Let’s talk about Horizon Zero Dawn!
Horizon Zero Dawn is an action RPG by Guerilla Games for the PS4. It follows Aloy through an open world where human society has reverted back to living tribal lives. It is set centuries after humans have mastered holograms and futuristic living but then lost it all to the machines.
Introducing your Hero; Aloy
As the game starts, Aloy is only an infant and still without a name. Rost, an outcast who was entrusted with the child, set out to give her a name. This introduces not just the protagonist, but several important characters as well. There is no way to change your name or customize your looks. The opening scene raises questions about Aloy as well as Rost and made me eager to know more about them.
The first time you take control of Aloy is when she is six years old and has fallen into a ruin. Here, you’ll learn the basics of movement. You’ll also find a Focus, a device from the old world that gives you insights on the machines and general surroundings. This is going to be a major gameplay mechanic and you’re taught how to use it at its basics here as well. Once out of the ruin and reunited with Rost, you’re taken through a dialogue and start the tutorial shortly after. This teaches you the main gameplay mechanic; stealth, as well as how to approach and take out enemies. The tutorial here doesn’t just serve to teach the player how the game works though, it is also there to teach Aloy how to survive in the wild and reach her goals. It then goes into a cinematic scene that smoothly introduces the grown-up Aloy.
Story and Companions
Aloy wants answers. All her life she’s been shunned by other children and the adults of the Nora tribe. She is motherless and considered a curse. The game takes you to the Proving; a chance for outcast children to gain a place among the tribe. More importantly to our hero though, winning it can grant her answers to all her questions. This is what she has been training for all these years. You’ll part ways with Rost here for the time being. Inside the village, there are a couple of merchants you can trade with and it gives a first peek at the outfits customization.
After the Proving, Aloy is anointed a Seeker. This allows her to travel wherever she wishes, including outside the Sacred Lands and also into forbidden ruins. It gives her the means to find answers as well as find a way to meet her mother.
Aloy travels alone but some quests can give you a temporary companion or allies that will fight alongside you.
As is the case with most open world games, there is plenty of content and things to do. There are crafting resources everywhere that should be picked up to upgrade satchels, craft or even trade for currency. There are a lot of places to explore and collectibles to find. These can offer some insights on the old world and what happened to it. There are side quests in every village you come across and throughout the world as well if you keep your eyes open. It’s unlikely you’ll run out of things to do. There are no DLC at the moment but there is enough content already to tie you over for dozens of hours. A photo mode is available via the pause menu as well.
Controls and Gameplay
The controls are easy to get a hang of and every new tool or weapon you pick up on your way has a cinematic that shows you how it works, as well as a combat tutorial quest to teach you how to use it. They respond well and instantly to your inputs, allowing for quick adaption to a situation and precise gameplay.
The gameplay is reminiscent of the Tomb Raider reboot; with its focus on stealth, bow and arrows and the ability to craft ammo and modifying your weapons. Different outfits with different perks are available also.
The main gameplay mechanic is the use of your Focus. This device lets you see the path of mechanical enemies and can highlight weak points. It also identifies anything in your surroundings and allows you to track (this is primarily implemented in quests though). Using the Focus to your advantage to avoid combat or find a better vantage point from which to strike is critical.
Stealth isn’t just encouraged, it becomes downright necessary when faced with multiple enemies. Aloy doesn’t have a lot of health and most enemies hit hard enough to kill in three to four hits so staying hidden is important.
A bow and spear are always available to you and there are several skills that can help in making quick work of weaker enemies without being spotted. This is especially useful when there are many around. You can get more tools and upgraded weapons as well to fit your playstyle better. You can set traps, use bombs or work with different kinds of arrows. There are different skill trees that can help you either in combat or outside of it and shouldn’t be forgotten to be used.
Different enemies have different weaknesses and components (that serve as weak points and additional loot), meaning a different approach or tactic is often needed to take out machines before they can kill you. Shooting blindly or running into a horde of enemies will get you killed even on lower difficulties. You also have some potions available to you that can negate effects of enemies (like corruption) or lower damage you take from elemental attacks like fire.
Horizon Zero Dawn is absolutely breath-taking. It has a beautiful open world, day-night cycles and weather changes. The graphics are gorgeous and can even be distracting sometimes. I know I just wanted to take it all in and stare at the stars in the night sky.
The music is very atmospheric and adapts to the situation easily. It picks up if the threat level rises (e.g. you got spotted by an enemy), and is usually calm otherwise.
One of the changes the use of the Focus brings with it is enhancing the sounds enemies make. Footsteps become louder, for example. It makes it feel much more immersive.
I really like the enemy design, especially for the different machines. It’s easy to see where they resemble animals and they change subtly depending on whether or not they’re hostile.
There may not be an option to change the look of Aloy but the game does give you the option of different emotional choices throughout the game. If haven’t yet seen if this influences her character in any way but it does make it feel more like an actual RPG to me. It’s not so much about what I would do in this situation but how Aloy would react to it.
I particularly like looking at the world map. It’s a top view map like most other games have but it is incredibly detailed and the 3d perspective lets you see the smallest hills even.
One complained I do have with the game is the potions menu. Cycling through all the different potions available while in combat, especially when you’re surrounded by a horde and just trying to dodge and get to that health potion to keep Aloy alive, can be really difficult. Running and managing it at the same time is almost impossible. It would be much better to just map the potions you want to a button or equip it and only have one available instead of the cycling.
Horizon Zero Dawn is amazing. The open world is grand and gorgeous. I’ve been invested in Aloy from the very first time I saw her, wanting answers for her. It doesn’t just feel like another RPG where you’re tossed in as a hero saving the world. It’s much more of a personal quest; for Aloy as well as the player. It’s beautiful and challenging. The gameplay is a lot of fun and the different features you unlock throughout the game make it all the more enjoyable.
This is a must for any PS4 owner!