From one Behemoth to Another
Horizon Zero Dawn marks the first attempt at something new by developer Guerilla Games, and also marks their first new IP since 2004. Having worked on Killzone games for so long, people were generally surprised when they saw what Guerilla Games had cooking up next for the Playstation 4, and it was a very pleasant surprise. After an amazing E3 demo, Horizon quickly became one of the most anticipated games to be released, and for good reason. Horizon Zero Dawn stands as an incredible example of what can be achieved by developers with a strong vision, and Guerilla Games prove that they can make a brilliant game, even if they’re outside of their comfort zone.
Aloy of the Nora
Horizon Zero Dawn is set in the far future, where Earth has been reclaimed by nature, and is now roamed by mechanical beasts called machines. Why they’re here, and what happened to Earth that led to it being in the state it’s in isn’t made clear at first, and it’s one of the undying questions you’ll undoubtedly have when starting up Zero Dawn. Humans live similarly to the way that cavemen did, in separate tribes, and surviving by hunting and gathering in the wild. You play as Aloy, an outcast of the Nora tribe, the reasons for her being an outcast not being fully disclosed until later on. After some initial back story in the form of a tutorial, Aloy tries to be accepted by the tribe in the form of The Proving, which goes horribly wrong, and after a chain of horrific events, sets Aloy on a path to discover who she really is, and what happened to the world so many years ago. I don’t want to go any further to avoid spoilers, but the first half of the story is honestly quite slow, and while Aloy is very well-developed early on, there’s no real hook to the narrative unless you really want to find out what’s going on. I honestly found it quite dull, and was confused as to why Horizon’s narrative was so highly praised, and then I hit the halfway mark. Over the course of one story mission, I had become fully invested into Horizon’s world, eager to find out more about the world and all the circumstances that led it to the way it is. It consistently shocked me with its plot twists and intriguing mystery, and I honestly couldn’t get enough of it. I absolutely loved Horizon’s second half, and the first half felt worth getting through in the end, if a little pointless. The characters are all extremely likeable, Aloy especially, who’s very well developed early on, and with multiple dialogue choices, you’re able to see her interact with people the way you want her to. She’s more than just a way for the player to see the world, and I truly hope she becomes a flagship Playstation mascot. The supporting cast isn’t nearly as strong as Aloy, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. Aloy’s father figure in particular was quite interesting, and some of the Nora tribesmen and women who Aloy cooperates with throughout the narrative always proved to be good company. Horizon’s side quests are also generally well written, and more often than not have an interesting over-arching narrative. Horizon Zero Dawn answered so many of my questions but created so many more, and the level of story telling that Guerilla achieve in the second half of the narrative is amazing, even if it gets off to a slow start.
If there was one thing that hooked me from start to finish in Horizon, it was definitely its gameplay. It’s pretty standard affair for an open world game, but Horizon does all the things you’d expect in a typical open world in its own refreshing way that felt new. The map is absolutely huge, and there are a plethora of biomes to explore and hunt in. You can gather resources to craft new gear, potions, consumables and so on. Side quests can found everywhere, and traversal is generally enjoyable, as Aloy is extremely nimble and agile. She can climb most surfaces within the world (providing there are ledges) and she can also hack machines, some of which are rideable. Cities and points of interest are scattered about the open world, and dungeon like challenges called Cauldrons can also be found, which I found were incredibly well designed and challenging. I mentioned crafting earlier, and it plays a pretty big part in Horizon. Aloy has a plethora of weapons she can use to hunt machines, ranging from bows and trip wires to sling shots and machine gun-like rattlers. Every weapon has at least two ammo types you can use, all with different effects or elements.Which weapons and armour you craft determines its ammunition types and bonuses. You can apply modifications which give your gear boosts to resistances, damages and so on. As you complete quests and hunt machines, Aloy gains EXP, levels and skill points. The skill points can be invested into three different trees all providing skills relating to movement, combat and survival. Each point I spent felt meaningful, and I was constantly tossing up my options whenever I levelled up. When exploring, you’ll find bandit outposts, corrupted machines, hunting challenges, and Tallnecks roaming the map, which act as towers. Tallnecks can be climbed and hacked in order to reveal a portion of the map. The scale of these things is simply crazy and the first time you see one will undoubtedly stop you in your tracks just so you can take it all in. When you aren’t doing any of the above in Horizon, you’ll more than likely be hunting machines, and combat is easily what Horizon does best. It’s a weird mix of the recent Tomb Raider games and Dark Souls, but don’t let that put you off, it’s a lot better than it sounds. Aloy can scan machines and the environment due to a tool she finds called a Focus, and this tool is key to coming out successful in encounters. Each machine has multiple weak points or Components, and if targeted by Aloy, you do increased damage. It is paramount that you take the time to hit precise shots on these components or combat is incredibly tough. After acquiring some abilities like slowing down time it makes it significantly easier, and whenever you a hit a weak point it’s incredibly satisfying. Destroying these components can stop the machines from doing certain things, and in some cases, provide Aloy with heavy weapons to use against other machines. It’s intense stuff, and the natural fluidity and fast pace of combat lends every single encounter a sense of danger, whether you be fighting a gigantic Thunderjaw or a smaller Shell Walker. It feels so good to apply elemental effects with arrows, darting around the battlefield with roll dodges, laying traps and tripwires for your unsuspecting enemies. Humans are also encountered in the game, but are incredibly dull in comparison to the machines, and more often than not I found the human encounters to be quite a drag. The game has simple, yet robust stealth mechanics, which are paramount to thinning a herd that you otherwise couldn’t take on by yourself. On normal difficulty, Horizon proved to be quite a challenge, but never frustrating.
A Beautiful Horizon
As always, I played Horizon Zero Dawn on the Playstation 4 Pro, and it is undoubtedly the best way to play the game. Horizon runs at 2160P checkerboard which looks absolutely amazing. Environments are lush, character models are intricately detailed, and the game never looks dull. Aside from the fantastic visuals, the game boasts some of the longest draw distances I’ve seen in a console game, creating an incredible sense of scope. The game is locked at 30FPS, but never drops, and I never had any graphical hiccups or technical hiccups throughout my time with Horizon. It’s a technical marvel, and Guerilla should be applauded for the detail and intricacy put into this world.
Horizon Zero Dawn marks a new start for Guerilla Games. They’ve made an incredible game, that anyone who owns a Playstation 4 absolutely must experience. Whether it’s for its excellent narrative, intuitive, unique combat, or incredible visuals, Horizon Zero Dawn is well worth your time.
-2nd half of the narrative is excellent
-Aloy as a character
-Combat is unique, new, fresh and intuitive
-Refreshes the use of open-world tropes
-Incredibly visuals and draw distances
-Strong technical performance
-Human combat is dull
-Narrative has a slow start
Up next will either be The Ringed City or Episode 3 of The Walking Dead. Thanks for reading, Harry.