It’s fairly common to associate the post-apocalyptic theme to elements such as zombies and mass infection, but Horizon Zero Dawn overlooks the gloomy side and aims directly at the vision of a renewed world that is ready for exploration, heralded by a restructured tribal form of civilisation.
Horizon Zero Dawn is an action role-playing game from Guerrilla Games, exclusive to PS4. The title focuses on the character of Aloy, an archer and hunter in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by robotic animals that are known as Machines. Through the main story and side quests, Aloy sets out to explore the world and write her own journey, along with discovering herself and the history of civilisation.
The game starts off almost immediately upon start-up, with a brief cinematic on Aloy’s life and the tribal structure. Once the player is thrown straight into gameplay, there is no obvious tutorial as Guerrilla Games wanted players to see Horizon Zero Dawn as having a ‘trial and error’ approach as you explore the world, and it works perfectly. I usually get rather critical with games that do not include a tutorial on purpose, but where Horizon Zero Dawn is different is that the game uses Aloy’s young age at the start as a plot device to emphasise to the player her limited range of skills and how she gradually learns about the world over time. Once she has reached the point where she has acquired all her basic hunting skills, Aloy is all grown up and is ready to brave the world.
With her set of hunting skills, Aloy is introduced to Machines very early in the game. The player is shown the first hostile type, known as a Watcher. This type of Machine usually patrols a particular area and will attack on sight. Aloy has the upper hand compared to any other human in the game as she can detect the path in which the Watcher follows, with the help of a device she has in her right ear. With this functionality, it is possible to play the game in a stealth manner, however, it is not required. In addition to this, the device also shows Aloy the vulnerabilities each Machine has so she has a better chance of hunting them successfully. This is a great addition for the player as it makes combat user intuitive while keeping the game challenging. During the course of the game, Aloy discovers a range of different Machines, all varying in difficulty.
When hunting Machines, they drop items which can be of significance for crafting or trading. Like any decent RPG, Horizon Zero Dawn has a simplified inventory and crafting system which allows the player to gather items growing naturally in the world and from hunting. These items can be used for healing Aloy, for crafting ammo such as arrows or for trading to receive Metal Shards, the game’s currency, which can be used to purchase weapons and other goods. This system has been designed well as the inventory and crafting sections are kept on separate menus, requiring the player to toggle between them. In addition to this, accessing either screen also pauses the gameplay so if you are running short of arrows during combat, you can craft yourself a new batch and keep up the fight without losing any health.
Horizon Zero Dawn also has a talent spec system, with points that are accrued each time Aloy levels up. There are three talent trees to choose from, titled Prowler, Brave and Forager. Prowler gives Aloy more stealth abilities, Brave contains added damage and Forager has more bonuses when gathering and crafting items. It is quite common for RPGs to have an overarching talent spec that is the “must have” one to go for, but Guerrilla Games have designed the talent system so well that any spec will work in favour for the player. It ultimately depends on your gaming style and there is no right or wrong way to which talent spec you decide.
The graphics and detail in Horizon Zero Dawn are just gorgeous. From the moment you first start playing, you are met with green hillsides, lush trees and soaring mountainsides. I was playing Horizon Zero Dawn on a PS4 Pro and while the game is designed for this particular console, the patch to enable PS4 Pro specific detailing is not out until the game’s launch. I was already blown away with how impressive the game looked at 1080p and I cannot begin to imagine how sharp and clear the game will be once the patch is available.
Guerrilla Games have done an incredible job with the content in Horizon Zero Dawn. The game’s main story is said to take roughly 30 hours to complete. I initially did not believe this until I saw the full size of the world map; there will be plenty of things to discover. Alongside this, there are many side quests that can be optionally completed, giving the player the opportunity to tailor their own experience in the world. Character responses in dialogue can also be chosen, similar to in the Mass Effect titles, which allows the player to find out more information about the characters they are interacting with.
The only potential downside I see with Horizon Zero Dawn is the lack of replayability once you finish the game. Sure, you can play the game again at a harder level or while using a different talent spec, but it will ultimately be the same story. Given the game is quest-based, I feel it could benefit with multiplayer co-op. At a baseline though, it seems that the intention of Horizon Zero Dawn was to tell a story of an alternate future and it does the job brilliantly.
Guerrilla Games went out on a limb with creating Horizon Zero Dawn and it worked out incredibly well in their favour. With a strong story, amazing graphics, superb attention to detail, and user-intuitive gameplay at its finest, it is a game that will make its mark as one of the best PS4 titles ever made.
Horizon Zero Dawn was reviewed using a review copy, as provided by the publisher.