From the developers of the futuristic FPS series Killzone, comes Horizon Zero Dawn: An open world action game about animalistic machines being the dominant species in a post apocalyptic setting. In a market oversaturated by the open world genre, can Guerrilla Games make a difference with their latest endeavour?
Horizon takes place in a “post post apocalyptic” world, where humanity has returned into a more primitive state and robot dinosaurs rule the lands. The precursors of the current generation of humans have been long gone, leaving only traces of their existence in decayed buildings and dungeon like subterranean facilities.
A lot of thought has been put into worldbuilding, Guerrilla has managed to craft a world that feels plausible. The game’s lore is deep and full of mysteries, which the player is expected to uncover through its lengthy playtime. The main storyline, albeit slow at first, is generally well done. It manages to be interesting enough to want you to follow through the end, partly because of the game’s main protagonist Aloy.
Being shunned by her tribe Aloy has to survive with the help of her foster father and fellow outcast Rost. She has to pass through various hardships in order to prove her worth and be accepted into the tribe, while also discovering her own identity in the process. Aloy is a compelling main character and although her upbringing may fall into various stereotypic movie tropes, she easily grows on you. The game at first seems to be exclusively focused on her, following her life closely from childhood to adulthood, but don’t let that fool you, the game quickly opens up. Υou’ll soon be meeting new, different civilizations and cultures scattered around the game world and developing (both you and Aloy) a more spherical view of how this world works. There is some player choice effecting how some events progress, but don’t expect anything on the scale of Infamous or other simillar open world games, it’s mostly superficial.
Now let’s take a look at one of the most common weakness in the open world genre, the sidequests. Few games of this scale have managed to have lots of interesting sidequests that don’t bore you to tears or feel extremely repetitive, The Witcher 3 is the last game that I’ve played that managed to ace the sidequest recipe, so how well does Horizon fare? Well, good enough. Some of the sidequests are surprisingly well written and have actually interesting lore behind them. For example, the cauldrons are absolutely fascinating, I won’t spoil you on their lore implications, but basically they are dungeon like missions that are executed excellently, both gameplay and story wise. Quite a few questlines have interesting stories behind them, that will make you want pursue them till the end. Then of course there are plenty of errands that fall into the weak quest tier: fetch quests, kill a certain number of enemies etc. Overall the quality vs quantity meter sits at a decent value.
Horizon mixes a lot of common open world tropes, it bears striking resemblance to games like Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed, surely drawing inspiration from the reigning kings of the free roaming action-stealth formula. And although that would seem to be a weakness in most cases, Guerrilla has managed to nail the aforementioned formula. Due to its unique setting it feels fresh and fun again.
The game features a simple leveling system, with three skill trees each branching into stealth, combat or survival upgrades. There is also a crafting system for consumables, ammo and upgrades concerning Aloy’s carrying capacity or equipment, better gather all these flowers you see left and right. Loot plays a big role in Horizon, fallen enemies and other resources naturally found in the environment give you components for crafting, while also providing you with scrap (the game’s currency) and specific loot, needed for buying high level weapons and armour from vendors.
Combat revolves mainly around ranged weapons. Your bow and various arrow types are the bread and butter of your arsenal. The rest of the weapon types have mostly supportive roles, such as a sling shot that shoots explosives, a trap making weapon called “tripcaster”, or bow variations for better ranged performance and other specific benefits. You have a single melee weapon, a spear, that gets upgraded throughout the game.
Selfie with a downed robot T-Rex
The stealth mechanics are overall pretty simple, crouch in tall grass to remain undetected, try to lure enemies near you and execute them. Combat revolves mainly around exploiting enemy weaknesses in order to gain the upper hand. When entering this game’s type of eagle vision, you can spot specific vulnerable body-parts on enemy machines which you can hit for added damage and sometimes even remove entirely from the the machine’s body, thus rendering one of its attack useless or gaining extra loot. This system adds a lot of strategic depth to your encounters, especially when dealing with huge enemies. The weakest aspect about Horizon’s gameplay is the melee combat. You’ve got your standard light and heavy attacks. Spending points into the combat tree makes your melee attacks stronger, in time you’ll be able to take down medium to bigger sized machines, that used to cause you a lot of trouble, with ease, making you feel like a badass. However melee combat is quite counter intuitive, you have no lock-on mechanism thus making every encounter, with more than one challenging enemy, almost impossible, since it’s hard to keep track of your surroundings. This makes it clear that the game has a stronger emphasis on stealth and ranged combat. I’d expect from a “choose your own approach” type of game to have a more refined melee combat system.
A technical marvel. Horizon has to be the most beautiful open world game out there. Guerrilla really outdid themselves on this one, taking full advantage of what power the ps4 system has to offer. From lush forested areas to icy mountains, the game has lots of different environments stretching the Decima engine’s capabilities to its limits. Performance remains at a locked 30fps throughout, no hitches, no frame pacing issues, just running as expected of a proper triple A title. Animations wise, the game also manages to be pretty impressive, sure they can be wonky sometimes, but overall it’s consistently good. Huge machines move with uncanny realism, and your first encounter with each new huge beast is sure to take your breath away.
Music isn’t Horizon’s strongest aspect. It’s sure is serviceable but I can’t say a single piece stuck with me, it serves it’s purpose adequately but it won’t make you want to buy the soundtrack. Sound design on the other hand is exceptional. Machines can be seriously intimidating, you’ll feel the earth tremble when a big one is coming and their screeches and various mechanical sounds help bring them to life.
Voice acting, while good for the most part, can detract from the experience at other times. Most of the main characters you’ll encounter during the main quest are well voice acted, but when doing sidequests there is a noticeable drop in quality. The fact that lipsync can also be hit or miss doesn’t help either. Even if the script is good, it can’t be helped if the voice actor doesn’t sell the part.
Horizon is an achievement for Sony, we are witnessing the birth of a true flagship franchise. Although there are a few negative points, one would say because of Guerrilla Games inexperience with the game genre at hand or some budget constraints, Horizon Zero Dawn manages to be tons of fun, after all it’s hard to go wrong with robot dinosaurs.
I would give Horizon Zero Dawn a solid 8/10.