New IPs are tough to come by these days. Everyone just wants to make sequels to existing titles and rightly so; major series have large fanbases, are much more easily marketable and everyone wants to see the worlds they love continue to grow. But there’s a special little flare to new IPs and everybody loves when one sticks. I have a pretty good feeling that Sony’s newest exclusive IP, Horizon Zero Dawn, is going to stick because it is damn good.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Platform: Playstation 4
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: February 28, 2017 (NA), March 1, 2017 (EU)
Horizon’s gameplay is incredibly dynamic. You are offered a wide variety of weapons, tools and playstyles to combat a wide variety of enemies throughout the game. Each encounter in Horizon is unique and you’ll have to tailor your attack to the situation. Horizon’s gameplay can be approached in a number of different ways.
I’m personally a big fan of stealth gameplay and I found it to be excellent. You can take two different approaches to Horizon’s stealth gameplay; you can either quietly take out all of your enemies as you sneak around through tall grass and shadows or you can just sneak by enemies entirely. Enemies can be silently taken out with your spear, lured around with rocks and whistles or you can even take over nearby machines to send them to do all the dirty work for you. You’re also provided with a number of different traps that enemies can be lured into without ever firing off a single shot from your bow. The stealth system is definitely favorable towards the player as stealth gear and the enemy AI can make it relatively easy to avoid detection. But ultimately, Horizon offers some of the best stealth gameplay I’ve ever played.
If being stealthy isn’t your thing, you can also go in guns blazing. You’re offered three different types of bows that allow you to rip armor off machines, snipe enemies at a long distance, spread all kinds of elemental damage, or just pick off enemies one by one in rapid succession. Each of these bows is tailored for different situations and you’ll find good use for all of them. I love bow and arrow gameplay so I was a sucker for it coming into Horizon but it’s not the only type of weapon you’ll have access to.
You’ll be provided with a couple slings that can be used to fire an assortment of bombs, a weapon that allows you to drop trip wires all over the place and another weapon that allows you to tie machines down to the ground. These different tools are excellent ways to take out groups and cripple large machines. I often found myself resorting to these weapons when I started to feel overwhelmed in fights, which happened quite a bit against large machines.
I found the large machine fights to be thrilling, particularly those at the end of quest lines. Here you are, with your little bow and arrow, facing down a gigantic machine encased in armored plating. It’s intimidating and the machines are not only powerful but they’re aggressive too. Sometimes, before you can even reposition yourself and get a handle on the situation, that machine is right on top of you and you just have to keep moving. It’s tough and it can be overwhelming at times but you definitely come out the other side of it feeling like you’ve actually conquered a giant death machine.
The combat in Horizon was surprisingly difficult. I played on Hard (second hardest difficulty) and regularly found the combat to be both engaging and challenging. Some of the smaller machines you encounter and the human enemies are fairly easy to fight, particularly if you’re playing stealthy. The big machines though, that’s a whole different story.
When you fight a machine, you can scan it and highlight its weak points where you can dish out some major damage or expose vulnerable areas. Each of these weak points has different weaknesses and resistances that you can exploit for more damage. Machines also have armor plates surrounding their body that you can rip off to cause more damage. By the time you reach the midpoint of the game, you’ll regularly encounter machines that really make you work for your kills; and some of them are pretty damn difficult. My Dark Souls experience really came through here in the clutch with my dodge rolling, that’s for sure.
You never really know what you’re going to get when it comes to stories nowadays. Sometimes you get these giant worlds that have a relatively short story that’s really nothing to write home about. Other times, the story is really damn awesome and completely takes over the experience of playing the game. I wouldn’t put Horizon’s story in the top tier of video game stories, but it’s probably in that next tier down.
When I started the game, I had no idea what to expect from the story since I really didn’t even know what the game was about. I followed the game’s development but I didn’t pay too much attention to the details. As I started to play through the main quest line, I had an idea of where I thought the story was going and it pretty much flipped me on my head. Once I realized where the story was actually going, it snowballed really fast into the climax.
The story is really good overall. I didn’t think the ending was quite that strong but the section of the game leading up to the ending was thrilling and intriguing. You’ll be offered two points of no return and you’ll really want to complete all of the side stuff before the first one. Once you’ve completed all of the side stuff and you really dig into the closing section of the main story, it’s like a series of haymakers just pounding you with huge pieces of backstory of what happened to the world. Discovering the mystery about what happened to the world and what the deal is with the machines was incredibly intoxicating and I couldn’t get enough of it.
It’s not often that I think side quests are really worth mentioning because they’re generally just an unrelated add on to the game but Horizon is an exception to this. One of my favorite things about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is that the side quests were not only long but they had serious depth to them and felt like an attachment to the main story. Horizon copied this formula and absolutely nailed it, which shouldn’t come as a surprise because in June 2015 it was revealed that they hired developers from CD Projekt RED to work on the game. You’ll find that the characters you encounter in the different side quests throughout the game play a pretty important role at the end of the main quest line. Side quests with actual meaning and substance add so much to a game’s story and I think it’s such an underrated aspect to these big, narrative driven games so when you find a game that does it right, it stands out big time.
I’ve really come to value immersion in games. I’m not one of these people who gets super immersed in role playing or anything but I do like to feel like I’m in the world. As I played through the game, I got completely wrapped up in the story. I was doing things I don’t always do, like listening to audio files, to learn more about the mysteries of the game. I think it’s so important for a new IP to establish its lore and to properly worldbuild and Horizon did an excellent job of this.
As I moved through the world, I always felt aware of my surroundings. When I would come across a couple tough machines, I really felt sucked into the moment. I would survey the area trying to determine whether I should engage the machines or just try to sneak by and live to see another day. You would also have to take into account what you had for resources and ammunition if you were early enough in the game (by the end I pretty much had everything at all times). It was also cool to just run through this world seeing the different variety of machines and tribes roaming the landscape. I generally found Horizon to be an incredibly immersive experience.
Graphics & Visual Design
The game is damn gorgeous, no two ways about it. My only real gripe with it is that I felt like the day/night cycle was a little wonky and it got a tad too dark at times. I’d be running through this gorgeous landscape and then the next thing I know it gets really dark from either instantly turning to night time or a rain storm popped up out of nowhere. Horizon also has a really cool Photo Mode in the pause menu where you can really have a fun time taking/editing screenshots and it’s pretty as hell.
The sound was ok. There were often times where I would hear something that sounded like it was right behind me, only to realize that the machine making the sound was off in the distance. There were also some issues with multiple sets of dialogue overlapping and some of the machine sounds getting way too loud for no reason. I wouldn’t say that the sound was bad but it never really stood out to me unless I noticed something was off with it.
I didn’t find the button mapping on the controller to be annoying or inconvenient. Again, I’m not a huge console player anymore so aiming was a pain in the ass at times. Some of the machines move really fast, even in slow motion, and it was definitely frustrating at times trying to hit their weak points. Overall, the controls were intuitive and just fine.
I honestly can’t say I really noticed any performance issues. The only thing that really stands out was that the loading screens were lengthy. But it’s also worth noting that I saw a lot of people saying they were short so I don’t know if that’s my lesser experience with console games or because I wasn’t playing on a PS4 Pro. For the most part, Horizon runs just fine and there were no issues that I encountered.
I don’t know how most people are with open world games but I know that once I’ve beaten one, it’s usually a while before I even consider replaying it. Horizon is one of those games that just has an insane amount of things to do. With all of the big games coming up this month, I don’t know if I’ll even go back to 100% Horizon purely out of fatigue by the time I’m done. Horizon is really damn good and offers so many different ways to play so I’m sure that I’ll go back and replay through it at some point, but it might be a couple years. It’s definitely a game that I’ll never really need to replay but I’m sure I’ll want to at some point in time.
Horizon is one of those games that I will recommend to everyone. If you only play a couple games a year, you should definitely consider it if you’re into open world RPGs. It took me a little over 39 hours to complete the game and that’s with about 29% of the game left to do in the world. So obviously, if you play a lot of games over the course of the year, you should add it to your list. Guerrilla Games did a fantastic job with Horizon and it’ll most certainly be a top contender for Game of the Year.
Horizon Zero Dawn is really damn good and you should buy it. I’ve seen a lot of people compare it to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and while it’s definitely a really close comparison, it’s not quite on the same level. I really like Horizon but it’s not The Witcher 3. Horizon is a super intriguing new IP and I’ll definitely keep my eyes on the future of the series. As is routine these days, the end of the game sets up the potential for a sequel and there are plenty of unanswered questions going forward, so we’ll have to see how that plays out.