Sorry to all fans of the Killzone series but if this is what Guerrilla Games is capable of, then this is the franchise they should focus on for the foreseeable future. Getting into a new series with characters you’re not familiar with, a world you don’t know and a game you might not even understand is enough to turn away most gamers but this is a title you should absolutely play if you own a PlayStation 4.
Horizon Zero Dawn takes story, graphics, gameplay and mashes them together to create one of the best games of this year so far and possibly the best PlayStation 4 exclusive to date.
Horizon Zero Dawn follows Aloy, a girl in search to fit in and find out who she is in this wasteland. Brought up as an orphan, she seeks the truth about her family which inevitably sends her on a ride she isn’t quite ready for. Though the writing can be a bit weak at times and get pretty corny, the voice acting saves it and gives a wonderfully acted performance from the main cast. Ashly Burch (Tiny Tina from Borderlands 2 & Chloe from Life is Strange) gives a fantastic performance that lets you connect to Aloy in her journey and adds the right amount of wit and sarcasm to the role that helps Aloy feel like a real person. I believe Sony has found the newest addition to their line-up of big name characters, Aloy should see a big role in the future based on the success of this game.
One of my bigger complaints, however, is a good portion of the dialogue in the game. I mentioned how great the voice acting is but something is just off at times. Understanding the setting and seeing what has happened to the world causes a lot of the voices to stand out in a bad way, they just don’t fit. It’s a little glaring to see someone who looks like an advanced caveman talk like me in a normal situation. I didn’t expect total caveman speech but the dialogue is sophisticated enough that I just don’t buy it more often than not.
The opening moments of the game set the tone for the next 40 hours perfectly. Showing off all sides of the characters and setting of which you’re about to familiarise yourself with, the game starts strong and gets you invested in the world. You’re not beat over the head with the classic tutorial formula, Horizon teaches you the mechanics and has you learn the basics without ever saying it. It’s one of the better introductions to a game I have ever experienced because of how brilliant and clever it is and how it sets you up to be Aloy in this adventure.
Horizon graces you with a lengthy main storyline that constantly has you asking, “and then what?!” Questions about the characters and surroundings are brought up early and answered with more questions which lead you down a rabbit hole that has you pushing to the end to find out what it all means and what really happened to this world. As the missions go on, you feel a sense of accomplishment and that you’re learning along with Aloy to figure out the mystery of her past. Over the course of the game, the urgency for knowledge grows and the answers leave you satisfied but wanting more. Luckily it’s a long game with plenty to do and experience.
The main missions are set up nicely to take you across the map in both directions, causing you to pick up side quests along the way. Side quests add-on to the story in a background role, of course, but doesn’t break the mold of the standard side quest. Running to a location, killing something, and coming back is a classic trope in video games that you’ll see plenty of in Horizon. Though, in my opinion, that’s not a bad thing and didn’t take away from my experience since there were so many other things to do.
I spent a lot of time at the Hunting Lodges getting better and better times, during time trial objectives, hunting down those giant creatures. The game also includes a couple different types of collectibles that aren’t just thrown in for you to pick up. These items offer up story and history to the world before you and are even beneficial to you if you collect them. You can find merchants willing to buy these “ancient artifacts” offering up better gear in return, making it worth your while.
Packed with wildlife, other humans and of course the giant robots, this is a living, breathing, open-world game and adds the perfect amount of detail and feeling of fullness that most open world games lack. When traversing the landscape you’ll often times run into small wildlife trying to escape or a pack of Striders grazing near a trail as you trot by to your next mission. That fullness can be your downfall at times and be sure to take notice of your surroundings. You never know when a Sawtooth or a Stalker are close by ready to tear your little head off.
Horizon is definitely a title that is going to keep you on your toes and test your skills. We’re not in Dark Souls territory but the game can punish your mistakes and make life pretty tough if you’re ill-equipped. Although if you love rolling around while dodging giant enemies, this game is tailor-made for you.
There are 26 different and distinct types of robot monsters and by using your trusty Focus device (a piece of technology giving you information throughout the game, think Detective Mode in the Batman Arkham series), you presented multiple ways of taking them each down. Each fight feels unique with a slight overlap and depending on how much exploring you do, you’ll run into something new throughout the main storyline.
I recommend not over-exploring the area and letting some of the encounters come naturally as you progress through the main story. That will also give you more things to do once you complete the game as there isn’t much replayability offered here. Once the credits roll you can gladly jump back into the world and clean up missions and collectables as well as hunting down any beast you haven’t fought yet.
Getting out into the open, using your full arsenal and fighting everything you can is the tipping point of the game. The combat is absolutely fantastic and takes the best parts of other games to make a satisfying experience. Think of mixing Tomb Raider (2013) and The Witcher 3 but set in Far Cry 4. If you add those together and leave out the bad bits, you get Horizon Zero Dawn. Any gamer can get into the combat of Horizon because it doesn’t try to over complicate the weapons or the weaknesses and strengths of enemies. By feeling so familiar to previous, similar titles, it lets you jump into experience fun and fluid action, just like any game should.
Don’t expect a lot of hand-holding or forgiveness, however. While tips and other tutorials exist to help you, the game is relentless right away and causes you to be on your toes when approaching anything. You will be surprised by encounters, you will succumb to fear and you may even run but the feeling of accomplishment and relief after taking down a giant 50-foot robot is what makes the combat so enjoyable. Of course, if you are having any trouble with the game, check out these helpful tips.
The AI of the robots aren’t pushovers by any means and that’s what helps the combat feel so compelling. There’s no let-up, no time to breathe, small windows to regroup before your next shot and it doesn’t matter if you’re fighting one robot or ten, they’re going to go all out. The total sense of destruction, hostility and sometimes surprise make each fight feel utterly threatening and causes you to change-up your own strategies constantly. Make sure you save often because you’re one Thunder Jaw encounter away from losing a lot of progress.
It’s not all giant fights with fiery explosions, quick thinking and running for your life. Horizon offers up a great stealth game as well, using the environment around you to disguise yourself, this is very much a hunting game. Whether that be hunting smaller robots for easy kills to thin out a herd or sneaking into a camp overrun by bandits as to not set off any alarms. You’re given different ways to play that work to your preference and gear for Aloy to make those situations more accessible to your play style. Horizon sets you up to succeed and the feeling of success is one of the most rewarding parts of the game.
It’s no question that Horizon is a beautiful looking game and it aims to show your right away. From the tutorial mission all the way to the epilogue you’ll catch yourself in awe of just how stunning of a world that Guerrilla has built. Using a great mix of different biomes, Horizon’s dystopian world is a joy to ride through mission to mission. I noticed some slight popping on character models and bigger set pieces around the map but it wasn’t anything to ruin my experience of the game. The only graphical complaint I have is the characters look a little derpy from time to time and don’t actually look like they’re talking to each other in conversations.
During your play through you’ll come across ruins in the middle of forests, small camps in the desert and cruel, arctic tundras giving you the feeling that you’re covering a much bigger area than you actually are. Mixed in with dynamic weather, plus day and night cycles, Horizon delivers a totally immersive experience you can get lost in.
Guerrilla Games have built a world that feels alive from the beginning and it’s damn near perfect. Added in the fascinating science fiction and interesting enemies to the experience it truly does what the Uncharted series and The Last of Us do so well and can be put on those levels of amazing.
There is no doubt in my mind that Horizon will be in contention for Game of the Year awards as it truly is one of the great games to hit this generation. My hope is that this becomes a main franchise for Sony that pushes the boundaries of open world games for years to come. Guerrilla Games really has something special here with this title and it would be a shame if they made anything else after this experience.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a game that needs to be owned and played by anyone who has a PlayStation 4. The game fits into the club of “Must Own Exclusives” along with The Last of Us and Uncharted 4. As a complete game, I enjoyed Horizon more than both of those titles. Horizon features some of the best combat and gameplay that I have ever experienced and that mixed with how amazing the game looks and a story line filled with wonder and mystery makes it an easy recommendation and a must play.