Horizon Zero Dawn looked both awesome and odd from the moment it was announced at E3 2015.
Here was a game set in a world where robots had replaced all of the animals while humankind was still living in caves. It looked like Transformers crossed with Clan Of The Cave Bear.
While it certainly looked compelling, the weird primitive-society-meets-hi-tech premise threw up a whole load of questions. Where did these robots come from? What had happened to reduce human society to its earliest stage? And how the hell were players supposed to take out a massive hulking robot with a slingshot?
Horizon Zero Dawn Review – Plot
Fortunately, Horizon Zero Dawn answers all these questions in its plot, which is more layered and a hell of a lot darker than one has any right to expect from a game with robot deers in it.
The story centres on a young woman named Aloy (pronounced Ay-loy) who is shown in early stages of the game as a baby and then a child. She is shunned by the Nora tribe in her area as an outcast, her only friend and mentor being a fellow pariah named Rost (not Rust, in case you were wondering).
As time progresses, Rost teaches Aloy how to survive in her hostile surroundings, which essentially involves climbing, shooting robots with homemade weapons and hiding in long grass. Once she comes of age, she’s allowed to compete in The Proving, a race against Nora adolescents, which will gain her full tribal membership if she wins.
Because this is a videogame, it’s not really spoiling anything to report that she does, but then something terrible happens… and that’s where particular plot revelations must cease.
The only further development that needs to be revealed is that Aloy heads out into the lands beyond the Nora tribe’s gates in search of answers. Suffice to say that on her travels, Aloy not only discovers the origins of the robot creatures, she learns secrets far darker and far more deadly than we ever anticipated.
Horizon Zero Dawn Review – Structure
At its core, Horizon Zero Dawn is an open world RPG that involves an awful lot of scrounging and an awful lot of crafting. Players are encouraged to pick up anything the HUD tags as interesting so they can trade with merchants, craft better ammunition, mod weapons and outfits and (above all else) keep their health potions stocked.
Side quests shouldn’t be looked at as distractions; they’re mandatory because as the main storyline progresses, players who don’t plough a lot of effort into building up Aloy’s XP and arsenal will find themselves on the back foot. The robot creatures simply become bigger, nastier and more dangerous over time so it’s worth exploring every side mission and errand in order to collect shards, buy better gear and unlock as much of Aloy’s talent tree as possible before returning to the main story.
Horizon Zero Dawn Review – Combat
Naturally there are going to be times when the player will have to throw down with some of the robot beasties and human enemies they encounter. In the case of the latter, it’s a simple matter of making sure Aloy’s weapons and talent trees are up to speed; if you’re playing the game properly, you’ll make short work of most human opponents.
In the case of the former it’s worth remembering that Horizon Zero Dawn has gifted players a decent selection of weapons, a slow-motion aiming mechanic and robot bestiary for a reason. There are some robot animals players can take down in short order with a well-aimed shot to the noggin with the right ammo. For the rest, they have to get creative.
Take, for example, the Corruptor robot, which is what may have happened if a spider and a scorpion decided to couple in hell. This adversary moves fast, has ranged and melee attacks and is generally unpleasant to deal with. Firing a stream of arrows at this sod will eventually bring it down, but it’s inadvisable since the Corruptor will zone in on the player’s position quickly and may even try to jump on them.
This is where Aloy’s ‘Focus’ power comes in. By tapping the right thumbstick, players can glean a ton of information about their surroundings and any potential targets; knowledge such as whether or not a robot has any vulnerable parts on its body or whether fire-arrows are more likely to cause damage than hard-tipped ones.
In the case of the Corruptor, setting the robot on fire can send it haywire for a limited time. Lock it in place with a couple of shots from a ropecaster and all of a sudden a war of attrition turns into a fair fight.
Horizon Zero Dawn Review – Stealth, damn you
Unfortunately, the direct approach isn’t always advisable since Aloy is a fragile soul and, when surrounded by myriad foes there’s the very real chance she’ll get turned into paint, regardless of how many health boosts the player has stocked.
In a lot of instances, players will be required to sneak through an environment, perhaps silent-killing a number of enemies on the way without revealing their position. Yes, at certain points, Horizon Zero Dawn turns into a stealth game.
That would be fine if the game offered players the option to save mid-mission, but it doesn’t. Rather, save points are dotted around the map in the form of bonfires. The only other time the game saves progress is after the completion of a mission (or midway through a particularly tough mission).
This means that players can spend ages hiding in long grass, making their way through a map and coming within an eyelash of leaving an area, only to be kicked back to the beginning because one enemy spotted them. Oh, and if one adversary spots you in this game, the entire camp (robot and human both) comes running. Perhaps these flaws should be considered by the developers ahead of a sequel.
Horizon Zero Dawn Review – Verdict
Oh, there will be a sequel. In spite of its peccadilloes Horizon Zero Dawn is a blast to play and its world and story are far too compelling to not warrant further exploration. It also looks eye-poppingly beautiful; on a PS4 it’s simply sumptuous so one can only imagine what it looks like on a PS4 Pro hooked up to a 4K TV.
Horizon Zero Dawn has its issues, but there’s more than enough here to keep players hooked especially if they love grinding in a beautiful world. The fantastic story may just be the icing for these players, but it’s what’ll keep most players glued to the game and coming back for more.
Horizon Zero Dawn was reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. A retail copy was provided by the publisher.