Sony has started to dominate the market in recent years in terms of exclusives. Nintendo and Microsoft had a bit of an edge for a few years (other than a few games, like The Last of Us) but change is definitely in the air. With the Nintendo Switch finally being out and games like Breath of the Wild, Sony will have to pull some bold maneuvers to stay on top. One of the most intriguing titles to come along in recent years nearly passed me by as I just wasn’t a fan of Guerrilla Games’ Killzone series. And yet I think this developer may have finally found their true calling in the RPG genre. Horizon Zero Dawn has given me confidence for not only this developer but also the games that lie within their future.
Horizon Zero Dawn takes players on an impressive journey filled with high risk adventure, beautiful landscapes and fascinating lore. The world as we know it has ended and 10,000 years have passed bringing us into a new age resembling something between Sci-Fi and the prehistoric ere of history. Cities have decayed into empty shells of the old civilization as nature has reclaimed the lands, while a new species of robotic dinosaurs has risen. Humans have stepped into a near prehistoric state with intelligence where tribes are formed with their own ideologies and beliefs.
We play has Aloy (yeah, we get it … a play on alloy), a young outcast who embarks on an epic quest to find out who her mother was and why she was abandoned as a baby. Aloy will do anything to find the truth and in doing so she ends up embarking on a journey to stop a new rising evil and also prove herself as one a true member of the tribe. The world of Horizon is fascinating with the complex lore, history and values of the tribes, people, and environment. You’ll dig deep into the events before the end of humanity 10,000 years prior by exploring old ruins and finding key notes, audio logs, and diaries that shed light on the “event. All of these aspects of the writing are compelling but the story is still pretty straight forward. There are a few surprises but not many and the rewards can be lacking in comparison to some of the lengths you’ll need to go. Some very well constructed missions are in play here and the ending leaves some interesting questions but overall it’s not as gripping as you might imagine.
Visually the game is breath taking. The immense detail in the environment, creatures and character models is incredible. Everything from the Human NPCs to the ferrous robot dinosaurs look phenomenal with highly rendered photo-realistic skins, textures, and movement. Everything feels truly alive and the manner at which the world changes with dynamic weather and huge events taking place is staggering to think of the hard work put into it. Players will be able to explore vastly detailed environments that offer a range of different terrains; these range from snow covered mountains to tribal villages to decaying cities covered in lush plant life. It’s mesmerizing to just traverse the landscapes and see a whole new world crafted with such care and affection.
However there is a major downside present within the visuals. The facial animations are unflattering, especially when close up. With the cut scenes being so up close and personal, you can immediately see a lack of emotion from the blank stares of characters. It’s difficult to avoid even when characters shout, express joy, or even act angry. The facial lines remain the same. The voice acting is pretty good overall and again, the visuals are a marvel in their own right. Luckily the gameplay has more in common with the visuals and not the facial animations.
Horizon doesn’t stem away from what we normally see in most open world games. In fact, it heavily borrows elements from other games, such as Far Cry. It does however add its own unique twist on these familiar elements though, making it easy to get into but still refreshing in its own way. For example, in order to reveal more of the world map players will have to climb up the head of giant robots known as Tall Walkers, which are essentially massive, robotic dinosaurs consisting of the Brachiosaurus variety. In order to dod this players will have to scale the surrounding area to discover a high enough point that allows them to jump on and climb the rest of the way up. It’s a near little twist on the gameplay elements we’ve seen countless times in many Ubisoft games. There’s also an abundance of side questions and optional tasks that can help you earn more XP. Story driven events will also reveal more of the back story and the machines that you’ll be battling in Horizon. Sadly most side quests often fall under the category of fetch, follow, or kill quests. The formula doesn’t change too much and it’ll certainly wear some down after a while. Gameplay strengths come more from some excellent campaign missions which are often constructed within interesting set pieces, compelling objectives and a great use of the mechanics to deliver highly engrossing events. The progression is varied allowing players to navigate through different play-styles and attributes that accustom stealthy approaches or the more brutal aspects of hunting. Earning XP through completion of side quests doesn’t feel as much like a chore as it might sound. Everything about progression feels natural as exploration, combat, and hunting rewards new loot and vital gear. Trading becomes an important aspect but in the long run it’s down to finding key resources by yourself which is more enjoyable and provides the enriching sense of independence.
Now combat is a very important aspect of gameplay as with pretty much most titles released today. What makes Horizon’s combat most compelling is the variation of enemy types, situations and all the different ways you can approach combat scenarios. Hunting is a great way to obtain vital resources and, depending on your enemy, each encounter can play out very differently. Usually players will deliver a mixture of sheer brutality and thought provoking tactics in order to overcome the many challenges. The scope of tactics is broadened with your arsenal at hand including trap wires, freeze bombs, explosive mines, fire arrows, and much more. You develop and change your approach and there’s plenty of ways to take down enemies and yet each encounter will feel unique and like its own. Each dinosaur has its own maneuvers, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses which will keep you on your toes. Unfortunately, human opponents are nearly as interesting and usually end up feeling a little tedious. This is mostly due to the rather clunky execution of the stealth mechanics when facing against them. Hunting creatures works well enough and the mechanics do favor open spaces rather than small, confined bandit camps. Being unable to hide bodies or have human AI opponents react more fluently to distractions and lures does become a problem at times.
Overall Horizon Zero Dawn is an impressive game and one that Playstation 4 owners should be proud of being able to experience. Harboring an enriching game world with engaging gameplay and stunning visuals helps make it an experience worth having. There are some issues with tedious side quests, bad facial animations, and inconsistencies in the combat but it’s still a must own game nonetheless.