Horizon: Zero Dawn Review

Horizon Zero Dawn Cover

Introduction

I’ve been excited about Horizon Zero Dawn since I saw it’s initial reveal about 2 years ago. The world looked stunning, the character of Aloy looked awesome and it was bright and colorful. But it was the enemies that really caught my attention; huge mechanized dinosaurs. One of my favorite things in existence is dinosaurs; be it a Tyrannosaurus, a Triceratops, a Pterodactyl or a Megalodon shark or one of the Plesiosauria (you know, the long-necked dinosaur with the flippers and sharp teeth– the loch ness monster looking one). In fact, when I was much younger I wanted to be a paleontologist when I got older. Those are the guys who go and dig up dinosaur fossils and research the behemoth creatures.

Of course, my life didn’t go down that route but we’re not here to talk about where my life could have gone. Instead, we’re here to talk about robot dinosaurs. And boy was I excited to play this game when I saw that mechanized T-rex stomping around Aloy. I should also note that I have a love and fascination for robots, machines, androids, cyborgs and other such cybernetics. As I’ve stated on here before, I love Dragon Ball Z and my favorite saga is the Cell saga with the androids and the biological villain Cell, with Androids 17 and 18 remaining two of my favorite characters even to this day, with 17 tapering off a bit lately as he hasn’t been in the limelight in quite some time. So, this game had it all. An awesome looking protagonist, robots and they were dinosaurs to boot. So, then, how is Horizon Zero Dawn? Read on and we’ll discuss just how great.
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Gametype/Genre: Action RPG, Third Person shooter, Adventure

Developer: Guerrilla Games

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Reviewing: Playstation 4

Horizon Zero Dawn alt cover

Horizon Zero Dawn Story

According to the official Playstation website, Horizon Zero Dawn is “a lush, post-apocalyptic world where nature has reclaimed the ruins of a forgotten civilization, pockets of humanity live on in primitive hunter-gatherer tribes. Their dominion over the new wilderness has been usurped by the Machines – fearsome mechanical creatures of unknown origin.” You play as Aloy, who is an outcast of the Nora tribe who has a mysterious birth, as she is given to her adoptive father Rost when she is still a baby. For her life growing up, she knows nothing of who she is or where she came from or who her mother or father really is. Aside from that, the world came to an end centuries before the beginning of the game with the only evidence of what happened being locked away in old ruins of our current modern society, of which many of the people of the world of Horizon Zero Dawn fear and avoid, stating that it’s cursed land. The world is also overrun by monstrous machine lifeforms that take the appearance of many different creatures, animals, and dinosaurs. Oh and giant corpses of machines with tentacle-like appendages adorning the landscape.

horizon zero dawn river

Horizon Zero Dawn Characters and Visuals

Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the most visually stunning games on the Playstation 4. The colors are vibrant and bright and the landscapes are absolutely beautiful. The character models are all very unique and interesting with the main important cast of characters and supporting characters having equally as interesting and unique characterization. Aside from Aloy, who is one of the best protagonists in a game if a little single-minded in her goals, Erend is a stand out character for me. But that doesn’t mean many others, including side quest NPCs, villains, and enemies didn’t all have equally compelling characters.

horizon zero dawn aloy

Horizon Zero Dawn Performance

Horizon Zero Dawn runs at a consistent and locked 30 fps at 1080p on the PS4 and at a locked 30 fps at checkerboard 4k resolution on the PS4 Pro. There are minor frame dips that are hardly noticeable, even to the trained eye. Motion blur is used fairly extensively to help smooth out the frame rate. So while it’s beautiful and runs very well, at least as well as a game as visually stunning as this does (crying shame it can’t hit 60 fps looking like this, but it is a console) there are a few technical issues. I’ve seen a number of floating structural pieces, such as what you use to climb buildings or rock faces, just flying in the thin air. Pop-in on many distant terrain and structures– one building didn’t even load completely with many of the elements such as windows, balconies, doors and frames, and awnings floating in the air until I approached it and caused it to forcefully load it up. There’s also the clipping of enemy corpses into terrain and containers or walls, or when Aloy jumps into certain rivers that are too deep to walk through but not short enough for you to cannonball into and submerge anywhere near as deeply as she does and she clips through the bottom of the riverbed. Load times are also absolutely abysmal, though very few and far between unless you die and have to reload the game or if you travel to certain high polygon areas such as large cities or vast forests.

Horizon zero dawn spear

Horizon Zero Dawn Sound Design

The voice acting is very well done, with every line of dialogue spoken by a character having voice work. Aloy and the supporting cast and side quest NPCs, aside from a few minor NPCs, are well spoken and the emotions are carried through very well in the voice actors delivery, with some memorable quotes from some of the best characters. The machines all sound mechanical and electronic and menacing, and all other sound effects are just as well done throughout. The music is mostly forgettable and I can’t say I remember any of them, save for a couple of tracks. Namely the title’s main theme which is used throughout the game at very great points to help convey the emotions and feelings of the cast.

Horizon Zero Dawn Gameplay and Mechanics

Horizon Zero Dawn is a third-person action adventure game, similar in concept and execution to that of the two new entries of Tomb Raider down to the fact that the character you play as is a girl, who is a badass with a bow, an excellent survivalist, and rock climber. Though, with all of these similarities in mind, that’s where the similarities end. You can equip Aloy with a number of different bows, slingshots that fire explosive balls, tripcasters which set a trip line trap at two points on the ground designated by you, a ropecaster which can be used to strap enemies to the ground, and a shotgun-like weapon. As you progress through the game, you can find stronger versions of each of these that can be purchased from merchants, and every one of them can have modifications slotted in to make them better in a multitude of ways, such as increasing fire damage from fire attacks, or increasing raw damage, or weapon handling, or even how easily you can tear off monster components. Aside from weapons, you cane come across a good number of outfits to put on Aloy to enhance various aspects of her defense, such as elemental resistances, raw melee defense and ranged defense, or increase her stealth making her harder to be detected by enemies. These also come with a number of modification slots as well that enhance these defensive abilities. Modifications can be found in reward boxes, which can be bought from merchants, or received from enemies as loot or from NPCs as rewards for doing a side quest. Modifications can also be found on many enemy corpses as well.

horizon zero dawn running away

You also have a spear weapon which can be used to attack enemies with a close range heavy and light attack and also can be used to override enemies, a skill used to basically turn machines into allies, rendering them non-hostile to Aloy. Most overridden machines only fight alongside Aloy but a few allow you to ride them. Enemies come in various shapes and sizes from fast and nimble deer-like enemies to big and mobile T-Rexes to flying birds and burrowing enemies. There are even humanoid enemies in the form of bandits and cultists. As stated before, enemies have components that can be torn off such as canisters and monster parts that can be used for crafting or trading, artillery that can be used temporarily until the ammo runs out, or metal scraps, which can be used as currency. Certain components will, when destroyed, debilitate the creatures in different ways such as making the creature unable to scan the area for you if you manage to get out of its sights and hide or make it unable to dig underground or fire certain types of weapons at you. Similar to the Monster Hunter series in this manner, you can slowly cripple the monster to give yourself advantages you wouldn’t otherwise have by removing parts of its body and weakening it with strategy and proper evasion and weapon usage. Also similar to Monster Hunter is how each creature has difference weaknesses to certain ammo types or elemental attacks, with certain points of its body having varying weaknesses. Every creature is entirely different and requires a different strategy and approach from the last one.

horizon zero dawn weapon upgrading

Side quests are also very refreshing with the goals of many of them being very different than that of most games. These aren’t your typical fetch quests. Several require you to track down people or machines using Aloy’s excellent tracking and hunting skills before either confronting, saving, or fighting your target. Sometimes it’s a thief or an escaped prisoner or it’s a creature that is running amok. Other quests involve investigating what happened in an area before reporting back to someone or transitioning into the aforementioned tracking kind of quest. Some quests are delivery quests or quests where you are sent somewhere to check something out such as investigating a rumor someone heard about. There’s also various collectibles that can be gathered and exchanged to specific merchants who want the items but they’re not treated like side quests. Speaking of side quests and trading with merchants, weapons require certain materials to be traded to the merchant for them and the weapon can be selected as a ‘job’ or an ‘errand’ where you can follow your progress towards being able to purchase and obtain the object of your desire.

horizon zero dawn giant machine

Aloy traverses the land mostly by running, but you can also climb rock faces and slide on ziplines and walk on tightropes. She can also ride upon particular overridden machines, which greatly increases your movement speed though I found sneaking up on a creature to override it to be somewhat tedious if I needed a ride and I mostly ran where I needed and fast traveled where I needed to go. Though fast travel costs a specific item, I never found myself needing them and honestly I didn’t fast travel more than what was necessary if I was already close enough to somewhere that I could walk or if I still had a overridden mount on hand. There are campfires dotting the land which are used to save your game and aside from certain instances, are where you respawn when you die in the game. This can, of course, mean that at certain points in the game, checkpoints can be very unforgiving and set you back very far. I mentioned stealth and it’s implemented very well in most parts of the game save for a few points. Strategically placed hiding spots, enemy movement paths and patterns and positions really allow for you to tackle certain areas without ever being seen once. That said, being stealthy your whole way through areas can be very hard at times. The game has an extremely open world with just about everywhere you see being somewhere that you can climb to or get to or travel to, except for a few invisible walls here and there. Health doesn’t recover naturally over time, and you have to either craft or buy new potions, with materials that are somewhat hard to come by or use medicinal herbs that you pick up from the ground.

Miscellaneous: Horizon Zero Dawn Replayability

With the number of side quests and activities, creatures and areas to see and collectibles to gather there is quite a lot to do in this game and you’ll spend many hours playing through this game. There are secrets to uncover and items to gather to unlock said secrets and even quests and trials to overcome to unlock others. That said, there aren’t any real end game activities, no alternate endings and the dialogue options that you can choose during conversations that you hold throughout the game don’t change anything aside from the scene on hand, though maybe influencing how characters perceive you throughout the game. There’s also no multiplayer or new game plus. DLC is planned and Guerrilla started working on it after witnessing the sales figures for the game. Though what they’ll do with the DLC remains to be seen, as aside from the ending scene after the credits and perhaps a handful of questions, most everything is wrapped up tightly with the plot. Perhaps it’ll be an actual expansion, following the ending of Horizon Zero Dawn unless the developers intend on a sequel.

horizon zero dawn downed thunderjaw


Horizon Zero Dawn Conclusion

The game is great and I had loads of fun playing through this masterpiece. Though the game didn’t manage to hit a 60 fps mark, it still played solidly with little to no frame drops and also holds the position of one of the most beautiful games on a video game console. The characters, the voice acting, and gameplay are all phenomenal and aside from the music being forgettable almost entirely, there isn’t much to change there. Enemies are varied and it takes several notes from Monster Hunter for tackling large, ferocious creatures with strategy and new tactics for each and every one, it shows that Monster Hunter and other hunter-type games could stand to take some notes from it. While there isn’t much or anything to do after you beat the game and no new game plus or alternate endings to make you play through again and dialogue options lead basically to nowhere except to change the scene at hand, the potential DLC could answer questions that still remain from a very tightly wrapped conclusion and continue on from where the after credits scene hints the game could go, if the title doesn’t become a series. I had a great time playing and I can’t think of many flaws aside from the clipping and pop-in, as I loved the characters and found the story fascinating and compelling. Still, even that said, I didn’t feel it was the greatest game ever as it felt something somewhere was missing, though I can’t put my finger on what or how.

Horizon zero dawn thunderjaw

I’d say overall I LOVED this game, but forgettable music and very minor visual and performance issues weigh it down a little.

Overall worth of Horizon Zero Dawn: A

F = It’s not worth the money, don’t recommend buying it.
D = Only buy it if it’s on sale or you’re already very interested.
C = Decent game with a number of flaws, possibly worth the money if you’re already interested, and worth the money if it’s on sale
B = Good game with some flaws, but still worth the money.
A = Great game with very minor flaws, but absolutely worth the money.
P = Perfect game and amazing experience. There’s no doubt that it’s money well-spent.

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Game: Horizon Zero Dawn

Genre: Action RPG, Third Person Shooter, Adventure

Platforms: Playstation 4

Reviewed: Playstation 4

Released: February 28th, 2017 NA, March Ist, 2017 EU

Size: About 40.4 GB

Retail: $59.99 or regional equivelant

Horizon Zero Dawn was reviewed with a retail copy of the game purchased through Amazon for Playstation 4.

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Bobby King

Bobby King

Founder and Video Game Extraordinaire at Rising Shark
This guy grew up playing Kirby for the NES on his grandmother's lap and has had a passion for games all his life. You'll primarily see reviews and opinion pieces from him. He likes RPGs, both Western and Japanese, action, adventure, brawlers, spectacle fighters and the occasional fighter or shooter; either third-person or first-person.
Bobby King

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About the author

Bobby King

This guy grew up playing Kirby for the NES on his grandmother's lap and has had a passion for games all his life. You'll primarily see reviews and opinion pieces from him. He likes RPGs, both Western and Japanese, action, adventure, brawlers, spectacle fighters and the occasional fighter or shooter; either third-person or first-person.

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