Sit back, unwind and let me take you to a vast world that’s lush with rolling fields, mountains that lay in a noble line on the spine of the land as if long ago it was a great beast, only to lie down one day and never get up and sunsets that take your breath away. Feeling relaxed yet? Don’t be! As right above you is a Stormbird with wings bigger than you’ve ever seen, ready to tear you apart with one swoop of its tremendous claws and then just in front of you, eyeing you from the grassy verge is a Thunderjaw, ready and waiting to crush you with one swift move from the tip of its armed scythe-like finned tail!
Welcome to Horizon Zero Dawn, a PS4-exclusive action role playing game developed by Guerrilla Games, creators of the Killzone franchise and who until recently were pretty much unknown to me. I can honestly say, that I didn’t hold out on this game being as amazing as it is mostly due to the fact of how much hype it got – I think I was ready to throw my money in the toilet and just take the chance but Oh boy am I glad I did! I wanted to complete the entire game before I gave a review on this masterpiece. Let me tell you, I do not use masterpiece lightly so let me explain why this game is my GOTY –
Horizon Zero Dawn is a post-apocalyptic game, but not of the variety we’ve seen lots of in games like Fallout 4 and the Last of us, It is post-post-post-apocalypse: hundreds if not thousands of years after catastrophe befell society. The land is enriched with tribes, hunting with bows and spears and living a life shaped around an earth-based, religion. But, they are not alone, as lurking in the skies and lands are the machines, giant robots that resemble dinosaurs and other animals equipped with armour and weapons that cause absolute carnage to anyone in their path but this world has a glimmer of hope in the form of Aloy, a young but highly skilled huntress cast out from her tribe and desperately seeking answers about where she came from so, she takes on this uncompromising world and all who stands in her path. Who/what is she? Where is her Mother? and What evil is out there that brought this strange new world to its knees to begin with?
Horizon for me, was like stepping into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. At every turn I saw something delicious and compelling that I had to indulge.
From Aloy’s emotional struggles from childhood and her relationship with her protector Rost, to watching her grow into a woman as the game progresses – it made you feel like you have been a huge part of that as a player and you most certainly have. Going back a little to Aloy’s childhood where early on she finds a strange item called a “Focus” while out playing, which allows you to scan your environment, see tracks left by people and also to scan weak points on machines allowing you to damage the exact points to bring them eventually to their knees.
At the beginning I found my bow and arrow against the bigger machines like tickling them with a feather but as you start to upgrade, craft and buy better equipment, you find yourself in a true battle of the fittest with these relentlessness robots. From my experience you need to approach fights prepared, with a backpack full of resources so you can craft more ammo or potions on the fly as those arrows do not last very long!
The controls were very easy to work with, nothing too difficult at all but if I had the choice, I would probably want more complex moves given to Aloy as I truly believe that this woman has a lot more to offer. I got somewhat frustrated with only having 2-3 combat moves to work with so, I think having more would have made it a lot more challenging for me but that is not to say I didn’t enjoy the combat experience. I never thought of myself as a “Bow and Arrow” kinda woman but it handled very well and was extremely precise at what it did. (Move over Daryl Dixon!) Each kill grants Aloy XP, and each level gained grants you skill points. Skill points can be used to unlock new abilities for combat, such as increased damage or the ability to fire multiple arrows at once. I was particularity fond of the “concentration” ability that slows down time, allowing you to pinpoint specific parts of enemy armour for added advantage
Lets move on as Combat is only one part of HZD as it really is a very well adapted multilayer gaming experience so, on that note we come to how well it works visually – unsurprisingly, it’s a feast for the eyes!
The world itself is just plain beautiful. From witnessing a crimson sunset across a mountain range to seeing the land naturally shift from a desert to a lush jungle, Horizon made the act of running from location to location within its world a huge part of the fun.
Each tree and rock is meticulously crafted and the range of locations only adds to the visual feast. The best part is, you get to capture these moments with the photo mode in your options menu making for some amazing wallpapers or spamming your friends inbox with your fabulous photography skills because trust me, YOU WILL want to do this.
Of course, if you are the type of person that finds walking in games a waste of time then you can override certain machines so that you can ride them wherever you want to go but, in my opinion and unless it was a short journey, I’d avoid doing this as not only do you miss out on a lot of collectables and craftable items, this game just shouldn’t be rushed – it deserves to be consumed very slowly. Horizon does have one visual shortcoming and that’s the character models – during dialogue scenes, characters are static and unnerving, almost emotionless, Aloy included, but the rest of the visual beauty thankfully makes up for this so I didn’t dwell on it too much.
HZD has been compared to Far cry, The Witcher and Tomb Raider but in my opinion, while it does have some of those elements, it creates something much better than left over pieces from other games,
It truly stands on its own feet and shouts “I’m here!” without fear of comparison.
One aspect of play I really enjoyed is stealth. You can easily hide and take cover in the long grass and even lure enemies near to you by throwing stones, perfect for a satisfying stealth kill. You can also make super use of your trip wires and traps for bringing down bigger machines ( or just for fun on all enemies ), not forgetting to make full use of the ropecaster for making those harder to kill robots much easier by tying them down.
Much in the tradition of open world games like the Witcher 3, the map is pretty big with enough things to get on with that boredom is not an option. Away from the main-story, you have plenty of side quests to keep you occupied. I’m the type of gamer that needs to complete these as soon as I come across them – most of the side quests have you looking for something or killing something. As much as I enjoyed most of these, I did find some a little linear but not enough to have any major gripes with it as I think mostly I just desperately wanted to get on with the story mode to see what happens next! (Patience is not one of my virtues).
I did have an issue with the map itself when trying to look for certain places. I’d spend way too much time searching for a place where as if it had a sub tab with all the locations of campfires and villages I had been to set out in easy reach with a click, I would have found the map much more enjoyable than wasting precious gaming time trying to find one place!
I also found myself excessively collecting and hoarding virtually everything in the game. I was picking plants for healing, or hunting and killing both machines and real animals for loot. Virtually everything in the world is useful for crafting or trading to merchants, so you’ll quickly become overburdened and have to craft additional storage space. One of the most surprising aspects of HZD was how well it brushes slightly on LGBT as well as mental health and embraced people of all colour. It was also refreshing to see a strong female lead role in a game that actually wears clothes and not a few pieces of cloth!
HZD really has pathed an excellent road for representation in gaming that I was proud to be apart of.
Horizon Zero Dawn DOES live up to the hype and if you don’t take the chance after reading this review and buy it, I will personally send a Thunderjaw to your home to rough you up ( we are tight now ) but, in seriousness I loved every part of the captivating narrative, the story was brilliantly thought out and so believable that I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t playing it! This game will be winning awards all year long and deservingly so.
It’s not perfect but its pretty damn close. Horizon, the game that finally found its voice