Horizon: Zero Dawn Review: A Franchise is Born
Next-gen console developers pride themselves in the power of the graphics engines they use, constantly creating the most captivating games and taking 4k to a whole new level. Horizon: Zero Dawn has pushed beyond all that has been seen, so far! Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game about a young woman named Aloy who seeks to unravel the mysteries of her heritage and birth, as well as battle the corruption plaguing the Sacred Lands of the Nora tribe. Players explore a post-apocalyptic world where machines rule the lands, and humans section themselves off into tribes, hunting machines and fighting other tribes to show dominance and gain control of territory.
Danger lurks around every corner as you fight off the terrifying metal demons armed with only arrows, a spear, and maybe a few slingshots and trip wires. Some machines might only require one tool, while others make you use everything you have to bring them down. There are a few different types of machines throughout Horizon: Zero Dawn, but there’s more than enough to make you spend hours trying to figure out how to fight each creation and understand the properties and usefulness of each of your tools at hand.
It is hard to get into such a graphically advanced game with also such a fluid combat system and not want to rush in, but the danger is very real as you are a brittle human easily crushed by the machines. Strategy and stealth are the main focuses as you have to be precise and careful in most areas, sometimes even avoiding combat all together if you do not want to have to experience death repetitively. Hours will be spent just exploring and testing out new ways to fight the machines as you mindlessly forget about the main or even side quests sitting in your journal.
Was it enough to design such a beautiful environment with an immersive sound engine and easy to learn combat mechanics? No! Guerrilla Games outdid themselves by bringing out the humanity and vices of people, especially when put under such extreme circumstances; and the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn expands with every quest you embark on. Aloy is your surrogate to a world of barbarism and a fear of death around every corner as your heart breaks over each decision made and each horrible act she witnesses. Exceptional cut-scenes and dialogue between Aloy and the other characters in the world truly bring the game to life as you see the horror and sadness in every facial expression, as well as understand the magnitude in some of your choices made along the way.
Most modern games excel when it comes to designing wondrous landscapes and character creations that stand on levels beyond gorgeous, but Horizon: Zero Dawn succeeded where most did not attempt. Though, there are imperfections within the game, many of which are fairly minor and are not at all game-breaking – with some flaws in the map and some flaws in Aloy’s facial expressions. Lighting is a major factor when it comes to developing tremendous lands to explore, which is not an easy task! Weather also creates a new aspect, as you are marveled with how well the lighting adapts with rain, snow, sandstorms and fog to further submerge you into the treacherous land. Climbing a mountain immerses more as the scenery changes through weather and time of day, filling you with the desire to keep exploring and see every angle in every magnificent way you can.
Matching such an exquisite design when it comes to graphics is also the sounds of the land, which beyond impressed me. From the mechanical whirring of a dying machine to the screams of a tribal in need or the whiff of your arrow streaking past and clipping a component off the thunderous Stormbird, there is not a single moment where the sound fails to impress. Not only do players get to hear every little step and see every blade of grass they also get to capture it in whatever way they see fit with photo mode, which generally comes with most first party developers with Sony, but to combine it with such a spectacle of a game allows you to capture your greatest experiences.
Going in to it, I feared that the visuals would overwhelm me while I still had to worry about doing the main thing in Horizon: Zero Dawn – surviving a minefield of creatures ready to knock me back to my last save point. Thankfully the combat is both fluid and easy to learn, allowing players to really focus on how they want to approach each situation, rather than be worried if they can pull it off. It is based around stealth more often than straight forward combat as your spear and arrows become less and less effective, since the more you progress, the stronger the machines get.
As I mentioned earlier, different types of machines exist and although some are easily taken down by a single arrow to the eye, others require much more tact to approach. Many times during the main story I felt it was more of a test of patience with a few bosses and would even encounter areas where a fight is just impossible and learned to stay back and carefully maneuver a battlefield of predators ready to pounce. Anxiety and tension builds when you understand that some battles are just not in your favor, and if you try to outright overpower the enemy, you will fail when that metal tail smacks you across the canyon and kills you – so one false move and it’s a respawn at the save point for you. Bows, tripwires, slingshots, grapple cables, a spear, and even a sound cannon are at your disposal to give you versatility in luring and conquering enemies one at a time, or, when necessary, standing your ground against the terrifying Thunderjaw. Tutorial missions come with each weapon, as well, giving you experience as you have a mini quest in testing out and learning each new weapons and how they work.
Enemies arise as you progress through the map but they tend to feel like nuisances when trying to get from point A to point B generally being passed by when you finally learn to hack mountable machines. Horizon: Zero Dawn’s story helps entertain you with generating quests that designate certain areas to be approached from special ways and setting you up for some of the coolest ways to take down enemies. I will not delve too much into the story, so as not to spoil it, but it is expanded through not just the main quest but even the side quests. Every step of the way you encounter quests that bring attention to the overall story each one bringing the characters to life. Cut-scenes appear throughout the game, and with great directing, causing the game to feel almost as if you were playing a movie, as the story is constantly apparent as you journey through the game. Each scene carefully choreographed to match the realistic facial expressions helps engage the player on emotional levels as you can see the terror, hate, and sadness in the eyes of all you encounter. All I will say is when it comes to the story of Horizon: Zero Dawn prepare for a lot of heartache, and even doubt, in the decisions you make as you explore and uncover the secret behind the machines and Aloy’s heritage.
Navigating the map was trivial until you unlocked every node on the main map, which lacked a filter and legend, causing confusion as you tried to find your way around. One of its biggest downfalls is the lack of quests to accomplish as you can complete every quest with only around 40 hours of game time leaving only collectibles left to conquer. Players do have the opportunity to create their own errands to run in order to find parts for crafting, mods, or materials but eventually you can just afford to buy everything from vendors eliminating the need to have to venture halfway across the map to find an area to farm healing berries.
Guerrilla Games developed what could be one of the leading titles for 2017 as every aspect of the game is taken into meticulous detail, with only a few flaws. Horizon: Zero Dawn took me by surprise and surpassed the hype it was given with such an astounding landscape and story to match. I constantly enjoyed every moment through my experience even when I randomly roamed just to get lost in the beauty of the game, which is very easy do. Unfortunately when it comes to being a long-term game I see very little play time as it fails to produce an exceptional amount of content to keep me busy. Hopefully an expansion of the story through DLC or a spin-off will be available to bring players more fulfillment. Without a doubt I expect a sequel and look forward to playing as I must know more of what happens and see what other possible terrains they can develop to fit my cravings for more of this world.