Horizon Zero Dawn: Reviewed

The dawn of a superstar franchise! 

We first officially learned of Horizon Zero Dawn at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2015. The gaming world was introduced to this mysterious world that was a mix of bow wielding tribes fighting against advanced robotic dinosaurs. A lot of questions come to mind when one sees this mix of characters in a post apocalyptic world. The story of this world and the mysteries in it were unveiled through a stunningly beautiful world and a story carefully crafted and expertly delivered.

 Gameplay

Horizon pops you into the world without a lengthy tutorial to show you how things work. There are quests that introduce you to how some things work, but once you have the basics the game doesn’t hold your hand. This meant that I was free to pursue the style of play that I thought was best for me. Most of your combat will be in the form of using a bow. The aiming feels solid and you can pick off targets accurately with the right bow, even at extreme distances.

Something that makes the combat engaging is the ability to use various types of ammunition on the fly. You can attack targets with the intent to just do physical damage, but you can also quickly swap to ammunition to light targets on fire, tear components off enemy machines, or more.  As long as you make sure you have the right materials with you, you can craft more arrows and more on the fly using a one button crafting system which limits the amount of time gameplay is interrupted.

Besides the bow, you will have plenty of opportunities to engage in melee combat whether it be silent kills from stealth or in the middle of a pack of enemies that end up on top of you. By the time you are high level melee attacks almost feel overpowered against some enemies. Other weapons include slingshots that can launch different types of explosives, and traps such as the ropecaster, which you can use to tie down machines temporarily.

As you progress you gain levels and skill points allowing you to customize how you play even more. In my first playthrough I dedicated many skill points to enhance my ability to play a more stealthy type of play. You can also unlock the ability to override machines for longer periods of time, arm up to three arrows at a time, and more.

The world is massive and features various environments to explore from dry deserts to lush jungles. You can spend countless hours exploring these areas on your own because even completing the main story will leave you with many places to see. The quest system is easy to use and the map is detailed, even allowing you to see the terrain in detail with three dimensional graphics so you can tell whether you need to approach an area from another way because of impassable terrain.

The only frustrating thing with the game systems was that on occasion the waypoints to an objective would get off kilter if I was not traveling on the main road to a location. Thankfully this was pretty rare, but still required a glance at the map or a little running around to get it to resolve itself.

Much of your time will be spent fighting with machines in the world. Each of the 26 machines in the world are unique and feature their own set of strengths and weaknesses. You will learn with experience how to approach each of these in combat, aided by your in game tool, the focus. After a while you will become used to how to use your wide range of tools to take down even the biggest of these threats.

Story

When the game begins you are treated to a beautiful cinematic that sets the stage for you and this world. You start the game playing an outcast orphan girl, Aloy, who has questions about who she is and why she is an outcast. The initial quests help to round out her character while teaching you how to use some of the controls and systems in the game.

The world you find yourself in is a post apocalyptic earth with nothing left of the former world but badly decayed ruins of the ‘old ones’ who came centuries before. As you complete quest in the main story you begin to unravel the mysteries of the world and why it has come to be inhabited by machines. You will also find out why human culture has seemingly devolved to tribal groups lacking technology. You will find that this world has threats beyond the machines that inhabit the land, and you will come face to face with a force that threatens to destroy all you know.

The story of this world is a compelling mystery to solve. There are remnants of the old world all around that will help you learn what happened to lead humanity to this point. In my decades of gaming, this story has been one of the most compelling mysteries in a game to figure out that I have ever had the chance to solve. The game rewards you gradually, but greatly for your hard work as you gain more insights into the history of the world, who Aloy is, and the forces that threaten the world in her day.

I fear that going any farther into detail about the story here would cause me to write something that would be a spoiler. I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you, but I want to convey to you just how impressed I am with the story that I experienced. It was an exciting roller coaster ride of pushing myself to solve a mystery that seemed to always be just out of my reach until I finally caught up with it. I couldn’t put it down until I figured everything out, and I think that many who play this game will feel the same.

Sights and Sounds

The world of Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the best visual treats I have had in recent gaming. Through my entire experience with the game it never slowed down or skipped a beat all while providing top notch details from the characters to the world around me. The game cycles through a day a night both with outstanding lighting offering up sights that beg for you to pause your journey and just enjoy the visual experience whether it be the sun rising through the trees, or the moon lighting the desert at night.

Aloy and other characters, especially the machines, move with fluid animations that keep you feeling one with the world. Machines move like the animals they are designed from, and they react with movements that easily convey their feelings whether curious, angered, or other emotions.

One thing that I cannot shake from my mind is the weird graphical issues that happen with the in-game cinematics. This was the only time that textures and animations ever seemed to have problems. Almost every single one had characters or textures popping in, shading that just didn’t seem to fit, and even once a camera became bound to a character’s head movement for a moment creating a wild spinning as they spoke. Thank goodness, the last one only happened once for no more than two seconds, but it was still jarring.

The game does continue to shine in the way that it hits your ears. The soundtrack is beautiful, but while it is there, it does not intrude or stick out while you are playing, rather, it hangs in the background adding to the scenery. The voice acting in the game is great from the interactions of characters to Aloy (Voiced by Ashly Burch) whispering to herself. You will likely also recognize the voices of Crispin Freeman (voice of Helis) Lance Reddick (voice of Sylens) and others as you play.

Conclusion

All in all, Horizon Zero Dawn is a masterpiece of storytelling featuring an adventure that will hook you and urge you along to uncover the mysteries of the world. The game stands up to the mountain of hype that has grown around it and more than meets the challenge. The gameplay is fast and exciting and no matter how you approach the challenges given to you the game delivers a rewarding experience. Though there were a very, and I mean very, small number of things that were not perfect, this game pretty much is. Be sure that you pick up Horizon Zero Dawn and explore it for yourself.

 

 

Did you play Horizon Zero Dawn? What did you think? Is my review accurate? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

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