Horizon Zero Dawn, brought to you by Killzone developer Guerrilla Games. After this mysterious new project was shown at E3 2015, it generated a lot of interest. Horizon Zero Dawn was a completely new and ambitious project for Guerrilla Games. Straying completely away from their 1st person shooter roots, to make an open world action RPG. 2 years later and HZD hits the shelves early 2017. Is this a big hitter for Sony? Or is this just an idea that shouldn’t have seen the light of day?
The first thing I have got to say is wow look at these visuals. The visuals are fantastic, absolutely gorgeous. The best looking PS4 game in my opinion. The open world has many different vistas to marvel at. Desert, forest, mountains, it’s got a vibrant colour palette. The only thing I find a bit strange is that there’s no transition between weather patterns. It will suddenly go from raining to sunny in a second. The day and night cycles are great, and the game looks so different depending on the time of day. The lighting here is amazing.
The open world is decent and a good size. Plenty of countryside but not many built up areas other than the main city Meridian. Regardless the open world is impressive and the fantastic visuals add extra charm to the world.
Okay, so it’s a great looking game, but what about the rest of the game? What’s this game about?
Horizon Zero Dawn is a post apocalyptic action RPG where nature has reclaimed the earth, and humanity has gone back to the tribal times however there’s a twist. Machines rule the earth, and many mysteries lie on what happened to humanity. Why are machines in similar forms of animals? What happened to civilisation? Many of these questions are revealed as protagonist Aloy fights to get answers.
At first I wasn’t a fan of the whole concept. The idea of there being an apocalypse where animals are robots just didn’t appeal to me. I initially wasn’t that interested in getting the game, but I wanted to approach it with an open mind, and I am a sucker for open world games. I haven’t seen many PlayStation exclusive western open world RPG’s and that side of it looked interesting. The game world is what pulled me in.
With that being said, I was quite sceptical of the story and concept and wasn’t sure that when or if all is explained that I would find it believable. I was wrong. Later down the line things start to get explained on why the world is the way it is, and it’s actually a clever and intriguing concept. The narrative starts to unfold, and you realise that this is a story that can be taken seriously and has real profoundness to it.
The story starts off really well. Great characters and interesting plotline. Things start to unfold and tragedy strikes. The first 3 hours was extremely intriguing. Later on the story reaches a rather dull point. Many characters and quests you must do are pretty forgettable. I initially fell off the game at this point and moved onto other games. I came back to this game later on and progressed further through the story. Many questions that Aloy and yourself had at the start eventually start to unfold and that’s when the story really starts to heat up. Once you get past that initial dull and flat point of the story when you first reach Meridian, the story starts to connect, and there’s a real interesting use of science and technology mixed with human’s perception of it and how it intertwines with religion.
Something that’s so interesting about HZD’s universe is how humanity has gone back to the tribal times, but because it’s actually in the future, there’s futuristic things all around buried beneath the earth. Humanity’s perception on these things is quite believable. Many believe these things that were built by civilisation before it fell under, to be ancient religious gods and relics.
Aloy is such a great protagonist. She’s witty, clever and noble and has personality. Aloy is quite possibly the most iconic female protagonist since Lara Croft.
The main plotline is fantastic overall, but unfortunately most of the side quests and errands kinda just feel like filler, which most open world games suffer from. None of the quest’s narratives are really that memorable or interesting, likewise neither are most of the characters you meet in them. Most character deaths are also pretty cheesy, at times anticlimactic and pack no emotion behind them.
Quests and tasks are organised really well. Each has their own section with there being the main quests, side quests, and then even more things outside of that. It also shows the recommended level for each of these tasks and quests, which I like. Errands are simple fetch quests or investigations that don’t really have much plotline to them. Where as side quests are quests with actual narratives that are usually longer, but not typically tied at all to the main story. I like that they are divided because you know that an errand will typically be a shorter and simpler task.
Other things to do include tallnecks, trails and bandit camps. Tallnecks are like giant mechanical giraffes that walk around, the aim is to find a way to jump on it around a pool of enemies and climb to the top. Once you reach the top, it reveals more of the map. Trials are challenges where you will have to beat certain times doing objectives in order to get a bronze, silver or gold. Then there’s other things like cauldrons which are dungeon equivalents that you can beat. I found most of the cauldrons quite tedious to get through. Although they’re fairly creative, I wasn’t a huge fan of them.
After a while these side activities including the side quests do start to get quite repetitive and boring. A game mechanic borrowed from The Witcher 3 is the ability to track footsteps and find clues. It’s a good mechanic that worked in The Witcher 3, and it works in Horizon. The problem I have is that I feel like they over use this mechanic a little too much. It becomes quite evident once you play the errands and side quests.
Sometimes these errands and side quests are surprisingly creative and interesting. But too often will there be boring ones to do, and some of it just feels like filler. None of these quests feel lazy or tacked on though, you can tell effort was put into even minor quests by the devs, it’s just that unfortunately it’s not always that interesting in my opinion. Most quests outside of the main ones end up being becoming very repetitive. Search for clues, track footsteps, fight a big machine, trigger a bit of story. It’s a repetitive pattern of gameplay for most of the side quests. This ultimately makes the game feel tedious at times outside of the main game.
There are many different types of machines scattered around the world of Horizon. Most mimic some sort of animal or dinosaur. The twist is that the machine behaves like that animal it is mimicking, and has the same stature, but because it’s a machine is also has things that an animal wouldn’t possess. Such as guns, explosive barrels attached to it and various mechanical parts that can be shot off.
Each type of machine has strengths and weaknesses, which can be analysed with your focus device. They will have certain weak points that should be attacked and depending on the machine, those weak points will be vulnerable to different types of ammo and elements. Some are weak to fire, others are weak to armour piecing arrows, frost or shock arrows. Each element acts slightly different. My favourite way to take down an enemy in the later stage of the game was to shoot frost arrows at them. Once the frost meter built up, they would freeze which adds a huge damage multiplier. Burning damage was a great way to evasively attack.
The variety of enemies is excellent and every type of enemy has a learning curve to them. There’s huge variety of bosses which also have a learning curve to it. This makes each battle tactical as you wait to time your roll and learn how it’s going to attack you. You’ll be looking at where to attack it, how to attack it and how to defend against it.
Overall thanks to the fantastic enemy design and variety, this makes the combat excellent too. The combat is very responsive, fast paced, action packed, and most importantly it’s fun and satisfying. There is a lack of weapons for an RPG, but thanks to the huge variety of enemies, it doesn’t make the combat stale.
Another thing to add is that there is an element of parkour, which works fairly well on the most part. Sometimes the controls can be a little bit awkward and sometimes it can be hard to distinguish what you can and can’t jump on. Most of the time though it works well and there’s often rocks with yellow rope on it so it’s clear what to climb on.
The game took around 40 hours to beat and I think you could get around 60 hours out this game. Most of the side activities aren’t fun but thanks to the great gameplay, it still can be quite enjoyable in small doses. I absolutely loved the trails after I finished the game.
The game ended a little bit prematurely in my opinion and there were quite a few anti climatic moments throughout the game. Regardless though, the story was great and the foundation this first game has laid down, sets itself up for a very bright future. This franchise has incredible potential. What a great first entry.
Horizon Zero Dawn offers a very solid and intriguing story that has tons of potential for future games. The game has responsive, exciting, tactical and fast paced combat. Very creative and varied enemies. Gorgeous visuals and a really likeable protagonist. The game’s content isn’t consistently strong, but the gameplay always drives the game forward when the forgettable side quests and flat moments in the story aren’t hitting perfect notes. The universe this game creates from its unique and clever concept is what ties everything together in a fascinating way. Horizon Zero Dawn just slightly misses the mark from being a legendary game in my opinion, but it’s still a fantastic game and I can’t wait to see what’s next for this exhilarating franchise.