Fighting robot dinosaurs with a bow and arrow. That’s honestly the extent of my knowledge of Horizon: Zero Dawn going into the game when I first started it up on my PS4. I knew there was hype surrounding the game, but I never looked into it or at any gameplay trailers or anything like that. So I went in with what I would say were some pretty fresh lenses.
Loading the game from the start it jumps you right into the story without even prompting you on a menu and I was immediately impressed by the graphical quality, voice acting, and the setting. I have since read that there are a lot of complaints that the voices don’t match up with the mouth movements and that is true, but not so much so that it ruins the experience. The actual voice acting is well done and the cutscenes look great so long as you try not to look at the mouths too much. The setting feels both familiar and brand new because of the mash up between the futuristic robots and the little bits of electronic armor you wear and the primal/tribal society that all humans live in. The developer mashes these two settings together perfectly to create a beautiful world that is exciting and intriguing leaving you looking forward to learning more about the story.
The controls took me a few hours to really nail down as precise as I like, but I will say that I play more games on a mouse and keyboard than on a PS4 controller so it could have also been my lack of familiarity with the controller as much as it was the controls in the game. Once I got the hang of it I was able to move around through the menus and control the main character, Aloy, with ease. I played the game on Hard difficulty and it seemed fairly difficult, not difficult like Bloodborne, but still more so than most single player action adventure games. I found myself dying from time to time because I would rush into battle against dangerous machines and the game wants you to utilize more of the mechanics they put in place rather than just go rushing into battle. Once I took a more varied approach and utilized the many traps and weapons at my disposal instead of trying to just shoot a machine down with arrows, things went much smoother. I must also say that this approach was very fun and made the game feel more fluid and entertaining. Basically what I am saying is that it seems like the developers paid close attention to the combat and the way they force you to utilize a multitude of weapons and traps is a good thing. As a side note I am a huge fan of the tripcaster weapon, it is a crossbow type weapon that allows you to set up a trip wire with different elemental aspects to the explosive effect such as electric or fire effects. This weapon was great for setting up traps to assist in taking down even the most ferocious of machines.
The way this game plays in combat and running around the world feels very much like Tomb Raider or Mad Max. That can be a good or bad thing, depending on your liking of those games, but for me it was a good thing and it helped me to become familiar with that I was supposed to be doing. Variations of the climb the tower for map vision, capture the camp away from bad guys for a check point, and quick travel way points are all familiar and welcomed in Horizon with a primal spin to fit the setting. There is also a crafting component to the game that is reminiscent of the Far Cry series, ie collect 4 boar pelts and 3 strings to make a bigger pouch to carry more traps. Again, depending on how much you like a system like this will determine your enjoyment of it, but for me it was a positive experience. I feel that systems like this encourage you to explore the world but also provide an objective and a reward for the exploration. Because let’s be honest, killing boars isn’t difficult, so it really is about getting you to explore the world for those items.
The quests are straightforward and fun. The main story is intriguing and even though I haven’t completed the full story yet, what I have learned thus far makes me want to figure out the ending. I probably would have finished the main story by now if I would have just stuck to the main story quests, but the side quest rewards and additional story lines are too good to pass up.
One of my major complaints about the game is that even though there are good quest markers and I had no difficulty figuring out where to go and what to do with regards to the story, the game does not give hardly any advice or information on how to use any of the wonderful weapons available to you. Although it didn’t take me long to figure out how each of the weapons worked, it cost me a death or two which tilted me at the start of the game. I felt like I was put into situations that I was ill equipped to handle because of my lack of understanding of my kit. I figured all the weapons out in time and it wasn’t like it was an incredibly difficult task to figure out, but there wasn’t even a small notification or tutorial screen. .
The crafting and modification system is easy and efficient but lacks depth. You can add modifications to weapons and armor for things like +20% damage or +8% resist to electric attacks. This is a nice addition and a way to customize your character to your liking and play style a bit, but that is as deep as it gets. You must craft ammo on the go for all of your weapons and this system is very easy to use, the controls for it are very well designed and even in the heat of battle there is no trouble crafting more ammunition, unless you are out of the materials you need and in that case you are screwed.
Lastly there is the progression system or leveling system. This is the area where you get to spend points from leveling up to add abilities to Aloy and make her stronger. Things like slowing down time to perfectly aim the arrow at the giant monster machine charging at you or increasing the damage from your spear. It is difficult to decide on where to spend your points first because there are so many enticing options that can assist you in various aspects of the game. I found myself wanting to do side missions just so that I could get that extra experience boost so I could get that next ability to assist me in combat. The extra dodge roll distance ability was especially helpful when dealing with the faster machines you face and making sure I was able to get out of the way of their attacks.
All in all this game is fantastic. The gameplay is fun, the quests and story are entertaining. The progress and crafting systems aren’t the most complex but they add that layer of reward that makes them worth pursuing. It is early in the year and there are many games to come and many games to review and play but I think Horizon: Zero Dawn is going to be a worthy contender for Game of the Year 2017.