Horizon: Zero Dawn
Sometimes a game comes along where absolutely everyone falls in love with it. The reviews are good, the fans are good, and most importantly the hype train leading into the launch didn’t derail and explode. Horizon seems to be one of those games.
In a futuristic world we step back into the past to blend bow and arrow type weapons with futuristic weapons. While the story is still evolving for us in this early review, it doesn’t seem what exactly happened to the world is ever fully explained. We are okay with that too because it leaves things open ended for us to connect the dots on how we see fit. The game also has a very emotional and thrilling story that explores other concepts extremely well. During the first few hours playing the game I had already felt angered, happy, and sad due to the events happening in the story. The music further enhances everything absolutely perfectly and you never want the story to end.
Horizon also does a good job of giving every character on screen a unique authentic feel. The way every character, even the enemies, had some type of purpose in the game reminds me very much of Metal Gear, which is fascinating. Our main character, Aloy, seems to go on a very well thought out journey that gives her so much character that she quickly becomes an iconic hero. Early in the game we play as Aloy as a child when she discovers some “ancient ruins” and comes across a new tool known as a Focus. This tool helps push her story along, while also providing some gameplay mechanics. Aloy, however, does a great job of growing to learn how to mix the new-found technology with her more tribal like ways, which develops an interesting world for her to explore.
Speaking of gameplay mechanics, this is where Horizon truly shines. The combat system allows Aloy to maneuver in pretty much any way you want. You can go from sprinting, to diving, to sliding, and still find the ability to quickly turn to make a impactful shot. The game is filled with sneaking mechanics to help you find the proper jumping in point before battles, or to escape them. The game does a great job of being extremely simplistic to learn for any action gamer, but at the same time throwing dynamics at you to keep things interesting.
The world is filled with robotic animals that each have unique weaknesses and attacks. Utilizing the Focus gadget allows Aloy to see the weakspots, and also provides details on potential weaknesses. (For example early in the game there is a bigger enemy that is weak to fire.) This keeps you on your toes as you carefully planning when and where you want to strike. A simply mistake can lead to a thrilling race with robotic animals jumping over your head, and arrows striking the perfect spot making you feel amazing.
The game also tosses plenty of ways to level up all aspects of Aloy. Initially you start out with a simplistic bow and arrow, then you gain special arrows such as flame arrows, and eventually other weapons that can create explosions, traps, and decoys. The interesting thing about all the weapons is your ability to look at groups of enemies and carefully set traps all around, creating either a trap for them or a way for you to escape if needed. This means every situation can be approached totally differently and become very rewarding. The game also does a good job of introducing new enemies in timely fashion, keeping you alert to your surroundings.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is the weapon wheel utilized to switch between weapons. You open this by pressing the shoulder button then using the right analog stick to select your weapon, all while time slows down allowing you to adjust. The interesting thing is the layout. Directional wise are different weapons. To your left will be the bow, to the right will be a trap gun, and within those selections is your ammo. You can also press and hold X while highlighting ammo to craft more quickly and on the go. Everything is so easy to access that it makes flow of combat that much better.
Aside from combat, Horizon adds your typical open world perks as well. As you explore the world, and complete both main and side quests, you will come across resources. The resources can be found both in the open (plants, rocks, etc) and by killing enemies (lens eyes, scrap, etc). By collecting things you earn the ability to craft new things which is simplistic in nature, or sell them to merchants to buy other items. The whole system is very simplistic and has it’s flaws, but is an overall decent experience.
Quests are very interesting to accomplish and there will be a variety of things to do, and the stories that come with them are compelling. I wanted to finish multiple side quests for hours simply to hear the stories the characters had going with them. Some side quests escalate heavily with great climatic endings, while others can feel like dull chore missions, but that comes with open world games.
In fact the only major complaint I have about the game is the same thing I’ll say about pretty much any open world game. There is a lot of traveling, a lot of repetitive areas, and some chores. There were multiple quests early on that had me traveling a large map multiple times which I found annoying. Several side quests also consist of utilizing Focus to simply follow tracks, which is yet again just you traveling a large map from point A to point B. Like I said though, these are common missteps that almost all open world games make. The nice thing is, if I ever feel “bored” I can simply venture off and start combat which is always thrilling!
The thing is, I honestly have yet to feel bored playing this game. Between exploring with amazing controls to scale tall mountains or buildings, fighting enemies, and completing quests there hasn’t been a moment where I wanted to turn the game off. My recent session included me stating “just a little more” before I had spent hours in the game.
A secondary issue I have is visuals. Character animations are very stiff during talking sequences. Cutscenes look great for the most part, but there are a lot of assets within the game that feel odd or misplaced. Sometimes when a character is supposed to be holding something it will instead be floating near their hand instead of being placed in it, for example. It seems like there were multiple teams making assets and it was all put together in odd ways.
Overall though these are only minor complaints. The vibrant world that feels eerie at night, amazing during the day, and interested during weather effects take your focus away. The stories characters are telling are more interesting than the way they look. And the games ability to blend real living creatures like rabbits or coyotes, with futuristic robotic creatures is simply phenomenal.