Horizon Zero Dawn Review - Open World Made Interesting Again
Played on: Standard PlayStation 4
Completion after main story: 60%
Game Time: 42 hours
I had the opportunity to try out Guerrilla Games’ new title at a Sony press event and was pretty impressed with what I experienced. After finally playing the finished game, my impression of Horizon Zero Dawn did not change – this is one of the best exclusive new titles to come out for the PlayStation 4.
Just look at it - it’s an absolutely gorgeous-looking game, no denials on that front – but Horizon Zero Dawn’s charm can be found beyond the shiny exterior and the bells and whistles. Layered among the captivating landscape and impressive character/machine animations, there's a good story to be a told for those looking for it and a thrilling experience that will engage you as a player.
The world of Horizon Zero Dawn is shrouded in mystery. From the beginning, you're slowly introduced to this post-apocalyptic world, a place where modern technology has failed. The human race is now living in a tribal state, with animal-like machines roaming the land, claiming what was once ours. You play as Aloy, a huntress of the Nora tribe, and just like you, she is curious about the world around her. The limits of Aloy's knowledge of the outside world add to her impetus to seek answers regarding her own past. This journey of self-discovery was the driving force that kept me in check while exploring this game's vast maps.
Through this 40+ hour campaign, you will be given enough background on the narrative to maintain the urge to move forward, but with every answer given, more questions arise. What happened to the previous civilization? How do people thrive in a world populated with what I’d like to call “Dino Bots”? (They are really not called Dino Bots, bear with me...) Guerrilla Games has crafted some well-tuned lore tucked away nicely in the form of quests, collectibles, and audio files. Once you are given the freedom to do whatever you wish, you’ll unearth a chunk of history, and you are just a tad bit closer to uncovering the secrets of Horizon Zero Dawn.
Be The Hunter or The Hunted
Just like how the intricately-designed world gives you the itch to explore every nook and cranny, the gameplay is solid to the point that I'd end up distracting myself multiple times from the overall objective to engage in a simple hunt. Even past the 20-hour mark, I'd still get the urge to stop and simply engage a herd of machines that's close by, simply because I know it’s going to be fun.
Once you see what now roams the land, you’d think that your arsenal of bows and spears won’t be enough to take down animal-like machines that can rip Aloy with one swing, but no, with the variety of traps and ammo types and the application of proper aim, the process of taking the 'Dino Bots' down is quite satisfying; the gameplay strikes a good balance between vulnerability and capability. Each of the 25 enemy types available in the game has their own respective weak points that can be scanned and highlighted by Aloy’s trusty Focus, a device left over from the lost civilization that makes Aloy no ordinary huntress.
The feeling of being an expert hunter is properly portrayed in Horizon Zero Dawn’s combat. Each machine has their own set of behaviors and you can use that to your advantage. For example, a certain type of machine has the tendency to run and can be a pain to catch once spooked. So, I devised a plan to place exploding trip wires in the directions it would likely run to. Then I'd spook them, and luckily they run right into my traps. Explosions are seen from afar and the damage numbers start appearing on my screen, with more digits popping up, indicating that some of the 'bots are still alive but are now burning to death. The combat feels different with each machine type, forcing you to switch between weapon or ammo types to best deal with the encounter. Some enemies are more susceptible to a specific element, while others get exposed by breaking open certain parts of their armor. The need to aim at and abuse these weak points keeps the combat from forming any kind of redundancy, and experimenting with how to tackle each area, either through stealth or taking the beasts head-on, becomes a big part of the fun.
During your downtime, though, you’ll find yourself constantly picking up everything you find in the game. Like, everything – even rocks. You'll press the loot button a lot here. Herbs, branches, machine parts from dead machines, loot boxes - there’s always something to pick up to help you craft more ammo types or improve your carrying capacity. Some might consider it a chore, but it’s necessary because unless you have enough in-game currency to get all the ammunition you need, you best keep pressing that loot button.
Modifications for both your weapons and armor are yet another thing to loot from fallen robots, and each give bonuses to improve your offense or defense in a certain stat. By now, you can imagine all the items you will have to sort in your inventory, and it can get quite cluttered and confusing if you are gathering resources for 20 minutes and then decide to open the inventory. There's moments where you’ll feel a bit overwhelmed at pinpointing the important stuff.
The Many Tasks At Hand
Other optional objectives that populate Horizon Zero Dawn’s massive map comprise the typical distractions you'd expect in open world games. There will be bandit camps to raid, hunter trials to pass, corrupted machines to clear, and there is even a machine called 'Tallnecks' that can show you more of the map if you can override the machine to work for your side. Sound familiar? The usual formula for an open-world game like this is present, so don’t expect this one to try something fundamentally different. Guerilla Games simply has a good take on it. Side quests, which are notorious for being the ultimate content fodder in most games, are entertaining thanks to the short and personal stories attached to their progress. They aren't on the level of side quests found in games like The Witcher 3, but I found purpose in doing them simply because they were the developers' way of fleshing out the lesser characters and really exploring the different tribes and the modern issues the inhabitants of this world faced as communities.
I found myself lost for hours in the sandbox Guerrilla Games has created. The combat never dulls, and it’s rare for me to have that itch to keep on trucking with an open world game after finishing the main story. For how impressive Horizon Zero Dawn is in graphics and scale, it did not present any issues in terms of frame drops or bugs, which is a surprise. This polished experience made me believe that open world games with a completely unique take on the post-apocalyptic setting can still be achieved in this generation. I never thought I would find myself having fun just roaming around and stocking up my herb bag for future healing, simply preparing for big fights ahead. It’s weird, I know. This is one exclusive title that you need to have in your collection if you own a PlayStation 4.
+ Rich main story
+ Satisfying combat
+ A polished open-world experience with no bugs or frame drops
- Cluttered inventory system
- Typical open-world content fodder
A lengthy discussion happened during episode 160 of the TMG Podcast. Have a listen for more thoughts on Horizon Zero Dawn.
Want to check out the first hour and a half of the game? We got our Quick Look now up for you guys to check out.