Months Behind: Horizon Zero Dawn

Note: I am trying to avoid major spoilers with this review. If you haven’t played the game yet, I hope this encourages you to do so!

Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170807205621Earlier in the year, I was in the mood to get a new game for my PS4. I hadn’t been playing much lately, and there were a few games coming out that caught my attention. At this time, I had to decide between Mass Effect: Andromeda and Horizon Zero Dawn. After a brief look at both, I went for Horizon for the main reason that there were was a robot dinosaur on the cover. What started as an impulse buy in March ended up being a game becoming one of my favourites of all time. I finished it at the beginning of August, partially because I didn’t want the game to end.

Starting the game, my first impression was just how beautiful everything looked. The landscapes and vistas were amazing, and every once in a while I would see the corpse of a gigantic robot that somehow died long ago or the remains of a building that is barely standing. The integration of familiar views with these bits and pieces that pique your interest is done in such a seamless way, that there are many parts that you can stumble across without knowing.

For those who aren’t aware, Horizon is an open world game that takes place in a post-post-apocalyptic setting. The very first loading screen tip gives the synopsis:Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170807205301Through the game it is explained how Earth became what it is, and what is happening now that (of course) will cause lots of really bad things to come to pass. There will be allies and enemies met, and choices made will determine what those people will do in return.

The main character is Aloy, an outcast living with her adopted father Rost, who teaches her how to hunt. He also sets her on the path to finding out more about her past, which sets the rest of the game in motion.

Since it is an open world game, the order in which things are done is fairly flexible – with the main story being the only thing that goes in a set order. I had most of the map explored far before any quest had taken me to that place. Because of this exploration, there were a few places and NPCs that I found that I never would have otherwise.

What I liked

Story

Oh man, the story. First and foremost, a game has to invite you in to its world and capture your interest and keep you playing the game. For me, story is at the top of that list – and Horizon more than delivered. From the very beginning, seeing Aloy be named by Rost, I was hooked. Just how their culture was set up, and asking questions right from the beginning.

As the games goes on, answers are given, and more questions are asked. On the whole, I liked how the game wrapped things up at the end. There were openings for a sequel or downloadable content, but nothing too much that left me unsatisfied. Without going into spoilers, this game could easily be turned into a book series, television show, or something along those lines. I just want more.

A rich, full world

The world is so rich and full. The settlements and towns felt lived in, and the NPCs helped show that there were actual people who were there.

The named characters that you would interact with for the story were fantastic. I really enjoyed getting to know the other people that Aloy would team up with, and find out more about them and where they came from.

Visuals

The entire game is absolutely beautiful. Not only are the landscapes great, but the people and the architecture shows character.

One thought that kept coming back to me, as I saw various people, was: “I really wish I could cosplay this.” The characters had their armour built out of the machine parts, on top of the normal leathers that we would see for this type of society.

From looking at people, you could see their standing or faction based on very distinct visual styles. Each was unique and fit with the personality that they were given.

The animations were right on point, with the best one being any time that Aloy would rappel from somewhere. Here’s an example.

Combat

There are two main enemies that are encountered through the game: machines and humans. Early in the game, a device is given to Aloy that helps her find the weak spots on the machines. This is a key item for combat, since there will be massive machines with many options for attack. The weaknesses are highlighted, but it’s still up to the player to actually hit them or decide which type of attack is best to use.

With human combat, standard game mechanics work – headshots are great, everything else not so great. Looking at my stats, I was at around 55% headshots on 558 human enemies killed.

My favourite part of combat is stealth. Thankfully there is a plethora of a certain type of long grass in this area (which also happens to have red tips, like Aloy’s hair) that can be used as cover. If an enemy can be taken out without alerting others to your location, you can stay there as long as necessary.

There are a number of weapon types, starting with the trusty bow & arrow, but including some fun additions. My most used, apart from bow & arrow, was the tripcaster – setting up tripwires that could either shock (immobilize), blow up, or set things on fire. Some weapon types could knock off machine components, which would then limit the types of attacks that could be used against you.

Rather than just charging in, there was almost always an alternate way of taking down an enemy. Being able to use different tactics for different situations was quite refreshing.

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What I didn’t like

Inventory management

This is a complaint I have for most games. I absolutely hate inventory management.

I understand the necessity of it, because being able to carry an unlimited amount of supplies, ammunition, armour, potions, traps, crafting materials, and weapons is a bit overpowered. Just the question how Aloy manages to fit all of that in her pouches is beyond me.

Through a majority of the game, I was within the max carry capacity for resources, until I sold off a bunch of the machine lenses that I didn’t need. Maybe it’s just how I play my games, and that I hate even thinking about an instance where I won’t have enough materials to make something.

Tutorial quests

When a new weapon is obtained, a new tutorial quest is given to test out the weapon. For example, with the ropecaster you are given the task to tie down certain amounts of machines. This is great, except for the fact that it can only be completed while the quest is active.

I know it’s a small gripe, but I would always forget to activate them when I needed to, so I wouldn’t get credit for them – which is quite annoying when I would do the completed requirements for a difficult enemy. Perhaps I just didn’t do it the way I should have, but it would have been nice if I didn’t need to worry about it.

Hunter’s lodges

The idea of the hunter’s lodge is great: it’s a way to test the limits of what you can do in the game, to use your skills to the utmost ability. However, I’m not great at doing these. I got enough of the requirements to get the hunter’s lodge quest to open up, but after that I basically ignored them.

This is completely personal. The lodges themselves are a great idea, but it just wasn’t my thing.

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Overall thoughts

I cannot say enough great things about this game. I went in with little knowledge about the game, but quickly fell in love with everything that was offered. After playing through it for over 93 hours and getting all but five of the standard game trophies (all of the hunter’s lodge trophies), I highly recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a story based open world game.

As soon as the DLC of The Frozen Wilds was available, I pre-ordered it immediately. I tend to shy away from pre-ordering anything anymore (especially digital content), but I just can’t wait for more.

TL;DR: On a scale of one to awesome, I give Horizon Zero Dawn a score of super amazing.

Horizon Zero Dawn is available on the Playstation 4, developed by Guerilla Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.

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