Horizon Zero Dawn

Platform: PS4

Available on: PC/PS4

Genre: Action/RPG

Developer: Guerrilla Games

A forgotten gem on the PS4 that might have passed you by, has now been reinvigorated with its PC release. We the player find ourselves in an open post-apocalyptic world where the lives of humans have reverted to that of tribalistic hunters. We take on the role of Aloy (pronounced A – Loy not Alloy :P) who grows up as an outcast from all other humans with the exception of her mentor Rost. After a brief encounter with the old one’s tech Aloy obtains a focus that allows her access to a handy scan system which helps the player to track and hunt.

Other than some small wild game, hunting amounts to tracking, fighting, and overcoming varying robotic beast-like creatures ranging from modern-day Robo-horses, all the way to the prehistoric like Sawtooth. Horizon Zero Dawn opens with so many questions and gives little to answer them, so the player is driven to immerse themselves into this haunting futuristic interpretation of what our world could become.

The game is given a hefty boost of added content with its only DLC content in the form of the Frozen Wastes and there are no micro-transactions to be found. So, with the complete collection being available for a decent price on PS4, it is a bargain for what you are getting. I finished the game in a couple of weeks, and while I have played many sandbox games that feel like they lasted a lot longer, Horizon feels like it had a great pace to it, with engaging side missions, challenges, and overall story.

What has happened to the world!?

After an initial storyline, the player sets off into the open world and will interact with other humans far and wide from all various tribes. These interactions offer a nice way to express yourself as Aloy in 3 different ways, compassionate, intelligent, or aggressive. These dialogue options do not impact the story in any way, this does remind the player that while the world is vast and barren, there are still pockets of humanity that you can feel a part of.

The story blends a wonderful narrative of what happened to the human race, while also keeping you engaged with the current problems that the various tribes face, and ultimately Aloy’s constant search for answers to find out her origin as well.

As I progressed through the main story there was an eerie sense of foreboding as we slowly uncover the secrets of the past that led humanity to become what it is, and what the future holds for Aloy and the rest of the tribes.

Time to get out into the big old world

When it comes down to the RPG element, Horizon offers a levelling system that rewards players with points to invest in a skill tree that will help the player to become stronger, thus making challenges and those solo encounters with terrifying machines a lot more manageable.

While some of these skills I found very underwhelming and almost unused, others I felt were essential for the core elements of the game. As someone who does not enjoy aiming all that much on a controller I was initially a bit worried about the game as combat centres around a lot of shooting arrows at the machines, but the moment you pick up concentration, you can briefly slow-down time and line up those perfect shots, which also helps to build the tension in those deadly fights.

A handy crafting system helps you to craft ammo on the fly without having to pause the game and go through a menu. You will also have a variety of potions that you will be able to make to heal and protect you from the harsh elements.

Weapons and Armour are aplenty in the game and are usually purchased for various machine parts that are scavenged in the wild. The weapons come in various forms like Bows and slings as well as other contraptions that feel ancient but still manage to feel fresh and take on some of the futuristic tech that hunters can acquire from fallen machines. Aloy will also come across various outfits that can also be customised to help further defend herself from the various attack types in the game.

Fast but costly travel?

The fast travel mechanic seemed strange at first, as players are required to craft or acquire travel packs that allow fast travel, so early on you will have to decide to travel on foot or use up this resource. Later in the game, you get access to a permanent travel pack that no longer requires you to manage this resource. This may seem annoying at first but in hindsight is quite a smart design choice, as you will favour travelling and seeing the world, to begin with, and then start to use the fast travel, but given time I much preferred capturing a mount and riding across the plains, if only to experience the amazing locations that make up this incredible world.

The world itself is breath-taking with such vastly different areas to explore, you can find yourself in a deep jungle area on side of the world only to traverse north and find yourself in snowy mountain peaks, and all of this is seamless thanks to GPU based runtime tech that the developers used that allows the world to be generated as the player continues to move through it.

The High points of the game

My MVP of this game is most definitely the machines, while I loved Aloy and how she interacted with the different tribes, the moment you encounter a new kind of machine is a mixture of pure horror and excitement, as you suddenly realise you need to figure out how you are going to tackle this new threat. The first time you see a Tallneck, it is easy to understand why you may wish to sit there for a while and just watch it walk on.

The game encourages you to study your prey and look for weak spots, to begin with you may waste countless ammo on your first Sawtooth or Prowler and the battle will feel hard-fought. With many battles under your belt you will start to feel quite at home running headlong at a pack of these deadly machines only to dodge at the last moment, and for them to miss an attack and leave themselves open to being exploited.

Machines come in all manner of forms for you to tackle with, ranging from the nasty little watchers to the stealth-like prowlers, although the way up to the top of the food chain, the Thunderjaw. Each machine offers its very own challenge and with the help of your focus, you can study and look for ways to bring them down. The Tallneck (a massive giraffe-like machine) I mentioned before is a different kind of machine and adds a neat way to help reveal more of the map.

The pitfalls and what to look out for…

As mentioned the game does feel a bit shorter than your average sandbox open-world adventure, and when I started with new game +, I was able to burst through and complete just the main story in XX hours, but I highly encourage players to explore the world and tackle every available mission.

Some of the side quests can be a bit repetitive, as the bandit camps, as human-AI tends to be a lot less intuitive than the machines, towards the end, I just ran into the camp guns blazing and handled all the bandits with little fuss just so I could tick it off the list.

Final verdict on Horizon Zero Dawn, yae or nae!

To say I enjoyed Horizon Zero Dawn would be an understatement, I didn’t feel at any point bored and was so engrossed in the story that even side missions didn’t feel like a laborious chore that you ‘had’ to complete. Each side mission gave me the chance to understand what had become of the world and add one more piece to this massive puzzle. The combat was fun and engaging and even though console shooters are not my cup of tea, the skill system complemented the action in such a manner even I could enjoy without feeling like I would be overly penalised for missing the target.

Play this game if…

  • You like a big open world

  • You like Hunting Monsters

  • You like strong female lead characters

  • You enjoy the excellent character and environmental design

All images taken from the Horizon Zero Dawn press kit here

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