Lately, I’ve been spending my time exploring beautiful environments filled with mechanical creatures, both fascinating and fearsome. I’ve hunted, and have been hunted, and barely escaped with my life a few times. And all throughout my journey, I’ve learned more about the world, its many cultures and its lore. Most of these new civilisations and tribes view technology as dangerous and forbidden artefacts, although there are some who have decided to harness its power for their own gain. Horizon Zero Dawn might be Guerilla Games first foray into open-world games, but there is no doubt that they have created something special.
Horizon Zero Dawn takes place on Earth millions of years in the future where, as you guessed it, some or other cataclysmic event has wiped out most of humanity. Out of the ashes, new civilisations and tribes sprung up, each with its own unique culture. The game’s protagonist is a young woman called Aloy, who is part of the Nora tribe, but because of circumstances not yet clear to players, she is considered an outcast. It’s clear right from the start that Guerrilla Games wants players to form a bond with Aloy. We follow her through her childhood as she grows up to become a fierce hunter. It’s an effective tool for getting us to care about her as we see her struggle to accept being an outcast. It’s during her childhood that an accidental tumble down a hole in the ground causes her to discover something amazing (and no it is not the Batcave, although that would have been awesome). While exploring the various tunnels of the cave Aloy discovers a device she calls a ‘Focus’, basically a communication device that attaches to the side of her head (think really small hands-free device). This ‘Focus’ allows Aloy to interact with dormant technology in ways she could only dream of.
Fast forward a few years later, Aloy leaves her tribe behind and sets out to discover the truth behind who her mother was and the mysterious (and deadly) new tribe that has appeared out of nowhere.
There is very little hand-holding in Horizon Zero Dawn as players are given the freedom to follow the main quest or get completely lost in the vast world. On her travels, Aloy will meet various NPC’s which will offer side quests for her to complete. While these sometimes follow the “go there save that helpless person” or “go there fetch that” or, worse, “go there kill this many of that” recipe, it’s the lore that surrounds these quests that made me continue to seek out new ones. You see, when speaking to these quest-giving NPC’s players are given a dialogue wheel that offers up different dialogue choices. While these different dialogue choices may affect the game in minute ways, it also allows players to learn more about the world of Horizon Zero Dawn’s history and lore. It’s a great way in which to allow curious players like myself to learn more about the world, but at the same time, more action-focused players can give these choices a skip and get directly to the action. this is just another way in which the game offers players the choice to play the game as they choose.
Talking about the action, this is where Horizon Zero Dawn truly shines. As Aloy explores the world around her, she will be faced with all manner of mechanised creatures, some more dangerous than others. Taking down these mechanical beasts won’t be easy as each offer their own unique challenge, and forces players to think strategically. Luckily, Aloy has the use of her ‘Focus’ which allows her to not only tag enemies (and you should definitely tag everything) but see where their weak points are, it’s sort of like Batman’s detective vision (I promise this is my last Batman reference). By using her ‘Focus’ to determine a creature’s weak points (the glowing yellow bits) Aloy is able to use an array of weapons to target them. This might sound easy but each creature has its own individual and deadly attacks, such as the Belloback which can spew fire at its foes. Aloy can, however, turn a creatures offensive abilities against them. By targeting a creature’s various weapons Aloy can cause these to explode and, in the case of the Belloback, cause fire damage to the beast. There is even the chance for Aloy to knock off a creature’s weapons and use them against it.
Aloy’s own suite of weapons is quite impressive. She has access to bomb-throwing slings, exploding tripwires, a spear and of course various bows. Each of her weapons has their own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, a bow (which I like to refer to as the sniper bow) has a great range but a slow reload speed. Deciding which weapon the use when can mean the difference between your death or the creature’s. Aloy can also use different modifications to ‘mod’ her weapons and armour increasing their various stats or craft new ammo types. This, along with the ability to level up Aloy’s defensive, offensive and gathering abilities, makes her quite the force to be reckoned with.
What stood out the most during combat was that although Aloy can go in guns blazing (arrows blazing?) it is sometimes better to take your time and plan your assault. There were quite a few battles where trying to take on a huge metal beast head-on caused my early demise. Careful planning, laying traps, distracting your enemies and scouting your surroundings can lead to less dying and more winning (which let’s be honest we all would prefer).
To help you out in battle Aloy has the ability to override the various machines (basically, domesticate them), this allows her to summon them during battles to fight alongside her or even use them as transport, allowing for faster exploration. Being able to “convince” a robot, that only a few moments ago wanted to tear your flesh from your bones, to fight alongside you is truly satisfying.
Visually, Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the (if not the) most gorgeous games of this generation. From sunlight blanketing the forest in its warm embrace to the fog slowly rolling in, each area I explored had me stopping and taking a moment to appreciate the game’s beauty. Guerilla Games have spent a lot of time getting the details just right and it shows, as each area, village or even city feels alive and unique. This beauty also extends to the game’s animations. Seeing Aloy traverse her environment, is a sight to behold. The animations are intricate, smooth and realistic. Observing her duck and dive as she is barely missed by an attack is exhilarating. The amount of attention given to the animations also shows in the way that the mechanical creatures move. Their movements feel familiar (as many imitate real live animals), but a little offbeat. Offbeat enough to make you realise that these are not creatures of flesh and bone. This just emphasises how alien yet familiar these creatures are.
The voice acting is top-notch. I quickly found myself beginning to care for Aloy and those that inhabit her world. Heck, I even shed a tear or two during my time with the game. Throughout my playthrough, I experienced the same feeling of awe I had while playing the much-lauded Uncharted 4.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a special game. It is visually stunning, has a great combat system, and has an interesting narrative. It manages to take all these elements and make them work together in perfect unison. The game gets you to care for its protagonist and the people that inhabit its world, it gets you excited at the prospect of a challenging (and mostly deadly) battle and it makes you want to explore its breathtaking world. It takes the established open-world formula and makes it feel unique and refreshing. Horizon Zero Dawn deserves its place among the pantheon of great PlayStation games.
Things You Should Know About Horizon Zero Dawn
Ever since Guerrilla Games announced their brand new IP, Horizon Zero Dawn, the game and its world have fascinated and intrigued players. It’s not often one sees a post-apocalyptic world filled with bright colours and robotic dinosaurs.
It’s a whole new mechanical world out there
Horizon Zero Dawn follows protagonist Aloy on a journey to discover the truth behind who she is and where she came from. Now, this might sound like the typical “girl on a quest to find herself” story, but what makes this story so unique is the vibrant and unique world the game is set in. Humanity is not alone in this post-apocalyptic world, roaming the planes, forests, waterways and even skies are mechanical beasts/dinosaurs who have now become the dominant species of the world.
These mechanical creatures not only pose a danger to humanity but also serves as resources for them to harvest. On her journey, Aloy will meet and learn more about some of the other tribes that inhabit her world. A new strange and mysterious masked tribe has risen to power and they seem to have the ability to corrupt the mechanical creatures that roam the world, using them as weapons. Aloy will need to face this mysterious new threat if she is to find the answers she seeks.
Let’s go exploring
Exploration, as in any open-world game, plays a very important role in Horizon Zero Dawn. By exploring the various unique environments, players will discover new quests, items and crafting materials (more on that later). Not only is it great discovering a new shiny weapon or upgrade, but these become increasingly more important if you want to face off against some of the bigger and scarier robot dinosaurs (you know, the ones with the big teeth and bigger guns). The game will feature realistic weather patterns as well as a day-night cycle.
These features, along with various foliage dense environments, will enable Aloy to pass her foes unseen or help her in setting up an ambush. Environments range from low-lying plains, dense forests, snow-covered mountains and even ruined cities ripe for exploring. With each new environment comes a new eco-system which means new mechanical beasties to slay and resources to collect.
Get ready to eat some arrows
With so many deadly robots roaming the world, how will Aloy be able to defend herself as a squishy human? Well, simple Aloy has access to a range of weapons and traps to help her defeat her mechanical foes. Her arsenal includes a rope launcher that can pin her foes into place, another that can stun using electrified tripwires, a hacking tool that allows her to tame and mount some of the creatures (how awesome is that?), various traps and, of course, her trusty bow.
Each of her weapons can be upgraded or crafted by using some of the various resources she will be able to collect throughout her journey. Aloy will need all the help she can get as defeating some of the meaner mechanical beasts can be quite a challenge and will not only require pointy weapons but well thought out tactics as well. Each mechanical beast has weak spots that Aloy can target. Destroying these weak spots can have various effects on the beast, such as freezing it, giving Aloy access to its weapon, or just blinding it temporarily. Figuring out which of these weak points to target first and how to best to do this makes combat feel more like a game of chess than just randomly shooting glowing points.
Of course, shiny weapons won’t protect Aloy’s squishy body from harm and that’s why she is also able to mod or swap outfits to fit any particular situation she might face. The tactical combat and focus on ambushing makes us look forward to slaying some robot dinosaurs.
Horizon Zero Dawn is not all about killing
While a large chunk of your time playing Horizon Zero Dawn will be spent battling mechanised robots (and who wouldn’t want to do this), players will also be able to embark on quite a few side quests. Most of these quests will help Aloy to understand the plight of humanity in this world ruled by robots. She will learn more about each tribe and how they function, about the strange robot creatures that roam the lands and individual people.
With such a unique and interesting setting, it is great that Horizon Zero Dawn will use these quests to tell us more about the game’s world. During her journey, Aloy will also meet new characters which will help her along the way and, while the game does offer some dialogue choices when in conversation, your decisions on what to say will not drastically affect the outcome of the game. These dialogue options are there merely to help players learn more about the narrative of the game and not about changing the outcomes of events.
Along with your run of the mill side quests, the game also has spontaneous quests that will appear randomly throughout the game world, these can include such quests as helping a man find his lost daughter.
Now, back to the killing, Aloy will be able to accept hunting challenges from Hunting lodge representatives throughout the world. These challenges will require Aloy to kill a certain amount of creatures with a certain weapon within a time limit. Completion of these challenges will allow Aloy to join the Hunting lodge. It was important that Guerrilla Games try to find a balance between narrative-driven quests and combat driven ones, and it sounds as if they might have found it.
Aloy’s got some mad skills in Horizon Zero Dawn
Although Horizon Zero Dawn is a third-person action-adventure game it does have some RPG elements thrown in for good measure. Now the developers have stated that they didn’t want the player to get lost in a load of complicated stats and therefore streamlined the RPG elements as much as possible. It basically boils down to Aloy having access to three separate categories of skills, with each of these categories having branching chains. The three skill categories are Prowler, which focuses on stealth-based abilities, Brave, which upgrades Aloy’s defensive and offensive abilities and lastly, Forager, which improves her health and resources collection abilities. Now, while this might not sound like much there is quite a lot of scope for upgrading Aloy to suit most play styles.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds Review
When Horizon Zero Dawn was first released, it surprised many with its breath-taking vistas and deadly mechanical fauna. Developer Guerrilla Games created a post-apocalyptic world filled with rich lore, interesting people and a map jam-packed with copious amounts of side-quests to distract players with. With the release of The Frozen Wilds expansion for Horizon Zero Dawn, we are once again tempted to set foot in this masterfully created world as we discover more about the machine threat and the nomadic Banuk tribe that make the snow-covered valley.
The Frozen Wilds expansion takes place in a newly discovered part of the map called The Cut, a harsh environment where icy cold winds and an almost continuous snowfall makes survival there only possible for those tough enough to withstand the relentless onslaught of the cold. While most of the other tribes in Horizon Zero Dawn would stay far away from this place, one tribe, the Banuk, has made this winter wonderland their home. The tribe that was merely touched on in the main game now takes centre stage as we discover more about their culture, traditions and beliefs.
Although The Cut does appear as a place where there is relative peace between man and machine, something deadly is hidden below the surface, quite literally, as Alloy finds out that a nearby volcano, which the Banuk call the Thunder Drum, is spewing out new and powerful machines. Of course, it’s once again up to Alloy to uncover the secrets that lie beneath the surface. While the narrative does flesh out more of the post-apocalyptic world’s lore, Guerrilla Games doesn’t fully answer all the questions I had after finishing the main game. It seems that we will have to wait for the inevitable sequel. Even still, I found that diving into the Banuk culture and learning more about them did console me a bit. Ever since they popped up in the main game, I have always been curious about their tribe and culture.
Now, while Horizon Zero Dawn already was a beautiful game to look at, The Frozen Wilds ups the ante quite a bit as the new area is wonderfully detailed. Who would have thought that snow effects would look so impressive? I continually found myself pausing to take in my snow-covered surroundings. It’s the little things that impressed me the most, like how the snow deformed around Alloy as she trudged through it and how the colourful pigment pools glistened when the light finally broke through the heavy snow clouds. There is no doubt that it remains one of the best-looking games of this generation (so far).
The Cut is a dangerous place, filled with some unfamiliar mechanical creatures out for Alloy’s blood. Frozen Wilds introduces formidable new machines opponents, with the bear-like Fireclaw and Frostclaw being the deadliest. Taking down one of these fearsome machines not only takes patience but planning and a few well-placed shots. Making things even more difficult are the plant-like control towers that dot The Cut. These towers have the ability to disable Alloy’s mount, but even worse repair nearby machines making it critical to take them out first.
Of course, new opponents mean new weapons and Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds does not disappoint. Alloy gets access to a handful of powerful new weapons such as various elemental staffs and some impressive heavy weapons in the form of the Stormslinger, Forgefire and Icerail, which spew out their respective elements in a similar way a flamethrower would. Beyond the new additions to Alloy’s armoury, there are new armour types that she either acquires as a reward for completing the various side-missions or by purchasing them from traders. If you are looking for something special, there is a resource called Bluegleam strewn across the new area which can then be traded for more powerful and rare weapon and armour types.
Another addition, albeit not one that I found particular game-changing, is the new Traveller skill tree which unlocks skills such as shooting from your mount or expanding your resource stash. While these skills are a welcome addition, I didn’t find them impacting my gameplay in the same meaningful way the other skill trees did.
The Frozen Wilds is more of what we fell in love with when we first played Horizon Zero Dawn, and this isn’t a bad thing. While it might not give players the answers they were hoping to get narrative-wise, it does help flesh out some of the lore and, more importantly, the Banuk, a tribe we only met briefly in the main game. While the story might be on the short side, there is still more than enough to do, explore, collect and kill.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds is a reminder of why Horizon Zero Dawn, its world, characters and narrative are so captivating. If you loved everything about Horizon Zero Dawn you’ll fall in love with it all over again here.