Jonathan Birkenstamm gives his full review of Horizon Zero Dawn, an open-world masterpiece that isn’t without its flaws.
I am just going to come out and say it, Horizon Zero Dawn is the best looking Console game I have ever seen. It is undeniably gorgeous and was clearly designed to take screenshots. Even Guerrilla Games knew this and put in a “Photo Mode” to take some epic pictures. With that said, this open-world beauty isn’t without faults.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a PlayStation 4 exclusive created by Guerrilla Games and is set in a post-apocalyptic world where machines rule the open lands. Mankind has been reduced to tribes scattered across the world. Technology is an ancient and forbidden thing, yet we live side by side with machines that act and look like the animals of the Earth before everything went to hell.
That is one of the strong points of Horizon Zero Dawn. It sets up an intriguing story that keeps you asking questions like, what happened here? Why are there machines as animals? Where did they come from? Who created them? And so on…Even the protagonist Aloy has mysteries of her own.
You start the game off as playing a young Aloy, learning how to hunt machines and other mechanics of the game. You quickly realize that the tribe has outcasted you and your caretaker, Rost. None of the tribe members are allowed to talk or play with you. But there is a trail of sorts called “The Proving” in which if you win, even an Outcast can then become a member of the tribe. This leads into a montage of the game showing Aloy growing up and training for “The Proving”. When the day comes, you are a guest of the tribe and are able to take part in the games to prove yourself along with other youths who are coming of age. During “The Proving” the contestants are attacked and killed by a group your tribe has called “The Killers.” Being the only survivor of the attack, the tribe elders task you with finding out what happened and who these “Killers” are. It is at this point of the game where you are now allowed to explore and do as you please in Horizon Zero Dawn’s open-world.
Once you step out into the open world of Horizon Zero Dawn, you can then do as you please. Follow the main story quests, which reveals what happened to Earth, where Aloy came from, and other pressing questions that the story presents you.
Sidequests are another strength for Horizon Zero Dawn, earning you both experience and shards. You can go hunting to eventually gain access to the hunter’s lounge in the main city of Meridian, or look for Cauldrons, secret locations which produce the animal-like machines out in the world. Overriding these locations gives the ability to override more machines in the wild. The freedom is yours and there is less of the boring repetitive gameplay seen in most open world games these days.
The gameplay of Horizon Zero Dawn is fun and interesting. You can get a variety of weapons and armor. The rarer the weapon, the more ammunition types are unlocked to you. The weapons and armor have to be bought from vendors exclusively. But what can be found in the wild are the many resources used in crafting and trading. Machines and humans will drop mods, resources, and shards. Shards are the form of currency in the game to buy things and are used to craft ammo as well. While exploring the world, you can also find these ultra-rare items, which specific vendors will trade very rare items for them. So Horizon Zero Dawn has a lot for you to explore for.
When it comes to the combat in Horizon Zero Dawn, it gives you satisfaction when bringing down a machine. You quickly learn that the machines are a force to be reckoned with. Especially the bigger ones. The bigger they get, the more ammo and time it will take to bring them down. Going up against many machines is a bad idea, they will overpower you and kill you fast. So using a device you get in the beginning stages of the game called a “Focus”, can show you the weaknesses of each machine. This will help you determine what weapon to use and ammo. Some are vulnerable to fire, others too cold, and others need ammo that does damage to armor.
Jumping into a battle unprepared with the machines in the wild is suicide. Plan carefully and watch your surroundings. The other aspect of combat in Horizon Zero Dawn is the fact there is no target locking. Yup, you have to freestyle every shot, so make them count. At least the game gives you a few moments to slow down time. Skills can later extend this, but it only gives you about 3 to 5 seconds of slowed down time to make that specific shot count. As you can guess, there is experience gained while playing the game. Experience will level up Aloy, which she can then put skill points in about 30 or so skills ranging from slowing down time to making your critical hits stronger.
As beautiful, fun, and interesting as Horizon Zero Dawn is to play. The game doesn’t come without faults. One of the biggest is the god-awful load times. Maybe it is just me since I am used to playing on the PC, but loading in this game seems to take forever. Another is the texture pop-ins and low texture details on humans. I noticed it right away, while you talk or even just seeing NPCs walking towards you, their textures are low detail on their skin. Luckily I didn’t see too many texture pop-ins until the end of the game. With so much going on in the last mission, low resolution and texture pop-ins were all over the place.
My other big gripe was with the camera. At times I wish I could pull it back some more because I always ended up hitting things that stopped Aloy in her tracks while fighting the bigger machines. The camera angles got annoying and even caused me to die at times. The last fault I want to touch on is the human enemies. They suck and are pretty boring. I found the combat and planning my attack on the machines more interesting than dealing with the human enemies in the game. Their AI is terrible, and the sections with them in it were the least interesting. I found myself avoiding the sections where you fought humans, they just were not that exciting as the machines to fight.
Horizon Zero Dawn is one hell of a game. Even with the faults I mentioned, it was one epic journey. I enjoyed the story, the combat, and even exploring the world. I got easily distracted while making my way to the next main story mission. That to me makes an awesome open-world game. There is over 80 hours worth of gameplay here. Even if at times I got frustrated with the game, I still wanted to jump back in to see if I can find that next Cauldron or plan my attack on some machines in the wild. Horizon Zero Dawn is a must own if you have a PS4, I would even go as far as buying a PS4 just for this game, it is that good. If you haven’t played it, what are you waiting for…
Final Verdict: BUY