Review: Horizon Zero Dawn

A return to the world of game development for studio Guerrilla Games, the studio best known for the Sony exclusive Killzone series. Their last entry being Shadowfall, it appears as though they hare betting on a new franchise to sing their praises, and these bets are paying off. Horizon Zero Dawn is an exemplary showcase of story telling, action set pieces and open world exploration. In today’s age of game development a lot of different studios will try to develop their own world, their own lore and their own characters to go with them. The Witcher did it’s part as well as Bethesda’s Skyrim and Fallout series. This attempt seems like a huge feat and not something to be done easily, but Horizon succeeds on all of the mentioned traits and does so with flair.

The starting of the game is a wonderfully designed cut scene that showcases a lot of the scenery and detail in the area. You can see crisp snow blowing through the wind, the bristles on tree branches waving back and forth. A scene plays out before you, and the character development begins. A man with a small unnamed child go against the forces of nature to perform a ritual to name this small child and in Lion King fashion, he lifts you up and shouts you name for the valley to hear; Aloy. The opening cutscene was amazing to watch, but as the game unfolded I realised that this whole experience would look similar to the opening.

The story of Horizon is straightforward at first and then it spirals down to powering through story to confirm your theories. There is intrigue and depth in this story and the characters to follow with it. From the beginning of the game, the whole world seemed to be wrapped in mystery and intrigue, begging you to ask questions like “Where is this?” “Is this earth?” “Is Nolan North in this game?”

No, no he is not.

You spend most of the game as everyone’s new favourite heroine Aloy as you fight through a savage world of machines to find out the secrets behind her creation as well as the creation of the machines.  The story of Horizion hides its secrets well , and gives you info in the form of a plentiful amount collectables and journal posts. Inside the ruins of the old world you will find audio logs from the ones who lived before you, and they soon start to paint a pretty grim picture of what created this world around you. The intrigue and mystery of unravelling the fall of our world kept me on my toes and open-eyed for anything that may help me understand, and the pay off for all my digging and theorising was worth it. The story and the world created is a prime example of a team of creative individuals doing the very best they can. This game contains depth behind almost any character you talk to, you feel like you know them after multiple interactions. The story packs a punch to the feels and it keeps on going leading up to a satisfying finale.

Gameplay is akin to that of the Tomb Raider reboot series mixed in with the open world of Far Cry Primal. Combat is centred around your bow and spear, stealth is a valuable ability that can be used to take on some of the bigger challenges you find in the game and crafting to make ammunition or carrying pouches is very prominent.  That being said, this game does not just take the concepts of the other two and smash them together to make a thing, no this game takes the concepts and turns them into a new and satisfying way to play a game. The options of engaging an enemy lay before you at almost every encounter (which there are a lot of), do I sneak through the grass and silently dispatch the machine? Do I take it long-range with a sharpshot bow? Or do I shoot bombs and fire arrows like a god damn maniac while screaming the A-team theme music… Option 3.  The variety is ways to dispatch enemies or avoid enemies is vast and is accommodating to any situation. There is a level progression system that mainly grants you skillpoints that you distribute to Aloy giving her new abilities or buffs, for example I unlocked the ability to prime 2 arrows in my bow to double the damage should the need arise (it arose). The skill trees add variety and purpose to grinding out levels. Other Skills within the game can be obtained through what are called “Cauldrons”. Cauldrons are essentially huge dungeons that grant you the ability to override specific machines to aid you, this comes about from sneaking up on them and asking them if they ever really thought about not being awful… Kidding, you jab your spear into their face and rewrite their code.

Enemy varieties present challenges ranging from small to large, as sometimes the enemies themselves range from small to large. Each enemy has a weak spot and their own aversion to certain types of elemental damages, if their weakness is fire, loose a couple of fire arrows into the canister on their belly or back and watch the fireworks. Human enemies are present as well , although they are nowhere near as interesting as the machine enemies you will encounter. A side note to this being; one enemy is actually a god damn robot T-Rex.

Look a this terrifying SOB:

The world in which you play in holds an incredible amount of depth and an even more impressive string of side quests and collectables. For example there is a set of hunting challenges to complete, upon completion you are able to enter a guild known as the hunter’s lodge, this is very similar to the guild system in Skyrim and never a bad thing as it adds extra playtime and elaborates on lore. Sadly the hunter’s lodge is the only guild available. The writing and presentation of side quests go above and beyond the norm of “go here, grab this, come back here”. Some of the side quests were so well done I was under the impression I was doing the main story until the quests finished, this is due to great writing, fully scripted and voiced interactions and mission structure that varies from mission to mission. The map is massive and in similar fashion to Far Cry’s radio towers, you scale large living machines known as Tall necks and in doing so reveals all of the surrounding area.  Each area of the map has its own environment such as snowy mountains, barren desert, dense forests and lush jungles .

Visual and audio presentation are another fantastic bit of the game. The visuals in Horizon often cause you to debate whether or not you are in a cut scene where you stare longingly across a huge dessert or a snow-covered peak, or the cut scene ended and you are just standing there doing the same. Each character that is directly involved in quests and story is fully captured and beautifully rendered.  At no point did I find that the framerate dipped, and if it did, it was too minuscule to have any effect on the game. The audio is well recorded and immersive, voice acting is superb and this is the only game I have played as of late that did not allow me to use spotify whilst playing and for that I am thankful because the soundtrack for the game is stunning.

*this review was based upon the physical retail copy of Horizon: Zero Dawn purchased at $79.99

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