasure of playing in, even considering this was all on a console rather than a powerful PC. From the dynamic weather system, the way the wind makes the foliage sway, and the beautiful vistas everything is an awe to look at. While the environments don’t have extremely detailed textures, it is the layout of the open world that makes it so impressive. A comparison to better understand this is Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption, which had environments of vast nothingness, yet it looked amazing and inviting. When exploring Horizon, I could just see so much of the world in my depth of view and most of the time I was able to go there. Many have theorized that Horizon takes place where Colorado once existed. This wouldn’t surprise me as in one section, you’ll enter a desert like environment and then later explore snowy mountains on the edge of the map.
I did notice a few frame rate drops when taking on Horizon’s more intense battles. When I was fighting many beasts at a time, it was sometimes hard for the game to keep up with the action. In one encounter, I was facing a large flying boss known as a Glinthawk and when I had it tied down with ropes and did elemental damage, the hawk would glitch like crazy and kept falling over in the exact same animation over and over. It was as if the AI forgot what it was supposed to do in that situation. Aloy can also get stuck in rocks and even a table, requiring me to restart the game entirely. These bugs aren’t in large enough supply to be game breaking, but noticeable enough to cause frustration when they happen.
When opening up the world map, it seems that Horizon took inspiration from the Far Cry series. The objectives on the map are laid out similarly; there are symbols to signify which specific wild beasts are in that area. Even the map requires specific actions to uncover all the objectives, which come in the form of Tall-Necks. Similar to the view points in Assassin’s Creed, climbing these machines will reveal specific sections of the map. However, what’s different is that these Tall-Necks are constantly moving, meaning Aloy will need to reach a certain height to jump on them. I have to give due respect to the developers for adding an original spin on a concept that’s being used constantly in open world games nowadays.
There are many tasks that players can take on in Horizon. There are cauldrons to explore, which are caves that have some platforming aspects and then will end in a boss fight. There are only a select few of these to explore, but the rewards are worth it and each one feels different from the other. There are hunting trials to take on, which are specific combat encounters with specific objectives and time limits. Then there are the various side quests, which were surprisingly diverse. Each one had it’s own little self-contained story and rarely resembled a simple fetch quest that plagues similar games. Some missions require Aloy to utilize her Focus (think Detective Mode from the Batman Arkham series) to scan the world around her that leads her to clues for a mission and can lead her upon a path for tracking. Aloy is basically Geralt from The Witcher series, especially considering their relative hunting practices.
Even after my 50 hour playthrough, I still had many tasks that I could easily squeeze another 10 or so hours from, and none of it ever felt like a grind. For anyone who is a completionist, Horizon is a doable and rewarding game to get 100% and get a Platinum Trophy.
Horizon is at it’s most fundamental when taking on the game’s vast amount of mechanical beasts. These robotic animals resemble real-life wildlife such as crocodiles, giant crabs, and even sabre-toothed tigers. At it’s core, the combat is essentially just, “Hit em in it’s weak spot for massive damage” (hats off to you if you caught that reference). However, this game cannot be treated as just a run-of-the-mil 3rd person shooter with a bow and arrow. Many of Horizon’s combat encounters require patience and planning, much like that found in the Witcher 3. Going in blind and just shooting will surely have fatal consequences. When approaching enemies, Aloy can use her Focus to scan the parts and see what weaknesses they have. Enemies may have components that are more susceptible to different elements, which must be taken advantage of to achieve the best results. Enemies also don’t feel like damage sponges due to this chip away system. I always felt like I was making progress on the game’s toughest enemies. I discovered the true extent of Aloy’s badassness when I was able to shoot an enemy’s turret off it’s head, and then use that turret myself to shred the beast apart.
What I appreciated about the combat is how tough it can be. Careful planning and stealth are truly required for approaching situations where there are multiple mechanical beasts. While Aloy may be one tough warrior, she also can’t take too many hits. There are multiple outfits Aloy can obtain that can increase armor ratings, but she still can only take a few hits before her health bar is low. When the game first started up, I will admit that I was getting demolished easily. But Horizon does this on purpose. It was a subtle way of telling me that I wasn’t approaching combat encounters correctly. About a quarter of the way through the game, I pretty much had it figured out and understood what certain weapons were appropriate for certain situations. While the game may be challenging, it didn’t have a steep learning curve, which makes the game easily accessible to even the most casual players.
With the various weapons at Aloy’s disposal, such as a rope caster to immobilize enemies and a slingshot that shoots out elemental bombs, there are plenty of approaches to combat to suit different playstyles. This prevented the game from becoming repetitive, as I was constantly being forced to change up my strategy due to the relentless move sets of the machines. Horizon does have sections of taking on human enemies, but these are far and few compared to many encounters with the beasts. I was thankful for this as combat against humans is Horizon’s most forgettable and uninteresting aspect. Taking them on stealthily in bandit camps can be enjoyable even if their AI is pretty stupid though. However, when the open combat starts, it becomes less fun when you consider your weapons are used to take on metal beasts and now you’re just facing a meat sack human.
Horizon’s RPG elements are designed well enough to keep players interested as well. Aloy has three different skill trees to add her skill points to. The Prowler tree specializes in stealth, Brave focuses on Aloy’s toughness and strength, and Forager improves Aloy’s crafting and scavenging skills. Players will be able to complete most of the skills trees at the end of their playthrough, so there is no need to worry about having to choose a certain path. Each has their own usefulness and are required to take on the game’s most challenging sections. Players will need to constantly be on the lookout for wildlife, both mechanical and real, in order to loot their bodies for crafting supplies. Inventory management may be intimidating to some at first, but the game handles it very well by having it all come together so easily. Ammo can be crafted on the fly through your weapon wheel and it’s very specific about letting you know what you need to craft other things such as your carrying capacity. I just used the, “loot everything” approach and it worked out well enough. Pro-trip: try to increase the resource carrying capacity fully, as you’ll need a lot of resources.
If you can’t already tell, I absolutely loved Horizon: Zero Dawn as a whole, to the point that when I finally finished it, I was upset because I just wanted more. Though there was much more to be desired, I still saw this game as a complete package for what it was. It had a large enough open world, a complete story, and addicting combat. Considering this is Guerrilla Games first open world title, I must say I’m impressed with what they gave us. Using the full potential of the Decima engine, Guerilla Games was able to show the true power of the Playstation 4. In an industry where sequels get the most notoriety, it’s impressive to see a new IP nail it on the first try. With the financial success of Horizon, I have no doubt the developers are working on future installments, and I can’t wait to see wait to see the full potential that this series can achieve.
Pick up Horizon: Zero Dawn exclusively on PS4.