REVIEW – “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” This famous quote of Albert Einstein is the almost exact match for Guerilla Games science-fiction and fantasy action RPG, where humanity is taken back to a primitive state and living in tribes and kingdoms, it fights against each other and strange, animal-like, huge robots. Living it this apocalyptic world, our own female protagonist, Aloy is a girl with extraordinary skills and a strange heritage – she’s first an outcast, only to become later a true heroine of humanity. Welcome to Horizon: Zero Dawn, Sony PlayStation’s long awaited masterpiece!
Sony Interactive Entertainment and Guerilla Games embarked on a journey to build something truly unique and exciting. Something that would remind us exactly why we love games with a great story and amazing gameplay and spectacular graphics. Horizon Zero Dawn does just that in a game with a setting beyond our wildest dreams. After fives years of development, a demonstration at E3 2015, and a few delays, one of Sony’s most epic title in years is finally here.
In Horizon Zero Dawn, there are gigantic robot animals to fight, merciless bandits to kill and strange, millennium-spanning mysteries to uncover.
Please, Aloy-me to introduce myself!
The action RPG of Guerilla Games puts you in control of Aloy, a young female warrior, as she embarks on a journey across a captivating post-apocalyptic world. Your main mission is to uncover the mysteries behind her origins and also the mysterious past of a scientific achievement gone wrong, which is the very reason of the battle between humans and machines, and also the cause for her being her community’s outcast.
Indeed, Horizon Zero Dawn is set 1,000 years in the future when civilization, as we know it, has vanished in some apocalyptic event. This beautiful but dangerous new world is inhabited by primitive tribal societies who co-exist with animal-like machines of unknown origin, from defiant mecha-bulls to deadly, dinosaurian behemoths.
Into this fascinating mix of primitive and high technology arrives Aloy, the afore-mentioned flame-haired huntress evicted from her tribe at birth. As a child, Aloy stumbles across an augmented reality device called a Focus – left behind by the so-called Ancient Ones – giving her abilities that enhance her already formidable skills.
As the story unfolds, the biggest, yet understated question posed within Horizon Zero Dawn will slowly reveal itself: what happened to civilization before Aloy’s thrust into survival?
Indeed, the story is what truly makes Horizon Zero Dawn such an intimate experience. Following Aloy from when she was just a baby to her current role as a huntress seamlessly fused a deep connection with the protagonist. Guerrilla Games does a fantastic job of following creative writings’ golden rule of “show, don’t tell” by letting players experience each piece of Aloy’s story, rather than forcing it upon us. Every interaction seems to build on her life and who she is as an individual. I couldn’t help but find myself almost instantly and emotionally connected to the questions surrounding her existence.
Just one word: “gorgeous”!
Horizon Zero Dawn’s enchanting story is complemented by a breathtaking landscape that seems to go on forever. The sheer beauty this game exhibits is remarkable; it’s no wonder this title took five years to complete. It very much takes a look and feel of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, but without the dark undertones. Rather, Horizon Zero Dawn is bursting with an array of life-like textures that bend and flex as the story progresses.
This subtle technique pulls players right into the thick of the story and effortlessly creates an immersive experience. Undoubtedly countless hours of rendering went into this part of the game. Everything, from the vast wilderness, forest ranges, and mountains to the meticulous refinement of the ancient ruins, perfectly binds together this impressive world. Even the flowers and trees move and sway as if they were alive and well. To put it simply: it looks stunning.
Well-mixed familiar ideas, in a truly unique world
You can see the ideas of a lot of different franchises behind Horizon Zero Dawn: a bit of Far Cry Primal, Tomb Raider, Uncharted, and role-playing games such as The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Yet, it has an original, well-crafted and stunning open-world, with vistas, which are supported by a strong background fiction and exhilarating, unique combat.
Equipped with an arsenal of low-tech weapons which are mainly enhanced with salvaged futuristic components, Aloy will get bows with several different types of arrows, slings that throw bombs that shock, freeze or set enemies on fire, tripwire traps, the ability to override hostile machines and turn them against their allies, and much, much more. The action mixes tactical planning and sneaking with last-minute improvisation, making every encounter feel exciting and fresh.
“Only human!” (Matrix Reloaded)
There’s only one hiccup to this perfectly crafted world. It’s unfortunate that the human-focused combat is lackluster because there is a lot of it. It gets better when you throw machines into the mix, both regarding complexity and options. There are corrupted machines that can’t be turned to your side but have all the strengths and weaknesses of the real thing, which makes some group battles fun.
On the other hand, when you fight only humans, it sometimes becomes a bit dull. They’re neither intelligent nor challenging enough to be worth the time. For a some of the fights, you can stand in a doorway and kill them as they rush in.
The human enemies are also far less interesting, and combat involves shooting them in the head from a distance while their lackluster AI struggles to counteract. The otherwise almost perfect combat mechanics cannot shine here are since you’re not blowing off parts or taking advantage of other cool gameplay mechanisms. It does well enough (though headshot hitboxes occasionally seem rather off), but it’s hard to care about a guy with a spear when there’s a mechanical mammoth waiting a bit farther to crush us. It’s also a bit incomprehensible, how Guerilla could fail a bit in regards to combat against humans since it’s the focus and also perfectly well-done in their Killzone series.
Skill-system “leveled up”
Still, besides this unfortunate sloppiness regarding combat against humans, as a whole the gameplay is exhilarating, complemented with a flawless crafting and RPG system, which lets you hone your skills after leveling up. The skills are well thought-out, and you have to consider, whether they fit your gameplay style or not since you have to wait quite a bit until leveling up again.
The other amazing element about Horizon’s skill and crafting system is that your weapon upgrades are not only stat increases. Weapons have rarities, and finding a higher tier of a weapon doesn’t change the core stats much, but upgrading it provides new abilities. Your core bow can only shoot arrows, the second-tier upgrade also shoots fire arrows, and the third tier can shoot regular, fire and armor-breaking arrows. Not every weapon is a full upgrade, but mostly, rather than just getting bigger numbers, each of them feels more meaningful.
Amsterdam-based studio Guerilla Games, best known for PlayStation’s grim but visually impressive Killzone franchise, spent more than six years on Horizon Zero Dawn, and it shows: in the beauty of the game’s visuals, the depth of its backstory and the tightness of its design. Hopefully, this isn’t the last we’ll see of this high-tech savage land.
It’s indeed rare for a game to have so many facets of brilliance without almost no sacrifices along the way. Nothing about Horizon Zero Dawn is weak, everything has been built with the utmost care, and there was never a moment when playing I considered to be filler and unnecessary. Guerilla has crafted something special, and all the hype has been completely justified.
+ Mesmerizingly beautiful, yet, well-constructed world
+ Great fantasy story, with memorable characters and sci-fi elements
+ Amazing gameplay, merging action, RPG, adventure and exploration
– It starts a bit slowly, with a long “tutorial”
– Combat against humans is a bit disappointing
– Some subquests are a bit bland
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Genre: open world, action-adventure, RPG
Release date: February 28, 2017