On February 28, 2017 Sony Computer Entertainment published the Guerrilla Games developed third-person adventure role-playing game Horizon Zero Dawn. And for the first time since starting Galoot’s Loot I’m speechless. I wish I could blame it on the fact that I typed close to 3,000 words for my coverage on For Honor but it’s not fatigue that’s holding me back, it’s that Horizon Zero Dawn is the most complete, balanced and rewarding game to come around for me in a long time. As of March 5, 2017 I have completed Twenty in-game hours in Horizon Zero Dawn, most of that time I’ve spent hunting and gathering. Once I completed the brief and basic tutorial I spent four hours hunting and gathering. Before I continue to ramble on about my hunting and gathering prowess I’ll offer up a summary of the game and specific aspects of Horizon Zero Dawn that stood out for me.
The story in Horizon Zero Dawn follows the main hero Aloy on her quest to discover who she is, where she came from, her purpose and who her mother is. You start the game with Aloy as a child. She falls into a hole in the ground that is actually an entrance to a ruin from the ancient civilization. The matriarchs of the Nora Tribes forbid entrance to these ruins but Aloy is curious. As you search the ruins and make your way through them you discover a piece of technology called a ‘Focus’. The Focus allows you to see things that you wouldn’t normally see; clues, collectibles, machine tracks, machine weak points and elemental weaknesses. With the Focus attached to Aloy’s head you start to uncover bits and pieces of the world that once was. When you finally work your way through the ruins, your care taker, mentor and father figure Rost is waiting for you.
As any child would, Aloy has questions for Rost; questions Rost can’t or isn’t prepared to answer. Rost is Aloy’s protector and as her protect he needs to train her in the ways of the Embrace, the wild lands where they live. Besides survival, Rost is training Aloy so that when she becomes of age she can compete in the tribe’s competition known as The Proving. Even though Aloy is an outcast, she’s been one since birth, every child has the chance to compete in The Proving in hopes of becoming a brave for the tribe. If you win The Proving your reward is a boon, anything you ask will be given. In case you didn’t guess it, Aloy wins The Proving but there are unforeseen circumstances that prevent her from enjoying her victory. These circumstances set you on a huge adventure into the wilds, past the walls of The Embrace and into an open world of danger, wonderment and some of the best gameplay on the PS4 to date.
Horizon Zero Dawn has several options for almost every gaming need you could think of; gathering resources, stealth, adventure, knock down drag out brawls and RPG type mechanics. There’s almost too much game here but Guerrilla Games worked a miracle since I haven’t felt overwhelmed yet. Let’s start with the basics, the hunter bow and the staff.
At the beginning your main weapons will be a combination of Aloy’s Hunter Bow and Staff. With movement being so fluid as Aloy I opted to do a majority of my killing the Metal Gear Solid way, stealth. I would roll into the tall grass and give a little whistle to the nearest machine. When the machine would come to investigate the sound they were in for a glorious surprise as my staff would kill them where they stood. This method of killing never got old. Even during the occasional instance when I would attract the attention of two or more machines I wasn’t worried. Sure I would get the stealth kill on the first machine but I would give away my position and advantage to the other machines. This allowed me to use a combination of light and heavy attacks with my staff, the combat felt fluid and natural. You really should go out and buy the game now if you haven’t.
When I would approach the much larger machines from a distance with my hunter bow the combat felt quick and precise. As Aloy I would use my Focus ability and scan the machines for weak points. Once the scanning was complete I would ready, steady, aim and fire. The arrows do a considerable amount of damage, especially on the weak points.
Don’t think that Horizon Zero Dawn limits you to these two combat choices, it doesn’t. As you progress through the game you’ll acquire additional weapons for your arsenal. As you learn to understand the basics behind the Tripcaster or Ropecaster you’ll quickly learn to string together combos, set traps and most likely get in way over your head for the sheer fun of it. Plus you’ll want to see if you can get out of the horrible stacked against you odds, don’t worry, with time and practice you can. To help aid you in those instances you’ll have a Skill Tree and Modifications to use as you level up.
When it comes to the RPG elements of Horizon Zero Dawn Guerrilla Games doesn’t break the mold here, instead they fine tune the tried and true staples and the results are fantastic. As you progress through the game Aloy levels up. With each level she gains a Skill point, which can be spent on one of three columns in the Skill Tree.
- Prowler Column: Skills that focus on stealth, attack strength and agility type skills
- Brave Column: Skills that focus on concentration, critical hit chance and multiple shot type skills.
- Forager Column: Skills that focus on gathering supplies/materials, overriding machines and crafting type skills.
During my time with Horizon Zero Dawn I opted to focus on the Prowler column for two reasons; 1) stealth kills are so fun in this game and 2) I didn’t mind spending hours grinding out kills and walking all over the map because kills are so fun in this game.
As I’ve said already Horizon Zero Dawn doesn’t break any molds here, they execute the basic elements perfectly. Don’t expect anything less or more when it comes to weapon and armor modifications and crafting. For both armor and weapons Aloy has three types to acquire; Uncommon, Rare and Very Rare. Each type has a limited number of Mod Slots or none at all. Modifications on weapons can do anything from increase handling to adding additional power to an element specific to the weapon. And modifications on armor, you guessed it offer additional protection against specific elements; Fire, Ice, Electric and Corruption.
With each new skill acquired Horizon Zero Dawn seems to balance itself out. It’s as though the game either predicts your skill level or the developers planned every upgrade out with perfect precision.
Horizon Zero Dawn
As of March 14, 2017 plenty of gamers have completed Horizon Zero Dawn, some have even acquired all Trophies for the game and have gone ‘Platinum.’ I don’t blame them, to each their own, but that’s not the way I play. Don’t get me wrong I want to play that way. Horizon Zero Dawn is a game that sucks you in from the very start with the story but as soon as you can fight you’ll get lost in hunting and killing with the story taking a back seat.
I’ll compare gaming styles to being able to drink alcohol legally. When you’re young you go into everything full charge, you don’t hold back, which means you have a great time but get drunk and then your memories are a little unclear. Hopefully, when you’re a little older and a little wiser you know longer rush into drinking, you take it slow and enjoy it. Knowing completely well the end will be there but this time you’ve taken your time and enjoyed every last drop.
I’m torn. No, I’m not Natalie Imbruglia (Go ahead and Google that if you’re young). I’m torn in the fact that I continually have to walk away from Horizon Zero Dawn because it’s that good. I want to get sucked in yet I want to enjoy it. I also don’t want it to end.
Guerrilla Games did something amazing here, they created a complete game that’s well balanced and holds a little bit of something for everyone. The story is compelling. The visuals and art direction are out of this world. The world in Horizon Zero Dawn feels real and honest. If you haven’t picked this game up yet please do so now. It’s the best $60 your money can buy.
Horizon Zero Dawn is appropriately title; it’s the DAWNing of a new era in video games and at Guerrilla Games, there are ZERO reasons to not buy this game, and there’s a new outlook on the HORIZON in game development. Year Zero, this is the new beginning. Buy it now and you won’t regret it.