The opening to Horizon Zero Dawn is super compelling. We are introduced to young Aloy, an outcast. The story is set in a future post-apocalyptic world where wild hostile mechanical beasts roam freely across majestic and diverse landscapes. Your task is to unravel the origin of Aloy and what happened to civilization to bring about its downfall.
Horizon Zero Dawn is another open world action RPG with an enormous map to explore. It offers an original take on a much done post apocalyptic scenario. Its inhabitants live in tribal villages. The society that Aloy belongs to, the Nora, is matriarchal, with its inhabitants worshiping “Mother”. The places you visit on your journey with Aloy, such as Mothers Heart, make you feel like you are wandering into feral raves.
Aloy is a likable protagonist as you direct her through a grim, despairing world. She is a capable warrior, quietly confident, occasionally sarcastic, modest and unassuming. She is met by a cast of characters on her journey who all want something from her, meaning there are PLENTY of side quests to play. In fact at times the side quests can feel like overkill and an annoyance as they distract you from Aloy’s central journey. Should I choose Aloy to be a bit more self centered and say no to the villagers that all need something from her and continuously send her on these pointless side quests? Occasionally I did because I figured I could go back to them later and I could put more focus on the central story line.
Horizon Zero Dawn does a good job with its character dialogue wheel for offering choices and witty come backs and the voice acting is second to none. However it doesn’t seem to shape Aloy’s character or mission in any meaningful way. But regardless of this, like all OCD game players, the temptation to leave no stone un-turned and to not embark on each side quest is difficult, just in case some vital aspect to the story is inadvertently missed. If you’re going to play Horizon Zero Dawn like all epic RPG’s it requires a serious investment of time.
In terms of game mechanics, Horizon Zero Dawn doesn’t attempt anything really new. At times it reminds me a little of Tomb Raider. But this isn’t a bad thing as the combat and controls for the most part organically unfold and its an easy system to work out as Aloy takes on increasingly more difficult and formidable beasts. The variety of strikes are a little limited though.
The HUD (heads up display), is relatively intuitive although a little “busy”. The health bar was a little confusing and counter intuitive at first. The red bar represents health, as you lose health it goes down. The green bar is your stock of health potion and as you consume it, your red health bar will go up and the green bar will go down.
Learning how to take down the beasts is built into the first part of the main narrative. When you feel ready you can choose to leave Mothers Embrace and face the bigger and more challenging beasts. Some of the beasts are modeled on real life animals, giving them a creepy feeling with their artificial, imitations of sentient behavior and sounds. Should I feel sorry for them if there is a hint of sentience in these strange mechanical beasts as I kill them off? Or are they a cold, soulless, abomination? There’s not much time for moral debate though, as its kill or be killed. There are various types of mechanicals; grazers, striders, watchers, tall necks and more. The basic rule is, the bigger they are, the harder they are to kill. Aloy’s notebook provides information on each new beast as they are discovered. Probably the most challenging beasts are the stormbirds as they rain down attacks from the sky. Be well stocked with health when you take on stormbirds.
Aloy can forage and gut mechanical beasts for parts from which she can craft arrows and a variety of traps, potions and upgrades. If you’ve played any modern RPG ever, then working out the inventory, crafting and skills system to facilitate your survival and combat is fairly intuitive. The weapons feel low tech compared to the high tech mechanical beasts. Tactical planning and stealth are your friends and can provide a much better tactic when you come across herds (rather than going in reckless all guns blazing, usually a very short lived strategy). At times though, some frantic quick thinking is required. If things are going really bad you can sprint away, hide in some bushes and plan a strategy while hiding. You can override some beasts and they will fight other beasts for you. If you don’t feel like a battle you can ride an overridden beast at top speed to escape herds. They will give up the chase quickly so you can go on your way.
Overall the verdict is that Horizon Zero Dawn will go down in gaming history as an RPG epic masterpiece that successfully lived up to a lot of hype. It’s a strong contender for game of the year 2017.
Horizon Zero Dawn is exclusive to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Pro.