Back in February Sony made the very bold statement that they anticipated Horizon Zero Dawn protagonist, Aloy, to become the “PlayStation icon of the future”. Was this a premature comment thrown out there weeks before the game was released? Or was it simply a Publisher so confident in its latest IP it couldn’t wait to express its role in the future developments of the PlayStation?
Since the game was released, it has received critical and commercial success across the board. Not bad considering developer, Guerrilla Games, has spent over a decade dedicated to the first-person Killzone franchise. Yet, despite this being the developer’s first foray into RPG territory, you wouldn’t be able to tell as the presentation and execution of Horizon Zero Dawn is pulled off with such elegance and confidence, it is sure to be a contender for Game of the Year.
Horizon Zero Dawn throws us into a post-apocalyptic future where the world is overrun by giant mechanical dinosaurs and humanity has reverted back to a primitive, tribal state. The player assumes the role of Aloy, a bow-yielding outsider of the Nora tribe who is searching for answers about her true identity as she struggles to find her place in the world, why she was banished from the tribe at birth and what happened to the world that came before the machines.
The story is one of the most compelling I have experienced within an RPG. The emotional investment from Aloy to uncover her past is the real draw here and Guerrilla has worked tirelessly to create a strong yet likable character. The overall narrative is broken up into a number of plot points similar to most RPGs. However, Horizon does a nice job of making these plots as diverse as possible.
Graphically, Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the best looking games I have played on the PS4. There are moments in the game that demonstrate just how beautiful this world has been presented. I’m not just talking about those moments in Uncharted 4 where you stand on a cliff edge looking out into the horizon as part of a sequence that was specifically meant for the game’s photo mode. Horizon Zero Dawn takes this a step further and it feels that every moment was made to be a screenshot.
Horizon’s gameplay is also a standout feature. The combat is fluid and challenging enough to be satisfying without becoming frustrating. Whilst there are human enemies that you will need to deal with throughout the game, the stars of the show are the Dinobots that come in many forms and a range of sizes from the smaller Watchers and Grazers to the tyrannical Thunderjaws and colossal Deathbringers. Each machine has its own set of weaknesses and Aloy can use her focus ability to scan the robot’s form to highlight points she may want to aim her bow to deal with the beasts faster.
In many combat situations, the game allows the player to choose how to approach a battle. For example, I would recommend taking out the smaller machines using stealth attacks before facing the larger machines. Whilst the smaller dinosaurs are relatively easy to eliminate, it doesn’t take long to become overwhelmed and finding yourself short on health. Therefore, planning out an attack before diving straight in is the best approach.
Beyond the combat situations, players are also encouraged to hunt these fantastical beasts and therein lies a huge part of the fun. Mapping out routes, tracking the machines’ movements and luring them away from the herd to deliver a stealthy end is surprisingly satisfying. We are also rewarded as we can harvest parts from each machine to use as currency or to upgrade our weapons. What’s more, whilst there are situations where you will have to fight human enemies, taking on gangs of bandits and soldiers after defeating a massive Stormbird makes Aloy feel somewhat invincible and demonstrates just how insignificant humans have become in this world.
In addition to the excellent combat mechanic, the game does a nice of job of introducing a variety of weapons in a somewhat primitive world. As you begin the game you’re equipped with just a bow and spear but visiting merchants and scavenging for resources will soon see you modifying your weapons and ammo and picking up a new range of kit including; a slingshot, sticky bombs and a Ropecaster. The bow remains the go-to weapon you’ll find yourself utilising throughout the game but these additional weapons do give you more choices in how you approach a battle and exploit the machines’ weaknesses.
It’s hard to pick fault with Horizon Zero Dawn. If we were to nit pick, one aspect of the game that does irk me is the fast travel aspect. Like most RPGs, Horizon sees you backtrack numerous times to areas of the map you were dwelling mere hours before and due to the scale of the world, you can find yourself traveling from one side of the map to the other. Of course, you can hack a machine to use as a makeshift trusty steed but this can still be time-consuming when you’re trying to progress with the story. Whilst the game does offer the ability to transport from one previously discovered campfire to another, it does cost valuable resources which become increasingly sparse towards later stages of the game.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a beautifully presented and confidently executed RPG. The story is incredibly engaging and, with Aloy’s emotional investment in the tale, is surprisingly rich with mythology and lore that explores some complex themes surrounding religion, science, and motherhood.
You’d be forgiven for comparing Horizon Zero Dawn with similar RPG titles that include crafting, hunting and a plethora of side quests. However, Guerrilla has created an exciting and evocative world that warrants exploring, the best bow and arrow combat system in years and a character that you can’t help but fall in love with.
In short, Horizon Zero Dawn is the first must-play game of 2017 and will undoubtedly stand out as one of the best games of the year.
You can buy Horizon Zero Dawn from Amazon.