Horizon Zero Dawn

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.

Primitive combat with a futuristic spin

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.

Not everything wants to kill you in this game

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.

Some machines are just plain evil

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.

Aloy has many burning questions you need to help her answer

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.

You need to adapt to the many different kinds of environments

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.

Each machine has its own strength and weakness, and you will soon work out a strategy for taking each one one down

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.

The game excels at making you feel small

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.

Some machines are exceptionally loaded with goodies

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…

You will spend a lot of time exploring abandoned cities

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.

There are various fun ways of navigating the terrain

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.

A glorious weather system

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 T-Rex bad boy is going to take a lot of arrows to drop

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.

10/10

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Bloodborne

Bloodborne is easily one of the most thrilling and rewarding experiences out there. At its heart, it’s a miasma of obscurity. Players are catapulted into a chaotic world free of proper direction or guidance.

We wander seemingly aimless through terrifying alleyways and forests with little clue on navigation and even less on what comes next.

 

Bloodborne
It’s a nightmarishly picturesque world

 

Players were continually stepping into treacherous new areas, only to fall face-first into smoldering pits of darkness, surrounded by deadly fiends crawling out of the wood-works, or in this case Gothic masonry.

This is what makes Bloodborne so wonderful, you never know what to expect, and never know just what the hell you are getting yourself into.

Everything is cloaked in mystery; characters, enemies, environments and the plot are just one big murky swamp we love swimming in.

 

Bloodborne
Whether you’re plumbing a ghastly sewer or exploring an arcane library, keep your wits about you!

 

Bloodborne is hard. How hard, you may ask? Let me put it this way: I didn’t think I was going to make it through the first stage. I was immediately faced with a brick wall of adversity, one I didn’t think I’d ever smash my way through.

Just fighting the most basic group of creeps was like trying to exorcise the Devil from someone using a YouTube video of a dog drinking water.

Bloodborne
Hacking at crazed plebs has never been so gratuitously thrilling

Few things have made me curse loudly in aggravated bitterness so frequently. Making such sweaty progress only to be drop-kicked back to the last checkpoint clocked about an hour ago is magnificently endearing.

The potion FromSoftware concocted made from despairing degradation and jubilant triumph makes for some interesting psychology.

The finely-tuned reflexes and systematic button-tapping required for this fluid foray can be a bitter pill to swallow for those unfamiliar with Souls games, but once digested, the game becomes a constant flow of garish exhilaration.

It was absolute bliss turning the tide on my tormentors, realizing that I could play this game! Maybe I’d even play it again on ‘New Game +’ (The same game, just much harder).

 

Bloodborne
Boss fights are the bread and butter of Souls games

 

Playing Bloodborne is like being transported into Edo Japan and becoming Miyamoto Musashi’s apprentice.

At first, he constantly beats you with a log for your piggish ineptitude, but in time you are meditating side-by-side under a waterfall, the crashing logs harmlessly splintering off your scalp.

In no time, however, you are magically reduced back into a chubby good-for-nothing and have to repeat the whole process again, and again, and again – pure, unadulterated joy.

 

Bloodborne
Bloodborne’s version of a bonfire

 

I experienced such ominous despair whenever I sensed a boss-fight was about to begin.

My heart sank and the hairs stood up on my arms whenever a colossal hellion skulked out of the shadows, knowing I’d be spending hours turning into days hacking at it.

One particular boss, Vicar Amelia, probably earned me the highest amount of retries I’ve spent on any boss in any game, ever.

Granted I was still pretty green to Souls games at the time – this foray was just complete insanity.

 

Bloodborne
Grab your friend and go tag team on a boss

 

Eventually, I managed to crush her though, and I jumped for joy. This sense of jubilation is rarely felt in many games; it’s the same feeling as finishing a lengthy raid or disarming the bomb surrounded by unaware enemies.

The boss fights are just complete savage adrenaline.

Sure, you spend a good amount of time on your knees, but once you find your way forwards and implement a sound strategy, the sense of competence produces complete elation.

 

Bloodborne
The creature design has been grotesquely detailed

 

 

Story-wise, the game centers around a gothic town called Yharnam besieged by a mysterious and devastating curse that has driven its population insane, and worse. People are starting to mutate into ghastly monsters, the few sane and unchanged individuals cowering in the shelter of their homes.

You play as a hunter, a skilled member of a syndicate tasked with eliminating such abominations, tasked with entering Yharnam and bringing bloody order to a place gone to hell.

Yharnam’s gloomy streets and cathedrals are just the beginning of your quest, as you plough your way through forests, universities and more mystical locations. You will soon begin piecing together a story entailing a damning thirst for power and knowledge that turns humans into the unspeakable.

Bloodborne

Bloodborne is an absolute treat for newcomers and veterans to FromSoftware’s punishing trials. Its hasty make-or-break nature is a fantastic change from Dark Soul’s more sludgy clunking.

10/10