Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game whose reputation far precedes itself. I’ve heard nothing but praises from my friends who have already finished the game. But since it only came to the PC fairly recently (It was a PS4 exclusive until August 2020), I only had the chance to play it now. Not that big of a deal since I’ve reviewed 5-year-old games pretty recently. In fact, Horizon: Zero Dawn might be one of the newer games I’ve played this quarantine season. So, let’s talk about it.
The game was released in late 2017 and tells the story of Aloy, an outcast in a post-apocalyptic world who must search for the truth as to what led to the ruin of her land as well as who she is. Pretty cliche when it’s summarized like that, but it’s this world overrun by robotic dinosaurs and beasts that hooks you in. Where did these machines come from? Why was Aloy outcast from her tribe? Who are these people who want her dead and why? All these and more will be revealed as you play.
This game basically blends the best parts of Far Cry: Primal, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and The Witcher 3. This is the reason why I like it so much. To start with, any game that let’s me be a stealth archer is already a top-tier game in my book. That’s the way I did it in Skyrim back in 2009, and that’s the way I’ve been playing games ever since. So having the bow as Aloy’s primary weapon is simply the best way to have me enjoy this. It’s no surprise that the first armor I bought and upgraded is the one that gives me stealth perks.
But aside from the multiple types of bows, you also have other weapons in your arsenal to take down the machines. From tripwires, to mines, to bombs, there’s a lot to play with. And with the numerous types of enemies you’ll be facing, each with their own unique sets of strengths and weaknesses, variety in playstyle is highly encouraged. The least used items for me were mines, as I mostly just do potshots with my sniper bow from a distance where the enemies can’t even see me. No matter what your playstyle is, you will enjoy the combat here.
In my first session of playing the game, I was so engaged with taking down the different machines that I almost forgot I still had the entire story mission to go through. The feedback whenever your weapons hit their targets is so satisfying. Seeing that “component removed” alert appear gave me lots of joy every single time.
And don’t forget to use the world to your advantage. I can’t count the number of times I used a cliff as a vantage point to take down machines that I can’t handle one-on-one. Traversing the environment is so good and seamless. I would just like to praise the devs for the insane amount of detail they put in the interactions between Aloy and her environment. From automatically vaulting over low rocks to climbing up ledges and boulders, they made it look so good and varied. This is probably the smoothest game I’ve played so far with regards to the player moving around the environment.
Another gameplay mechanic I enjoy is the hunting and gathering. This is one of my favorite parts of Far Cry: Primal. I spent more time in that game picking up wood, rocks, and animal skins than I did killing enemies. That same experience carries over to HZD as well. Constant gathering of resources is needed as they are needed to craft ammo as well as potions, traps, and gear. It can be a bit bothersome when your pack is almost always full but Aloy does get some skills that can offset that. It’s done well here and I don’t have any complaints.
The leveling system in the game is easy. Sure, the quests have level suggestions, but I played on the normal difficulty and without even realizing it, I got a bit over-leveled just by doing the sidequests and killing enemies. I would suggest the harder difficulties for more hardcore gamers, where enemies do a lot more damage and you deal a little bit less. But I enjoyed my entire playthrough and never felt that I needed to grind just to progress through the story. And no matter how high my level was, my armpits still get soaked whenever I faced off with a Thunderjaw or a Stormbird. There was never a point where the game felt too easy and boring.
Aside from sticking to the main quests, this game excels in giving Aloy absolute freedom in exploration. I never felt level-gated in this game. Of course, there are enemies that are stronger than others, but eventually, you will find a solution or a playstyle to beat them. You can explore the entire map after just finishing the introductory quests, although some areas are only accessible during some quests so make sure to explore a lot. But for the majority of the time, you can experience Aloy’s story your own way.
The map is hella huge with lots of places to discover and things to do. Aside from the settlements filled with people to give you side-quests and errands, you can also explore the ruins of the ancient world and find out more about the story’s lore. One of my favorite things to do is to finish the Cauldrons. Completing these will award Aloy with various upgrades to her character. You can also reveal more of the map by overriding the Tall-necks that roam each region, though this is not a necessity if you prefer to explore the entire world manually.
There are “corrupted areas” to cleanse, along with hunter challenges which serve as mini-quests that help you familiarize with your wide arsenal of weapons and abilities. Or you can simply jump from landmark to landmark and find the collectibles to add to your achievements and know more about the world. I don’t need to elaborate more, but there is definitely enough stuff here to keep you engaged for a long time.
Let me start out by saying that the graphics of this game are incredible. If you’ve read my other reviews, you know that I don’t make a fuss about graphics unless it negatively impacts the game. But the world of HZD is simply breathtaking to behold. From the landscapes to the dilapidated buildings and ruins, everything is just on point. And to let you know that Guerilla Games is confident about their graphics, they have a fully-featured photo mode.
The only thing that bothered me is that the human faces look pretty unsettling. They’re too deep into the uncanny valley for me to relate with a majority of the characters. Aloy herself looks too much like Zac Efron for me to be completely immersed. But aside from that, everything that isn’t a human face else looks absolutely on fleek.
And what a beautiful world they built with this one.The way this future earth is shown in the game surpasses any words I can ever say. The way that they blended primitive technology with those of the future is really cool. And the first time I saw the ruins of an old building that was weathered through time and covered in vines, I was awestruck. You can see the different “eras” that have passed from just the environment itself. HZD shows the story as well as tells it, which makes immersing into the game pretty easy.
My favorite part is uncovering all the secrets at the same time as Aloy. As the gamer, you can deduce some things from the world much faster than her, but aside from a few moments like that, you are both discovering the story at the same time. Aloy is your avatar into this strange but familiar world and both of you start out with knowing only the bare minimum. So it’s up to you to go about satisfying your curiosity about what is happening. And let me tell you, the whole process of the world revealing itself to you is top-tier. Without going into spoilers, you can really imagine the feelings of, and relate with characters you’ve never even interacted with. I bet you’ll even downright despise some of the characters.
All in all, HZD offers a good take on a post-apocalyptic world. It reminds me of the world of Mad Max in Fury Road, if Skynet invaded and decided that basing robots off of animals as opposed to humans was way cooler. In this world where coffee mugs are considered relics, computer voices are considered gods, and some flowers are made of metal, it’s very entertaining to see how cultures could grow from the remains of our current world and this gives HZD it’s own distinct flavor. The devs really put a lot of thought into this game and I mean that in the most scrutinizing way possible.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game that combines all the types of gameplay I love. I wouldn’t mind if the sequel doesn’t change anything but just continues the story of Aloy. The only flaws I would have to give it are very minor, such as the facial animations and the way NPCs die in cutscenes. The human enemies are also either super easy or unbelievable tanks (I’m looking at you, Helis), there is no in-between. The game would also be better off with a better inventory and quick-use system, but that’s nothing gamebreaking.
Having finished the base game, I still have the DLC expansion to play through, but based on my experience, I know I won’t be disappointed. This game is definitely a must-play. It’s on the same tier as The Witcher 3 for me, even higher if we base it on the gameplay alone. I can see myself coming back to this game time and time again just to take down the giant machines that pushed me around during my lower levels.
And that’s about all I can say about this wonderful game. Truly another entry in my video game hall of fame. Have you played this game? What are your thoughts about it? And do you have any games to recommend that you feel can match this level of enjoyment? Let me know!
Until then, stay healthy and safe. And, as always, FUCK TED FARO.