Horizon: Zero Dawn is an open-world action-RPG from developer Guerrilla Games. This Sony first-party studio is known for developing the first-person shooter franchise, Killzone. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a completely different game from Guerrilla Games. They have moved away from the first-person shooter to an action-RPG. After playing through the game extensively, I am glad that PlayStation gave Guerrilla the chance to create a fresh new franchise for the brand.
The setting and story in Horizon: Zero Dawn is something that makes this game stand out among many other open-world action-RPG games. The game takes place in the 31st century in a post-apocalyptic world. People live in tribes and rely on each other to maintain their living conditions.
Out in the wild, machines exist that are hostile to the site of human beings. The machines resemble animals to what we know in our world, like a deer or tiger. The knowledge of what happened to The Old Ones to make society like this is largely unknown, but becomes one of the main focuses of the game’s interesting and exciting story.
The game opens to a scene dedicated to the naming of our main character, Aloy, and revealing how she is an outcast to the Nora tribe. When she grows up, Aloy begins training to become initiated through an event called The Proving. The event is attacked by an unidentified group and everyone except Aloy is killed. You are left with many questions after the event that will be answered during the main quest line of the game. The story easily keeps you wanting to progress through the game. Despite the intriguing story, I kept finding myself getting side tracked with the rich open world and interesting side quests that give you more lore into about the 31st century and during the time of the Old Ones.
There is so much to do in this game and none of it feels forced or wasted. You have your collectibles that you acquire as you explore the map. You can look for vantage points or try to find Tallneck machines to climb. There are bandit camps and corruption zones that can be cleared out to make the land a safer place. My personal favorite were the hunting lodges that challenged you to take out machines in specific ways. It sounds like a lot at once, but it works well in addition to the main and side quests.
As you progress through Horizon: Zero Dawn, you learn about The Old Ones and the history of the current tribes in the land. One of the arcs that I found captivating was learning about the Carja Civil War and the Red Raids. There are different tribes that occupy different areas of the map in the game. Before the events of the game, a war happened between these tribes. The Carja and Nora were at war in the Red Raids. As a Nora tribe member, you feel these tensions more and more as you head to the western parts of the map farther away from Nora territory. However, because of the Carja Civil War, the Carja themselves are split. The ones that became friendly to the other tribes in the area are known as the Sun Carja and the other more radical tribe are known as the Shadow Carja. These politics play into the story well and setup the last main quest in the game to feel very impactful to all parties involved.
The story kept me playing Horizon: Zero Dawn but it was the gameplay that made me want to keep coming back to it. The combat against the machines is the highlight of the gameplay. It has a very nice complexity that adds a level of strategy I wasn’t expecting coming into this type of game. Each machine has different weaknesses and strengths. In order to take down these machines, you have to make use of Aloy’s full arsenal of weapons. As you progress, you will begin acquiring all kinds of different bows that can tie down and stun enemies, shoot ice or electric arrows, or put down trip mine traps of various elements like fire or ice. These are just a few examples of what Aloy’s weapon arsenal ends up being. Most machines have main components that allow you to deal massive damage or completely take away a certain attack or ability if destroyed. For example, later in the game you come across machines called Stalkers. They are machines that have a camouflage ability that allows them to go invisible for a certain amount of time. That could be an issue, but a handful of carefully placed arrows can remove the component that allows them to become invisible. This is one example, but just about every machine has these elements that make for intense fights.
In addition to the machine enemy types, there are also human enemies. This is the area of the game that I have a minor issue with. Shooting a human enemy is exactly what you expect. Hitting them in their body does less damage than a headshot. There’s nothing unique to it, but it works. My issue is the melee combat. Aloy uses her light or heavy attacks on enemies and they hit back. This system could have used some type of blocking or parrying mechanic. Besides rolling away from a hit, there is nothing else to stop an impending melee attack. It would be nice to have a system that’s a little more intuitive like we have in the Arkham Batman games. The human encounters happen far less often than machine encounters though. So in the grand scheme of things, this is a very minor complaint, but one that is worth noting.
Getting past that mild complaint is really easy when the game looks as good as it does. There weren’t many times that I felt taken out of the experience but when I was, I could look to the gorgeous setting around me and become invested again immediately. There are many facets to the setting. There are forest areas, snow areas, and desert areas scattered throughout the map and they all looked equally as good. The animations on the characters all look good. They really shine during climbing or action sections. There are times that the voice acting isn’t the greatest, but those times happen on minor side quests. There could be some people that never even see these sections, although your cheating yourself out of an overall great experience doing so.
I never noticed an issue with audio. All the sound effects sound appropriate. More importantly there was never any instance where I looked at my TV puzzled at what I just heard. The sound design is really good to. Multiple times I was able to time rolls out of the way from a machine behind me based on how loud the animal was. When it comes to the soundtrack, there won’t be that one memorable track I will always remember. However, every piece of music elevates the emotional impact of that various scene. Even exploring the land, the score gives a nice subtle ambience that adds to the atmosphere the game is creating. There was nothing ground-breaking in this department, but there was nothing that made me upset or took me out of the experience.
When I sit back and reflect on the nearly 50 hours I spent inside the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn, I don’t know what else I would have wanted in the game. The story was the exact length I wanted it to be, and hits all those crucial plot elements that a game needs to hit to make me care. The gameplay is really good even with the one complaint I had with the human combat. The game is extremely beautiful to look at and kept me invested throughout the entire time. It’s not often that an open-world game consumes my life and becomes pretty much the only game I play without getting burned out at some point. That never happened to me while playing this game and that speaks a lot to the quality that Guerrilla Games put into Horizon: Zero Dawn.