Horizon: Zero Dawn Review

Ahoy, Aloy! Welcoming a new IP and heroine to the PS4.

When I saw the official reveal for Horizon: Zero Dawn, I admittedly thought it’d turn out to be an okay game at best. Guerrilla Games’ Killzone series was never much to write home about, in my opinion, and the last release for the franchise was so mind-bogglingly boring to me that I didn’t even finish it.

Horizon: Zero Dawn isn’t Killzone: Shadow Fall though. Where the Killzone series followed basic first-person shooter tropes and lazy game mechanics, Horizon: Zero Dawn sets out on its own and makes for a wonderful experience. It isn’t without faults, but it’s a damn fine example of how to make a system selling title.

GAMEPLAY

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Lining up the shot

 

Combat obviously plays a very large role in Horizon: Zero Dawn, and it’s clear to me that Guerrilla Games put great emphasis on making combat as fluid and intuitive as possible. Aloy moves predictably as you need her to, and being stealthy isn’t difficult at all (thanks to the copious amounts of tall, red grass everywhere). Aiming can be tedious though, considering that shots that you swear should hit a weak point on an enemy, don’t for some reason sometimes (Jen:this happens to me far more often than I would like. Can we patch this, please?).

Despite seeming like there wouldn’t be much variety in weaponry however, there actually is. There are plenty of tools at your disposal, including slingshots that shoot bombs, to traps, to tripcasters that create tripwires, to ropecasters that can tie down enemies. You can even override machines to fight for you (Jen: don’t forget about riding them, too!), which comes in handy when dealing with large groups of enemies.

Paired with the game’s weapons is a plethora of armors and options to install upgrades for both weapons and armor. These upgrades improve the stats of equipment, making it more suitable for use against the various threats in post-apocalyptic Colorado (yes, it takes place in Colorado).

Ammunition and supplies are craftable as well, but players can buy materials and consumables in addition to weapons and armor. However, finding the materials for upgrades, consumables, and ammunition is easy enough, and scavenging is quick and painless. Even crafting in combat is possible, though being able to craft ammo on the run kinda breaks things. Aloy is apparently a master fletcher as well, because she can make 40 arrows in a couple seconds using only tree branches, wire, and metal shards while being chased by machines that want to rip her in half. I have to applaud her skill.

Speaking of crafting, the fast travel system is rather genius. Instead of being able to travel as much as you want to any place on the map, your fast travel is limited by your resources to make travel packs. Creating and using a Fast Travel Pack allows the player to fast travel to any settlement or campfire that you’ve discovered, and uses up limited amounts of resources. To me, even though they require little investment to make, their status as a limited resource incentivizes exploring the world itself on foot. Of course, you can always repurpose a machine to use as a mount as well.

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And ride off into the sunset

Of course, the machines that aren’t friendly to you are remarkably dangerous, and each one has a set of weaknesses and strengths that definitely need to be considered before engaging in combat. Obviously, the earlier enemies like Watchers and Striders are simple to deal with, but things ramp up once you meet your first Sawtooth. The foolish will try to fight more dangerous enemies the same way as one fights the lesser baddies (like I did), but those folks will learn quickly that the best method to fight tougher enemies is to make full use of traps, resistance and health potions, and special ammo types.

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Getting up here kinda sucked

The climbing mechanics are often a pain in the ass since its design is so similar to Uncharted‘s mechanics. It worked in the Uncharted games because those titles were linear in nature, giving players a more focused area to explore and guiding them along a path. The same can’t be said for Horizon: Zero Dawn since it’s an open-world game, and there are often many ways to tackle different obstacles. Except, when it comes to climbing, there’s often only one way up, and it’s not always clear the way you need to go. I suppose the game could use waypoints to guide you up, but the waypoint system is an utter mess. It makes finding a path to a specific location very difficult as it tries to make you follow paths and it’s easy to mistake a quest waypoint for a custom one.

 

PRESENTATION

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Just… Damn…

Just look at the picture. The image above is what the game looks like, and the photo mode that Guerrilla Games included makes it possible to take some wonderful shots, and getting beautiful screenshots is helped by the fact that the lighting is absolutely fantastic (though the intensely bright moon can be seen through the ground sometimes).

Guerrilla Games definitely deserves a medal for their work on Horizon: Zero Dawn. It looks breathtakingly beautiful, even on the stock PS4 (I wish I could test this on a PS4 Pro). The environments, enemies, and characters look wonderful, though Aloy and the other main characters clearly had more attention. Textures and character models are also lovingly crafted, though there are a few minor issues I noticed.

While the facial animations are pretty well done in most cases (like on main story missions), there are some encounters where characters exhibit the dead-eyed expressions I’ve come to expect from Bioware’s games. Also, when facial animations are used, there’s often a twitchiness in the characters’ faces that makes them look like they have a tic. Teersa, for example, has some wicked twitchy eyebrows… like she has Tourette’s Syndrome or something (though more power to Guerrilla for inclusion if that’s really the case).

Additionally, there are some odd moments where characters have wounds that look like they should be bleeding, yet aren’t. At one point for instance, Aloy receives a cut to her neck and passes out, yet there’s no blood at all; I imagine that the lack of blood is a concession that Guerrilla Games made to retain a T/PEGI 16 rating.

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Just taking in the rain a bit before it disappears a couple seconds later

Lastly, the world also features some pretty impressive weather effects, complete with rain that beads off of the characters and makes ripples in the pools of water that form on the ground. Unfortunately, the weather changes too rapidly, going from a deluge of water to a bright and sunny day in a matter of seconds. While I realize that this can happen sometimes, it happens often in Horizon: Zero Dawn. If anything, I only wish that the weather would stick around longer because it’s awesome fighting robots in the rain.

ORIGINALITY

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Reaping robots in the caveman future

Horizon: Zero Dawn is an interesting new take in gaming on the apocalypse. We’ve done prehistoric with FarCry: Primal, and done the radioactive, technological wasteland with Fallout, so why not a combination of the two?

Maybe that’s where Guerrilla got the inspiration?

I can’t say that Horizon: Zero Dawn uses open-world concepts very creatively, but like many other games, it seems to avoid whatever issues that most other open-world games suffer from. Running around in the robotically ruled wilderness somehow doesn’t get old, and the variety of enemies and environments keeps things interesting.

What I can definitely appreciate though – I know this is going to sound odd – is that Aloy’s Focus actually gives her a logical reason for her being able to mark objects and enemies, and why she’s one of the few that can read text files and listen to audio from before the apocalypse. It’s a useful tool to have in the game, and it’s rare enough in the lore that it isn’t inconceivable that others wouldn’t be using it; especially Aloy’s techno-phobic tribe.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is just different from most other games on the market, and it’s damn refreshing. Somehow, Guerrilla made something different, yet didn’t have to get weird with it. No oil babies here, folks.

Actually, are there oil babies in Horizon: Zero Dawn? If there are, please let me know.

STORY

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It’s the circle of life

It began so strong, with Rost naming Aloy (I teared up a bit), but it ventures into cliches with the reasoning for her to enter The Proving for the Nora tribe, which would erase her outcast status and allow her to live a somewhat normal life. The reasoning behind allowing an outcast to enter into a tribe’s ritual and earn tribesmanship(?) is passable I suppose, if just a little bit convenient. However, you aren’t reading this to hear about my gripes over the weak beginning and justification for Aloy not remaining an outcast.

The lore in Horizon: Zero Dawn is extremely extensive, with dozens of hints to what the world was like before the robots ended humanity’s reign. I actually intend on writing up a summary of how the state of the world in Horizon: Zero Dawn got to the point of mechano-beasts roaming the landscape, but I have a few more notes to take. It will suffice it to say though, that the robots are the true enemy.

Humankind is still Aloy’s antagonist, with the robots just being set dressing for the world itself. They become pawns of the enemy in some cases (or Aloy as well) and are incredibly dangerous. Aloy’s story covers her attempt to seek out her past and learn why Rost and herself were cast out from the Nora, as well as figure out why the human antagonists are out for blood.

It’s interesting to hear the Nora talk about the technological world through the lens of the their own understanding as well, referring to the Earth as All Mother, who gave birth to both man and machine. They blame the problems they’ve had with the machines on the exploits of people that angered them, and view ancient human buildings and bunkers as cursed areas, casting out those that violate the laws against venturing into restricted areas. Other tribes don’t have the same reservations about utilizing technologies from the old world; most notably the Nora’s main enemy.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that players don’t have the lore forced on them incessantly, though the lore isn’t nearly as lazily introduced as in Destiny‘s case. Instead, the vast majority of the background information for the world is introduced as optional, in collected text and audio logs. Everything else takes place through the eyes of Aloy, who is discovering the world much in the same way as the player.

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Choose wisely

The story itself is linear in nature, though there are some moments where you can impact the story in a small way. As far as I can tell, they don’t make a huge difference in the way things play out, but they do affect the dialogue in certain ways. They pop up fairly rarely, with most dialogue consisting of how much information you want to digest before moving on with the story. It does make for a more focused experience though, which may pay off in the end for you.

WILDCARD: ALOY

Horizon Zero Dawn Aloy Closeup.jpg

It’s difficult to not like Aloy. She’s a strong-willed character who is remarkably curious, though she talks to herself constantly. I mean, I get it. She speaks to herself as a guide to the player, funnelling information in order to help make sure that the player knows what’s going on, but holy crap it seems like she says everything she’s thinking out loud.

 

Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent.

Aloy’s curiosity seems to be what makes her different from everyone else in her tribe, along with Rost’s upbringing. She has a definite drive to learn and improve, and to help those around her. Her personality makes her a rather endearing character, which is something that makes it easy to like her. Not to mention, she’s sharp as well. Hearing her quips and outbursts at others in response to unfairness or stupidity. She’s relatable in that way, though I can see why others might see her as a bit of a “goody two-shoes” or white knight.

Also, it’s hilarious to see Aloy get hit on by men in the game, only to have it go completely over her head every time. She glosses over every flirtatious advance I’ve seen, and it’s funny that she has almost no response at all to it. It makes sense too, since she’s an innocent person, having never been exposed to society as a whole due to her status as an outcast.

Revelations

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Lighting a lantern for a new franchise?

I won’t lie. I haven’t finished Horizon: Zero Dawn, but I’m loving every second of it. However, I can honestly say that it’s one of the best games that I’ve played this generation. Hell, it even got my wife to sit down and play on the PS4 (Photo evidence below), which is a feat on its own.

Guerrilla Games clearly has done a masterful job with their work on Horizon: Zero Dawn, and I can honestly say that this game, though not perfect, deserves to be in any PS4 owner’s collection. I’d even go so far as to say that if you don’t own a PS4, Horizon: Zero Dawn is an excellent reason to go out and get one.

 

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37 thoughts on “Horizon: Zero Dawn Review

  1. I thought Shadow Fall had a good first proper mission, with multiple objectives to approach in any order. Then it just became standard and dull.
    I’m seeing a lot of love for Horizon. I may well pick it up some time later this year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review, as always! I haven’t started Horizon: Zero Dawn yet, so I’m looking forward to (my thesis being finished and) starting on the adventure! It sounds like Aloy is a great character and the world has some interesting lore, so I’m sold 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome review of this wonderful game! I’m still playing it (only 18% done at the moment), and I’m enjoying every minute of it. I also liked how the fast travel option consumes a resource. It gives me more incentive to go explore things instead of magically zooming around the map. I also agree that climbing is usually a pain (but not nearly as annoying as I’m find the stamina meter in the other game I’m playing, Zelda BoTW).

    I’ll admit I’m like Aloy and mutter sarcastic things to myself constantly when no one else is around, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I usually settle for telling things to stay after setting them down, or narrating to myself as if someone else is listen. Thinking out loud is a common occurrence as well!

      I will say that I’m SO happy that there isn’t a limited sprint in Horizon: Zero Dawn though.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I caved in and bought HZD last weekend. I’ve only played a couple of hours so far but it’s great! Glad to hear I’m not the only one having trouble with aiming… I thought it was just me being slightly rubbish. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jennifer was actually the one that pointed out the aiming problem to me, and I saw it with my very eyes after she pointed out a shot should’ve hit. I recorded the shot and rewatched it, and sure enough her shot hit a Strider’s canister, but didn’t register as a critical hit. Perhaps it is something that can be fixed?

      Like

  5. Nicely written review! It definitely got me more interested. Though it’s unfortunate that it came out around the same time as BotW (which is a time-sink), I think my love for the open-world Zelda game is encouraging me to try other open-world games. Reading your praise helps get me excited about Aloy and the robotic world she lives in. I’m intrigued by the evils of humankind here too. Have to put this on my to-buy list!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great review! I’m just wrapping up the game (last two missions!) so I skipped the story bit in case of spoilers. I have been really impressed with everything so far, so I’m curious to see how the story draws to a close. I agree about how gorgeous the game is, and Aloy is a very strong character although I didn’t notice her talking to herself nearly as much as I noticed Lara talking to herself in Tomb Raider, for instance. It is a common issue I guess! haha

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great write up! Horizon Zero Dawn is easily one of my favourite games of the year so far. It isn’t perfect and I think you touched on some excellent reasons why. The story does feel a little cliche but Aloy’s emotional investment gave it more gravitas as you are constantly routing for her as the player. For me, she’s probably one of the best new video game characters we’ve had in a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The strongest aspect of Horizon: Zero Dawn’s story is definitely Aloy. I can agree with that. I’m loving the lore of the game as well, and I can’t wait to unlock the entire background. I haven’t been this interested in lore in a game in a very long time.

      Like

  8. I might still be coming off the high of finishing it a couple days ago but right now I’d say it is the best game of the generation on either system. Certainly the best reason to get a PS4 if you don’t already own one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. Where The Last Of Us was the system seller for the PS3, I think Horizon: Zero Dawn is the same for the PS4. I’ve loved my time with it, and it’s hard for me to want to play Mass Effect: Andromeda over it.

      I feel that says a lot.

      Like

  9. Nice review. I love open world games, but I’m strangely not interested in this on at all. I do plan on buying a PS4 during the winter for Bloodborne, Nioh, Persona 5, and a few other games. I might consider this when it’s around $20. I’m playing through way too many games right now to even think about this one. Zelda, Mass Effect, Nier, Toukiden 2, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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