Horizon Zero Dawn was developed by Guerrilla Games – published by Sony Interactive Entertainment – which is renowned for their critically acclaimed Killzone series. Though unlike Killzone which didn’t stand out in its competing genre of FPS, Horizon Zero Dawn has a unique staple that stands out from other Action Role Playing Games.
Horizon Zero Dawn is Guerilla’s magnum opus, from now on they are the developer that everyone will anticipate their next game instead of them shrugging their shoulders when they hear about it. Set in a future post-post-apocalyptic world, where machine rules the land and humans are in the midst of a survival battle. The concept is unique, wonderful, and best of all — well-executed.
In Horizon Zero Dawn, we follow the story of a girl named Aloy. The story begins in her infancy, an exiled upbringing where she and her father-figure were shunned by their tribe for reasons not known until later in the game. That’s why her caring so much about her past than the present doesn’t feel forced. Her character is strong and the growth over the course of the story has an emotional punch.
In her childhood, Aloy once wandered off in the ruins of the ancient world. There she finds a device called “focus” with which she is now able to extract data from computers, detect broadcasts, and analyze environment around her. Combine that with her warrior-like training, we now have a super-girl capable of changing the world.
The story follows two parallel ongoing points. Aloy’s relation with both the old world and her journey to discover answers in the present, leading her into all kind of interesting and well-crafted conflicts. The story is engaging; The lore is fascinating but the representation could have been better. Much of the lore is found in textual form or audio logs, scattered throughout the world, which leaves much to be desired.
The ranged combat is the core of the game and the combat loop is gratifying. Strategically setting traps is satisfying. Combat against humans isn’t that well crafted but compensates when fighting against the machines — them being the main enemies in the game anyway. Destroying machine components by strategically attacking their weak points is an exhilarating experience not to be missed.
The variety in combat is epic. 24 machines, 9 weapons, and 3 different kinds of traps for the stealth lovers. We get to learn enemies weaknesses and ways to exploit it strategically over time along with Aloy.
The place where Horizon Zero Dawn shines the most is in its gameplay, it took the typical see the enemies and shoot blindly approach, scraped it off completely and rebuild it from scratch. What makes the gameplay shine in this interesting question the team must have asked themselves: how to advance the core mechanic when it comes to games, that being, the gameplay. Well, we buy the game for gameplay, don’t we? I mean everything else is just an added bonus which is supposed to refine the game, but not the thing which keeps us hooked.
So how did they changed the game? You’re given a focus which you can use to find weaknesses in enemies. Shooting their weakness inflict additional damage and not hitting weakness barely does any damage, so you have to find their weakness beforehand and exploit them, and trust me when I say it’s not as easy as it may sound. You’ve to plan ahead and strategically set up traps so they’ll be temporarily stunned which is a time to rush and hit them with a critical hit. This is just one of many ways you’ve to exploit enemy weaknesses. You can buy a rope-caster, it is as cool as its name. Shoot a side of the rope-caster on the enemy and hook the other side to the ground, rendering its movements useless for a while. After that, you can either retreat back and heal yourself or you can use that opportunity to inflict a critical strike by approaching the enemy and hit them when they’re vulnerable. There’s also a trip-caster, a weapon that creates explosive trip-cast wires and can damage the enemy if led on it.
There are plenty of variance in weapons. But all of them is for range combat; bow, trip caster, and slings are the main weapon types available. For different mission, you have to use different weapons so they never feel old.
There aren’t that many armors in this game. You can buy all of them from merchants in various location in the world map, except one, for that, you have to collect power cells in quests and one in the world map. You’ll also need shards and collectible items to buy Armors and Weapons, though they aren’t available in abundance and you’ll have to harvest them and sell a ton to merchants to get the whole library if you are into it. But there isn’t any customization of Armor or Weapon, which can be disappointing.
The health system is not as typical as it’s found in mainstream games, basically, you have to hoard as many medicines you get along your journey and store them with you. They may be the only thing saving you from a life and death situation. Your health is really limited, you can barely take a hit or two. So in case if any enemy hits you, you have to retreat back and use the medicine to heal yourself which adds an additional complexity in the already complex battle system.
The game map is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. It ranges from tropical forest to dry desert, you’re shown amazing sceneries along your journey and that’s when the photo mode really shines, you can pause the game anytime, take a photo, share with your friends and continue on your journey. But you don’t have to walk all the way, you can ride machines by hacking them. Furthermore, you can even hack enemies to fight on your side against other machines! What’s the fun in fighting alone when you can get machines to fight each other while Aloy enjoys the view.
And all that prepares you for the best part which is the boss fights, and trust me when I say it’s one of the best parts of Horizon Zero Dawn. The bosses are scary, vengeful and can tear you to shreds in an instant if you’re not careful. Resources are scarce and arrow showering is not an option, you have to use your Focus to find the boss’s weaknesses and exploit them in real time while dodging ferocious attacks. Find where it hurts them the most, take your aim and shoot when their weakness is exploitable. Combat loops is satisfying. But when it comes to combat against human, it falls back to typical mainstream games, which kinds of slows down the pace of the game.
And this game even features crafting arrows/traps on the fly. But you’ll have to collect and save components necessary to craft the items. It’s not as deep as RPG’s are famous for. More like the one found in Far Cry Primal, you can craft arrows and traps if you have necessary components. You can’t, unfortunately, mix and match and come up with different surprising combinations. But crafting makes exploring fun and rewarding, when you’re in Horizon Zero Dawn’s world, you can collect component which can help you craft weapons/traps and collect medicines to help in the time of need.
The combat system in Horizon Zero Dawn is the most realistic. Find the enemy weakness, and single blow will alarm it and it will come out to hunt you, dodge it, fight it, and repeat. Once spotted, the enemy will stay alarmed even if you manage to hide from it. You will have to learn to choose your battles wisely and play smartly. But on the plus side, once you learn all that stuff, Horizon Zero Dawn will make you feel like an accomplished warrior at the end of it.
The combat never gets easier, even as new abilities are added to Aloy’s arsenal. The machines are too smart to get any easier to beat. These machines are authentically animalistic. The approach you with a predator’s precision and approach in a snap. Spewing ice, splashing tails, every moment damaging your health. So you have to be really careful at keeping yourself safe while attacking the enemy, which makes the combat the most exhilarating and winning the most satisfying.
Aloy’s arsenal of weaponry has an element of classic primitive plus her technologically advanced focus, creating a dramatic irony inherent part of every battle. While her go-to weapons are bows and elemental-infused arrows, used along with her Concentration ability that slows down time, allowing a better shot to be precisely measured.
Horizon Zero Dawn doesn’t allow it’s players to wander aimlessly into any battle. The beasts travel in packs and have more allies around in watch. Like the smart velociraptor they are. So if you are not careful, you can be outnumbered in seconds. Leading to another interesting feature.
The stealth mechanic is remarkable, again thanks to Aloy’s focus. Hide in the tall swatches of grass and use focus. Which shows the path a pack is going to take and where their eyes will be in the slight-future. All you have to do is wait and devise a path strategically that will allow you to travel amongst them without getting noticed.
Dungeons are referred as “Cauldrons”. There are 4 of them. Beautifully designed and aesthetically appealing. The reward of clearing them successfully is the ability to override new machines. Which can be quite useful, especially in hunting trials.
There is no fishing in Horizon Zero Dawn. You can either use your spear to kill the fish or Tag them with your focus and use your bow. Basically same as hunting any other animals, though sometimes you’ll have to swim to get close and then harvest them
The collectibles aren’t hard to collect, you can buy a map from merchants for areas where different collectibles can be found, but the only reward of import is a chance to explore the breathtaking sceneries that can be found on such missions, and PSN trophies, of course.
The graphics and world design are amazing. With breath-taking environments filled with great attention to details and grass — lots of grass. The entire biosphere is magnificent; ranging from: lush forest, snowy mountains, parched deserts and breathtaking grand canyons unlike any seen before. To top it off machine designs are marvelous. Though not-so-great facial expression pop out more due to how great everything else is regarding presentation.
The dynamic weather is a bonus. Day and night cycle, and haunting changing weathers. Sandstorms, blinding rains, torching sunshine. Actual animals dwelling with the machines makes for an eerie naturalistic contrast.
Audio design is solid. With emotional tunes that never feel overpowering, and sound effects that contribute nicely to the atmosphere of the world. Especially the machines benefit from great sound design, making them feel even more “alive”. The voice acting is okay for an open world game even though the structure of branching dialogues can lead to disentangled conversations. Albeit having average facial expressions, the characterization is memorable.
There are corrupt zones filled with savage machines to destroy, hunting challenges to complete, raiding camps to clear out bandits and array of side missions to keep you busy. And to succeed at those, we have to harvest, craft and trade materials. On an offset, the looting can get overwhelming at times.
Despite all the other cool features, the machines are the one that takes the limelight. Perfectly balanced between metal and nature, industrial and organic design. These mechanical monstrosities spark electricity and erupt in fire, amplified by the always changing time of day and weather effects. Their ways to interact with nature has a strange chaotic beauty. Every machine is fascinating in its animal-like features made of plates, circuits, rivets and lenses shining of eerie vitality. Creating an unsettling sensation of belonging in the land that we explore even more than humans do.