Feel free to watch the video review above or to read it below the old fashioned way.
Horizon Zero Dawn is an action RPG developed by Guerrilla Games set in a post-apocalyptic world, where animalistic robots have largely taken over. I have to say that this game is one of my unexpected gems of 2017. In terms of gameplay, graphics and storytelling, it’s a real work of art. The large, open world environment is nothing short of stunning, from the natural landscapes to the ruins of modern civilisation, long reclaimed by nature and only just recognisable in form.
Fallout 4’s post-apocalyptic environment seemed contrived, to me, and never really managed to feel convincing with discrepancies between the passing of time and the progress of decay, which appeared mere decades rather than the millennia that was meant to have passed, but, in my opinion Horizon Zero Dawn gets it spot on. You really feel the breadth of time that’s passed between modern civilisation’s demise and the current culture, and this is done not just visually but also through the lore presented through side quests and general interaction. The game world is a compelling and entirely convincing post-apocalyptic world, and it’s easy to lose yourself in it, exploring ancient ruins and uncovering the world’s history and lore. It’s absorbing stuff.
The game mechanics are equally enjoyable. You control Aloy, a machine hunter from the Northern Tribe, who embarks on a journey following a trail of clues, both modern and ancient, to uncover the truth behind the destruction of the technological world. Aloy uses enhanced primitive weapons such as bows and spears to take down the ravenous packs of animalistic machines that inhabit the game world, which has to be done with tactical consideration, as the machines will hit hard and as a pack if alerted. Luckily, each mechanical species has its own weakness to be exploited, revealed by using Aloy’s Focus device, salvaged from the ruins of the modern world. This device works very similar to Witcher senses in The Witcher games and allows her to track and analyse her surroundings. She also has the ability to hack machines and turn predators into allies or mounts. There’s also a crafting system that allows Aloy to take the parts, salvaged from downed foes, and use it to strengthen her arsenal like adding fire or ice to her arrows or crafting tripwires and explosive traps.
There is a wonderful array of quests to complete with even the side quests being given meaning with some excellent storytelling, quite reminiscent of the The Witcher 3. A lot of the quests do fall into the same categories of fetch this or kill that, but the story behind the need gives them meaning, artfully avoiding the grindy feel of many RPGs. I’ll admit that I’m not finding it quite as engaging as The Witcher 3, but it does come a very close second, and the character of Aloy is no less endearing in her interactions with the games NPCs with some witty and sarcastic comebacks that even Geralt would be proud of.
The graphics are quite frankly astounding. I’ve never seen a PS4 game look this good and it’s hard to resist the urge to spend more time in the game’s photo mode, taking shots of the amazing backdrops, than hunting those rampaging mechanical beasts. Not only does it look good but the game also runs smoothly with barely a hint of FPS slowdown, even on the bog standard PS4. I’m telling you there is witchcraft at work here. All in all, Horizon Zero Dawn is a hard game to criticise. There are times where the quest objects are a fair distance from the pickup point. The mount system requires that the correct type of mobs be nearby to appropriate to speed up travel, but this is only an issue with quests in undiscovered locations, as there is a fast travel function for instantly moving to or between discovered locations. We may only be in March, but I just know this game will be in my top games list at the end of the year.
This game is a PS4 exclusive and well played to Sony for securing this gem. It certainly makes me pleased I own a PS4. For those who don’t, is it worth getting a PS4 just to play it? Well, I can’t really say that any one game would sell a console for me, but Sony have released a number of high quality exclusives so far in 2017 and with Yakuza 0, Nioh and Nier Automata, and soon Persona 5, backing it up, I would definitely be picking one up if I didn’t have one already. But that’s just me. Happy watcher hunting to all those who do take the plunge.