If you were to tell me that I’d spend 60 hours playing a game where your primary weapon is a bow and arrow and not hear one NPC make an, “Arrow To The Knee” joke I would have told you not in this lifetime bud. I’d also have not believed that I would fall in love with a game as much as I have Horizon: Zero Dawn. This is a masterpiece of a game. It’s not perfect but this first entry in what I hope is a very long series gives me the same feelings and emotions of playing legendary games such as Halo or Half-Life for the first time. This is a remarkable video game that has set the bar extremely high for all adventure/RPGs moving forward.
When I had first heard of Horizon: Zero Dawn I was less than impressed.
I hadn’t followed along with the development and to me, it looked like a boring retread of Far Cry Primal and a mix of games we’ve seen before. Even when I received a review copy courtesy of Playstation Canada I thought it might be better giving it to another writer on this site. I have been busy playing Halo Wars 2, Nioh, Yakuza 0, Kingdom Hearts 2.8 over the last few weeks and I didn’t want to slog through a generic game. I did that last year with an exclusive game I shall not name that featured a woman lead role and robots in a post-apocalyptic world. I eventually pulled the trigger and I’m so glad I did. I haven’t played anything but Horizon: Zero Dawn for the past two weeks now. I couldn’t write this review until I explored every last inch of the map and felt like I could convey my feelings towards the game correctly. This isn’t just another game in my collection, it’s shining trophy. The developer, Guerrilla Games who you probably know as the team that made all the Killzones, have crafted a game so deep and so fun that I can’t stop thinking about it. Every audio log, every piece of data, every corner of the map were made for me to discover, and discover them I did. I couldn’t get enough. This is a story that isn’t convoluted, that doesn’t require you to watch an anime beforehand, read a series of comic books from 1982, or play 7 other games all on different platforms to understand it. This is a self-contained incredible story written by John Gonzalez, the legend behind Fallout: New Vegas, the best Fallout (fight me), about the ending of mankind as we know it and what happens when we’re all six feet under. This is Sci-Fi at it’s best.
This is a world we’ve never seen before. That one can only imagine. It’s Earth, but without all the concrete jungles and technologies we take for granted. Where robot animals are free to roam and do as they please. A world where people know the true meaning of brotherhood. A world full of kickass women and people of color in key roles. A WORLD FULL OF WOMEN AND PEOPLE OF COLOR WHO ARE THE STARS OF THE SHOW! A game that truly deserves its “Photo Mode”. A game that will make you say, “holy fuck” over and over until long after the credits roll. This is truly an incredible experience in gaming.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is a third-person action game that tells the story of a tough as nails young woman named Aloy, who, for reasons unknown, was cast out of a tribe called the Nora at birth. Instead of giving up and accepting her fate as an outsider, she dedicates her early life to combat and surviving in the wild. She has her eyes set on participating in the Nora ceremony known as the Proving. As custom dictates, anybody who wins the trial can ask for whatever they want. In a world like this, asking for unlimited ice cream isn’t exactly a thing, so Aloy seeks to learn the truth about her parentage and why she was never given the chance to be a part of society.
From there the game opens up into a post-post-apocalyptic world full of mechanized beasts, ancient ruins, hidden secrets, and societies that have no knowledge of the old world. Our world. This mystery of what happened, and where you exactly this game is set pulled me in deep and unfolds so beautifully and wonderfully you’re left going, “Wow, holy shit“. By the game’s final mission you’ll be clinging on to every audio tape you find to hear the old world’s final dialogue to the next generation of humans. I had so many theories about what was going on and the game kept throwing me curveballs and expanding in ways I never thought it would. I find it so rare for a game to have a good solid front to back story and as most of you know, I’m a single player person, so the storyline is very important to me. I’m usually left disappointed and accept that most video game stories just aren’t all that great. Horizon: Zero Dawn throws out everything we have come to expect from a game and tells one of the best stories in video gaming ever.
As I started to wander the world, I was compelled to actually explore each and every icon on the map. This is a game about actually hunting and collecting supplies. Taking down big metal dinosaurs is so rewarding and satisfying because most of them, even near the end of the game pose a challenge and real threat to your livelihood.
Each beast has a specific territory and comes equipped with its own strengths, weaknesses, and attack repertoire. You can take on each monster in a number of ways. In most games, I love to go in guns blazing, fuck stealth, blowing up everything in my path. In Horizon: Zero Dawn I found myself really taking a step back and planning my attack. These monsters can take you out in just a few hits so sneaking through the bushes and sticking your spear in them from behind is the way to go. It’s also so rewarding clearing out camps of bandits and robots without alerting any troubles. Watching your arrows soar through the air, hoping a gust of wind doesn’t knock it off course and destroy your whole stealth operation. Headshots and figuring out enemy weaknesses are key in this game.
Health is in short supply in Horizon: Zero Dawn and you must pick and choose your battles wisely. Even stopping at firepits to save your progress doesn’t repair your health. There is no recharging health bar. If you want health you better start hunting for supplies. Which might mean you need to sneak around a group of angry dinosaurs who would love nothing more than to rip you apart. I suggest hunting animals such as boars and foxes ASAP so you can upgrade your potion and supplies storage right away. You will need all the help you can get in the first few hours of the game.
There are a number of weapons you can buy in the game but my go to was always the bow and arrow. I’d love to have seen more variety in weapons, as I had the best bow in the game (Unless I’m missing something) pretty early on. The weapons are sorted by color depending on rarity. You also have the ability to infuse weapons with different elemental affinities that add another dimension to the gameplay. This allows you to shoot your enemies with ice or pierce hard armor. Don’t go wasting your good elemental affinities right away because you won’t be able to get them back until you upgrade to a later skill in the skill tree. Upon completion of the game, I still hadn’t unlocked that ability instead opting to spend my stat points elsewhere.
Every kill grants Aloy XP, and each level gained grants you skill points. For the most part, you will be either fighting the robot dinosaurs or taking on bandits. As the levels progress you’ll fight more of the same villains but just bigger groups of them. You’ll see a lot of the same enemy but they never feel the same. Enemies aren’t bullet sponges and feel like real life living and breathing characters. Upon finishing every boss fight I was on the edge of my seat trying to catch my breath. They are intense and a lot of fun to try and figure out.
The game map is absolutely massive and it’s best to take a robot friend for a ride to get around. Walking is not only slow but dangerous as enemies are everywhere ready to take you out. At one point I found myself stuck traversing a desert with no robot friend to ride and found myself under attack from all angles. I didn’t mind wandering though as it’s the best way to take in such a lavish world full of nooks and crannies. There is also the ability to fast travel from save points, which are scattered throughout the map, but it will cost you supplies. By end game, I didn’t have to worry about running out.
This is a world I was actually keen to explore. I wanted to introduce myself to every NPC. This is how I felt when playing The Witcher 3 and Skyrim. This is a wonderful, intriguing open world bursting with life. This is a believable world full of flawed characters who live in a world they do not understand. Along the way, you meet people and pick up audiobooks that begin to tell the tales of the old world slowly and methodically. Religious beliefs form around technology and a new god and devil are born. The world is full of high-tech and low-tech and coming across ancient skyscrapers is a really exciting treat.
Each city you find is unique in their own way and certainly, help bring the game even more to life. I do wish there was more to do in each town, however, and more people to interact with. You do hear murmurs and conversations about the politics of each town but I’d love to have seen more. Maybe a traditional holiday or ritual would be a nice inclusion.
I also hope we get to see more from Alloy in the years to come. Sony has a massive franchise on their hand that is going fill the spot of Uncharted. Alloy is considered a wretched outcast and is nothing more than a pretty face. She is continuously beaten down by the people around her. This isn’t just a story about killing robot dinosaurs, it’s a story about a determined woman who works twice as hard as anybody to be accepted. Horizon: Zero Dawn is about a woman reclaiming, rebuilding, and becoming worthy in an unruly world. I see a lot of my mom in Alloy.
As the story unfolds more and more people become of accepting of Alloy and look at her as more than just a pretty woman. They not only respect her but bow down to her. Her relationship with Erend (A drunk you meet early in the game) is one of my favorites and I hope it gets explored more. Throughout the game, you are faced with one of three dialogue options that don’t change the outcome of the end game but do allow you to play the game the way you want. Without getting too spoilery there is one character you get to decided whether he or she lives or dies and depending on my choice I hope makes an appearance again. I have not seen him/her since but I believe they are out there in the wild somewhere.
I would have never expected this kind of game from Guerilla Games. This is easily a GOTY contender in my books. This is one of the best games I have ever played. Hands down. Sure I’d have loved to see more armor and weapon selection and individual customization. And yes I’d like to see a deeper crafting mechanic but these small fixes can be improved down the line. In the next game. And the next. This the first game in what I hope is a long series and for that, I am truly in awe. This is a must play game. A must own game. And a game that is going go down as one of the best of 2017.
Thank you to everyone at Guerilla Games for this masterpiece.
I reviewed this game on a normal PS4.