I’ve played just a few games in my lifetime, sports games, first person shooters, and 3rd Person exploration games… In this whole time though, I’ve never 100%’ed a game, or gotten a Platinum Trophy… Until now. A few hours ago, as of the time of writing, I had just platinumed Horizon Zero Dawn, so that means that the game must be good if it’s my first right…? Read on to find out.
First thing’s first, this review will have spoilers. If you haven’t played the game yet, first, why? Second, go and play it now. You won’t regret it. Horizon Zero Dawn was one of those PlayStation exclusives that you know is going to be good because it’s being published by Sony Interactive Entertainment – If anyone knows how best to use the hardware, it’s Sony on their own console; the development was done by Guerrilla Games and released in early 2017. It was one of the games that was marketed to be played on a PS4 Pro since it supported 4K graphics, and since muggins over here recently upgraded to a Pro, there was no other choice but to play it this way.
Initially, I struggled to get the game running in 4K – There’s no official standard to get things running on 4K easily, when I started I was faffing around with settings both on the PS4 and on my TV trying to get it up and running. In the end, it wasn’t working because it was prioritising HDR over 4K, the only thing I can think of that’s stopping my TV from running 4K and HDR is that it’s not officially covering all the requirements needed to run them together. Either way, when it started running, the only way to describe the way the game looks is stunning.
The most impressive thing to me is the quality of the hair on Aloy’s head. First of all, she’s a redhead (That already is a good thing for me…), second, the hair is platted loose and the way it flows as your running around is amazing; one of the hardest things to develop in games and animated films is capes and hair. It’s obvious they spent great time and effort on the hair, and I’m glad they did, it shows so much of the character within Aloy. She comes across as someone who has so much passion for the world and her friends, but when she needs to fight or has taken a disliking to someone, either because they’re just a horrible person, or because they did something to hurt her or her family and friends, she is ferocious. Throughout the game, people you meet from other clans sometimes call Aloy a savage – That’s exactly what she’s not, she only ever does what she needs to in a cool and collected way. To truly understand Aloy and what drives her, you’ve got to play the game, so I’m not going to ruin the game for you too much and move on.
The next thing to discuss is the range of weapons that are in the game – Primarily, you’ll be using 1 of 3 bows and arrows, the main bow and arrow have the ability to fire regular arrows, strong tip arrows, and flaming arrows. The other bows can fire arrows that have elemental effects, corruption, ice, shock; they may not do as much damage, but they can weaken the enemy if they are susceptible to the effect that you attacked with. Other weapons include a Tripcaster, this weapon creates a tripwire that can set off an explosion to cause damage, or trigger some of the elemental effects again. The Ropecaster can be used to tether an enemy to the ground, and can be used to allow you to focus damage on a specific area, or to remove the enemy from the fight for a while so you can focus on other enemies around you. Finally, there’s a sling, this allows you to throw bombs with elemental effects at your enemy; it can make it easier to hit your target with the effect, but also can allow you to affect multiple enemies at the same time.
When I first started playing the game, I originally struggled to get to grips with the bow and arrow, it felt clunky and was hard to aim properly, but it didn’t take too long to get used to. Once I got past the idea that it takes time for the arrow to hit the target, and that I have to lead the shot at times, things became easier – Unlocking the skill tree also helps massively since it gives you effects like slow motion when aiming while jumping through the air, and the ability to knock multiple arrows at the same time. If you’re like me and play more FPS games rather than 3rd person shooters, if you play the game, give it a little longer to get used to rather than rage quitting, it’s worth it to stay in the game.
This game plays like a typical RPG, a good story with plenty of side quests to level up your character… And in typical fashion, I ignore the entire story and complete all of the optional side quests first while roaming around the map picking up collectables and unlocking my skill tree. Let’s start with the various side quests that are available to play – These quests are non-compulsory but are important for the story, as they give you an idea of what other people are going through from different tribes with their beliefs and way of life. One series of side quests take you through a character arc for a person that you meet fairly early in the game. Through this, you discover that he’s doing what he’s doing because it’s out of his control, as he’s being blackmailed and has no choice to do what he’s doing.
One of the ways that the game excels is that there are points where you can choose how to react to a situation; either with love and compassion, logic, or force. Depending on the choices you make, you can see different sides of Aloy. This comes up when looking at the side mission I was talking about before. You need to decide if you will help this character and if you do help him, is it because you want to give him a fresh start, or is it because you want to help his family out of danger, not him. There are some deep choices that can be made and each one can affect the ending of the game. The point of each side quest is to collect a group of friends that will come to your aid for the final fight. The more side quests you do, the more help you get and the better the ending.
There is another type of side quests called errands. These are either single missions that give you an idea of the lives that various natives of each tribe lead; your role tends to be tracking someone, killing something or someone, or retrieving something. While having less of an important role within the game for the story, they are much needed for levelling up your character. If you happen to also be missing your FarCry fix after finishing 5, there are bandit camps to be liberated, and they play in a similar way to that of outposts of FarCry; levelled opponents, alarms and reinforcements, prisoners to be freed. Again, while they don’t offer much towards the story, they are great for levelling up.
While I was playing through this game, I played a small portion while in the presence of one of my friends – With the small part of the game that they had seen they made a connection which at the time looked like it was going to be correct, but in the end, the story twisted away from the same. What they realised was that the storyline follows something very similar to the underlining storyline of the Matrix; what with Neo being told that he was “The One” by everyone except the oracle. Considering that neither of us had seen more of the storyline we didn’t know what really happened to Aloy. I now do know, but it’s a major point of the story, and I’ll be damned if I tell you what happens so you’re just going to need to play it to find out.
So I’ve covered the story, the missions, and some basic gameplay; there’s one glaringly obvious thing that I haven’t covered yet. The map, the world you play in. I’m going to compare it to the criteria that I normally review an open world game too. Map variation, size, contents and feel. First of all, the game map feels huge when you’re in the first area of the game – Call it the tutorial island. You spend maybe 3-4 hours here if you complete everything that’s possible in the area… And it’s a fairly large area. It’s great to explore and see what you can find – Once you escape the Sacred Lands, the game opens up massively. You go from the beautiful green pastures of your valley into white mountains as you head up north; but here’s my problem. When you leave the starting area, the missions are further spread out across the map; it’s more of a trek across the map rather than a quick run and while you can explore the areas you go through, there’s less detail. There’s a fairly decent amount of variation across the map though; deserts, forest, mountains and plains. The variation is nice and each tribe does prefer their own biome, but there’s an issue. In the words of Luke, the map feels empty and boring.
In a way to fill some of this space, the game places a large amount of machines sites across the world – These machines are a replacement for wildlife, you can hunt them for parts and scrap, override them to get them to fight on your side or, to be able to ride on their back to make traversing the world faster. There are 24 different types of machines; some of them a bigger pain in the arse to kill than others but as your main opponents in the game, having lots of them around means you can get lots of practice in taking them out. The machines also are an integral part of the story, and as you play through the main storyline you’ll realise just how important they really are.
This review has taken me a couple of months too write and for good reason, pinpointing the rating that this game deserves was interesting, while the game looks fucking incredible in 4K, and the storyline is one of the best things I’ve played in a long long time, despite the map being a pretty big drawback. That being said, it’s pretty easy to ignore the details in the map when you’re just playing the game. If you have the chance to play on a PS4 Pro, definitely play it on that; even if you can’t, you should still give this game a try. The story is one of the best I have played in a long time and I can’t stress how much I personally enjoyed it. Give it a try – What’s the worse that could happen?
Horizon Zero Dawn is going to get a rating from me of…