Horizon: Zero Dawn Review
Since their acquisition in 2005, Guerrilla Games has been one of Sony’s more reliable first party studios with the release of a new Killzone game every few years. Instead of a follow-up to the PS4 launch title Killzone: Shadow Fall however, Guerrilla Games has been working on their first new IP in more than a decade and now it is finally here with the breathtaking third-person action RPG Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Most post-apocalyptic settings feature dark and desolate wastelands that showcase a world torn apart by war, so it is very refreshing to see an alternative to that. After years of being run by technology, the world has essentially gone back to an almost prehistoric environment that is akin to the world seen in something like Far Cry Primal in some areas, while some other places remain that far surpass anything even in modern technology.
In this new world, humans are typically split into different tribes, though the lead protagonist Aloy starts the game as an outcast of the Nora tribe. The identity of Aloy’s mother is unknown at her birth, so she is cast out and taken in by the fatherly Rost, who becomes an outcast and raises Aloy like a daughter. After the young Aloy finds herself in the “ancient” Metal World” and comes across a wearable device she dons the Focus, Rost informs her that she can learn her origins by becoming victorious in a competition known as The Proving. This is merely the setup for the story, which is incredibly captivating throughout due to well written dialogue and a finely crafted narrative that is paced very well, complete with plenty of twists.
A big factor that plays a role in the enjoyment of the story is the perfectly cast voice actress for Aloy. The player is meant to feel that Aloy is growing alongside them as they play through the game, with Ashly Burch capturing the confident, but still vulnerable protagonist that is very endearing to the audience. Aloy is the type of lead character that you will just want to root for throughout, with you getting to experience her highs and lows first hand. The various side characters that you meet add more life to the game as well, though some obviously stand out more than others.
After the early part of the game that has you mostly kept within a smaller area, the adventure opens up as you start traveling far beyond the Sacred Land of the Nora. The absolutely massive overworld map is viewable at all times in the menu, though there is no actual traditional mini-map on the in-game HUD. Instead, there is a 360 degree variation of this that shows nearby objectives and important locations through compass directions at the top of the screen. This works pretty effectively most of the time, but it can get a little confusing when mixed with the waypoint system. After setting a waypoint, rather than the marker show a direct path to the location, it will give you one that zig and zags around based upon the routes in the game, which means the compass directions will constantly be changing. This will definitely avoid you finding a mountain in your way, but it may take you longer to get to an area than by taking the more direct path.
As you travel throughout the lands, you get to experience the true beauty of Horizon: Zero Dawn, which is one of the most impressive looking games on the system. The visuals are top notch across the board, from the character animations and designs to the little minute details you discover while exploring. Performance is superb here as well, with very little in the way of slowdown, even when being attacked by numerous enemies at once. There are moments where you will just be downright astounded at what Guerrilla Games have pulled off here and stand in awe for a few minutes at the world they have created, especially on PS4 Pro with a 4K television.
The majority of the combat in Horizon: Zero Dawn will come against the various machines, from the very easy to destroy Watchers to the much more difficult enemies that come later. Stealth plays a huge role in the game, as you can stay invisible by hiding in tall grass while crouching to sneak up on enemies. Thanks to the aforementioned Focus that Aloy finds as a child, you have technology on your side, which you can use to scan your enemies. This will allow you to find out their strengths and weaknesses, as well as track their path, which is absolutely necessary to take them down quietly. You also are able to try and override enemy machines, though you are limited early on in what ones you can override. This is a lot of fun to mess around with, as you can even mount certain machines and ride them around as well.
How you actually take down these enemies depends on your choice of weapon however, with plenty to choose from. The default is your melee-based spear and your trusty bow and arrow, but you can add in other weapons like a sling, bolt gun, as well as trap based weapons. There are many different weapons, which are graded by rarity, and each have their pros and cons. This is also the same case with outfits, with some perhaps allowing you to take more damage, while another may lend you more stealth. Most of these can also be modded with special items that can add resistance to certain elements, damage boosts, and more. The various enemies have different strengths and weaknesses, so finding out the perfect setup for a boss is very important for your survival.
Crafting also plays an integral role in Horizon: Zero Dawn, where you must pick up different items from across the map and from enemy corpses, both human and machine alike. You will be consistently crafting new ammo and other items like health potions, but you can also craft upgrades to your carrying capacity for weapons, outfits, resources, and more. Combining the weapons and outfits with both modifications and the crafting mechanic, Horizon: Zero Dawn has a very robust system that only gets more involved the further you get into the game.
Hunting is also present in Horizon: Zero Dawn, with the map being full of not only the machine enemies that you can destroy for parts, but also wild animals. Due to the prevalence of the machines, the animals are definitely less widespread than other games with hunting mechanics, though they are still pretty common. Hunting is best done from the shadows in tall grass while crouched, making you invisible to enemies, where you can draw your bow and make the perfect shot.
One of the most impressive looking games on the system
What can really help with not just hunting, but also many other parts of the game, is the wide array of skills that Aloy can learn. Horizon: Zero Dawn features a leveling system that is based on experience points earned in the game via killing enemies and completing various tasks. Upon leveling up each time, you will also earn skill points that can be used to unlock up to 36 different skills that range from costing one skill point to three. Some of the skills are more situational, such as being able to use ranged weapons while balancing on ropes, but others like unlocking Concentration, which slows down time while shooting similar to Red Dead Redemption’s Dead Eye mechanic, are vital to you surviving in this world riddled with enemy machines.
Similar to the recent Tomb Raider reboot, campfires are used as a save station, where you can either save quickly or save manually. Eventually, you’ll also unlock the ability to fast travel between these campfires and settlements, which is very important with a map as open and as large as in Horizon: Zero Dawn. However, this will require the use of fast travel packs that you find in the game and can craft yourself, though you will need to do some extra hunting to do the latter.
Fast travel will become quite useful as you not only play through the main quests in the story, but also the abundance of side quests and other activities you can complete in the game. Side quests are found throughout the game from different NPCs, with some being pretty lengthy on their own. In addition, there are other side activities that you will come across throughout the game, such as Cauldrons and Bandit Camps. Cauldrons are especially great, as they take you into the Metal World and are somewhat puzzle oriented, and reward you with the ability to override even more types of enemy machines. Between the main story and all of these other quests, there is plenty of content to be found here.
Horizon: Zero Dawn has been a long time coming, but it is finally here and it does not disappoint at all. Featuring a likeable new protagonist in Aloy alongside a compelling story, the game will keep you invested, whether through the main story or even the countless side quests that add more lore to this intriguing world. Complete with a deep combat system and stunning visuals, Guerrilla Games has already raised the bar for exclusives this year with Horizon: Zero Dawn.