- Action RPG
Game development studios rarely work on new IP’s. Much like the movie industry, the trend is to rather work extensively on a successful franchise. They will milk that cow until it dies and the fans are sick of it. Certain developers handle it better than others, like Rockstar, who generally seems to have a five year development cycle and always delivers games of amazing quality and content. Sometimes a studio really steps up to the plate and blows everyone away. CD Projekt Red did it with The Witcher 3 and this year Guerrilla Games did it with Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Guerrilla Games is the studio that developed the Killzone series. While the first three were quite successful, their last title, Killzone Shadow Fall, was ultimately poorly received. However, the announcement of Horizon: Zero Dawn impressed a lot of people and it is very deserving of the attention it received.
You play as Aloy, an Outcast and a highly skilled machine hunter who is on a quest for answers. Aloy’s character is one of the most believable and enjoyable characters I have ever played. Every aspect from her dialogue options to her animations feels extremely human. When it snows, Aloy will comment on the cold, when it pours with rain she will subtlety put out her arm to protect her face. The amount of effort and detail that went into this main character is insane and rightfully so. A believable main character makes a huge difference and can sometimes make or break a game.
Besides the amazing main character, the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn is astounding. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans have gone back to a tribalistic way of living, technology is no longer used in their daily lives. This is quite an interesting contrast to the machine animals that populate this world. This world has a level of detail that rivals that of The Witcher 3. The world is beautiful and teeming with wild life. It almost feels real. Run to your nearest forest area and you will see all sorts of animals such as boars, raccoons and foxes. All of these animals can be hunted for their resources.
The map size is not the biggest I’ve ever played but map size has never automatically made an open world game any better. It really depends on what you can do in the space that you provide for the player. Horizon: Zero Dawn has just the right amount of interesting places to go and things to do. This is an open world game so there are collectibles. Instead of just picking these up and doing nothing with them, there are merchants who will trade them for certain items. This gives these often meaningless tasks some purpose and I love that.
Horizon: Zero Dawn has an interesting gameplay style. It is an almost perfect blend of The Witcher 3 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, taking the best aspects from each and improving them. While The Witcher had extensive dialogue sections, Horizon: Zero Dawn simplified it, narrowing certain important dialogue decisions down to three types. You aren’t forced to go through all the dialogue options either but the option is there for those of you who want to know everything about the lore of the world.
Horizon also improved on both Witcher and Tomb Raider’s hunting and gathering mechanic, while making it essential to go hunting. This can be viewed as a negative or positive aspect depending on what type of gamer you are. I often found myself doing a lot of machine hunting, literally spending a good hour or so hunting for vital resources and stockpiling them so that I don’t run out in the heat of a battle. I rather enjoyed this as it gave me a good reason to go out of my way to hunt certain animals or pick up certain plants.
Resource management can be confusing at times. There is no “storage container” for storing weapons, armour or resources. For some reason you are forced to carry everything that you pick up until your resources bag is full. You have various bags that you can upgrade, but to upgrade them you will need specific resources. This managed to bring in the same problem The Witcher had. Your inventory becomes a horrible mess with no filters at your disposal. This was one of the only issues I had. Luckily, this little problem was vastly overshadowed by the combat.
The combat is another shining area of brilliance. Aloy needs to hunt in order to get resources and fight to defend herself. There are bandit camps scattered around the map which can be cleared by killing everyone stealthily or running in arrows blazing and killing everyone the loud way. These camps pale in comparison to the fights with the machine animals. There are a lot of different types of machines and every single one of them is dangerous in their own unique way. Some of them are small like the Watcher, who acts as a sentry for the other animals in the herd. Machines such as the Thunderjaw are massive, dangerous and covered extensively in armour.
On top of that these machines have components that can be shot off in order to damage or remove a specific combat ability. Certain components have specific weaknesses such as fire and tear, adding a tactical aspect to the combat. Aloy has the ability to scan an enemy and pinpoint its weak spots and see its vulnerabilities. This makes fights with the machines a little easier. You can take an enemy down without hitting these weak spots but then it takes significantly longer. Successfully taking down an enemy is an extremely rewarding feeling.
During the course of the game, Aloy gains access to a large variety of weapons, each with its own strength and weaknesses. You are given a lot of options when it comes to taking down your enemies. Your weapons can be modified to increase their damage or a specific elemental aspect. You are given the freedom to tailor your loadout to suit the way you want to play. You can even swap out your weapons mid battle if the need arises. Overall the combat is often tense, exhilarating, rewarding and fun.
Horizon: Zero Dawn also has a photo mode, very similar, if not identical to Uncharted 4. I currently have 1268 screenshots that I have taken while using photo mode. Being able to freeze the game at any point to play around with things like Depth of Field or Time of Day adds a whole new layer of enjoyment. It allowed me to really look at the world around me and marvel at its beauty.
The story of Horizon: Zero Dawn was fantastic. There were ways for you to piece the story together if you really tried but overall the bulk of the story is only revealed to you towards the end of the game. The ending was extremely satisfying for a number of reasons, the most important one being that it made sense. Going into detail would unfortunately spoil the story so you will have to take my word for it. A great story coupled with great quest narratives and a strongly written character are the right ingredients to a great game.
Horizon: Zero Dawn’s mere existence is a slap in the face to all the development studios who will happily release games of poor quality and still charge obscene amounts of money. Horizon: Zero Dawn is the perfect picture of how games should be. This console exclusive is definitely a benchmark for all future games in its genre.