Review: Horizon: Zero Dawn

Talk about unfortunate timing. Sony’s next big money maker, their next big reason to buy the Playstation, not only releases the same week as the newest Legend of Zelda game, but is very similar to it. When it comes to a new franchise, if you’re up against something as massive as Zelda, let alone one on a new Nintendo console, you’re not going to excel the way you deserve. Which is a shame for Horizon: Zero Dawn because if deserves the push Sony have given it, but how it’ll fair in the gaming market is yet to be seen, but conditions aren’t too favourable. So, to everyone who skipped out on Breath of the Wild’s futuristic cousin, here’s the low-down on what was one of the most hyped games for the past, two years before Zelda went and stole its open world thunder.

The story of Horizon: Zero Dawn isn’t very complicated to understand but very difficult to accurately describe without spoiling it as layers keep peeling back around every main mission, hidden ruin or new area. It’s a tale best experienced with as little knowledge as possible so we’ll keep it short. In the near-ish future, humanity has fallen and machines have taken over. Metals, resembling beasts from dinosaurs to tigers, have become the dominant species and nature has reclaimed the landscapes. You take the helm as Aloy, a blossoming-hunter gatherer, outcast from her tribe at birth, training to enter a tournament called ‘The Proving’ which winning will grant her entry back into her tribe as well as answers to all her questions about her life and the dystopian world she survives in. While Horizon does have an intriguing plot-line that unfolds well as you progress, giving the player just the right amount of reveals to keep them interested, it has a higher focus on lore and world building. Horizon’s world is rich with back-story, and the varieties of different tribes and lands which hint at the past and what has led to this futuristic yet prehistoric world is worked excellently and creates a compelling world. The story may play on certain familiar beats and tropes, especially in the earlier half, but it’s well presented and builds the world nicely.

The presentation is incredible, nothing less. Graphically, Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the best looking games ever made. From the absurdly complex character models and designs, precision and specific details of the metals, to the absolutely beautiful, lush and lively world. Animals and metals wandering the fields and the individual grass and bushes blowing in the wind make you feel the wild breath. It’s naturally crafted and feels organic (ironically). It’s astounding what the developers accomplished and what the PS4 can do, it’s the best-looking game on the system.

Music wise it’s soft sounding and atmospheric but it’s nothing that you’ll be humming on the street. Voice acting is good on the whole but some townsfolk and other minor characters give weak performances. Thankfully Aloy’s actress Ashly Burch is very easy on the ears, the kind of voice that’d be good in an ASMR video, sounding calming with her interjections during exploration yet strong and confident when she needs to.

Horizon: Zero Dawn
Sound design though has a fatal flaw in its audio output. It can only be set to mono meaning audio doesn’t come from a left or right speaker or adjust to sound like it is. This makes it difficult to determine where the sounds in game are specifically coming from, leading to enemies blind-siding you in combat likely and locating a character calling for you annoying.

Gameplay sees you traversing the overworld partaking in a healthy mix of exploration and combat. Through exploring you’ll find a limited variety of resources and hidden areas and not too much else but you’ll stumble across new enemies and side missions this way and get to take in the gorgeous landscapes, I can’t emphasise that enough, if you enjoyed Wind Waker it’s sort of like the sailing there but with more goodies and little distractions thrown in. Getting around this world can be a bit inconvenient at times, there is a fast travel system but it’s not unlimited making you want to save it for the super long distances and feels like an archaic setback. Aloy’s running speed is fine but that doesn’t mean much if you’re running for 15 minutes straight. Not long after starting you’ll be able to mount a certain metal for increased speed but that still requires finding one. Exploring is still very relaxing and calming, the mix of presentation and consistent intrigue keeps the journeys across the fields and mountains interesting.

Combat was thoroughly satisfying with the metals mostly being legitimate challenges much of the time, making each small victory feel like a somewhat larger one, with upgrades mixing things up at a sweet and controllable pace. You’ve your choice of long distance ranged attacks with your upgradable and silent bow and arrow or melee attacks with your staff. Long range is the more reliable as close encounters are rarely favourable even if it is effective on smaller metals. The staff also has a weak and strong attack with the trade-off being their differing speed, but the strong attacks are so reliable and quick enough to get the job done about 80% of the time making the weak attack essentially pointless.

Missions have a typical variance and while they may have a repetitive nature it never feels like you’re doing the same thing twice, making each mission and trial you face feel fresh throughout the game.

However, reaching missions can be a minor frustration. Visual markers to indicate where to go are implemented strangely. Instead of being above the spot you’re to go to, they’re done in checkpoints to be easier to follow also not make them seem too far away. Although to activate the next checkpoint you’ve go directly over the previous checkpoint, not just past it. This gets frustrating as you’re taking a brief diversion to pick up herbs or something and know to head North, but must divert back West to activate the checkpoint to find your way. It’s not a massive hindrance, but it feels like the developers want you to follow a set path and experience the world the way they want you too, despite that going against the whole exploration and discovery aspects of the game.

Horizon: Zero Dawn may have some small flaws but in the grand scheme they’re insignificant and don’t detract from the overall experience enough to drag it down. The slight negatives of Horizon are eclipsed by the overwhelming positives. A stunning world with excellent immersion, a well-presented story with compelling lore and addictive and layered gameplay leads to Horizon being well worth your time and worthy of the huge push Sony has given it, which hopefully lead to future instalments in what could easily be turned into a very fun and successful franchise.

In short, ya wanna fight robot dinosaurs as a cool archer? Buy it. 8.5/10

Daniel Troy

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