It’s very rare to see a first party studio attempt to make a large, open-world RPG with environments overflowing with life. The types of games normally spend a long time in development and require a lot of testing. But for Sony and Guerrilla Games, it has paid off massively with Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is the first game in what will hopefully be Sony’s big new series going forward. Created by Amsterdam based studio Guerrilla Games. Known for previously developing the Killzone series, using their in-house Decima engine. The same engine being co-developed with Hideo Kojima’s studio Kojima Productions. Which they are using to power thier first title ‘Death Stranding’. Using this tech Guerrilla have produced one of the most stunning games ever seen on a home console. Bringing together deep AI based gameplay and easy to master RPG elements. A complete 180 to the darker-grey palette of the first person shooter Killzone series.
In Horizon you are female protagonist Aloy, who along with the rest of the incredible narrative has been brilliantly written. In many past massive, open-world RPG’s the core story is either pushed to the side or used just to teach you the games core mechanics. They do this so that you’re prepared for the long stint of side quests that will make up the major portion of your time spent with the game. Not with Horizon. I found myself wanting to keep progressing through the well crafted story just to find out what happened next. And to find out a little bit more about the world and the creatures it contained.
Aloy is an outcast of the Nora tribe and grew up shunned by all the others from the tribe. Except for fellow outcast and father figure Rost, who took Aloy in not long after her birth and raised her. The main story of the game follows Aloy’s quest to find out where she is from, who her parents were, what happened to the world and why are there robot dinosaur-like creatures patrolling the lands.
This story is revealed throughout the game’s main missions and a few great supporting side quests. But if you want to spend the time reading through the data logs and audio files you come across in the game you will be rewarded with lore about the world of Horizon that can massively complement your play experience. If searching for these collectibles aren’t your thing, you’ll still come away from the game with an outstanding story. Although I do highly recommend reading the data logs if you have the time.
As you may have read above. Yes there are robot dinosaurs in this game that roam all over the game world. Learning their behaviors, how to take each type down and crafting resources using their salvaged parts was by far the best part of this game.
Each of the 25+ creatures you will come across during the game all act, move and attack in their own unique ways. It’s a great challenge figuring out what weapons and elements each species are weak to and the best way to approach certain battle situations. Battle situations which you are free to complete in your own play style. You may choose to be sneaky, place down trip-caster traps first before engaging the creatures to outsmart them. Or you can go rushing in bow first and cause mayhem, it is completely up to you. Which brings me to my next love.
Bow combat was one of the hot trends that popped up in quite a few games over recent years. But until experiencing it in Horizon it never felt natural. Sprinting through the fields, sending arrows into the heavy armour of the creatures comes together naturally. Combat feels smooth and makes you actually feel in control of these highly chaotic creature confrontations. With bow combat being the primary way to fight in the game. It’s great to see that Guerrilla games spent a lot of time getting it to feel perfect.
For an RPG Horizon does a wonderful job of respecting the players time. It always encourages you to progress, doesn’t overwhelm you with countless side quests and makes the crafting a fun, core experience of the game. The best part is it reasonable number of collectibles. And allows you to complete most of the trophies just by playing through the game naturally. After completing the main story I only required minor clean up of the collectibles and finishing some of the more important side quests to pop the platinum trophy. With a final playtime of around 48 hours.
While this review has been highly positive Horizon isn’t a perfect game. The issues are minor and may not affect or be seen by all players. I had a slight issue with the character models during the conversation scenes. In a game that looks photo-realistic at times it was a shame to see the odd facial glitch during conversations. And that many character models seemed to have teeth that looked too big for their mouths. These small flaws stood out more because of how great the rest of the character models looked during the scenes. Especially how realistic they managed to create the characters’ eyes.
There were a few instances of weapons clipping through other body parts or the environment during the cutscene’s. A few times I got stuck in the environment and spent the next few minutes trying to get out. I’m used to these things in open world RPG’s but felt it should be mentioned anyway. While not a technical flaw I found that after getting the game’s strongest armour set I became too overpowered. I lost the fear I had previously when going up against some of the higher end creatures in battle.
Overall Horizon: Zero dawn was an absolute joy to play through and I really hope Guerrilla Games decides to make this their core IP. I want to spend more time in this world even after obtaining the platinum trophy. The core gameplay loop is incredibly addictive. Hopefully a story expansion comes soon just so I can dive back into this world. All while Guerrilla Games get heads down on the sequel.
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