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

Fallout 4

After patiently awaiting our anticipated return to the poisonous wastelands of post-apocalyptic America, Fallout 4 bombs us back to our beloved scavenger hunt, in a rather familiarized fashion.

This initialization takes place in the ‘Commonwealth’, an area based in Massachusetts, Boston. Incredible efforts have been taken to create a blasted interpretation of this land, a mockingly obscene rendition of what is actually a lovely spot of the world.

Having hired members of id and Bungie to better augment the shooting aspect of the series, many players feel that the RPG side of the game took some unwanted hits in favour of bolstering run and gun, something we will discuss later on in the review.

You begin by customizing your character’s appearance, male or female. I was immediately very impressed with the avatar creation system. Not generally spending much time on the cosmetic editing of protagonists in games, it was a lot of fun yanking my heroine’s nose around with the analog stick.

The latest irradiated explorer looks and feels initially very similar to the previous title, but it’s incredible just how intelligently progressive the varying environments are.

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Once you get into the thick of it, the sheer overwhelming scale of this game will dawn on you. Bethesda always makes the most complexly loaded worlds, but becoming accustomed to this one is an elevated, monumental task indeed.

Both the endlessly hideous countryside and sprawling industrial complexes truly make you feel miniscule. Exploration is driven not only by the promise of loot, but the discovery of countless stories surrounding singular groups and events, as well as feasting your senses on all of the warped scenery on offer.

You will constantly come across epic battles. You will often be greeted by the popping sounds of distant gunfire when entering forgotten cities. Many of the strategically valuable areas you encounter will be fearsomely contested by two or more groups, so be careful not to get caught in the thick of the crossfire.

Whilst the majority of the Commonwealth may initially seem monochrome, there is a vibrant juxtaposition of colourful settlements and exotic landmarks. Diamond City is one of the most intricately decorated and creative cities I’ve ever seen in a game.

The gameplay builds on the successful mechanics of our last adventure in the Fallout universe, with all the tricks and perks needed to rough it out in such a hazardous environment.

A brilliant feature you will spend a lot of hours on involves turning blown out structures into habitable homes. At many stages in the game, you will encounter peaceful survivors simply in search of makeshift civilisation.

This is where the Sims element of the game comes in. You can enter a construction mode at any workshop, and begin constructing essential utilities and security measures which afford coexistence for a small population.

Obviously the more comfort and service available within a settlement, the more people will flock to your commune and the happier existing residents will become, providing gifts for the giver.

This world is still populated with our dear friends of old, both human and fearsomely divergent. While many will be straightforwardly helpful and benevolent, prepare to defend yourself against all manner of classic and original freaks.

Many humans have regressed into ‘Raiders’ – footloose cretins straight out of Mad Max – reduced to savage pillaging.

The Raiders will often roam in large groups and many quests will involve infiltrating factories and compounds converted into their bases, often hosting small armies of the barbaric punks.

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Raiders are the least of your worries though, as the hierarchical classes of varyingly powerful mutants all roam the surface, from the humble radroach, to the hulking behemoth.

As you progress on your journey, you will encounter all kinds of phenomenal abominations, both neutral and aggressive.

Bethesda games are superiorly challenging and force players to be as rational and resourceful as possible when faced with opposition. Unless you are adept and moderately decked out experience and equipment-wise, most well-numbered skirmishes will easily end you.

You’re going to need to deploy the explosives and traps provided to you wisely, learn how to sneak about undetected as much as possible and find the companion that best suits your play-style.

You’ll also need to begin abusing the colourful assortment of drugs in the game, which offer temporary boosts to strength, defence and other capabilities. Be careful not to overindulge or you’ll find yourself nastily addicted.

The V.A.T.S. system is an essential tool for making it through any battle. The world around you will grind to a slow-motion halt with the press of a button, allowing you to hone in on a particular enemy and queue a set of concentrated attacks on a single or multiple baddies.

Mastering this system early on will ensure you possess the maximum oppressive force. V.A.T.S. is also crucial in identifying far off enemies and better planning your next set of actions, the slowed down action better affording cerebral work.

Dogmeat is back and will become one of your most versatile allies. Being able to sniff out resources and enemies, as well as bait and munch on them, Dogmeat is one of the most lovable sidekicks in any game.

Other companions include your trusty hovering Mr Handy called Codsworth – who is a joy to have in some of the more hectic battles – with his octopus-like frame and metallic tentacles ending in toys such as a flamethrower and circular saw.

Codsworth will also carry his comically reactionary commentary as you proceed with your quest and each companion will fulfill more integral roles in later scenarios, so keep them close and safe always.

An incredible amount of customization is now available. Besides being able to create elaborate homesteads, you can also customize your weapons and gear with an impressive range of upgrades.

A simple tire iron can have its angle fitted with a blade, turning it into a messy axe. A makeshift bolt-action rifle can be spiked with a bayonet. A knuckleduster can be barbarously decorated with sharp pieces.

You can build your own set of power armour, the bulky space marine getup required to properly engage some of the more severe foes out there.

Some of the most exciting sections of the game involving charging into a high-level beast in your power armour, the blazing super weapon you’ve industriously upgraded blowing large chunks out of its health bar.

The game continues with its traditionally questionable morality by constantly throwing ambiguously orientated quests at you. The karma system may no longer be in place, but you are still free to choose between being humane or sadistic in conversation and decision-making.

As I started getting deeper into the game, I began feeling a deep sadness evoked by the devastated scenery engulfing me. The possibility of total nuclear war is a great fear of mine, and Fallout profoundly brings to life what our world could be reduced to following such catastrophe.

Constantly stumbling upon the remains of meek shelters adorned with skeletons and tell-tale signs of desperate existence instilled a sense of pity in me I didn’t experience playing Fallout when I was younger.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, as your ability to provide comfortable and sanitary living for the survivors through the settlement system is a great way to counter this burdensome collective guilt.

Someone’s wrecked shack also often houses many treasures and essential resources in this frugal existence. You will also very likely come across a tape or note telling of hidden stashes, initiating a lengthy treasure hunt.

Lock-picking and hacking are back, so you’ll want to keep a keen eye out for bobby pins and continue upgrading your perks that will better enable you to open safes and hack personal terminals.

Whilst your weapons may no longer break and need repairing, your body parts certainly will. Sustaining concentrated damage to a particular area will cause crippling of whatever function that appendage is responsible for and require direct medical attention.

I’ve mentioned the removal of things like the Karma and weapon repair systems which dampen the RPG flavour significantly. Further impeding on tradition are the simplified conversational options, removal of Skills and lack of Survival mode.

Whilst it may appear that the RPG elements have been sacrificed to improve on the action, to me it just seems like vital organs of the game have been removed to appease the CoD-masses and the combat does not feel improved enough (at least to me) to justify such amputation.

Despite this, pacing does become significantly improved not having to keep going into your PipBoy to repair weapons.

Engrossing, wondrous and gripping, Fallout 4 is the game we needed, despite its trimmings.

Score: 9/10