Horizon: Zero Dawn – Review

Previously I stated in my preview of Horizon: Zero Dawn that Guerrilla Games managed to prove that they can do more than first-person shooters. That statement still remains clear and true. Playing through the wilds and vastness throughout the lands with Aloy was one fulfilling moment that I will never forget.

Horizon: Zero Dawn offers a lot of things, a lot of secrets and backstory that needs to be discovered along your journey.

Screenshot captured using a standard PS4.

Platform Reviewed: PS4 (standard)
Platform Available: PS4
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Price: $59.99
This review is based on a review copy provided by the developers/publisher.

Horizon borrowed a lot of elements from the likes of Watch_Dogs, Uncharted, Tomb Raider, and Dragon Age. The gameplay relies more on survival and exploration as Horizon encourages you to loot more resources as much as you can for crafting. These resources are needed to craft your ammos and health items like the arrows, potions, upgrade your inventory space and fast travel packs; it might be tedious and a chore at some point but it does give you an advantage for being prepared when you need them.

Aloy, the protagonist, is in a quest for answers and revenge. Horizon starts off with a very touching premise that pulls everyone in with its interesting plot. The secrets that dwell in Horizon’s world are alluring that can entice you to search for more datapoints and old recordings to know the stories of individuals from the past. The quests and side-missions are not dragging, they come in with an acceptable difficulty and are also well-paced. You will never feel burnt-out from these missions you take. And each adventure you take in the wilds, you will discover secrets, meet other people from different tribes, and it never feels repetitive.

How the dialogue is presented has the Mass Effect and Dragon Age feels. The emotional sequences where Aloy needs to choose how she reacts in a daring situation also affect certain scenes in the game. You can be aggressive, wise, or forgiving. It doesn’t change the course of the story like Telltale Games’ titles, but it does show different events that are based on your choice of response.

Stealth is also a must in Horizon, you can’t simply run into battle without thinking of any tactical strategy unless you’re lucky enough to level up and stack a lot of medical pouches and potions. You can hide in tall grasses from the enemy’s sight, and there’s an eye indicator that lets you know the level of noise you’re making and your visibility. It’s also nice to note that even if you’re on top of a platform, enemies can still spot you unlike other titles.

Combat feels more flexible but challenging at the same time. You can adapt and choose how you want to approach a certain angle of a battle. You can either go stabbing enemies with a Silent Kill using your spear, or you can go on an all-out arrow flying parade against formidable mech-creatures and humans. You have different kinds of arrows and other weapons at your disposal. The Ropecaster is one of my favorites, it’s the weapon that can hold down the mech-creatures. The bigger they are, the larger amount of rope-shots you need to hold them.

The controls never feel slippery and clunky. It gets more challenging when in combat, there are no aim-assist that will help you defeat your enemies. You need to have precise timing and with the use of your aim-slow motion feat, you’ll have an efficient way of taking them out. I like this kind of system where you’re not guided with any aim-assist, yes, it can be difficult for some players who are not used with controllers, but this is what I definitely prefer. I do have to also note that the handling when riding a Strider is bad, the direction gets me confused at times when I’m aiming.

Another fun aspect is that you can also hack through these machines with the use of Override. This is a feat that can tame or hack mechanical beasts to side with you, and also take advantage of their abilities. Just like the Striders and Broadheads, you can control them with the use of Override and then mount them. Just imagine, a big sabertooth-like machine has your back and just rips off every little enemies — it’s satisfying to watch.

Screenshot captured using a standard PS4.

The skill tree is straightforward and profound. It doesn’t go all around that can be confusing for others to understand. It’s simple enough to get through, and whether or not you leave out some of the important upgrades like the slow-motion aim and jump move, it wouldn’t pull you back that hard. You will get an insane amount of challenge if you’re up to it, but it’s not unbeatable.

It’s separated to 3 categories: the Prowler, Brave, and Forager. Each focuses on certain aspects of Aloy’s abilities and feats. The Brave, for example, focuses more on combat and the ability to be more precise with aim and the critical hits. The Prowler is for stealth-based upgrades while the Forager is more on health regeneration and item acquisition.

The damage upgrade does not rely on any skill tree category, it can be increased with the use of mods. These mods can easily be looted from mech-creatures you kill, and they can still be bought from merchants (who are also called traders) with the use of your Metal Shards (just like Metro Last Light, you use your ammo as money to buy items) and other items you get as a trade.

Save points that are scattered around the maps are perfectly distanced, it’s not too far away and not too close. It makes the travel less frustrating that can be dragging like Mafia 3. However, I find it a burden to keep crafting fast travel packs though. It should have been free from the start, but I don’t use it that much since I do love to traverse and do some little sightseeing.

This is why looting is very important in Horizon. As I said, it can be tedious at times and it will feel like a chore; but with its post-apocalyptic theme and survival element it’s critical to pick-up items as much as you can until you feel what you have is already enough.

Guerrilla Games has achieved more with Horizon’s visuals. This game is what I consider to be your true next-generation title with insanely detailed environments and characters. The expressions of each NPC are as organic as it can be. Each detail like the skin, the eyes, the hair, and the scars are perfectly well-made. Cinematics in the game uses the actual in-game graphics than the traditional CGI scenes, this also proves how fantastic Horizon looks and that Guerrilla Games is not afraid to showcase it.

Screenshot captured using a standard PS4.

Although Horizon is visually appealing, I can’t help but notice that some of the NPC’s mouth movements are similar to some RPGs that they don’t move with the words spoken. BioWare also had the same clunky animation with their Mass Effect series, but it improved a bit in Mass Effect 3. I just find it lazy when developers rush these animations. Good thing though, not every character is like this in Horizon. Mother Teersa’s mouth moves decently along with the words she speaks, but some NPCs, they don’t.

It’s impressive that a game like Horizon that has amazing and stunning graphics runs very smoothly on a base PS4. It didn’t have hiccups with its frame-rate, and I can give that big applause to Guerrilla Games for doing a great job with their Decima game-engine, which is used in Killzone: Shadow Fall and is also used to develop Hideo Kojima’s upcoming game — Death Stranding. It just really shows how Guerrilla Games has learned from their past mistake with Killzone: Shadow Fall.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is the game that perfected the open-world RPG genre, there are still a lot of secrets that I have yet to uncover in the ruins beyond the land of the tribes. The minor faults didn’t affect my final score for Horizon since the great parts of the game outweighs it. Horizon entices me to come back for more, there was never a time that I got bored with its side-missions which I usually care less in most RPG titles. Horizon: Zero Dawn is by far the best cinematic and most immersive game I’ve played this year.



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