Horizon Zero Dawn is a very special game. Guerrilla Games manages to take various gameplay systems that work well independently and intertwine them to create an experience that is both memorable and rewarding. Horizon Zero Dawn is an action role playing game and it is now the best looking game available on any console and one of the best looking games I’ve ever played. While Guerrilla Games is no stranger to technical showcasing of the target hardware, the story and characters in Horizon show that they are capable of creating a narrative that works brilliantly as well.
Humanity has collapsed and machines now rule the planet. There’s a tribal world to explore in Horizon’s post post apocalyptic setting. While humans and machines have tried to coexist, something has changed. Aloy, the protagonist, is an outcast under the guardianship of Rost. As Aloy, you fall into a small cave and discover something that changes you through a small augmented reality device. This lets Aloy gain a power similar to the Witcher sense. Horizon has a nice main story questline that will keep you occupied for little over 30 hours but there’s a ton of side content that is enjoyable and unique.
There’s a lot of exploration and combat for you to enjoy. Unlike many recent open world games, there’s more to the experience here than just ticking off objectives and capturing towers. Combat plays a big part and it is varied. In some cases stealth is required as taking on a herd of machines will not end well and you can rely on an ability gained early on to whistle. This can lure a single machine to you as you silently take it down using a mêlée attack. Most machines have a certain weakspot that you need to target and using elemental ammo helps out. Each of the big machines is a sight to behold be it the T-Rex-esque Thunderjaw or the Broadhead that looks like a Brontosauras decided to mate with the Starship Enterprise. There’s even one machine type that reminded me of the first boss in Final Fantasy VII.
While machines aren’t the only enemies in Horizon, dealing with humans in the form of bandits is a little boring in comparison. This is an RPG after all and you get to unlock various abilities that improve exploration and combat. Early on utilising the slow down on aim ability will make headshots or precise attacks much easier. Your bow and spear aren’t the only weapons in the arsenal. You have access to traps, heavy machinery and even allies you make in combat. You do have the option of overriding some machines to make them your ally for a specific set of time. You unlock the ability to tame a machine when you complete a Cauldron which is a high tech cave. Conquering the roaming Broadheads will reveal more of the map area to you and there is so much more for you to do in the world Guerrillga Games created.
Visually, Horizon Zero Dawn is a masterpiece. It has some of the best visuals you will see and it is easily the best looking open world. The forests are dense and the addition of a dynamic weather system with great lighting makes everything screenshot worthy. There’s also a great photo mode that I spent far too much time on in my first few hours. My only complaint about the visuals is the popin in certain areas. I’ve played Horizon on a base PlayStation 4 and not a Pro so I cannot comment on how it looks on upgraded hardware.
Sound design is mostly spot on but I felt like some audio cues for machines was a bit off. When you are quietly making your way into a new area, the slightest hint of a particular machine is all it takes to get your adrenaline pumping. The soundtrack is superb and I can’t wait to buy the full soundtrack that is packed with atmospheric tunes and some tribal tunes with an infusion of a bit of techno. The main theme will be stuck in your head right from the get go. The voice acting is mostly good but certain NPCs have a few lines that are delivered poorly and this breaks immersion. Thankfully these cases are few and far in between.
I’m glad Sony let Guerrilla Games develop and release Horizon Zero Dawn. It is a special experience and one that would not be possible had Sony only allowed their studios to keep releasing new entries in successful franchises. There are many gameplay systems at work with a ton of polish thrown in from Guerrilla while the narrative holds everything together in Horizon Zero Dawn. It is an essential if you own a PlayStation 4 and one of the best reasons to go and pick one up if you’ve been waiting.