When I first picked up Horizon Zero Dawn, I didn’t actually know what I was getting into. I had watched a few E3 presentations, but that’s not always a good representation of what’s in store — especially considering previews of games like Watch Dogs or Halo 2 are notorious for overhyping elements from the game.
I knew Horizon was an open world action role-playing game — and I knew it had robot beasts — but I didn’t realize how deep it was. I don’t even think I realized that the main character of the game was a woman, to be totally transparent about my ignorance leading up to playing the game.
Thankfully, even though I was unfamiliar with the game, I was familiar with the developer: Guerilla Games. I’ve played Killzone games in the past, and while I found them enjoyable, I also found them to be awfully stale. This led me to become a little skeptical when booting up Horizon, but I kept moving forward in hopes that it wouldn’t become a waste of my time.
Once the game started, I realized I was in possession of something truly remarkable. For an open world game, Horizon is incredibly cinematic and story driven. The best comparison I can make here is to Mass Effect.
The game opens with a stunning cinematic placing Aloy, the main character of the game, into a world of tribal politics meshed with mechanical beasts. This opens up the player to a series of events introducing the lore and mechanics of the game. But rather than slowing down the story with the typical tutorial tropes, Guerilla Games limits breaking the fourth wall to ensure the experience is as clean as possible.
This means there isn’t a mentor-type character that shouts out, “Press Z or R twice!” in the middle of a fight. But it does mean that the player must use intelligence to overcome the obstacles that the game throws at them, which is actually a main focus of the combat in the game.
Where most developers throw quick action events at the player or hold their hand during combat to bridge the gap between story and gameplay, Horizon refuses to do so. Instead, the player must embark on a journey of trial and error to overcome the more difficult challenges.
And it works. One gripe I have with many games is that once one develops a winning formula, success is driven by the ability to pull off said formula as many times as possible. But in Horizon Zero Dawn, Guerilla Games rewards players that show ingenuity and punishes players stuck in their ways. While some fights might be recycled, the enemies are often upgraded in a way that requires the player to come up with a new strategy.
In one particular fight later into the game, the player doesn’t have access to their technology that can scan for weaknesses. The game still gives some support through Aloy’s inner monologue, as she discusses her surroundings to help the player figure out what’s going on, but it still requires the player to rely heavily on their skills and understanding of the world around them.
Technically speaking, Horizon Zero Dawn is a marvel. It’s one of the nicest looking games I’ve played on a console, and the world is vibrant and beautiful. I was lucky enough to play the game on a PlayStation 4 Pro at both 4K and 1080p.
Sony has spent some time marketing the game as a PlayStation 4 Pro title, and it runs at 4K in an admirable way. I wasn’t able to get full numbers because of personal technology restrictions, but the framerate difference in the two resolutions was not noticeable whatsoever. I think I only issue had one issue with frames dropping, and it was during an excessive amount of enemies swooping in for the kill. Outside of this singular moment, the 4K experience was one that can be easily recommended to PlayStation 4 Pro owners — if you’re looking to realize the power of your console, pick this game up.
But with all that being said, the game isn’t perfect. It’s a gem, yes, but I do have one major issue with the leveling and questing system. While the quests and lore of the game are numerous and deep, the recommended levels for main story quests seem more like they were put in to slow the player down and branch out to the side quests.
For example, the final quest of the main storyline had some of the easiest boss battles in the game, even though I was several levels below the recommendation. But previous quests — which I was well over the recommended level for — felt like I was pulling teeth in comparison.
But overall, the quality of the game is there. If you’re looking for a fantastic and new IP to dig your teeth into, Horizon Zero Dawn is a memorable candidate. It shocked me with its pacing and originality, and it’s going to be something I think about for months to come.
Thanks to Sony for providing a digital copy of Horizon Zero Dawn to review. This review was completed on a Playstation 4 Pro.