A mysterious screech is heard over a dessert hill as you approach a bandit camp. Other calls from the machines have never been as booming as this one. You have plenty of supplies for one bow’s arrows, but not another. The health potions you crafted are full, and there are plenty of traps at your disposal. Do you go after the humans first, or go over the hill to face whatever lies over it?
Horizon: Zero Dawn is a world full of exciting danger and breathtaking beauty. At one point, you’ll be standing atop a mountain you just climbed to look out to the snow storm down below, the glow of the machines shining dim in the mist. The next moment, you’ll have a pack of Glinthawks above you shooting down ice bombs to kill you. It’s easy to get entranced with the world of Horizon, and countless hours of hunting, scavenging, completing quests, talking to merchants, and more will keep you invested after the main story is done.
Guerrilla Games is famous for the Killzone series, a favorite of mine. Having put out six previous titles for the franchise. It’s amazing to see a studio tackle a brand-new IP and nail it in almost anyway. Horizon takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where machines run wild and humans has gone back to ancient ways of living. Tribes are shame one another, massive cities are ruled by kings, cultures are different, and religion is important. All of this is leads to Guerrilla doing an excellent job with world building. When you first arrive to different areas, there’s plenty of ways to see how each differ from another, and this doesn’t mean just the land itself. The Nora are simple hunters who live off the Earth and worship what it provides them, while Meridian is a blossoming city that boasts beauty around every corner. The character designs for all of them are also distinct enough to tell who is from where. The Shadow Carja show off dark silks and armor, while the Nora have a fur and pelts wrapped around their bodies. After hours of putting research into each tribe, it’s interesting to learn about each other. There are chances to talk to many people around the areas, and hear side conversations. Journals, audio recordings, and data points strewn around the world provide information what came before and the present.
The story is the standard hero story. Aloy, a Nora hunter shunned at birth, takes it upon herself to become the greatest hunter in the land to find out who she really is. Once she does, she is placed in a position where she must take it upon herself to seek out the questions and dangers of the situation she is thrown into. Plot points tend to rely on what has come before; corrupt leaders, hopeful hero, a rising evil, and so on. Fortunately, the characters bring out the best of the story. The writing is top-notch for each character. If not for the characters and the world, I would not have been as invested into the story. Aloy is a strong lead. She never runs from danger so she can live and others might die; she, instead, throws herself into the fray so others may live. She doesn’t hesitate, but we can always tell that all the danger she puts herself in does have an emotional toll on her. She’s not afraid, but she is frightened of all that has come before. Others, like Sun King Avad, Sylens, Erend, are all great additions to the cast. They’re stories are interesting to listen to, and the side quests connected to them provide even more emotional attachment to them. If I was to be super nit-picky, the voice acting for Aloy and others could have been handled better. There are a handful of moments where Aloy talks softly, almost whispering, something to be dramatic even though it should have been with a stronger tone as she is a brave character. This happens with other characters as well, but not as frequently.
The game takes a lot of inspiration from other series, and makes it still exciting and accessible for all. Giant scripted moments are heart pounding, similar to the Uncharted series. Scaling mountains and high vantage points feels as smooth as something like Assassin’s Creed. Crafting and gathering that might be too complex in other games for people is very easy to navigate here. Bits and pieces from other games come together to help Horizon showcase what makes an excellent study in design. Pour everything that works into a huge melting pot, and you’ve got memorable experience that will have gamers everywhere flocking to experience it.
The main thing you’ll be doing is fight the machines. You have different bows and arrows and traps at your disposal to eliminate all sorts. Every machine has a different way of taking it down. Early on, Watchers will be a breeze to take down (shoot for the eye). As you progress, the machines get way more challenging. You have to change up your strategy for each one. A Sawtooth will be different than taking down a Trampler. It’ll have you preparing every moment you can by gathering all sorts of supplies to make sure you’re ready for your next expedition. Unlike other open world games, I always found myself getting excited and super nervous to take on a threat, even though I’ve taken down dozens of them. I could have a strategy to kill one, but lose all supplies for that one strategy. There’s always going to be a time to change up your methods. For the most part, the main quests are a lot of fun to take on, but only a few are memorable. The side quests, however, are actually more entertaining. Not only do they open up the world to more experiences and relationships, but the stories you experience in each is much more memorable. For example, there’s a side quest where you must go to an estate owned by a worried son’s father to see what machines are still there. It’s only at the end that you were only sent there for the wrong reason. There are plenty of side quests in the game, and a handful of other valuable items to collect.
At this point, Horizon: Zero Dawn is my favorite PlayStation 4 game. I have a bunch to get through, such as Metal Gear Solid V and The Witcher 3 (I know these aren’t exclusives, but c’mon). This game got into my dreams. I am always thinking about the next time I get to ride around the land hunting down Ravagers only to come inches away from death before taking it down. The small faults it has is nothing compared to the amazing features it shows off. There’s clearly going to be a sequel, and I can only imagine what Guerrilla has up their sleeves for the next entry. For now, I’ll keep coming back to the hunt.
Score: 9.5 out of 10
- Great cast of characters
- The history of the world is imaginative and fresh
- Gameplay is always a exhilarating
- Blending of what worked before into something fantastic
- GORGEOUS VISUALS
- Some bits of voice acting don’t hit the mark
- Main quests could have been more memorable