Horizon: Zero Dawn
There comes a game, usually once a console generation, that kicks you in the teeth. Horizon, for me, is that game. Last gen it was undeniably The Last of Us, before that Persona 4. I had heard from a few reliable sources that this game would be an absolute killer and decided, a few days before it came out, to go ahead and pick it up day one. I had no expectations going in, knowing nothing of the story other than it was some post-post-apocalyptic tale set sometime in the future, the protagonist was a ging- I mean red-headed, bow-wielding woman with a funky name and it was supposed to be beautiful…
Living, Breathing Environments
…and boy is it beautiful. So beautiful I took all pictures below in game myself. It took me some time to figure out just why it was so much more beautiful than most other games. It wasn’t the sprawling vistas, though they were certainly a sight to behold. It wasn’t even the characters and their expressiveness. It was the grass. Yup. The game is so beautiful mainly because I’m pretty sure they programmed each and every blade of grass to respond to environmental cues. From driving rain to gentle breezes on an open plain, every piece of the environment seemed alive, lovingly crafted and unique.
It never felt sterile or copy-and-pasted. Groups of fireflies floating gently above waving grass never got old. Overgrown buildings, ancient caverns and incredible mountain ranges always drew the eye. Even more than just being beautiful, the environment told a story about this world, giving small hints and glimpses into what might have happened in the past that nearly wiped civilization out. The world was the perfect complement to an already incredible story.
The Past is the Key to the Future
Horizon shines more than any other time when it’s exploring the past and what really happened to bring the world to where it is now. This story is lovingly crafted, perfectly voiced (though I did find the self-chatter by Aloy grating at times) and perfectly paced. The story is told through a series of journals, voice clips and ‘visions’. You are never force-fed the full story and as a result, you can easily coast along only getting the main beats. I assure you, however, you will be doing yourself a great disservice by doing so.
I found myself reading each and every journal I found, listening intently to each voice clip, going so far as not move for fear I’ll miss a word. Even while listening, reading and watching you’re never told everything, many pieces of information that are taken for granted by the writer that made me want to know what the heck they were talking about.
I haven’t even touched on the current setting, the history of Aloy, the various tribes scattered across the land or their own histories, all of which are rich and varied. Guerrilla Games believes in this story, this world, and that shows through in the writing.
Those Who Inhabit
Aloy is a strong protagonist, even cruel at times. Her actions would often surprise me, and the way in which she would talk to others unexpected, but less so when her past is considered. I appreciate Guerrilla Games keeping this consistent throughout the story. Aloy is flawed, jaded and tough. I had expectations of her softening as the story progressed, becoming merciful and a champion of the people. While the latter does happen in a sense, she does so by staying true to herself and reacting to situations in a way that is clearly influenced by her upbringing and personal motives.
Beyond Aloy, few of the other characters stood out with one exception: Sylens. Lance Reddick (from The Fringe, Lost and The Wire) voices this individual flawlessly. That is really all I can say about him for fear of spoiling the story, but Reddick eclipses even Ashly Burch (voice actress for Aloy), and she does a wonderful job. Beyond those two there weren’t many that stood out and I found myself caring little for their individual story lines.
Move Over Katniss
Though the bow and arrow aren’t the only options for weapons in Horizon, they make up the majority and are what you’ll often fall back on when things devolve into chaos. Bow combat feels good, responsive and meaningful. It helps that if you need an arrow for a certain situation, it’s available. Need to set an enemy on fire? Use a fire arrow. Need to blast chunks of armor off of your opponent before going in? Use a tearblast arrow. Want to turn that sabertooth tiger-like robot on your opponents for a few seconds? Corruption arrow.
There are a few upgrades for each weapon type, and a few that are more specialized at inflicting various status effects, but I found the variety of weapon upgrades to be somewhat lacking. I always expected to find that ‘ultimate’ bow, the one that resided at the end of a long questline, but it never materialized. Most equipment was made available within the first 15 hours of the game, leaving me somewhat disappointed that nothing better ever materialized.
That being said, weapon modifications were an important aspect of making a weapon my own. My slower, more powerful bow received my high damage modifications, also increasing its ability to tear away armor, while my smaller, quicker bow was further enhanced to allow for rapid firing.
Beyond ranged weapons, you can employ traps and tripwires to your advantage. At first, I dismissed them out of hand, ignoring their potential in favor of strong-arming my way through early fights. Big mistake. I quickly learned that using the environment and planning a battle out ahead of time would save me valuable healing materials and time. The most satisfying fights were when I would line a narrow valley with tripwires and lure a particularly dangerous foe through, watching as he triggered each trap along the way, sliding to a stop before me, dead without having to expend a single arrow.
It’s highly advised that combat is avoided when at all possible. You are a human fighting large robotic dinosaurs and can’t take nearly the beating that they can. Fights would often devolve into me running away, trying to find cover or high ground to pick my enemies off one by one. Just a friendly piece of advice – take your time, at least while you get the hang of the game and learn your capabilities.
I don’t normally give tips, but there are a few things I wish I would have known early on:
- Kill all the animals. Rats, foxes, turkeys etc. You need their skin, bones etc to increase your inventory size.
- Go down the right path of the skill trees and get Tinker and Scavenger+. Tinker becomes most useful when you start finding Very Rare modifications and Scavenger+ will help with finding those bones and skins. It’s kind of a boring path, but worth it.
- Buy a Golden Fast Travel Pack. This invaluable resource is at the bottom of the resource tab of some merchants and allows you to fast travel as often as you’d like. I didn’t even know this was a thing until I stumbled onto it many hours into the game. Without it, you have to spend resources each time you fast travel.
There is a lot going on in Horizon, though never so much that it feels overwhelming. My total playtime was roughly 38 hours and that includes all the trophies, I believe all the side quests and a large number of errands. It was worth every penny I spent on it and if the ending was any indication, the beginning of an incredible new franchise.
Worth Buying? Yes a million times.
Did You Finish It? Sure did, and I achieved the platinum as well.
Will You Replay It? Not anytime soon. It has very little replay value. Maybe in a few years.
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