“The machines must be respected,” Rost told to Aloy. Little did I know those words would take me on one of the best adventures in my life.
Horizon Zero Dawn is all about Aloy, a baby born under mysterious circumstances and hundreds of thousands of years after the fall of modern humanity. The world around her is ruled by dinosaur-like machines, tribes of humanity separated by lands, and one of those tribes is actively seeking to kill everything in sight. Unfortunately, for Aloy (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) she’s born to the Nora. A tribe of humanity who more or less act like a religious cult. They have customs, norms, values, and traditions that ostracizes anything different and think their sect of life is the best one around. I’m not lying either. If anyone does anything wrong, they’ll be exiled for a period of time and no one can help or speak to them in that time. Got into a fight with another Nora member? Five years of exile. Leave the Nora lands without permission? Exile for life. Baby born out of nowhere? Get the hell out and treat her like dirt if you ever see her again.
The atmosphere and culture of this world acts very pre-historic in some regards. Robes, tatters, and other cheap materials for clothing, weird ideologies that could only come from infants in the grand scheme of things, lush and gorgeous wild as far as the eye can see, and the aforementioned different tribes. Still the game takes place in the far future and some remnants of advanced technology do survive. The dinosaur-like machines for one, but other marvels such as earpieces that function like a computer, phone, holo-projector, and scanning tech all in one. This blend of old and new really works well with this journey and seamlessly blends science fiction, reality, and history. Enough about the lore though. Part of Horizon Zero Dawn is discovering things and how the world works as seen through Aloy.
So after being exiled as a newborn, our heroine is raised in the wilds by another exiled Nora tribe member, Rost. He essentially acts as her father and raises her to survive in the harsh environment. Through interactions with other, non-exiled, tribe citizens, Aloy grows to hate her predicament and wants answers. All of which Rost wants to prepare her for by participating in more Nora traditions. Thus, the experience and search begins. Who are Aloy’s parents, why does one tribe of the planet want to exterminate everything, where did these sophisticated machines come from in this primal society, what happened to the people who came before, and what exactly has happened in the hundred thousands of years since are all explored and discovered. Additionally, I couldn’t think of anyone else I would want to discover these things with than Aloy. She’s an amazing and independent character who grows up so much before our eyes. Her troubles were my troubles. I honestly felt connected to this character like a friend and not a vessel for me to control.
As mentioned before, Aloy travels the world with a newfound sense of curiosity in hunt for answers. She’ll interact with other humans, outposts, even a few “cities,” old civilization ruins, and hi-tech facilities that actually pump out those monstrous machines. The lore, both in past and present, is wonderfully rich and detailed. The current times offer a complexity of politics, habits, procedures, and lifestyles that bring alternative and familiar together. This world truly feels alive and well while standing on its own merits. Then the background lore of what came before and why things are the way they are now. Guerrilla does a fantastic job of building up Horizon Zero Dawn’s yesteryears. Although it should be more like yesterhundredthousandyears. Discovering why and how old civilizations fell was wholly unique, captivating, interesting, and eye-opening. Let’s just say you’ll be paying attention to collectible descriptions and all the audio and text recordings you come across. The backstory is that good.
One of the best things about Horizon Zero Dawn is the gameplay. It’s fast, frenetic, and incredibly satisfying. You’ll be facing off against a variety of humans and over twenty different machine types. The former will mostly appear in slightly upgraded variations. Such as ones who will charge you with a spear, shoot at you with an arrow, shoot at you with a powerful explosive gun, etc. The robo-dinos are where the fun is at though. Let’s start with the opponents themselves. Their design, abilities, and dynamic A.I. coding is amazing. Each one brings a different set of believable weakpoints, attack patterns, and maneuverability, that is for highly and technologically evolved creatures. Going up against a Scrapper, smaller wolf like machine, will play out entirely different then battling a Sawtooth, giant sabretooth tiger robot. Some will shoot projectiles at you while others come with huge, gigantic claws. You will not be disappointed with even run-of-the-mill encounters. Battles and fights are superbly intense.
Of course, they’re no match for our Aloy. She wields a bunch of impressive weapons and tech, but doesn’t skip out on the essentials. Naturally, there will be bow and arrows to wield. Quite a few in fact. There’s normal bow and arrows, penetrative bow and arrows, precision, and even elemental ones like fire. Aloy also employs a sling with bombs. Yes, bombs. A handful of containers are filled with different liquids that produce a wide range of effects. I’ll let you discover the fun of those AOE options for yourself. Then my personal favorite, the Tripwire. This bad boy allows you to create a wire along two points. Once an enemy goes across it, the wire will either cause a nice explosion or zap depending on which type of wire you had equipped. Ropecaster basically allows you to tie down enemies in some sort of trap. It’s really fun to use. There are a few more, but know that you won’t be sticking with one weapon. Every item brings uses and advantages. I found myself using at least four in every hairy situation or battle.
Aloy is no slouch on her own though. Her base moveset includes badass rolling (yes we labeled a roll as badass), light and heavy melee hits, and rock throwing. Through skill points and upgrades, she’ll acquire abilities like lure call, concentration (slows down time shortly), multiple arrow shots, stealth strikes and the ability to override machines to your side. Plus, a ton of other stuff to make her stronger. Even with these techniques at your disposal, you’ll still need to play it safe and smart. You’ll find yourself laying down traps in anticipation or timing your attacks instead of spamming them. Most of the machines are as fast as they are deadly. Taking multiple down at once will be no simple feat. As Rost said, you have to respect them.
As for the RPG mechanics, everything evens out. The user interface is friendly, easy to read, and customizable. The menus are nicely sorted and colored so that everything is clearly visible from the get-go. You’ll be breezing by screens to get where you want to be in no time. The crafting is also user-friendly but simple. Items you need will be clearly labeled and if you don’t have something you need, it’s insanely easy to create your own quest in order to scour it out. Same with modifying weapons. Simply select a slot, select a mod, and voila. What needs to be complimented though is the in-game selection menus. Holding L1 will bring up a weapon wheel which will minutely slow down time around you. Using the right analog stick to select your item is not complicated nor will the selection fight you. Once more, simply hold the X button on your choice to craft more components or ammo. It’s that simple. The whole process will literally take less than seconds and not involve stopping the action by pausing the game. Same with selecting potions with the right and left arrow buttons and selecting up to use health herbs you plucked from the ground.
Speaking from an artistic standpoint, Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the most beautiful things ever made. My personal favorite deals with the environment. Guerrilla Games’ creation has a healthy dose of greenery, snow, desert, mountainous regions, swamp lands, and hi-tech factories made out of nothing but metal. All of them of extravagantly created. Both in design and graphics. The detail to grass, trees, and dirt were only matched by the stunning views and lighting. Let me put it this way. The game was so lovely that I actually used photo mode for the first time in video games. Then proceeded to use it a hundred more times. I’m not kidding. That’s not to say the voice acting, tunes, and soundtrack were no slouches either. The sounds can take you on a thrill too. Especially when music plays at just the right time or an echo can be realistically heard. Same with the voice talent. Enunciation, scope, tone, and emotion were all captured perfectly. Even down to random NPCs on the streets. Needless to say, this game can be a technical marvel.
With all this praise you’re reading there must be something the least bit negative. Not really. I legitimately had to scrap up cons or reasons where the game failed. Here are those attempts. The climbing in the game is impeccably smooth and visible and I could count the times it bugged out, in my forty hour playtime, on one hand. Once and only once did an object (super huge, earth eating machine) fall through the map. In the beginning of the game, very few cutscenes had characters react like they just landed from a jump in mid-conversation. Speaking of which, Aloy can choose her dialogue at times and each option will approach a situation differently. However, they don’t really have an effect on the story or the relationship Aloy has with who she’s talking to. Lastly, I would have loved some post-game content, but that’s like complaining I didn’t get a cherry on a delicious hot fudge sundae.
Horizon Zero Dawn is nothing short of a masterpiece that elevates Guerrilla Games to the likes of Naughty Dog and CD Projekt Red. The unique, engrossing story, complex and fast-paced gameplay, absolutely gorgeous open world to traverse, and so much more are brought to life thanks to the Killzone developer. The game has genuinely made it into my top ten list of all time and will probably make it higher once time has passed. There's nothing that should stop you from buying this title if you have a PlayStation 4. Hell if you don't have one, buy a system just for this game. This isn't just a magnificent RPG video game, it's a journey that everyone should experience.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game bought at the expense of the reviewer on a base PS4. This has no effect on the content of the review or the final score awarded. For more information, please read our Review Policy.