Guerrilla Games has abandoned the assault rifle and dystopian world of Killzone for a society with a murky past and an uncertain future; such is life for the inhabitants of Horizon Zero Dawn.
Around 1,000 years from today, the earth has reverted to tribal communities leading primitive lives. Unlike previous tales, the natives are surrounded by mysterious, technological creatures stalking the land. These imposing mechanical beasts dominate the lush and bountiful landscapes of Zero Dawn and make for tricky adversaries on the more difficult settings.
As to why the world is in such disarray is unclear at first. But Aloy, an orphaned outcast, stumbles across an advanced communications and analysis device, which holds the power of unearthing the world’s mysteries. Not only is the earpiece a pivotal narrative tool, but a nifty gameplay mechanic known as Focus.
It allows Aloy to tap into dormant consoles and glean info about the past. Gameplay-wise, she can monitor certain enemies’ designated routes and exploit their weaknesses; all this comfortably behind her high-tech, purple bubble.
While the opening half of the game is full of defusing tribal, political squabbles, the intriguing revelations you inevitably uncover is well worth the wait.
The juxtaposing themes of nature versus technology are executed beautifully. Visually, Zero Dawn is one of the most impressive games produced, since the PlayStation 4’s launch. The frighteningly realistic facial expressions and the stirring scenery will have you swirling the R3 stick countlessly while exploring each new area.
Aloy, who is forever changed once she accepts technology into her otherwise primitive life, transforms in so many ways as the story progresses. It’s no surprise that the character is being spoken about so fondly, especially when you think back to those opening scenes. Reflecting on not just the emotional and physical challenges she has overcome, but also the confidence and maturity Aloy has developed over 30+ hours of gameplay.
Regardless of where the sprawling map may take you, the combat is the true hero of Horizon Zero Dawn. The world’s intricately crafted environments coupled with the electric beasts and combative cultists, poses a genuine threat to Aloy, making each encounter an adrenaline-fueled thrill.
Most of the enjoyment comes in form of Aloy’s ability to deftly leap out of harm’s way and bounce back into the action -very Nathan Drake-esque. Her choice of weaponry is essential in toppling those massive robo-critters, however.
Of course, in the earlier parts of the campaign, your options are limited and must settle for a basic bow and arrows. Like most typical RPG-inspired titles, you eventually gain access to outlandish upgrades. Elementary bolts, slingshots that lob explosives, and a bevy of traps for the more docile enemies.
Juggling between Aloy’s plethora of toys is made easy by a weapons wheel, which allows for a non-stop, fluid process of chaining attacks, evading and scavenging. Combat is easy to master, especially with the slowdown that accompanies weapon switching. Aside from the supernatural displays of athleticism, Aloy must rely on the overgrown vegetation when employing her fundamental stealth tactics.
Once Aloy is well equipped, scuttling behind enemies is far less satisfying than engaging in the frantic head-on collisions. Melee combat is less effective, unfortunately. When scrapping indoors, you are most likely to smack your spear off a wall than executing a critical hit.
While combat is at the forefront of Zero Dawn, gathering plants and the remains of robots are crucial for crafting Aloy’s ammunition, upgrading item storage and brewing health potions. Oddly enough, Zero Dawn suffers from the same flaw encountered in Witcher 3: convoluted item management. You must scroll through countless item icons before reaching what you wish to equip or sell.
Although this is Guerrilla Games’ first departure from the Killzone series, you’d honestly never know it after playing the opening act. For every glitch or mechanical fault, there is an unexplainable urge to keep gathering medicinal plants, battle giant robotic giraffes and explore Zero Dawn’s alluring and treacherous world.
The Guerrilla team has delivered one of the most compelling narratives and open-world experiences of this generation and shed its generic FPS skin in the process.