Horizon Zero Dawn Review: High Score Alert

Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170322000538

Horizon Zero Dawn is a PS4 exclusive that released back in late February.  This open world adventure follows Aloy along her journey from being an unwanted tribal outcast to the hero of a post-apocalyptic Earth.  Although the post-apocalyptic genre seems over used, Horizon Zero Dawn makes it work.  Every step of your adventure adds depth and background to Aloy and the world around her.

Game Play

The easiest way for me to explain how this game feels is to combine Shadow of Mordor with the Far Cry series.  The bow and arrow with a slow time feature, as well as the free running and climbing reminds me a lot of Shadow of Mordor.  At the same time the inventory, crafting and map style felt very familiar to me because of the Far Cry games.

The game consists of mainly ranged combat, but includes basic melee combat, as well as stealth features.  Weapon choices consist of bows, rattlers, rope-casters, slings, trip-casters, and tear-blasters.  Each weapon has multiple types of ammo and the combination of a specific weapon or ammo will help Aloy take down specific machines or adjust to a particular play style.  Armor is also available to add bonus stats to stealth, elemental resistance, and combat resistance.  The Horizon Zero Dawn trailer is available on YouTube, check it out and see what you are in for!

A variety of creature-like inspired machines roam this new Earth.  The bad news is that most of them want to kill humans.  The good news, you get to destroy them with a bow and arrow!  These machines vary in size and skill and come in the forms of basic and small scouts, to medium stealthy hunters, to huge missile wielding walking tanks.

Another thing Horizon Zero Dawn offers is large-scale technologically advanced Cauldrons which can be explored and completed.  Upon completion Aloy will unlock the ability to “override” certain machines!  Once a machine is overridden it will fight for Aloy automatically, and a few can even be utilized as mounts for faster travel.  These Cauldrons act as the classic “video game dungeon” and each one ends with a boss battle, so be prepared with ammo and other supplies upon entry.

Horizon Zero Dawn™_Sawtooth_Image taken and edited in the game’s built in Photo Mode.

Story and Side quests

Aloy begins her journey with a simple goal; to become part of the village she was banished from and to find her birth mother.  After a few dramatic events; Aloy is chosen to be a Seeker.  This allows her to travel to foreign and forbidden lands and seek the answers she is searching for.  Aloy has to face multiple obstacles during her journey, including both physical and emotional challenges.  The emotional struggle is mainly focused on her internal battle between her curiosity with forbidden technology and the society accepted culture and religion.

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Throughout her journey Aloy can contribute to a variety of side quests.  Hunting Trials, Bandit Camp Raids, collectibles, clearing Corrupted Areas and other quests can be completed to gain weapons, supplies, and experience.  The Hunting Trials really help hone skills and teach Aloy to exploit machine weaknesses and try different strategies when approaching different situations.  Throughout her journey a few Bandit Camps can be found, this gives the player the option to go in aggressive or stealthy.

Skills

The Skill Tree for Horizon Zero Dawn offers three main options for upgrades; Prowler, Brave, and Forager.  Upgrades in Prowler promote stealth movement, attacks, kills, and increase attack damage.  The Brave section allows strictly combat upgrades from quicker movement, to increased damage, and even a skill that involves shooting multiple arrows at the same time, Legolas style!  Finally the Forager upgrades focus on traps, machine overrides, crafting, and gathering supplies.  Aloy should have a fully completed Skill Tree by the end of the game, so don’t worry about missing out on any upgrades.

MFEEL Gaming Headset with microphone, LED lighting and easy-control volume

Crafting

After gathering or purchasing supplies Aloy can craft ammo, traps, potions, fast travel packs, and upgrades.  The upgrades will help to increase the inventory slots for ammo, armor, resources, and weapons.  Shoot every animal you see and gather those parts while you play to save you time later.

Notebook and Lore

Horizon Zero Dawn also has a fair amount of collectibles for Aloy to gather.  Ancient vessels, Banuk figures, data points, metal flowers, and vantage points can be found throughout the game.  Finding sets of Banuk figures and metal flowers early in the game will help Aloy gain access to modifications which can be added to weapons and armor for extra stat boosts.  The ancient vessels can be turned in for resource boxes as well.  Finding data and vantage points definitely add some depth to the game by exploring the details of a “pre-post apocalyptic” Earth and teaching Aloy exactly what happened and why it happened.

Visuals and Sound

Horizon Zero Dawn shows its players a new take on a futuristic and ruined Earth.  Instead of every visual being dark and ominous they gave the Earth vibrant color and beauty.  Grass and trees sway in the wind, creek water flows smoothly into larger lakes, and simple wild life runs though wooded areas and open fields.  When it’s night time, fireflies can be seen hovering over the tall grass and lights in the distance from machines and fires provide a visually appealing and impressive display.

Far Cry game series on Amazon

The music played thoughout the game is appropriate for each scene. The player will notice that the tone of the environment will change immediately as Alloy switches from exploration to combat. The music really helps the battle feel more epic especially with the sound of her weapons and the machines’ cries in the mix.  One of the most impressive aspects of the game is shown with each machine you encounter.  Players will observe lights on the machines will change from blue, to yellow, to red based on the machines awareness and hostility.  So besides being visually impressive they also serve an important purpose.  If you pick up this game, take a close look at the machines you encounter.  The details include subtle details such as pulses of light running through the machines to more noticeable details from attached weapons to glowing weak points.  Sound effects coming from the machines, especially during combat, are unique and important to game play.  Most machines will give off a specific sound before they attack, which gives Alloy an idea on when to dive out of the way.

Horizon Zero Dawn™_Corrupted_Watcher_Takedown_ Image taken and edited in the game’s built in Photo Mode.

One of the features I failed to notice until halfway through the game was the Photo Mode feature.  Feel an epic moment about to happen? See a particularly breathtaking view?  Just pause the game and enter into Photo Mode for a free roam camera option and even options to edit and add borders and logos to your image.  The ability to edit and change your camera view during an important gaming moment adds a new aspect to gaming where you can look back and impress yourself and others

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Side Note

An update has been recently released which not only fixed a few bugs but also gives players access to New Game Plus and Ultra Hard mode.  After beating the story of Horizon Zero Dawn, players now have the ability to replay the game with all of their upgrades, weapons, armor, and supplies!  This feature will probably be needed for the Ultra Hard Mode.  The description for which is as follows –

“The toughest combat experience, this mode increases enemy aggression and damage as well as rebalances Aloy’s weapons and equipment.  Merchant wares are more expensive”.

The Frozen Wilds DLC has also been announced and should be out before the end of the year!  The trailer shows familiar enemy machines in a snowy and mountainous area.  It ends with Aloy still seeking answers although a new and dangerous machine is teased as the guardian of the mountain.  This DLC will provide players with a new area to explore, with a new story and of course a few new machines as well.  No solid release date has been set but pre-orders are already available for the DLC for $19.99.  PlayStation Plus members can currently get a discount reducing this to $14.99!

Image taken and edited in the games built in Photo Mode.
Horizon Zero Dawn™_Stormbird_ Image taken and edited in the games built in Photo Mode.

Final Score – 9/10

Although some elements in the game feel familiar, I believe that the characters and the story itself work in sync with this new world and overall’ it tells an entertaining and amazing story.  Playing through the story didn’t feel like a chore, by any means.  I always wanted to know what was going to happen next and what else I would learn or encounter.  The game provided meaningful lore that was fresh and new compared to other games I have played.  The machine’s unique design and individual personalities made the game truly enjoyable.  Leveling up was easy enough and even thought crafting supplies were a pain to gather, it was worth it in the end to have the upgrades available for late game battles.

+ Game Play / Combat

+ Solid Story

+ Background / Lore

+ Photo Mode

– Interactions with others seemed pointless

– Human AI enemies – lack of intelligence

Did you enjoy Horizon Zero Dawn?  Did you already pre-order the DLC?  Leave your comments below and let me know!

Tom Kolbert loves video games and movies; they have always been a major part of his life and have become something he is passionate about.

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