Horizon Zero Dawn has been well received since its 1st March release on exclusively on PS4. There had been a lot of hype surrounding this game but is it living up to it? If you would prefer to, you can check out the video below which shows off some of the gameplay while I’ll cover off everything in this review but if you prefer reading and some pretty photos, please feel free to carry on!
First this is first, this game is striking. The graphics. The colour. The light. The character design and execution. It’s simply beautiful right from the beginning. During the opening cinematics, we see Aloy as a baby before moving on to see her as a small child, discovering ruins of an old bunker where we learn snippets of what happened before the World we know disappeared. After a pretty cool montage sequence, we meet Aloy as she is now, a young woman ready for the challenges she is to face throughout this narrative. Now, I’m really trying not to give too much story away as I feel it will spoil a few things for you but let’s just say, it’s going to be a wild ride.
Just to clarify, I have not completed the main story at this stage mainly because there are a number of side missions, errands, trials and ruins to explore throughout the game and I’ve been spending a lot of time tackling these. You can choose to ignore them or do them as and when you please but they can offer items and experience to help you level up and unlock skill points so they are worth doing. It is a busy game, but I found myself getting caught up and running around for an hour or so before returning to the main quest line. I can understand why folks are saying it’s reminiscent of Skyrim, Witcher 3 and Far Cry as it offers a lot of extra missions for you to get stuck into and the game play style is quite similar.
There is of course quite an obvious difference though and that is the machines. Various machines roam on the lands Aloy must travel across during her story. My personal favourite is the Tallneck as it is essentially a Brachiosaurus with great posture and a large disc shaped head. It’s also pretty relaxed allowing you can climb to the top and override it in order to get the lay of the land around you. All other machines are likely to attack or stampede on sight so you should adopt a stealthy approach but be ready for action when it inevitably all goes wrong. Some machines will go down in one hit, some you will want to override and use as a mount or buddy to help you out but some of the bigger ones will require a lot of rolling, trap laying and some quick thinking to overcome, especially when they stampede or attack. There is an element of trial and error and I imagine they will become more difficult to manage the more you level up. I love the design of the machines. Their movement replicates the animal architype they represent very well and they can prove to be quite challenging if you make a mistake. It’s also worth checking out the hunting grounds and using the trials they offer to hone your skills if you get a chance. I recommend doing the Cauldrons that you come across as these house the ability to learn how to override more machines which will certainly come in handy later.
You will also encounter bandit camps on your travels. These remind me of the forts in the Assassin Creed games which you would need to clear them out to liberate them. I found that getting on one of the sniper posts tended to be a good plan as most enemies didn’t seem to know how to get you down, so for now, it’s a little glitch that I will exploit as I died pretty quickly by actually trying stealth mode. These camps provide campfires for saves and merchants for trading so there is a benefit to clearing them out especially when there is also loot to be had. But also be sure to check them for collectibles in the form of data files that reveal more information about the past. The conversations Aloy has with other characters allow her to try and find out more lore and background about the tribes, their history or their lore. Depending on the circumstance, sometimes you have the option of choosing a response which is led by heart, brain and fist. I doubt that your choice has much of a bearing over the overall narrative but I suppose it depends on whether you want to be a horrible Aloy or not really. I find her responses to normal conversations a little sassy at times which can be quite a nice change from the overall seriousness of the story.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet but is quite an important part of our protagonist is Aloy’s Focus. This is a device that she finds in the ruins at the start of the game and is used in a similar way to Batman’s Detective mode in the Arkham trilogy. It can highlight the machines weaknesses, enemy positions and be used for tracking as well as unlocking the data files you come across. It has the ability to show you the machines pathways so you can plan your route through a herd but you can also target a particular machine if you like. The pathways can be helpful if you are outnumbered and don’t fancy taking on a Sawtooth which is surrounded by Grazers and Watchers! Just make sure that you use it every now and again to spot where resources, loot and data files are before you exit an area as these can sometimes be missed.
There is a large emphasis on crafting in the game, mainly because if you don’t have the materials you’ll find yourself without arrows quite quickly and you will have to rely on your spear (which deals a fair amount of damage if you go with a heavy attack). You can upgrade your gear to allow you to carry more while modifying your weapons and outfits improves them by using loot and resources you find. There are merchants around too so you can buy what you need if it comes to it and you have the ability to sell too which can be useful if you find you’re running out of space. Luckily, crafting during combat is quite speedy if you just hold down X and although time is slowed while you are putting some arrows together, combat will continue around you so you should be ready to roll, fire or throw. It’s also worth keeping an eye on your health as enemies can pack a punch at times and if you forget to heal, you’ll perish rather fast. There are slots for potions but the majority of the time you’ll need a steady supply of medicinal fauna for quick healing during combat.
The combat itself is entirely dependent on how you want to play. I tend to try long range attacks with traps set in front of me to slow down larger machines to give me more time to bring them down. Other times, I play the long game and get in position to wait for the machine to come closer enough to override or get a silent strike. I still don’t think anything beats a slow motion jumping kill which ends in you rolling or sliding away as the enemy runs through a blast wire enabling you to finish them off with a spear strike. Now those are pretty damn cool. Each present their own risks but if you manage your inventory and weapons well enough, you can mix things up to suit how you want to approach each encounter. Humans provide a slightly different challenge as they also on occasion have heavy weapons which resemble machine guns or grenade launchers. You can pick these up and unleash the fury right back at them if you take the gunner down first but it’s up to you whether you want to run the risk of slower movement.
The soundscape for the game is also very effective, both in combat and while you just wander around. The music is also very moving which is lovely and I currently have the theme on my PS4. Everything creates a great atmosphere for the game which allows you to get lost in it for hours. The graphics on the other hand…. Well who do Guerilla think they are? I mean, surely, they could have actually put some effort in? I’m only kidding. The graphics are beautiful. The changing weather, the way the wind blows the long grass, the cut scenes with amazing motion capture… It is stunning. Don’t get me wrong, I have come across the glitches where NPCs suddenly have no torsos and at one stage I fell into the floor in a house and couldn’t get out so had to reload but no game is perfect as it just isn’t possible. But the weather effects make my jaw drop every time. The images featured in this review are snapshots I have taken but I still feel that I need to use the photo mode more as it captures those breath-taking vistas and I have enjoyed seeing snippets of the experience other gamers are having with this title and also wondering how they managed to get shots like that.
Horizon Zero Dawn, for me, is just a wonderful game. It contains so many of my favourite game play elements and other than a few minor glitches, I haven’t had any issues with it. While others moan that it is like other popular titles or that it isn’t challenging or hard enough, I don’t feel that this is an issue as ‘very hard’ would possibly be impossible for me to play and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with it so far just on normal. Story wise, I really hope it’s good and maybe even a little thought provoking as I’m intrigued to see if we find out what happened to the World to make it this was. Overall I think Guerilla Games have presented us with a fantastic game overall and given us a new strong female protagonist in Aloy who I completely adore and I’m really glad I splashed out on the Collectors Edition so she can join Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, Evie, Elise and Avaline from the Assassins Creed games in my statue collection. Now I just need the Thunderjaw statue and the amazing art book too…..