Horizon Zero Dawn Review

Horizon Zero Dawn is one of those games that causes you to get lost, with amazing landscapes and intense combat situations that leave you wanting more. Guerrilla Games have done a great job crafting a beautiful world and coincidentally, this game is one of the reasons I ended up buying a PlayStation 4. I was not disappointed. 

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Step into the shoes of the fiery redhead Aloy, who goes on a quest of self-discovery and acceptance that really spirals into something much bigger and to be honest, much cooler. Aloy begins life as an orphan, cast out from Nora society and shunned by all the tribesmen. Aloy struggles and fights, building her survival skills, combat and street smarts…tree smarts to prove that she belongs as part of the Nora and to find out who she is and who her parents were.

Cast into a post-apocalyptic world, full of intriguing ancient ruins and deadly secrets, Aloy has few friends in a world filled with enemies and of course giant robotic dinosaurs and other assorted beasts. It is basically slightly less dangerous than Australia. This story evolves over time to become much bigger than any single tribe or robot monstrosity as Aloy must discover the secrets to Zero Dawn and why the world she has known for so long has become unhinged and so much more deadly. How you ask?

Two Words: Robot Dinosaurs!

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If you have seen anything about Horizon Zero Dawn, you most likely would have gotten at least a glimpse of some of the beasts you will find wandering the wilds. Each of these metal dinosaurs comes with their own strengths, weaknesses and in some cases, more weapons than a modern military. Some are big, some are small and all can kill you. I mean I had a mini heart attack and an ‘Oh crap’ moment they first time I encountered a Thunderjaw.

Nowhere in the wide open world is safe, from the grasslands to the rocky deserts and even the rivers and lakes. There are always surprises waiting to snatch you away from your young promising life and send you right back to your last Campfire save. Hope it wasn’t too long ago.While some of the battles against these behemoths can be quite simple and straightforward, such as those against the Watchers, some require planning, last-second dodges and a whole lot of healing. You find yourself searching for special plants and materials in order to craft that Electric Tripwire or additional ammunition in order to prepare for some intense encounters, especially early on in the game.

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I found myself baiting a lot of the larger and faster creatures (cough cough Sawtooth) into chasing me down a specific path so they would activate my trap and make the fight so much easier. This preparation becomes key in some fights and really shines with Horizon Zero Dawn’s fast-paced combat system. Armed with just a bow, some arrows and a spear, you will have to take down mechanised killing machines with a real axe to grind. That isn’t an expression, some of these robots have grinding mechanisms.

Ducking, rolling and diving is the name of the game in open combat, with you having to be aware of your surroundings, to protect from other attacks of robotic or human nature or to dodge their next devastating attack…Thunderjaws are a fun example. Or Rockbreakers. But for all you lovers of stealth, Horizon Zero Dawn has you covered with lots of tall grass to hide in, and to strike, or run when the moment is right.

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Combat and combat readiness can be augmented with a rather large skill tree covering every aspect of play in Horizon, Focusing (you’ll get that joke when you play) on things like being able to slow down time when aiming, gaining additional resources while foraging and even firing multiple arrows at a single time. That last one has really saved me a lot of heartache throughout the game.

These skills are earned through Skill Points that you get from levelling up. Killing machines, bandits, discovering new locations and completing quests all generate exp and trust me when I say there is so much to do in Horizon Zero Dawn. Aside from the main story, there are special technologically advanced bunkers known as Cauldrons that you can explore, Bandit camps to siege upon and zones of some serious mechanical corruption to cleanse.

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But you won’t be alone in this big open world, with so many other NPCs that you can accompany on missions, fight alongside or just help out. You are all in this together after all. My favourite would have to be Nils, the sociopathic, killer who calls upon your hunting prowess to take down his favourite prey: bandits. For, after all, you are a hunter. Armed with the bare essentials and adapting to new technology and weapons, you silence any quarry that makes the mistake of crossing blades (or arrows) with you.

The one thing that I was truly in love with was the way the story of the differing cultures was told, as each one has their beliefs, cities, and different ways of life. They also, at this point, also have a not-so-healthy xenophobic fear towards each other, which is really not helping the machine threat. For while you do not learn too much about the entirety of the Horizon Zero Dawn world through the main story, there is enough to keep you intrigued and causing you to scour every available dialogue option for just a little bit more info.

The Banuk for example, are an isolated people who live in the snow capped wilderness to the North, and who feature prominently in the upcoming Frozen Wilds expansion.

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Horizon Zero Dawn is a beautiful rendition of a healing, yet still dangerous post-apocalyptic world. Hidden ruins, bearing a striking resemblance to our modern infrastructure and architecture are open for exploration, revealing ancient secrets and special logs that provide the loreheads, such as myself, the intricate backstory we so crave.

Learn about those who came before and why there are no longer here. Learn about great individuals who revolutionised the world before it came crashing down, I mean it is all out there just waiting to be discovered through the Focus System, which enables you to view messages from the past, or to tag opponents in another addition to an amazing combat system. I did find the Focus System to play a sort of background, supporting role, despite it being one of the main focuses. It was meant as an intricate network that could be controlled and manipulated by a properly motivated and skilled individual and if anyone was going to be that person it should have been Aloy.

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Possibly adding a different route to combat or objective completion through using the Focus could have tied everything together for me. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed using the Focus but perhaps a skill tree that could have added increased depth would have been a neural manipulation pathway, for both humans and machines. This would open up a whole spree of new abilities and may have changed up the way some encounters were played out.

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There is no review without discussing one of my favourite features of this game, which takes a common aspect of wide open world types and refines it in a way that it blends perfectly in with Horizon. Tall climbable objects have been present in these types of games for years, allowing parts of the map to be unlocked, revealing secrets and hidden areas that were shrouded in mystery before. So how does Horizon Zero Dawn do it?

WITH HUGE DINOSAUR MACHINES, THAT’S HOW!

Aptly named Tallnecks, these are special non-hostile robots that can be climbed and basically hacked in order to unlock portions of the map and to lift the proverbial mist. The Tallnecks fit right into the scope of the game and are so graceful and gorgeous that I cannot help but love them. There is a danger to them however, with enemies still being able to target you while climbing the Tallneck, which can quickly lead to a long fall and ultimately an end to the climbing fun.

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Through all this, Horizon Zero Dawn encapsulates a brilliant singleplayer story that takes you in directions that you definitely do not expect at times. Aloy is a strong female protagonist who seems to maintain an aura of humbleness and confidence that only gets stronger as the game progresses. The sheer scope of the environments that you will explore leave you with a sense of wonderment and delight that turns to excitement and fear when a hostile machine spots you. The fact of the matter is, in simple terms, Horizon Zero Dawn is an amazing game that brings its own life and uniqueness to a great story and an even better world.

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