Horizon Zero Dawn is a game that needs no introduction. Robotic dinosaurs that you can hunt with primitive weapons against a backdrop of the mystery of how that all came to be was always a solid sell.
After years of being a PlayStation 4 exclusive we finally have our hands on the PC port so the obvious questions must be asked: was it worth the wait, and what’s the performance like?
To answer the first question: yes. With open world games teetering on burnout for many people we were a bit hesitant to jump into yet another one, but Horizon Zero Dawn does some very clever things to make every step of the game fun.
Firstly is the unique balance between difficult combat and exploration. The game’s tutorial heavily focuses on stealth, giving the impression that you’ll be doing a lot of it, and much less balls to the wall robo-dinosaur bashing.
In truth the game cleverly balances this by giving you the freedom to choose how hard you want to make your life. Outside of the difficulty option, the way you approach every dinobot is a little mission unto itself. This is because every non-human enemy in the game is made up of weak points.
The way Horizon Zero Dawn does things is much smarter than the average “hit the big glowing weak point” because the dinosaurs won’t be felled by a handful of hits, and you first need to strip armour off of them before you can do any real damage.
This game really is a marvel in the delicate balance between going all out in aggression and hoovering up kills, while also leaving you feeling a bit underpowered even in the late stages of the game.
We can go on about how some clever systems like how HP refills can slowly be harvested from plants, the fact that you can essentially farm certain components from weaker enemies or the fact that the game’s currency is also an important element of crafting many ammunition types, but we’ll just end off by saying that the combat here is fun and far from the chore of other open world games.
The combat being tuned so well loops perfectly into exploration, because you can’t walk more than a few metres before running into a new enemy. This can be frustrating but, again, the developers give you lots of tools to either avoid the fight altogether, or make it fast and simple.
You can always just hop onto the back of an overridden dinosaur and ride right past the fight in style, as this ability is unlocked early in the game.
With both of those sorted there’s just story and quest structure. The story of the main game is, well, just okay. There’s nothing too impactful on offer and it can get irritating to try and keep the fictional names and terms swimming in your head every time a conversation starts.
The quests and missions are your usual blend of “go to X, kill Y and collect Z”. As the machines can be broken down into parts and there are so many machines out there, the quest structure naturally fits it.
There are, however, some standouts, like a plot to destroy a city and fake an assassination. At some point you can just forget that you’re in a game sold on the premise of fighting mechanical monsters, as you get sucked into political turmoil.
All of this, however, is rather old news and was covered when the base game launched and again when the Frozen Wilds expansion launched (which is included in the PC port, by the way).
What is new is how this game performs. The minimum and recommended specs are available in this FAQ and we played through the game on a very modest desktop PC – a Ryzen 5 3600, AMD RX 580 8 GB (both at stock speeds) and 16GB of 3200MHz RAM.
Our graphics card is actually the exact one which is recommended for the game at the “original” preset for 60FPS. In Horizon Zero Dawn “original” it is the medium preset.
As for performance it’s a prickly thing to speak about. This is because, at the time of writing, a lot is going on with the game. Just a few hours ago, a day one patch was announced and AMD drivers for this game have only just launched as an optional install.
This means that the majority of our playtime up until now, right before embargo, has been a lesser experience compared to what you will have at launch.
Because of this we will have a separate story up soon about the in-game benchmark and the new performance figures.
For now, however, we can say that things were solid, but not as solid as we’d like. On medium the Radeon software reports that our average FPS was around 56, but this really doesn’t tell the full story. There were many areas and weather effects in the game which tanked performance and it never felt as smooth as a close to 60FPS number would suggest.
Again we will have more on this soon, but for now we can say performance on the recommended hardware is good enough.
Performance isn’t the only part of a port with controls being another topic. In our playtime we found that both controller and keyboard plus mouse were equally effective and supported really well.
Our old Xbox 360 controller with wireless dongle worked a treat and was setup automatically, and the keyboard controls allowed some quicker actions, as expected.
As for which you end up using depends on you. As precise aiming to hit weak points is so important in this game you may prefer to go the mouse route, but general navigation in a third person game feels better to us on controller.
Aside from great support for both the game has a rather simple control scheme so you can switch back and forth a few times until you decide.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a decent PC port that may get better as time goes on, and it remains a fantastic open world dino adventure that comes highly recommended, even if you’re sick of climbing towers to reveal parts of maps. At least in this game the towers are giant robots with long necks.