Horizon Zero Dawn Review
Overall 8

A studio best known for lackluster FPS games doesn’t typically venture into unknown terrain quite in the way Guerrilla Games have done with Horizon. Throwing down the gauntlet and breaking into an entirely new genre as the developers of Killzone hope to innovate the open-world RPG market with Horizon Zero Dawn. One of 2017’s most anticipated releases but does it represent the dawn of a new era for open-world gaming or are the best days of Guerrilla Games behind them?

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Horizon Zero Dawn Review

A studio best known for lackluster FPS games doesn’t typically venture into unknown terrain quite in the way Guerrilla Games has done with Horizon Zero Dawn. Throwing down the gauntlet and breaking into an entirely new genre, the developers of Killzone hope to innovate the open-world RPG market with this new title. It’s one of 2017’s most anticipated releases, but does it represent the dawn of a new era for open-world gaming, or are the best days of Guerrilla Games behind them?

Horizon Zero Dawn sees players take on the role of the female protagonist Aloy, a strong, independent and charismatic character with a mysterious background and a talent for asking the wrong questions (something you’ll spend the vast majority of your time doing at the beginning of your journey). Horizon Zero Dawn takes place 1,000 years into the future, in a world where mankind has fallen back into basic tribal living and idol worship. Nature has reclaimed much of the world, as giant mechanical beasts that are remnants of a past technical advancement litter the plains and deserts with small pockets of humans clinging on for survival.

While a promising premise, the initial hours of Horizon Zero Dawn’s story feel eerily familiar. The tribal aspects of the game feel similar to Far Cry: Primal. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not all that fresh either. As you watch Aloy mature from a young girl into a proud woman, you explore the relationship between her and Rost – a fellow outcast shunned by their tribe who taught Aloy at a very young age. As the story moves forward, Aloy and Rost part ways, as does Aloy with her homeland as she ventures beyond the walls into the wider world.

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That’s where the story drops off. The initial narrative keeps players engaged, with a good balance of exploration, combat, and storytelling. Once that open-world is at Aloy’s feet, however, it becomes more difficult to stay in tune with the story. Very early on, objectives ask you to travel to very distant locations, offering the choice of progressing into dangerous areas to enjoy the story or progressing through slowly to improve skills and equipment – the latter being the only real choice. This meant I often had a three or four hour gap between any serious commitments to the story segments of the game.

However, 20 hours in to the experience and 40 levels better off, I decided to dive back into the narrative of Horizon Zero Dawn. By this point I had lost almost all interest in everyone but Aloy and a couple of great characters, but it didn’t take long for that to change. Without mentioning any spoilers, the last 5-10 hours of the story make the entire experience worthwhile. What I originally considered as one of the games’ most disappointing elements quickly became one of its most defining features. Aloy searches every corner of the land hoping to find answers to her origins and purpose, but the answers you get are much, much bigger than that. Forgiving the dead spots Horizon Zero Dawn’s story is fantastic, but it would have definitely benefited from some better pacing.
Aloy searches every corner of the land hoping to find answers to her origins and purpose, but the answers you get are much, much bigger than that.

One of the first things you will notice in the world of Horizon Zero Dawn is its impressive open-world environment. The environment plays well, looks amazing, and captures the overall feel of nature reclaiming the lands. Every image you see in this article was taken in-game using the Photo Mode feature, all using unedited in-game graphics. While I’d never say graphics are crucial to a games’ success, the attention to detail and level of quality in Horizon Zero Dawn is something you cannot ignore. If nothing else, you need to play Horizon Zero Dawn just to sit in awe at how impressive the game looks and feels.

When you’re not stuck in awe at yet another fantastic sight in the world of Horizon Zero Dawn, you’re trying to kill everything in it. The blend of tribal warfare and mechanic enemies was one of the elements that captured the imagination of millions when the game was first revealed, and it’s something the team obviously put a lot of time and thought into creating. Thankfully, it’s done to near perfection.

Every mechanical enemy you encounter has a similar feel to Capcom’s Monster Hunter. Each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, behavioral patterns, and potential dangers. It is up to you, as the hunter, to plan each attack to avoid becoming the hunted. It’s this tactical and strategic approach that truly distinguishes Horizon Zero Dawn from the competition. Every combat scenario can be approached differently – through stealth, taking direct control of enemies, or just tearing off one of their massive guns and shooting everything in sight.

If for no other reason, you need to play Horizon Zero Dawn just to sit in awe at how impressive the game looks and feels.
While Horizon Zero Dawn manages to deliver on many of the more complex and challenging elements of open-world gameplay, the approach to some of the core RPG mechanics is nothing short of archaic. What I can only assume to be a very poor attempt at giving today’s pack and crate opening addicts something to get excited about, Horizon Zero Dawn’s reward system is anything but rewarding. The vast majority of quests, regardless of difficulty, provide small “loot boxes” that contain a random number of items and loot. This often results in a quest taking 20-30 minutes, battling mechanical beasts five times your size while rewarding you with mundane crafting materials or vendor trash. There are some items that hold a bit more rarity and value, but these are used in another lackluster system within Horizon Zero Dawn: weapons and armor.

In a traditional open-world setting, the buffer of providing a detailed weapon and armor system is the perfect remedy for some of the ills that plague Horizon Zero Dawn. Instead of pointless loot boxes, players could be rewarded with rare and valuable weapons, making a challenging or time consuming experience worthwhile and rewarding. But the games restricted approach to both of these systems feels dated and unimaginative. Throughout Aloy’s journey through a vast and challenging environment, she is equipped but with a single spear, a spear that isn’t changed until two to three missions prior to the end of the game. Its mixture of other weapons, such as bows, tripcasters and ropecasters, provide intricate ways of attacking enemies and solving a challenging combat scenario, but these too fall victim to lack of variety and purpose.

Horizon Zero Dawn Review

The armor system, while great in visual variety and aesthetics, is not actually based around progression. With the exception of a single hidden outfit, you have every chance that each outfit you craft or unlock is next to useless for the entire game. Most of the outfits provide small buffs or bonuses to specific areas, such as increased stealth or fire resistance, and that’s about it – but it’s always a trade off. Sometimes you can just let things be. The natural progression of higher character, better skills, better gear, has long be a staple of the RPG environment. It doesn’t need loot boxes or other tedious changes to push it to the next level. The RPG elements of the game are dotted with these minor annoyances, but any minor annoyance experienced over the 40-50 hours of gameplay soon becomes frustrating.

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A few poor decisions are the only things holding back Horizon Zero Dawn. It’s a great game in every sense of the word, but poor fundamental RPG mechanics stop it becoming something fantastic. Let’s hope they get it right in the sequel.

We all know it’s coming, right?

This Horizon Zero Dawn review was written based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A digital copy was purchased.
  • James Ruch

    Unfortunate that some of the small basic things kept this from getting a 10. With the plethora of open world games out there, I’m really curious to see what this game does differently. From what I’ve seen and based on your review, it seems to be the prettiest game currently out on the ps4. Anxious to try it for myself, thanks for the review!

  • Mike Gurnhill

    Good game from what i played for an hour or so but i think you got it spot on in the review about the weapons and armor upgrades, or lack of.

  • Zachary Stone

    This sounded like a fair and balanced review (I have not played it). Thank you for clarifying that the ‘robotic dinosaurs’ were from a civilization that had fallen apart, I thought this was just Ark with cyborg skins. I also did not know there was a memorable story line or an RPG element to it, so I may have to try this some day.