Horizon Zero Dawn, the game that we never knew we wanted until we saw it. Massive robotic dinosaurs with a beautiful backdrop filled with the ruins of modern man and you get to fight them with a bow and arrow? Take my money please.
So much was left to be known though! What was the story going to be connecting the protagonist, Aloy, to the world? Why are there robotic dinosaurs everywhere? Is this just another game that will have super toned down graphics at release? Well let’s take a look and review Horizon: Zero Dawn!
First, let’s look at those graphics. Oh my lord! Talk about amazing looking. The environments in Horizon take me back to The Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine and expansion. The use of color and lighting make the environments look hyper realistic (better then real life). There are very few games where I take the chance to use the photo mode. In Horizon you at least have to stop to take a couple of Instagram worthy photos of the beautiful sunsets or towering creatures in the world around you. The only part of the environment that isn’t as appealing to the eyes is some indoor city areas where the lighting engine seems to have a hard time trying to decide where the light sources is coming from. This makes certain areas indoors feel like the sun is beaming right in or it will make the environment have an orange tint which is quite obvious because the character models don’t seem to be effected by this issue.
The dinosaurs are the next best thing to the environment. They are ridiculously detailed with armor plates, electric wire like veins, and overall really neat design elements. Their design almost feels like they belong in the natural environment. Colors are used in a way to point out weak spots or weapons robots that can be shot off. This is actually a neat, wider feature I find in the graphics of this game. Boulders can be destroyed by dinosaurs during combat to break your cover, you can place wire traps between tree trunks, and you can pick up some of the huge robot weapons when you shoot them off the robots and use the weapons against them.
Character modeling is something to be desired for. While many of the key characters graphically speaking look very nice, other NPC’s throughout the game can at times look clammy, shiny, and very reflective. If you take a look at the picture I provided of this Innkeeper you can see what I mean about this and my comments on indoor lighting. The sun is obviously not shinning on us yet his skin seems to be reflecting light making him look abnormal. This is only worsened by the wall behind him that has this orange filter on it which makes it look like there being effected by different sources of light.
During combat I never experienced any noticeable frame rate issues. Explosions and other effects are really awesome, mainly due to the audio design. Watch some of the gameplay clips to get an idea which can be found in the later portions of the review.
I only experienced a couple of graphical glitches during the game. One you can see in the video below where this giant sea creature has trouble finding the ground.
Graphics overall: Mostly minor issues that are noticeably in only certain parts of the game. Most of the game you’ll be lavished with beautiful graphics and a smooth experience.
The audio in this game complimented the graphics extremely well if not out preformed the graphics. The environmental effects and sound design of the dinosaurs is unreal! Voice acting for the main characters is fair, but it wasn’t all that great the majority of the game. It was hard for the game to convey a sense of any emotion due to mediocre voice acting and, something I failed to mention early, the facial animations. Many characters lacked good lip syncing and any facial expressions. Aloy for the most part was able to overcome this, but it was very noticeable in other characters. Despite this problem, the graphics and audio together make for a very atmospheric game.
Let’s talk about the story for a little bit. You play as Aloy, an outcast from the tribe in a post modern world filled with metal ruins and destroyed technology. You find a focus which is basically a computer chip that gives you Batman detection capabilities. You use the focus as you grow up and train for something called “The Proving.” Motivated by a desire to find out who your mother was and why the these robots are getting more aggressive you set out on an adventure after a major incident at The Proving.
The premise of the story was initially really interesting! You have many clans that roam the world all of their own unique back stories and histories. The mystery of the robot dinosaurs gets more and more interesting as you investigate these massive cauldrons that make the earth look like it’s run by machine parts.
Why then does the story seem to fall flat? This could have been due to a couple of things.
Linear story: It’s funny how a game can be so open world and feel linear in the way it tells its story. I’d hate to compare it to The Witcher 3, but the Witcher has a vast amount of decisions you can make within the game and the story. Not only that, the world outside the main story can in many ways effect the main story. In Horizon, the limited amount of decisions you make have no impact on the story and the side quests fall into the old fetch this, kill that mantra that plagues many older RPGs. This really constrains how the player is able to connect with the world.
Underdeveloped Characters: Outside of Aloy and her caretaker Rost, there isn’t much character development in the game’s characters. One reason is that no one character sticks with you long enough to grow some sense of attachment. When you gather your companions for a final stand at the end of the game (no spoilers) I almost forgot who a couple of them were because of their minor significance in the game even though Aloy acted like they had some decade long friendship. Many of the characters also lacked much of a personality that made them stand out and they never said anything unexpected or unique. This even goes for some of the main villains in the game. This caused a lot of what were suppose to be emotional moments to fall flat.
A non-living world: Horizon, despite its beautiful, expansive world with many diverse areas lacks interactive elements that I would have enjoyed seeing. Towns and villages have people, but those people don’t do anything. The few people you can talk to are either quest givers or shop keepers. There are plenty of clans in the game, but you don’t see any of the vast history or relationships between them playing our as you explore the world. This was most obvious when you first walk into the huge main city in the game and notice that, well, there isn’t all that much to do there. More expansive side questing might have fixed this. Watch below to see what I mean:
Gameplay, Combat, Activities: Horizon easily has some of the best core gameplay I’ve ever experienced. Without a doubt, the game is that it’s prime when your fighting robot dinosaurs in a frenzied combat or stealthily planting traps and watching your plan unfold. Take a look at some footage I captured of facing off with some corrupted robots (the best enemies to face in the game).
The intensity of the combat and the variety of ways to approach it makes for these extremely awesome moments. These moments are the things people game for! Now using the bow and your other range weapons is very well done and feels natural. You gain different weapons and sets of ammo for them as you progress throughout the game. Different elemental arrows can cause massive damage to weak spots on robots. You also get to use a ropecaster, tripwires, slings, and traps. Melee combat isn’t as great. When you try to swing your spear it feels unnatural and the hit detection is sloppy. Stick to those range weapons as much as you can.
Crafting is a very visible part of the game. While it isn’t amazing or anything it’s there. Collecting plants, sticks, and robot parts will help you craft arrows, potions, and will help you purchase new armor and weapons from vendors. Here is the talent tree that offers upgrades for Aloy throughout the game:
The variety of robot dinosaurs and weapon choices will leave you with nothing to complain about, especially as you venture farther into the world and encounter some super badass and terrifying creatures.
The map in Horizon is fairly large with enough diversity to keep the environments fresh and visibly appealing. The area is scattered with collectables and viewpoints. The pay off for these isn’t worth the trouble. This is because the game doesn’t have a lot of tribal specific items or area unique things you can get. Instead you get these boxes that have almost the same materials in each container.
Side questing can lead to some pretty cool little stories, but many of them feel like fetch and kill quests which can kind of put a drag on the experience. The Hunters Lodge Challenges on the other hand are a must do, and easily the most interesting side material in the game! Also explore those cauldrons, they look cool.
The only bad main part of gameplay that needed a MAJOR improvement was the human enemies. Oh my goodness….It was pretty bad. In fact if they would of just got rid of the human AI…Unlike the robots, the humans are not unique in any sense, are pretty darn stupid, and feel like a rushed insert compared to other aspects of the game. I’m not sure what went wrong here. Just try facing one of the human bosses and you’ll understand how much less enjoyable it is then facing the robot dinosaurs.
Everything aside, was it fun?
Oh my goodness…this game was a freaking blast. Despite the flaws Gorilla Games has made a fantastically fun game. Moments like facing a Thunderjaw for the first time make for some unforgettable moments due to the quality graphics, audio design, and solid core gameplay.
Horizon is able to create a beautiful, atmospheric world, with creative enemy design, amazingly smooth core gameplay, and a story that is able to start and finish strong despite a sluggish interlude in the middle. It has its faults: issues with character development, terrible human AI, and some odd facial animations. Its weaknesses do hold it back from being on the level of games like The Witcher 3, but Horizon is able to stand on its own as one of the PS4’s greatest games.
PS: There is armor that you can unlock using power cells that makes you nearly invisible. This will ruin the game play experience. Only unlock it for the final mission.