Horizon Zero Dawn was one of the games that I was most excited for leading up to 2017. With its intriguing juxtaposition of sophisticated, animalistic machines and gorgeous countryside, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I’m happy to say that my hyped anticipation was well-rewarded.
Many were very curious as to how Guerilla Games – a studio best-known for its gritty, dystopian FPS franchise Killzone, would handle something as revolutionary as an open-world action-RPG. It’s clear that they did their homework, because Horizon Zero Dawn is a marvelous effort in plant-gathering, skill-tree climbing, and general open-world exploring.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where a humanity, largely reduced to hunter-gatherer tribes scurrying between the clunking paws of mechanical creatures scrapes out a meager existence. A new, rather peculiar population rules the world – straight out of David Attenborough’s fever dreams – that of a robotic imitation of various stages of Life on Earth.
The game’s narrative centers on Aloy, a strong-headed and determined young lady, supremely talented in the art of disassembling creations millenniums beyond her and her counterparts’ development.
That’s not to say that humanity lost its ingenuity, far from it. Although some of Aloy’s contemporaries do their best to repel these abominations of nature, many have become very crafty and ingenious, our heroine included.
Aloy and the others courageous and forward-thinking enough try their best to salvage fallen machines, turning their scrapped appendages and components into weapons and tools. Aloy is also, of course, an adept hunter-gatherer, excelling at hunting more organic wild animals and gathering medicinal plants, both essential to staying alive and well.
Although our main character is determined and independent, she harbours much sadness and uncertainty. Without giving too much away, Aloy isn’t the most popular member of her tribe, for reasons not revealed until much later on in the game. She is eager to prove herself, but what she truly wishes for are answers to her mysterious and difficult existence.
My main concern going into this game was its major focus on archery. Although I do enjoy archery in games like The Last of Us and Far Cry, bows and arrows are rather difficult to use on console.
Using an analog stick to aim this slowly reloaded, one-shot weapon can be quite a clumsy affair. Horizon Zero Dawn has made archery more accessible and user-friendly, becoming an adaptable staple, rather than a showy novelty as it is in many games.
Even if it isn’t your strongest point as a gamer, you will soon get to grips with its mechanics and become a proficient archer, feathering the snapping robots with all manner of projectiles.
Despite archery being the bread and butter of this game, there are quite a few other stretchy weapons available to keep the scrap coming. Slingshots that lob bombs (both explosive and elemental), bow-like weapons that lay wire-traps down, and some fancy contraptions to unlock later on.
Aloy also has a wide range of outfits to unlock, all meticulously detailed. These new threads will provide buffs to various defense statistics or improve your covertness. Having a bunch of suits at hand means that you can constantly swap back and forth between them, using the inventory, to best handle a situation.
Most of Aloy’s progression in this game heavily depends on exploiting your environment for resources. Be it more advanced ingredients protruding from the rumps of machines, or medicinal herbs, all of your expendable items require an industrious upkeep. This means that you will be spending much of the game scouring the plains for herbal remedies, shafts for your arrows and volatile canisters to fuel your explosive ammunition.
While this hefty administrative side to the game may seem tedious, it makes for a lovely break from the endless cataclysmic fights with some of the more ferociously terrifying automatons. Gathering all manner of pretty flowers and hunting in the many scenic locations is very therapeutic.
The varied juxtaposition in this game makes for a phenomenal aesthetic and design. The gorgeous, sprawling countryside and its ever-changing geographic makeup is a mesh of flora and fauna intertwined with the rusting remains of a supremely advanced civilisation.
It’s amazing just how different the environment becomes according to the weather and position of the sun. The varyingly dazzling and dull colours of the world around you ooze and flow back and forth, providing a very romantic and lifelike portrayal of nature.
The fashion and technology of the different human groups in this game seem to have pioneered their own unique contrast as well, giving birth to what I call Palaeolithicpunk. Their garbs and tools are a fusion of impressive lumps of robotic scrap weaved together with earthy threads. A lot of characters wouldn’t look out of place at a forest trance party or Burning Man.
The design of the two-dozen or so robotic enemies in this game is also astonishing. From the more passive herbivore-like machines resembling deer and horses, to the wickedly monstrous and dinosaur-like, each machine comes with its own personality and complex design. Some machines are happy to graze unperturbed and will often run from you on sighting, while others exist to ambush or just plain crush any human that stumbles into their neck of the woods. Machines aren’t your only worry, though, as there are many humans that have resorted to banditry and more nefarious tasks…
While Killzone has always mostly been about storming your way through with a traditional run-and-gun design, Horizon forces players into a far more tactical and careful mindset. You are, after all, just a small, squishy human taking on hordes of cybernetic juggernauts.
Machines will generally wander about in packs or herds, often as a motley crew. Approaching each production line requires a unique dedication to observation and trap-setting. Sneakily outmaneuvering a cluster of deadly robots, while setting plenty of traps, all the while envisioning the paths they will take once explosively disturbed.
Once your cunning plan has been set into motion, or once a machine stumbles into an electric/freezing/burning/explosive trap, all hell breaks loose. Depending on how Machiavellian you were in the pre-emptive stages of your assault heavily decides whether you will become a victor or pink porridge.
Successfully decommissioning an enigmatically volatile series of electronic beasts rewards you with a shimmering field of loot. The sparking dump that replaces a once majestic scene of lumbering clockwork organisms provides the player with a myriad of invaluable resources, for both inventory maintenance and upgrade.
Aloy may begin her quest with glorified sticks and stones, but in time you will be slinging all manner of fearsome wire and rope gadgets. You will always have to employ care and conservativeness in your playstyle, though, as the clunking automatons only get progressively more lethal and staunch as you wander further from your comparatively mild beginnings.
Many open world games have a massive amount of ‘fetch’ side quests: merely retrieving trinkets for NPCs and the like in endless, unimaginative chores. Horizon Zero Dawn has a lot of ingeniously loaded side quests, each richly charged with engaging dialogue and subplot. Many side quests also cleverly link up to the main story, shedding glimmers of clarity on the main mysteries.
This game is just phenomenal. It gives you everything you need. An admirable protagonist, a massive amount of addictive content, a captivating plot, and gorgeous graphics. Horizon Zero Dawn has set the benchmark for modern open-world games.