Horizon: Zero Dawn is set in a post post-apocalyptic world where humans have reverted back to tribes and machines rule the world. It centers around Aloy, an outcast of the Nora Tribe. Her origins is a mystery and one of the side plots of the game. She’s raised by fellow outcast and adoptive father Rost. In order to find her origins, Aloy is determined to win the Proving, the Nora Tribe’s rite of adulthood, and with the right to question the Matriachs. However her plans are derailed when unforeseen circumstances raises even more questions and she leaves the Nora lands in search for answers – to discover her origins and the origins of the machines that roam the land.
The game is developed by Guerrilla Games, a member of Sony Worldwide Studios based in Amsterdam. They’re famous for the Killzone franchise, a series of sci-fi FPS, so it was a surprise when they announced Horizon, an open world action RPG. Their only other game was Shellshock: Nam ’67, another shooter. I didn’t really enjoy the Killzone games but robot dinosaurs and the breathtaking post-apocalyptic world was just too intriguing to say no to. Besides that. the promise of good quests by former Witcher 3 quest designers was a huge plus.
The combat of Horizon: Zero Dawn is great fun. There’s a lot of weapons to be used and a lot of ways to take down machines. Each type of machine has their own weak parts which you can aim at with different types of arrows and tear them off. You can even use the machine’s weapons against them this way. There are different ways to approach a combat situation, such as setting up traps or getting up close and personal with an ambush attack which provides variety throughout the game. Besides machines, you come face to face with some human enemies too, though they aren’t as interesting as the machines, the contrast they provide is nice to have. Sometimes, you need the lows to get the highs.
The things to do in this game, while nothing new or innovative, is a great refinement of the open world formula. Collectibles aren’t too tedious to collect and Longnecks, the game’s version of towers, are few with each having their own unique twist. To add to this, there are also a ton of things to do without feeling overwhelming. I also love the way shops work in this game, trading not only money but loot from the machines as well, which served to gate several better equipment until the latter half of the game.
The world of the game was great. I loved the amount of work that was put into the history. Especially about how the machines were created and what happened to those who came before. I loved the small landmarks they inserted from our current world, showing that the game was set in Colorado. I can just imagine how wonderful it would be if I was from Colorado. I also loved the tribes and how different they were from each other, or how often they were at each other’s throat.
However, the characters left a lot to be desired. Many of them were seen only a handful of times. Many of them played seemingly important roles only to be absent from the rest of the game, either because they had something better to do or they were dead. And in a way, I can see why they chose to do it, to make Aloy feel like the outcast and loner that she is. But in others, I felt like it missed the mark in many story points where I just couldn’t care less about what happened to be people, Aloy aside, which made it difficult to see Aloy rush to their aid when circumstances called for it.
To make matters worse, character animations were… clunky. You could see the budget went to the principal characters, but even then, there was something… robotic about the way they expressed themselves. I don’t know whether it’s the teeth or the cheeks or the lips, but there’s something off about the way they talk. Maybe it’s just the uncanny valley at play, but I don’t think that’s the case here.
Sony has repeatedly say that Horizon can be their next be franchise, and I agree, but only if they are careful with it. There’s a lot of things that can be improved in the game, a lot of new features can be introduced to the game to make things even more interesting, and the lore is certainly situated to allow for more stories to be told. There are many places outside the game’s map that are touched upon too. But I do worry the novelty of fighting machine dinosaurs can wear off, eventually, and introducing new machines doesn’t really seem to be fit in the story of the game. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the upcoming DLC.
Speaking of which, the Frozen Wilds DLC seems to be centered on the Banuk tribe, the mountain with the metal devil and possibly the slight tease with Sylens at the end of the game. It’s an interesting combination and, judging by the $20 price tag, I’m thinking it will be quite a sizable chunk of game, hopefully to rival something like Witcher 3 Blood and Wine DLC which clocks in at about 20 hours.
Horizon is a milestone piece of gaming that should be played by all open world and action RPG fans. The combat is fun, the world is interesting and the story is passable. While it isn’t perfect, there’s definitely a diamond within that can be polished to be even better in a highly likely sequel.