Horizon: Zero Dawn – Review

Horizon Zero Dawn is the next big IP from Guerrilla Games and it is absolutely fantastic. The Killzone series never really resonated with me but I think Sony and Guerrilla Games really has something with this ambitious new open world franchise. You are Aloy, an outcast from birth who had to grow up in the wild with a fellow outcast and your mentor, Rost. As Aloy begins to grow up she wants to know what the circumstances were that caused both her and Rost to be outcasts and this is the overall driving force behind her actions. I don’t want to go into much more detail because I don’t want to spoil anything but it sets the stage nicely for all of the adventures that Aloy will have as you explore this massive new world.

The first time I booted up Horizon Zero Dawn I was really impressed by how great it looks. The environment is stunning. I frequently found myself stopping to take pictures when I would enter a new area and this game also has a proper Photo Mode for those of you who want to get creative with your photography skills. I also really enjoyed the variety in the environments so I never really felt bored because I was never really stuck in the same place for to long. The audio fidelity is also really well done here whether it is the sound of me running through a field or of a machine in the distance stomping towards me or a boar in the brush snorting. It helps draw you into the world even more and adds to the overall immersion of the game. In addition to the environment itself I really enjoyed the overall design of everything. There are different classes of machines that you will frequently encounter throughout the world and you will have to incorporate different strategies as you progress through the game. The smaller machines like the Watchers are really easy to take out, especially if you are pretty good at stealth gameplay. All you have to do is hide in some bushes and then when they stroll by hit them with a silent attack that will knock them out with one shot. Aloy also has a device that she wears that allows you to scan the environment as well as the different machines. This allows you to know the weakness of each machine and you can even see what their path is so you can set up a proper ambush like I mentioned above. Of course the bigger and more difficult machines don’t go down quite so easily. This is where you will have to think quickly and see how good you are with a bow and arrow or whatever weapon you might have come across.

For me personally I always enjoyed going for a headshot as that would do a lot of damage and for human enemies a lot of times that would be an instant kill. Aloy has different skills that she will learn throughout the game and one of my favorites was the “concentration” skill where when you were aiming at an enemy you could click in the R3 button and everything would be in slow motion for a few moments to try and help you be more precise with your shot. That can be crucial against some machines where they might have a canister underneath them and if you can hit that with some fire arrows, for example, you can cause a great explosion and deal a lot damage. You can do that kneeling in some bushes so you don’t get seen or standing jump or even just jumping backwards as you try and put more space between yourself and that machine that is bearing down on you. Aloy also has some melee attacks that you can upgrade as well where you can knock someone to the ground and then perform a critical hit to make sure they don’t get back up. It should also be pointed out the controls feel fantastic and Aloy’s movements are fluid for the most part which makes doing everything I have described a joy to do and if a machine ever got the best of me it was because of a mistake I made and subsequently corrected on my next try.

Along with the aforementioned weapons are also some toys that I really enjoyed playing with. One great way to take down one of the bigger machines is by using a Tripcaster. Essentially what this weapon does is allow you to create an electrified tripwire by connecting two anchor points. There was this one giant beast that I was doing battle with and I saw that he had a weakness for fire so I set up my fire ammunition and then once the trap was set I lured him to where I was and he went down like a ton of bricks. While it didn’t completely take him out it took off a significant amount of damage and helped assure me victory in that battle. Another tactic I discovered when dealing with some of the more dangerous machines is to hit them with my Ropecaster. What this essentially does is try to pin down your enemy so he can’t rush or do much of anything and then you can unload while they are stuck there. This strategy definitely saved me on more than one occasion. As you can see there are many different ways to approach the combat in this game whether you want to try and play as a stealth character or go in guns blazing, so to speak. I will say though that you have a higher chance of success if you plan out what you want to do and scan the environment to check out enemy positions instead of just rushing into a situation and seeing how things go for you.

The cast of characters that you will find in the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn are also quite interesting. You will come across people that absolutely hate you (for reasons I won’t spoil in this review) as well as people who think you are a blessing and then with some people where you have to prove yourself. The dialogue system in the game seems to take cues from the Mass Effect franchise. You use a dialogue wheel where you can be nice, a complete jerk or kind of walk the line in between. That isn’t always the case though as sometimes you’ll just be talking to someone to try and get clues on what you need to do next and where you need to go.

One of the first things I did in the game was open up the map to see what I was dealing with and I was surprised with the massive scope of this world. It is very impressive and as you progress through the game you will find that world contains a plethora of activities to keep you busy. There is the main story obviously but then there are also side quests, “errands” which are similar to side quests, bandit camps to clear out, corrupted zones you have to deal with, hunting grounds and more. If you are the type of person who likes to level up a bit before you jump into everything you can do that as well. Early on I went on the hunt for Strider enemies which are basically machines that behave like horses and by quietly taking out a group at a time I would get some decent experience points and level up fairly quickly. I was close to level 10 before I started to go do some of the main story.

When you take down an enemy you need to go over and scavenge it for parts. This will give you resources and modifications to make Aloy a stronger character. Additionally as you go from place to place you will notice flowers and plants along your route that you will also want to grab. Whenever I saw something I would try and grab it unless I was in a big hurry because that allowed me to craft something whenever I needed to. Whenever I ran out of arrows, for example, I would simply open up the crafting menu and craft more arrows. It is a really simple process and something everyone should understand quickly. You will also use these resources to level up your gear so that you can carry more ammunition at once, carry more health potions, increase the size of your Hunter Bow Quiver and, well, you get the point. Some of those resources that you will come across will also be modifications. This allows you to modify both your weapon as well as your outfit. You need to be careful at first though because once you select a modification it is locked in. If you decide later that you want to change it then you will lose that first modification until you earn the “Tinker” skill that will allow you to freely swap mods without losing anything. Mods for your weapons include increased damage against enemies, elemental damage against enemies, better weapon handling and things of that nature. For your outfits they are more for defense so you can choose something that will give you a +10% on resisting ranged attacks or something where you will won’t take as much damage if you get hit with a freeze attack.

As you get more proficient with your attacks you will be leveling up Aloy and earning skill points. These points will unlock different skills that will become invaluable to you in the game. There are three different categories for you to choose from and you get to choose the order in which you unlock everything. I will say though that there is a trophy for unlocking all of the skills so if you are going for the Platinum then you will eventually get them all no matter what. The three categories you have to choose from are “Prowler”, “Brave” and “Forager”. The Prowler category is mainly about stealth with some power thrown in. One of the first skills to unlock there is the silent strike kill so you can take out smaller enemies quietly and effectively like I mentioned up above. Other skills are a silent drop where you can land from a fall or jump and not make any noise so your enemy won’t know you are there. There is also a quiet sprint skill so you can sprint through the fields without worrying about making to much noise. The Brave category has some power to it but also adds some mobility and additions to your normal attacks. This is where you learn about that concentration skill that I spoke about earlier as well as hitting a double shot with your bow and arrow, knocking down machines quicker with heavy spear attacks and more. The third and final group is the Forager group where you learn the healer skill, a skill where you are more efficient with extra resources you get from machines and being able to override the machines for a longer period of time. There are 36 total skills so if you are someone who is going to try and do everything you will be kept busy for quite a while.

Horizon Zero Dawn really is a masterpiece from Guerrilla Games. I really have nothing bad to say about the game. Every once in awhile I noticed some brief texture pop in but that only happened a few times in the many, many hours I spent with this game. The development team over there should be exceptionally proud of what they have accomplished. As I mentioned before I wasn’t really a big fan of their previous franchise but right now I’m all in on this new one. Horizon Zero Dawn is a great step forward for this studio and I hope this becomes the big new franchise that it deserves to be. If you are a fan of the Action RPG genre you owe it to yourself to play this game. I would even go so far to say that this approaches “must own” territory if you have a PlayStation 4. Even if you aren’t a fan of this genre be sure to give this game a try. You will be glad you did as you embark on Aloy’s adventure.

Score: 9.5/10

Originally posted on Gaming Target

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