Horizon Zero Dawn is one of PlayStation’s biggest and most widely promoted games of 2017 and one of the company’s most important releases this year. New IP’s have been a bit of a rarer occurrence in this generation of console gaming and while we’ve had some good ones so far, I’ve not yet been completely blown away by anything new. We’ve also had some pretty great games from existing IP’s be released on the PS4 so far such as Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. As an avid gamer and one who is excited by new things, I found myself quite excited by the prospect of Horizon Zero Dawn which is an ambitious open world game from Guerrilla games. But could the game deliver?
After playing the game for more than 60 hours now and having completed the main story as well pretty much all of the side stories, errands and quests, I’d have to to say that Horizon Zero Dawn certain does deliver what it promises the player.
Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the most beautiful games on the PlayStation 4. Exploring the open world as Aloy is a joy. There’s a mix of environments to experience such as woodlands, river areas, desert sections and snow sections of the map to visit as well as eerie mechanical areas to explore once you delve into the world of the metal creatures. Sections of the map offer a player both a variety of things to see and explore, but more surprisingly, each area is incredibly detailed with beautiful trees, creatures and monsters spread all throughout each of the sections. I played through the whole game on the launch version PS4, but if you’re lucky enough to have a PS4 Pro things probably look even better (although I’m happy enough with how things look on the standard PS4). The weather effects are superb, there’s fog, strong winds, heavy rain and snow effects which occur randomly and make the world feel alive. Aloy herself will often comment on the change in weather or temperature conditions during the game.
After going through almost all of the missions, the gameplay will have you running/travelling to all sorts of corners of the map in order to get to them. Sometimes you’ll be just meeting a certain person, travelling to a bandit camp, hunting a machine or just going to a certain point to continue on with the main story. The map in the game is quite large and in the beginning sections you won’t be very strong, making it difficult to reach new areas at first and things can seem quite daunting, especially if you come across a massive Thunderjaw early in the game, those things are quite scary!
Scattered throughout the map are camps which Aloy can stop at to save the game. It does become important to save your game often as sometimes if you don’t and you’re killed somewhere, I did find the respawn location was quite far away. Camps become useful later on in the game as they can act as fast travel locations which are helpful if you’re doing side quests because otherwise you’d be running around for hours and hours in there.
A lot of the missions I completed in the game were well structured and unlike most open world games I’ve played in the past where often there are large sections of the game’s open world with nothing there except more building or land, Horizon Zero Dawn seems to utilise almost every area of the map for each of its missions. If you complete everything in the game, you’ll find that you’ve practically visited everywhere in the game that there is to visit (with a few small exceptions for secret areas). I found myself quite impressed with the variations of the little towns, the NPC’s that walked around inside them and the amount of detail put into the different territories in the game. Sections of the maps are held by different tribal factions, each with its own culture, habits and dress style. Exploring each of them as I completed the main story was a joy. The amount of characters and cultures you encounter keep the game feeling diverse and it’s I think this diversity that helps keep things interesting as you explore more and more in Horizon Zero Dawn.
The plot of Horizon Zero Dawn is well told and characters by the end of the game are well-developed and many do have some meaning behind them, making the experience interesting. At the moment I have come to know Aloy quite well. In the game you will be introduced to Aloy when she is a child. She’s under the care of Rost who is like a father and mentor to Aloy (not her real father as Aloy’s parents are unknown). Rost is an outcast of the nearby society known as the Nora. Aloy grows up as an outcast with pretty much no friends and can’t really enter the Nora’s society until she passes something known as “the proving” (a series of physical challenges) where she must compete against other Nora contestants. If she passes “the proving” she has a chance to be accepted in the society. There’s a theme spread throughout the story surrounding the concept of acceptance and belonging, which I think that Aloy struggles with as the story progresses.
Another strong theme in the Horizon Zero Dawn story is sort of the idea of nature v machines and the relationship of humanity with machines. In the world before the time period of Horizon Zero Dawn, the society was super advanced and had machines doing everything, until they went mad and destroyed that society. It’s now years later and no one seems to even know what happened or where the machines have come from. It’s part of the journey with Aloy to discover the origins of the past and try figure what is currently going on in her world. I found all of it quite fascinating and made sure I played the game slowly and read through all the journals you find as you explore the world and stopped and listened to all the audio logs and little secrets scattered around many of the various missions. Many of these are detailed and worth listening to or reading as they provide more depth to the story and often tell you things you might not know if you just watched the cutscenes and did a speed run through the game. I had the feeling as I played through the game that I was uncovering things with Aloy and found them just as interesting as she did in the story.
As a role-playing game, there are gameplay elements in here that might be familiar to many gamers. The game comes with a levelling up system which allows Aloy to learn more abilities as she gains xp. Some of these include things like shooting three arrows at once, stronger attacks to the machines or sneaky attacks that can be used in stealth missions. Weapons as well can be upgraded and improved as you progress through the game with modifications you can add to them such as fire damage, ice damage or just more damage. You find modifications by taking down mechanical monsters in the game’s world.
Missions and quests are broken up into different sections in the game’s menu area. You don’t always have to go for the main mission in the game and can freely choose which mission, side quest or errand you would like to pursue at any time. There are level indicators next to each of these to let you know if Aloy is strong enough to take on that quest or if you might want to come back later as well. As far as I know side quests and errands remain active all the way until the end of the main story, I know this as I completed most of them just before I did the final main mission in the game. There is a decent amount of gameplay to be had with this game, so be sure you’ve got a weekend or two or three to spend with Horizon Zero Dawn, you’ll need it to complete everything that’s in there.
Music in the game is relaxing while you are exploring and sometimes geared more towards action beats when things get rough with the big robot monsters. I do wish there was more variety with the music though, seemed to be not enough tracks or I was hearing the same ones a lot (though I did like them). The game’s art style is something I do appreciate, I could talk about the open world scenery all day. But characters, especially Aloy are well made and animated with enough of a variety that I didn’t see too many lookalike characters. At times faces looked a bit stiff during the dialogue moments, but everyone grew on me by the end and there were many characters I loved talking to and visiting. In the game there are various outfits you can purchase for Aloy as you progress, many with different benefits depending on what the armour does as well as different physical appearances for the character.
Guerrilla games really did put a lot of effort into their story and it was interesting to learn about Aloy’s world and spend time exploring it all. Horizon Zero Dawn really is an epic game and quite possibly one of the best buys I can recommend a PS4 owner to purchase at this time. It has both a grand narrative that has depth and meaning to it all and also gameplay to suit its narrative which never really gets boring, even after 60 hours with the game I’m still happy to keep exploring more of that world. There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the best games to get at the moment and it will certainly deliver a great experience for gamers who choose to buy it, I’m happy to recommend it and am so happy that a new IP came out and that it was of such high quality. I’m looking forward to see what happens in the future with Horizon Zero Dawn and what Guerrilla games can come up with next.