Horizon Zero Dawn is the new big PlayStation IP from the developers of the Killzone franchise, Guerrilla Games. Taking place in a future overrun with nature and giant animal like robots, you play as Aloy, a girl with a bow, trying to uncover the secrets of her past. Horizon Zero Dawn is a big change from Guerrilla’s Killzone games, those being linear shooters, now moving into a action adventure RPG with an open world. Prepare to step into the world of giant robots, bandits, tribes, and fire arrows.
Horizon Zero Dawn takes place in the far future, after some form of cataclysmic event that left everyone less advanced, and filled the world with giant robot dinosaur animals. You play as Aloy, a girl exiled from her tribe at birth due to her controversial birth. In this early part of the game where you play as a young Aloy, you see how the citizens shun her, and you feel a connection through this discrimination. After finding a device called a Focus, a ancient headset that lets you see the world differently, she has a goal, to one day prove herself to the Nora tribe and find out why she was shunned. That is only the beginning of this story.
Horizon Zero Dawn is one of these rare titles does the overdone genre of open world games extremely well. Packed to the brim with a variety of robotic enemies to go against, the powerful Thunderjaw, or the small, but threatening Watchers. You have free range to travel this diverse land, from the homeland of the Nora, which is more of a forest region, to the Carja territories which comprises of many deserts to trek across. Each region has their own specific weather effects, rain usually filling the Nora valleys, the Banuk live up in the snowy mountains, where blizzards and heavy snowfall occur. The way the weather plays in absolutely fantastic, feels immersive as you walk across these lands and see the rain clouds coming in the distance. You can even hack and ride some of these machines to help you traverse the land faster, or buy and craft fast travel packs to skip straight to your current quest.
As I said, each tribe has their own land, their own cultures, their own stories to tell, all woven together in this well thought out world, which feels so beautifully realized for just one game in. In Horizon Zero Dawn we are introduced to plenty of these tribes. The Nora who are the ones to shun Aloy at birth, are very spiritual to their goddess the All-Mother, and seem more concerned about nature and the world around them. The Carja, who seem to be the largest tribe, have their own capital city, Meridian. They worship the sun god and have a violent past that the current sun king is attempting to atone for. The Oseram are mainly known for their weapons, and how crafty they are. They seem to be very concerned with building and profit, they even see themselves as being superior to other tribes. The Banuk are nomads who live up in the snowy mountains, trying to live in peace and harmony with machines and nature. There are other tribes Tenakth, but who know very little about them, hopefully they are expanded up in the future of this series.
Gameplay is varied, giving a basic RPG upgrade, crafting, and modification system. Every time you level up, you get a skill point, you have 3 different skill trees to pour these points into. One focusing on combat, another on resources, and another on various task like stealth. You can craft all of your ammo, and even weapons and armor. By simply tapping L1 you can bring up your weapon wheel, switching weapons on the fly and even crafting ammo for them. Mods can applied to armor and weapons, increasing traits of them, like damage resistance or doing more damage. Despite these elements being simple, there is plenty you can do with due to the varying nature of the weapons, enemies, and terrain. You can climb some sections of the world when you see yellow spots, this I don’t like, they should have some sort of actual climbing feature, as being limited to areas, limits my exploration.
You have a bow, as your primary tool. The basic bow has normal arrows, and fire arrows, but every bow you can buy in the game, has different arrow types. Some having shadow arrows, hard point arrows, and various other arrows, that all have different uses depending on what enemies your fighting. For example shooting an enemy that has an exposed tube with a fire arrow, they can explode, damaging themselves and enemies around them. You have a sling as well, that contain shock and freeze blast, useful for shocking and freezing enemies, especially freezing flying enemies. The tearblaster, which can only be obtained through a hunting quest, uses compressed air to rip pieces of machines off. The ropecaster can tie enemies down, each having their own amount of shots they can take, the Thunderjaw needs to be hit around 8 times or more before bringing it down. Even if you can’t bring them down, it should at least slow them down and stop them in their tracks. Tripcasters are used for placing traps that can well trip your enemy, also having the ability to blow them up or shock them. Rattlers are used for closed ranged combat only, due to awful accuracy. Finally your spear, used as a melee weapon, with the capability of light and hard attacks, it even allows you to hack machines around the world, but you first must access Cauldrons to gain more date to hack more machines.
Horizon Zero Dawn has many different actives and quest to engage in across it’s world. One of these is Cauldrons, which are like puzzle dungeons. They are a completely optional part of the game, but doing these will give your spear access to hacking more advanced machines, such as the all mighty Thunderjaw. Bandit camps are another part of the game that is optional, but it has a character called Nil that helps you defeat most of these camps. You learn more about him as you stomp on the bandits, and he’s a sociopath who simply just loves killing, but is so likable at the same time. Horizon even has towers, but don’t get upset yet, these towers actually are fun to do, and don’t litter your map with check marks to fill. They are giant machines you just find a way to jump on then climb up, it’s sorta a mini puzzle, and you usually just run upon the Tallnecks. After climbing one they will clear some of the map, letting you know where some machines are and that’s about it, finding settlements and quest is still exploration based. The Hunting Grounds are where you are given some task to complete, usually involving killing machines, and given a time limit to complete these objectives in. The shorter it takes you, the higher the marks you will get. Corrupted Zones also exist, which are areas you need to clear out that feature corrupted and stronger enemies. This admittedly is the weakest side activity in the whole game but doing all of them should at least help level you up.
The mainquest have a certain structure to them, some with minimal combat and primarily focusing on the story of the game. Which is where the dialogue system comes into play. Usually you don’t get to much diversity in what you say, as you ask a lot of questions or move the conversation forward after asking these questions. Every now and then you are given a choice, which can help you form Aloy’s personality. You have emotional or caring responses, logical responses, or hatred responses. Some of these do matter somewhat, but for the most part you don’t get to make to many choices in this game, outside of choosing to do a quest or not. Sidequest also exist, as is the nature of these games. Most sidequest in Horizon compliant the world and the main plot. They usually consist of Aloy using her focus to track trails left behind and investigate areas, feature some heavy combat sections, or even tell you to go somewhere to get something. But the story of most of these quest keeps you invested, a specific sidequest involving a child king was easily my favorite in the game, as when it concluded I could see how much Aloy had grown since the start of the game. There is also errands, smaller sidequest that usually go round up to hunting machines, fetchquest, finding someone for someone else, or you can even make your own errands, telling yourself to find a collectible, or the resources to buy or craft some armor.
Horizon Zero Dawn’s story is that of Aloy, a girl thrust into this chaotic and unfair world, while the past creeps in, pushing her forward on this adventure. She’s trying to find her origins, while trying to find out who attacked her village, so the personal investment is there for us and for her. Most RPGs offer some branching paths, Horizon plays it in a more linear fashion with limited decision making. In the case of Horizon at first it shock me, as I felt like the plot was predictable and wasn’t moving along fast enough. I was there for the world and gameplay and because I liked Aloy’s character, or at least the way I was forming her to be. But at about the end of the first act, you are introduced to a character that goes by the name Sylens, his character is very mysterious and intriguing, and helps point us in a new direction for answers, outside of the political drama between the Carja and Shadow Carja. The revelations in this game about the old ones, about the past are more shocking and complex than I realized at first, once these revelations are brought into the plot, the game really begins to take off for me, you get one question answered, but 2 new questions take it’s place, which pushes you forward for the truth. Don’t worry I won’t spoil the plot for you, just play the game for yourself and you will see exactly what I am talking about.
The score in Horizon Zero Dawn is amazing. Mixing a fast paced style with tribal chants, and chants, easily being on of the greatest scores to ever hit a game. The piece Years of Training, and the track from the Prologue are easily my favorite, invoking such imagination and spirit inside of you. The game is absolutely beautiful, staring out across the snowy mountains and seeing the amazing draw distance and the landscapes leave you breathless, as you almost feel like you are there. In the cutscenes the characters expressions and animations are great, putting it up there with games like Uncharted 4. But when it’s in the conversations the characters have odd facial animations and glitches, the camera won’t follow them when it moves, and they appear lifeless. The main cast especially Ashly Burch as Aloy is amazing, but a lot of the npcs are dull or just make you laugh at how bad they are, maybe it’s just some odd dialogue choices, but I’d expect a tad more. Horizon runs of the Decima engine, which is Guerrilla Game’s engine they launched for the PS4 with Killzone: Shadow Fall. Decima is very very good, as the game looks great and runs great at 1080p 30fps on the PS4, with PS4 options for 1080 60fps or even 4K with improved assets, taking full advantage of it’s capabilities. The only glitches I experienced was a lot of clipping on objects, some invisible walls, and the odd animations in dialogue scenes. Other than that, the game is a true showcase of what the PS4 can do.
Horizon Zero Dawn was a game at first didn’t draw me in the way I expected it to. But as the game went on, it got better and better. When the eventual sequel, or even possible DLC releases I hope they add some improvements to the game just so we can reach a true level of excellence. Aside from that the game is great, if you own a PS4, you must buy this game. I give Horizon Zero Dawn a 8 out of 10.