Horizon Zero Dawn Review

From developer Guerilla Games, best known for the linear sci-fi shooter series Killzone, comes the beautiful and polished open world of Horizon Zero Dawn. It’s a refreshing change of pace these days to see a game development company step out of its comfort zone, as it comes with considerable risk, but I’m certainly glad they did, as Horizon Zero Dawn has turned out to be somewhat of a masterpiece.

Set hundreds, if not thousands, of years after an unknown cataclysm that saw the end of the Metal World, the earth has had time to heal. Now, in the lush landscape of the post-post apocalypse, what remains of humanity live in tribes, hunting with bows and spears, in a world full of animal and dinosaur resembling machines left behind by the Ancient Ones.

Horizon Zero Dawn mount

It’s an intriguing premise, that is not itself the focus as the game begins. You play as Aloy, a talented young huntress who, for reasons unknown, has been cast out from her tribe since she was a child, and has been raised under the watchful and caring eyes of her guardian Rost. In seeking to discover the truth behind her own origins, you’re led down a path to uncover more about the strange world that you find yourself in.

The mysteries surrounding Aloy, and the world itself, are the main driving force in Horizon Zero Dawn, so to avoid spoilers I’ll simply say that they are both interesting and surprising in many ways, and were both darker and yet more hopeful than I anticipated. As a child, she discovers a device called a “focus” that reveals hidden parts of the world, and gives her an insight into the world of the Ancient Ones and the machines they’ve left behind.

Although it is a world filled with machines, the setting is beautifully presented: it’s a lush wilderness that has reclaimed most of the world, save for the few remnants of skyscrapers and ruins left behind by the Ancient Ones. The world itself, as well as the story, fuel the intrigue that drives the plot forward.

But if you enjoy being able to quickly chase down the plot details in a game, and hurriedly complete the story-line, Horizon presents some challenges in this regard. These animal and dinosaur resembling machines that patrol the world are formidable foes. As soon as you’ve learned the best tactics for defeating one type of enemy, you’ll discover another and be faced with a new challenge. Even the smallest among them, if not approached correctly, can do a considerable amount of damage; they’re also rarely found alone, and are sometimes in very mixed groups, so you have to consider your tactics carefully at times.

Horizon Zero Dawn machines

You begin the game with access to only a basic bow and arrows, but Horizon presents you with a myriad of options for tackling the world as you progress: bows that produce various status effects, tools to hinder, supress, distract, and even tear components and armour from your enemies. You can also use traps, and swap out your armour or take potions for extra resistance to certain types of damage. Some of the enemies even come equipped with guns that you can access and use against them. Sticking to one combat tactic will inevitably frustrate players, as you’ll more than likely die a lot, so it’s important to remember that even though the game presents you with many challenging enemies, if you properly use the many tools at your disposal, you’ll find the combat very rewarding.

There are human enemies within the game as well of course that are presented in the form of bandits and rival tribes. Although this adds a little bit of extra flavour to the game, the most notably mundane sequences are the times that you’re forced to fight against other humans, which happens with relative frequency throughout the main quest line. While the machines are varied and require unique strategies each time, fighting other humans primarily just comes down to whether or not you can quickly shoot an arrow at their head.

That being said, there’s plenty of exploring to be done between story missions, and you’ll come across machines far more often as you wander the world than you will enemy humans. And you’ll want to explore it. I can’t say this enough: the world itself is just plain beautiful.

Horizon Zero Dawn landscape

The land naturally shifts between settings, from villages to jungle to deserts, with plenty of beautiful mountain ranges, crimson sunsets, and snowy passes along the way. As an open world game, Horizon also has its fair share of side quests and collectibles that you can make the most of along the way. That being said, the side quests are surprisingly varied, despite the fact that the game as a whole relies on the same formula of buying supplies to take on a new enemy, defeating that enemy, and then looting them for supplies to improve your weapons. Horizon is also far less dependent on its side quests to bulk out the content than other RPGs I’ve played in recent years.

Apart from the sometimes mundane combat against human enemies, the only other real criticism I can bring to the game is with the character models. During combat, the models look fantastic, but during less animated sequences such as normal conversation, the characters appear jilted in a way that’s almost unnerving.

Even with its flaws, Horizon is still one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. It’s also one of the few games that’s managed to elicit a genuine emotional response from me and actually pull me into the game – the only other notable title that’s ever really managed that for me is The Last of Us. The developers have also been very on the ball when it comes to bugs and criticism, with regular updates addressing everything from story issues, to adjusting enemy AI.

In short, if you ever felt the need to produce a must-buy game list, I strongly feel that Horizon Zero Dawn deserves to be on it.

Posted: March 25th, 2017
Categories: video games, reviews