It might be hard to believe that a developer with such a strong background in first-person shoot ‘em ups could craft a successful open world game, yet Horizon: Zero Dawn’s ambitious scope and quality truly astounded me. After focusing on Killzone (a popular first-person shooter) for the best part of a decade, Horizon marks a paradigm shift for its Netherlands-based development studio, Guerrilla Games.
As a third-person action adventure game which is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth ruled over by robotic creatures, Horizon: Zero Dawn follows a young woman named Aloy; an outcast who seeks to fulfil her destiny and gain acceptance from those who have shunned her since birth. She doesn’t know who her parents are and after being raised by another outcast, little is known about Aloy’s origins. It’s a twisting narrative which is woven throughout the main story and its bountiful selection of additional side quests.
With such a large map to uncover, exploration is a key part of gameplay and its vibrant environments always ensure your eyes are in a for a treat. It’s beautiful, which is unsurprising given Guerrilla’s penchant for stunning visuals. The very same can be said for the many robots that roam across its open lands, which come in many shapes and sizes. How you play is up to you and investing experience points into a mixture of skills will aid whichever path you think best suits your playstyle. Stealth plays an integral role, however hitting enemies head-on with a more aggressive stance is also an option.
However you choose to play, a variety of weapons are available: a slingshot, bow & arrow, tripcaster, and ropecaster. The first two are pretty self explanatory and will allow you to shoot elemental projectiles; fire, ice and electricity, for example. Conversely, the tripcaster allows you to set up trip wires and the ropecaster will grant you the ability to latch onto a robot with a steel wire to hinder its movement. It’s a handy tool, especially when you encounter the bigger bots looking for a showdown. Foraging and collecting wood, herbs and any leftovers from enemies is crucial when it comes to crafting more ammunition or upgrading gear. Each weapon is also rated in one of three classes; uncommon (green), rare (blue), or very rare (purple).
Creating a new open world IP isn’t an easy feat, especially when it comes to stringing together an engaging narrative. Guerrilla Games has overcome these obstacles to provide, in my opinion, one of the best open world titles to date. The very fact that the studio managed to migrate their graphics engine from Killzone and implement it into Horizon warrants appraisal.
There are many aspects that I love about Horizon: Zero Dawn such as its terrific graphics, engaging story and vast amount of content to get stuck into, but there are a few things that hold this back from a masterpiece. Firstly, I wish that crafting was more extensive and allowed you to, perhaps, take your favourite weapon and upgrade it, instead of being forced to find merchants to buy new items. That said, gear can be customised with buffs that will increase various characteristics.
Secondly is the game’s implementation of its ‘Focus’ feature, which grants the player a secondary vision to uncover hidden details within the world. Once activated, your movement is restricted and the camera remains fixed on what’s directly in front of you. It’s frustrating and doesn’t feel like it’s been designed to fit organically into gameplay. Lastly, are the obligatory technical hiccups that you’d expect from such a large game, particularly audio syncing up to a character’s lip movement or the entire loss of sound at certain points.
There is plenty I haven’t talked about, such as Horizon’s dialogue trees or the ability to hack and ride many of its robotic animals, but I suggest you discover these things first-hand. In the meantime I’m going to add this game to my list of potential Game of the Year contenders. Yes, it’s that good.