Title: Horizon Zero Dawn
Where To Buy: PSN Store, Local Retailer
At first glance, Horizon Zero Dawn looks like if Far Cry Primal was set in the future with robot dinosaurs. But as someone who enjoyed what Primal had to offer, comparing the two like that would be a serious injustice to how impeccable Horizon is on all levels: story, game mechanics, character, and world design.
Horizon Zero Dawn is the latest game from Guerilla Games, the company who had previously worked on the Killzone series. Instead of taking their normal first person shooter approach, Guerilla created a third-person action adventure game that takes the open-world style of a Far Cry game and mixes it with the gameplay and story style of the Uncharted franchise.
You play as Aloy, a girl who is exiled from her matriarchal society and left in the hands of her guardian and fellow outcast, Rost. After falling into the ruins of an ancient society and discovering a strange piece of technology that gives her the ability to see things no one else can, she manages to rescue a member of the tribe who fell into danger. When her kindness is rejected by the tribe, she decides to regain entry into the Nora (the tribe) through a rite of passage called the Proving, and win so that she can ask the matriarchs who her mother was.
Though she wins the Proving, the next events that transpire set her on a course to clear the corruption in the land, fight back against a rogue tribe, explore the ancient ruins of a society left behind, and find answers as to where she comes from and what happened to the world to create her circumstances.
If it sounds as though I’m being vague, that’s intentional for a very specific reason: the story is remarkable. Horizon Zero Dawn creates such a mystery around what happened to “the Old Ones” and where Aloy originated from that I consistently felt compelled to continue searching for answers. Each new city or new ruin I entered, each audio diary and hologram I watched or listened to, each new character I met answered one of my questions before giving me three more. The events are paced so well that each time I got more of the story, I immediately wanted more. Never was there a lull in content that kept me intrigued.
Aloy, as a character, is remarkable. She’s not an Amazonian Wonder Woman who is so tough she can’t feel. And she’s not Mother Theresa who is kind to everyone and is soft and tender. She’s a fully fleshed out character who is kind to those in need based on her circumstances, is rough with those who treat others poorly or try to treat her as less than them, and is intelligent enough to be witty, even sometimes sarcastic, when talking to others. I often found myself laughing at how likable a person she was and the responses she had to certain people’s behavior.
The world of Horizon Zero Dawn at first comes across as overwhelmingly large, as the map is covered in a fog-of-war style effect. But interestingly enough, the story blends this in by explaining the division of land between the various tribes. And as you mend the ties between tribes, more of this land becomes open for you to explore. You also come across increasingly terrifying creatures. While the Nora lands had peaceful Grazers and small-scale Watchers, the farther reaches of the game have larger, meaner, way more terrifying creatures. The first time I came across a Stormbird, I felt both the overwhelming desire to run away and live another day and the desire to stand my ground and fight it with everything I had.
These experiences were not uncommon playing as Aloy. As I leveled up and began to expand my arsenal of tools to use, even the biggest machines began to seem plausible. This is not to say that they’re not difficult, and I spent plenty of time getting tossed around by mechanical tigers and crocodiles. But the game feels incredibly fluid and user-friendly in a way I haven’t felt since playing Witcher 3.
The world is also incredibly diverse. I’d be amiss if I didn’t give positive recognition to the variety of positive examples of race, gender, and sexual orientation in the game. There are matriarchal and patriarchal societies, strong and weak characters of all genders and race, and even a variety of sexual orientations in the game. This isn’t just a diatribe of the benefits of social justice; this is them creating a living, breathing world like the one we live in… only with mechanical dinosaurs.
Though there aren’t a lot of them, the game gives you the options of what weapons and arrows you want to use to bring down certain creatures. This allows the player to analyze the various weaknesses of the machines and use them how they like. Are you someone who likes to lay out traps before starting a fight? There’s plenty of different traps and trip wires to use, each with a variety of effects. Are you someone who like to play aggressively? Then feel free to use melee combat and a rope coaster to tie down machines and lay into them. If you’re like me and play defensively from a distance, the variety of arrows that game gives access to make you feel unstoppable.
There were only a select few things I felt annoyed by throughout the game, such as a lack of a filter on the map that made it increasingly annoying to clear the many collectibles. I also felt like Horizon Zero Dawn didn’t want me to climb very much, given that finding climbing walls in the game took far longer than simply hitting the jump button a number of times to scale a mountainside. But there were small touches that made me enjoy the game more too, such as the use of echoes, even in cut scenes. Also, I generally don’t use photo mode in games, but this game is so stunning that I actually felt compelled to.
I loved Horizon Zero Dawn. I thought I might enjoy it but then fell hopelessly in love with the world it portrays, the story it tells, the characters it introduced me to, and the steps in takes to establish itself as a franchise with plenty more adventures to be had. After I finished my 40+ hour playthrough, I desperately wanted more. For someone like me who hates downloadable content, I would buy more time in Horizon the second it came out. I want more Aloy and I want more of this world. This game is the first to get a full five stars from me, and it assuredly deserves it.
- Gameplay: Comfortable and fluid, plenty of options to choose from
- Graphics: Stunning on all accounts
- Sound: Excellent sound design, even to the small touches of echoes
- Presentation: A truly marvelous experience