After several years of dwelling on the Killzone series, Dutch developers Guerrilla Games have dared to start over with a clean sheet. 5 years in the making and we finally have the beautiful universe of Horizon Zero Dawn. A completely new start that only highlights the ambition and courage that these developers where able to inject into this new title. The decision they took on embarking in this new adventure can only be reflected in their title. A new beginning, an open world set in a post-post-apocalyptic world, a daring and fierce protagonist, all uniting to create a unique master piece.
A thousand years have passed between our civilization and the one of our heroine Aloy. Everything that represented our society and culture as we know it, the tall towers, the massive infrastructures, the technological advancements has been devoured by mother nature. The forests, rivers, plants have taken back their rights and in the process, have put humanity back to the stone age while the new masters of this new savage and wild lands have taken the shape of metal machine and dominate with an iron fist. It took a millennium for humanity to get back on the right track to only be once again faced in front of the danger of becoming extinct. An unexplained corruption that takes over the machines puts them in the middle of that risk. How did this all happen? Why are these machines getting corrupted after so many years? Are some of the few questions that this incredible story will start unfolding as you embark in this fantasy adventure through Aloy’s eyes.
One thing this title did well is dissecting the story and the way it was told. Before getting into the mysteries around our hero, it made sure to start with the most essential answers. Men’s history, the science that dominates the land, the roots of these machines, religions and beliefs that are leading criteria in every society. The fundamental elements that fuels this new world.
Throughout the countless hours played, Horizon Zero Dawn will give you a lot to read, explore and will truly make you think. This will only add to the player’s experience and will take you deeper into this massive world to a point of no return. It quickly starts unfolding the mysteries around Aloy without distracting you from your current quest and making sure that you stay on track. They do this by submersing you into the philosophical theory of existentialism. Every tribe, every individual progress differently in this life and never at the same speed nor the same way. Fearing the unknown, the strange, being different has always agitated humanity and the same applies here. These emotions are seen and felt by our hero and you witness them directly through her eyes.
Without even starting to talk about the mechanics of the game, Horizon Zero Dawn ticks the first boxes and delivered on a truly remarkable sci-fi story while keeping that mystery of what will happen next alive throughout the entire journey. If anything, Guerrilla has proven that they can tell a consistent story. They added throughout the game echoes from the past that you will be able to identify yourself with since they are from today’s time and these echoes will help you understand the history and the greats of that time and how they were all part of the wheel that set things in motion and led them to the era you witness in the game.
Before jumping in the technical part and mechanics of the game, we need to keep in mind that Guerrilla games have worked for years on Killzone and moving to a new title, new engine, coding … going from FPS to Open world action RPG took some guts with many questions raised. But I must admit that these 5 years of hard work where extremely rewarding to them. I do not think in my 14 years of gaming I have seen a developer move to something completely new and get out of their comfort zone yet still deliver one of the best finished and flawless game I have ever played. With 46 hours played I think I honestly noticed 1 bug. That says a lot about a title. Yes, the post-post-apocalyptic world story line has been used and you will find a lot of similarities with the great ones such as the Witcher 3, Far Cry, Red Dead Redemption. but the artistic direction, the rhythm of the story and our Aloy might as well revolutionize that genre and set a new bar for all action RPGs.
Aloy is now my new favorite heroine. I fell in love with this protagonist and all the credit goes to Guerrilla. She is not your average Lara Croft and does not fall into this cliché. Instead she portrait all the traits a hero should truly have. Humanity, doubts, problems while keeping her strong character as the main facade when engaging in conversations. The opening story of the game takes us back to when she was 6 years old and by then you already can’t stop but fall in love with this character. She shows tremendous courage, humility and daring behaviors, key characteristics of a future hero. The same attachment you get to this young girl you end up finding again in the women she becomes. She has a purpose; the character design is intelligent she is always in the middle of the story. Other games fell into the trap of just slapping a hero to a title without realizing that the latter can be replaced by anyone. In this game Aloy is unique, her history and her background. I do not think without her the story makes sense. It feels like her birth and the era are all part of the universe’s DNA. Everything that happens in the game, whether you are hunting, gathering, reuniting families, directing armies to war, … it all falls back to Aloy. However, there is something that I would have liked to see. With Aloy’s existence, there isn’t really anyone else that is relevant, her presence seems to crush all other personalities making even her tribe useless. The only character in the game that would measure up to her would have been Rost her step-father. This is something to think of in the future, every game must have memorable characters that would add milestones to your protagonist or impact her life in some way.
Diving deep into the game you come to the realization that in this new world you are the prey and if you do not respect these machines then you will quickly regret it. Yes, some are peaceful and just roaming the land but if you agitate them it will quickly escalate into a massacre. You need to be conscience of your surrounding and approach these Metallic Animals as if you are infiltrating the pentagon. They are also intelligent, they have the sense of unity and they stand together. You mess with one of them they will all gang up on you. This makes things challenging because if you are to attack you will need to really put efforts into studying your surrounding and how you will engage multiple enemies, how can you isolate them, disable them, …etc. just to come out alive yet alone kill one. The good thing is that there are 25 different types of creatures in this game each with their unique weakness and defense flaws, after all they are machines. It is up to you to discover them and make use of them. Some are weak to fire elements while others show vulnerability to shock with most them affected by electric attacks.
This is yet another great thing coming out of Guerrilla, the variety of creatures each with their unique movements, style, personality and most importantly elegance makes every encounter different. Making them machines was also genius, it allows you to be able to tamper with their system and watch them turn on each other or even use them as mounts. There are hundreds of ways to approach these beasts but only equipped with a bow and a spear as your main arsenal adds flare to your strategic thinking and the decisive factor on the approach. You can’t just rush in military style, you must admire the organic and savage nature of Horizon Zero Dawn or it will eat you alive.
While nature seems to be the blueprints of this title, technology is what allows you to navigate through these savage lands. At the beginning of the game, Aloy encounters this ear piece called Focus. It is some sort of augmented reality that allows her to scan her surroundings. It helps her reveal paths, foot prints, the machines vulnerabilities … and without it she would have never gotten that far. It is so crucial to the game and Aloy’s progress that it defines the entire concept of this RPG. It gives her knowledge on everything she is about to do, difficulties …etc. Those are important because you also level up in the process and your next move in this adventure is determined by whether your level allows you to tackle the challenge ahead. It also helps you identify items that will enhance your arsenal and upgrade your equipment. On this front, Guerrilla Games did not reinvent the wheel instead they took everything that worked and made it better.
The gameplay itself is a little bit difficult to master. There is a specific rhythm that one must constantly follow otherwise in just a blink you can go from full health to game over. Do not get me wrong, it is not a Dark Soul but it is much more difficult than your usual RPG. On many occasions, I found myself grinding to enhance certain items as I found myself stuck trying to defeat a foe and this was on normal mode. I do not even want to test the patience of these creatures in extra hard mode. The only recommendation I have if you are to embark in this journey, keep shit loads of health packs and medicinal herb on you at all times, even if you think that 1 arrow to the head is enough to defeat and enemy. You never know where the next creature will pounce on you. Always remember that you are the prey here and at the bottom of the food chain. It is certain though that by the end of the Horizon Zero Dawn, Aloy will be an invincible goddess of war but getting there is no easy task.
We wouldn’t be able to talk about an RPG without taking a moment to talk about the open world it presents us with. In Horizon Zero Dawn, you need to learn how to manage your time. You need to be patient and enjoy your surroundings because these moments can quickly disappear. The developers give you the option to calm down and go in a slightly different road, more explorative after every intense battle. The side quests and main quest are all linked and well thought off with their own rhythm. The world is constantly changing around you and is very versatile. From the grand canyons to the abandoned cities, forests, caves, mountain, … there is never a moment where you are not exploring. Even the themes are constantly changing, you get certain western feels, some medieval infrastructures and certain Nordic heritage. The list goes on … It was pleasant to find out that after 30 hours of playtime I was still discovering new places and items that I have not stumbled upon. And it was phenomenal finding out that this pleasant feeling continued all the way till the end. Very few games managed to do this. I was never let down with the beautiful world they created around Aloy and to be honest with you, this could potentially be one of the most beautiful worlds I have ever embarked in. I found myself lost at one point trying to climb the highest peak in the game and just sat there for a good 10 minutes enjoying the sunset before rappelling all the way down Assassin Creed style.
To add to this experience, they worked on the climate that is also injected in how the characters react. At certain points a blizzard would just strike and you can see Aloy struggling with her running. When it snows, you see the environment around you change as well. Just many small details that makes the difference like the sun sets and sun rise., the way the animals and vegetation behave, all adding to the story and enriching the environment making it more believable with every step you take. From my research, I stumbled upon Hideo Kojima’s interview when he talked about how he wants to create a beautiful world and I am not surprised that he ended choosing to work with Guerrilla Games and use the same Engine that was used in Horizon Zero Dawn. The game was flawless on PS4 and perfectly optimized. It was even more magical on the PS4 Pro.
For its first open-world game, Guerrilla successfully released a memorable experience. There were some rare AI problems, instances where it was easy to bug out a creature between 2 rocks, even the cinematics could use some work and make them emotionally more powerful such as games like Metal Gear. The people you come across could have used more work on their expressions but overall nothing dramatic. The problem with games like Horizon Zero Dawn is that the quality of the game is so high that the slightest drop is easily noticeable.
I will always remember those hunting sessions shooting my bow while riding a bull, the terrifying screams coming out of the machines, the development of Aloy and the mere fact that all these echoes I encountered gave me the feeling that this could happen to us one day.
Overall what a trip! What a beautiful achievement Guerrilla could gave us with their technological and artistic approach to this game. While playing, I couldn’t help but think of the tremendous effort these developers must have put to deliver something this rich and complete. This title has put Guerrilla amongst the great and set the bar on a new level. A contender for title of the year in my opinion.
Aloy’s adventure just started and I believe the same goes to these Dutch developers who I am certain will continue giving us magical moments with new releases that will live up to Horizon Zero Dawn. For once I will let my emotions take the best of me and end this with a Thank you to Guerrilla for letting me experience such a beautiful world.
Horizon Zero Dawn was reviewed using a PlayStation 4 press kit of the game provided by PlayStation Middle East. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• A visual materpiece
• A beautifully and captivating story
• The sense of adventure that you get lost in
• Leveling system and enhancement / crafting
• Always something new to discover
• Beautiful game on PS4 and even more magical on PS4 Pro
• Combat system can be unfair in some instances
• Rare AI glitches
• Cinematics take away from the magic