Horizon: Zero Dawn was the inspiration for me to begin writing in this blog. I’ll just tell you upfront that I absolutely loved it an I think it will be as a strong contender for Game of the Year. Considering a new DLC for the game was announced this week at E3, I think this is a good time to share my thoughts on it.
Horizon takes place in a Post-Post-Apocalyptic world where modern society was completely destroyed hundreds of years ago. Humanity has regressed to Stone Age hunter-gatherers that live in small villages. Outside these villages in the wilderness, large animal-like robots called “Machines” roam the world, attacking any humans that stray into their territory. Not only this, but the Machines have been getting more and more aggressive over the past few years and some have been breaking through the humans’ defensive walls.
You play as Aloy, an outcast at birth who learns the art of survival and hunting from another outcast, Rost. Yes, I know their names sound like “alloy” and “rust”, they weren’t that subtle trying to give them machine-related names. Aloy begins her journey to try to gain acceptance back into her tribe and to discover who her mother was, but she quickly gets embroiled in a more sinister plot that forces her to travel outside the village walls and explore the rest of the world. That’s all I think I can say about the story without spoiling anything, you’ll have to play the game to find out the rest.
The biggest praise I can give this game is that it’s just plain fun, which is probably the most important quality that a game can have. The main mechanic of the game is using a bow and arrow to shoot down these giant Machines, and it’s a damn fun thing to do. The game also gives you a variety of alternate weapons, so you can vary your strategy based on the situation. Different types of arrows, elemental bombs, tripwires, and grappling ropes offer a ton of different way to approach each fight, and that makes things fun. I’ve always enjoyed games that give you a bunch of different tools to use, and lets you choose how and when to use them. Bioshock: Infinite did a great job of this; between the variety of firearms, the 8 different vigors (which are like magic spells), the skylines that allow you to zip around the battlefield in the air, and the tears you can open in reality to teleport in cover and turrets, each battle feels more like a strategy game than just a simple first-person shooter. Just as important is the fact that ALL the tools that Horizon gives you are viable options; nothing feels vastly over- or underpowered.
It’s also the enemies in Horizon that make the game fun and challenging. There are several different types of Machines, each with their own different fighting styles and strategies to defeat them. Each has its own weak points in its armor and its own elemental strengths and weaknesses and finding your strategy for fighting each type of enemy is rewarding and satisfying. Especially for the tougher Machines like the Tyrannosaurus-like Thunderjaw and the enormous Stormbird. Even with all this complexity, the game is simple and elegant; changing weapons and ammo is seamless, even in the middle of battle, the crafting system is simple and doesn’t ask you to collect a million different kinds of materials (unlike The Witcher 3), and there aren’t any complex character stats to track or optimize. Everything feels very stripped down and streamlined. Nothing is getting in the way between the player and the fun.
I also have to praise the story. It hooks you very early on in the game and guides through the whole game. Just from reading the description I provided above, you probably have several questions already? What happened to the old human society? Why was it destroyed? Where did the Machines come from and why do they look like animals? Why are they becoming more aggressive? Why was Aloy an outcast at birth? The game provides sparse answers and withholds the juiciest information until the end. This is what separates Horizon from games like The Witcher. Geralt may care about rescuing Ciri, but I don’t, especially after playing for dozens of hours and there is still no end in sight. The events in Horizon doesn’t just captivate Aloy, they captivate the PLAYER too, which helps drive you to keep playing.
The game is also a good length, maybe a bit too short if anything. But this means that it doesn’t drag or lose focus, a problem that I think The Witcher 3 has; between all the side quests and additional DLC, I often forgot what I was supposed to be doing (SIDE NOTE: I do love The Witcher 3, believe me. But it does have it’s problems and is a good reference to compare HZD to.) In Horizon, completing all side quests and finding all the collectibles is absolutely do-able. This is because the way that the story is written and the way quests are given feels organic; there are no artificial roadblocks placed in the player’s way in order to make the game longer (*cough* Witcher 3 *cough*). The game is even able to pull off long exposition dumps while still holding your attention because the player WANTS to know what’s happening. The story has a very satisfying conclusion, although the final boss fight is fairly underwhelming.
Finally, this game just looks gorgeous, as if you couldn’t tell from these photos. The cutscenes are beautiful to watch and the amount of detail they put into the characters’ facial expressions is like nothing I’ve seen before. The characters are able to convey such subtle emotions and the top-notch voice acting supplements it very well. The overall polish that Horizon has is the cherry on the top of the game. I hope this is a trend we continue to see, and based on the trailers from E3 2017, I think it’s safe to say that we’re moving out of the uncanny valley of bad faces (see The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion).
So those are my thoughts on Horizon: Zero Dawn. I would absolutely recommend this game to anyone and I can’t wait for the DLC to come out. Guerilla Games knocked it out of the park on this one; the captivating setting and story, the simple and elegant gameplay, the challenging enemies, and the beautiful polish make Horizon a game that I think everyone needs to try out. Now if only they could figure out how to make a more engaging final boss fight, I could give this game a perfect score. That is, if I gave out scores. Which I don’t.