Horizon: Zero Dawn Review
Look, here’s the deal. I know you’re here for the score. The final verdict. All the words I have prepared for you to read count for less than that big fancy number we assign to the bottom. And that’s cool – you do you. So, I will cut to the chase for you, ok? Horizon: Zero Dawn is phenomenal. I absolutely loved it from start to finish. I personally clocked in around 65 hours when I finally got my Platinum Trophy, so I feel pretty confident in telling you that this is a game worth your time. “But Matthew,” I hear you theoretically say, “what if I care about why you like the game so much?” Well then person on the internet, keep reading, because I’ve got you covered.
I can’t talk about why I love Horizon: Zero Dawn without discussing just how surprising it is that it ended up this good. I’ve enjoy Guerrilla Games’ Killzone franchise well enough, but they were never THE game to talk about when they released. We went from a series of tightly focused FPS games originally designed to combat Halo to an open world story driven action RPG out of nowhere. Horizon: Zero Dawn was such a massive shift in tone, genre, and execution for them that the team really deserves more praise for being able to pull it off so well on their first try.
The other major reason Horizon: Zero Dawn succeeded with me was Aloy. She was such a delight as a character, from Ashly Burch’s characterization, to her development over the course of the game, to her basic design, I loved everything about her. Some people might say that her talking to herself during the course of the game was annoying. You might be correct in saying that that is a perfectly reasonable opinion. I say those people are fools. FOOLS.
Let’s talk combat. Combat against giant robotic dinosaurs and animals nonetheless. The combat mechanics in this game are incredible. Incredibly deep, incredibly open, incredibly tense, and incredibly fun. The challenge in the game is no joke – a few errant swipes from the tutorial area’s offerings can end you no matter your difficulty, and when you mix in a group of aggressive and diverse mechs, you have a lot on your plate to handle.
But what makes Horizon: Zero Dawn combat so fascinating is that you can tackle fights in such a variety of ways, allowing you to express yourself in battle. Are you like me? Do you like to take the stealth approach, picking off enemies one by one like a futuristic tribal Solid Snake? Do you rely on traps, tripwires, and ambushes? Do you like to convert foes to your side to tip the scales? Are you full on aggressive, using the wide variety of ammo types to pick apart your enemies’ weaknesses? A combination of any of the above? Each and every approach is a viable choice, and that’s amazing. Mix in the different debuffs from arrow/trap/bomb types (Fire, Shock, Freeze, Corruption, Tear) and you just have SO MANY OPTIONS.
The bigger fights that you can stumble across are all mini boss fights in their own right. Few moments in gaming feel as good as when you rip off a Thunderjaw’s disc launcher, turn it back on it, and rain down fiery destruction. Trust me. I tried to think of other moments that made me feel like more of a badass, but the list was short.
The same feeling was elicited by fights against other enemies as well. Giant, powerful Stormbirds. Relentless Rockbreakers. Behemoths, Snapmaws, Tramplers, Bellowbacks, Ravagers, Sawtooths…the list of engaging and intense enemies to fight were surprising.
If I were to dedicate a paragraph to each reason I loved Horizon: Zero Dawn, I might as well commit to writing a YA novel. Instead, how about a little rapid fire session with some of the other reasons why the game grabbed me so completely. Ready? Here we go!
- Photo Mode is insane. Sony needs more credit with their studios incorporating this feature. Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode is just a ticket to gaming beauty.
- The graphics are just… look… This is a damn pretty game.
- The sense of scale is second to none on PS4.
- No load times outside of initial start up, fast travel, or death. Going from one end of the world to the other seamlessly is just fantastic.
- Customizing your weapons and armor to suit your play style.
- Aloy’s voice echoes when she talks to herself when she’s high up on a mountain.
- If you are crouched and move up a hill, Aloy switches to a crawling animation. The little touches in this game are numerous.
- Climbing the Ubi Tower homages, the Tallnecks, is always great.
- Dynamic weather!
- The crafting speed is perfect.
- Slowing down time for weapon changes is genius.
- The way the environment transistions into a different setting. Jungle to desert to snow to swamp, etc.
- NPCs are all well varied. No running into a weird twin halfway across the world.
- The different clans and settlements feel varied and fleshed out. The Nora are different from the Carja. The Banuk would not be mistaken for the Oseram. It’s really nice.
- Side quests are varied and engaging thanks to NPCs with distinct stories and histories.
- The slide. I LOVE THE SLIDE. Running up to an enemy, sliding into cover, and picking them off is so damn satisfying.
My last gushing praise for the game is saved for the story. I love how so much is left open to interpretation. The quest to discover what happened to “The Old Ones” was so engaging that I did something I rarely do – I searched far and wide to uncover every single datapad, voice memo, glyph, etc to get every bit of information I could of life before the fall. When the pieces start falling into place, and you realize what happened and what is still at stake, I was so enthralled I didn’t turn the game off until I finished the plot. It’s that good.
But ok. No game is truly perfect. Well, unless that game is called Final Fantasy VI, but that is a conversation for another day. Of course there were some things about Horizon: Zero Dawn that need tweaking or fixing. But nothing coming remotely close to diminishing my love of the game. Does the game’s melee combat pale in comparison to the incredible ranged/trap based combat? Hell yeah it does. Is fighting humans incredibly dull? When placed alongside the chaotic and blood pumping mech combat? You know it. Do I get annoyed when my resources bag gets constantly full? Quests not being counted unless you have them actively selected? Annoying. Not being able to filter out icons in the cluttered overworld map? A weird oversight. The fact that my Focus-fueled weak point indicator fades in the middle of heated combat? Frustrating.
Yet not one of those points detracts from my love of Aloy’s journey.
My list of gaming absolutes is small. Link to the Past > Ocarina. Kefka = Best RPG villain. Valve will never make Half Life 3. But I guess we can add “Horizon: Zero Dawn is the best new IP this generation” to my list. If you own a PS4, this game should be in your gaming library. If you don’t own a PS4 but love open world, action RPGs, strong stories, or great combat, consider grabbing one. And if you’re a console fanboy who goes out of their way to hate on a game you’ve never played? You suck, and your toxic behavior should definitely be worked on.