If you told me a year ago that Horizon Zero Dawn (HZD) was going to be the next big game after Witcher 3, I’d be flabbergasted. The game’s developer, Guerilla Games, may have created the enjoyable Killzone series, but they’re hardly on the same scale and scope as CD Projekt RED, developer of the Witcher videogame series. In fact, a year ago, I had no idea what HZD was.
Unlike most purported AAA blockbusters out there, HZD enjoyed a relatively quiet launch. On its release, however, HZD quickly gained popularity as the next blockbusting RPG made exclusively for the PS4, gaining millions of fans including myself. Let’s bust those blocks and answer why you need to play HZD for yourself.
More than meets the eye. Aloy, a skilled huntress from the Nora tribe, ventures away from the embrace of her homeland to discover the secrets of her past and save her tribe. She wields a simple bow and spear against a world overrun by mechanical beasts and ill-willing cultists. Along the way, she meets a host of other tribes: the Carja, the Banuk, and the Oseram, each with their own quirks and personalities.
At its core, HZD is a heavy survival RPG with sci-fi elements. Its story is a careful and brilliant execution of the ‘Chosen One’ trope. If not for the mechanized creatures, it’s reasonable to cast this off as a Far Cry: Primal rip-off. But we have mechanized dinosaurs; that makes a world of a difference. Even without the well-crafted main story, mechanized dinosaurs already necessitate a vital question: where the hell did these robot dinosaurs come from?! Like how good stories go, the answer is never simple. As the main story progresses, Aloy learns about the distant past through echoes and relics from the past, our present. Eventually, the stories of the past affect the present in a way that can only be called brilliant.
Robot dinosaurs. Let’s say it again: robot dinosaurs! Who can’t love robot dinosaurs? On her journey, Aloy will encounter 25 types of machines, with a Corrupted (or stronger) version of each. Every machine is visually and mechanically different, thus requiring different battle strategies for each.
Of course, there are limitless combinations of machines that Aloy can face. Battling a Tyrannosaurus Rex-like machine? How about we add robot birds to the mix? Facing machines in HZD’s world is never a dull experience.
Jill of all trades. With the number of enemies that Aloy will face, there is never a one-and-true solution to beating the game. There are different playstyles that players can use like stealth, run-and-gun, and guns blazing approaches. Level progressing even unlocks skills that correspond to three official styles: the Prowler, the Brawler, and the Forager. While the early game might lead players to specific skill trees, further progress necessitates mastery of other trees. Also, there are even different types of weapons and ammo that apply to certain situations but not to others. It’s a game that commands mastery of multiple styles.
A stealthy approach might make battles with smaller machines easier, but more advanced and larger machines eliminate the comfort of hiding entirely. Players are sometimes forced to take a guns-blazing approach for an area even if they’re already skilled at stealth. It’s an amazing game mechanic that keeps players on their toes even in the late game.
Forager. Another game mechanic that HZD excels at is resource micromanagement. Loot drops and resources are not abundant in the world. Very often, even in the late game, Aloy will find herself lacking different resources she must use for ammo crafting and healing. It’s a chore that can sometimes border on tedious. While it’s convenient that most items can be crafted from resources foraged from plants and kill loot, it can be disruptive to farm healing berries and ridge-wood, especially when there’s a more pressing mission active.
Long missions can even leave Aloy with zero healing ability and limited ammo by the end. The farming mechanic works for a lot of situations, but it often fails to continue the immersion.
Check-check-checklist. Besides the main missions, there is a multitude of errands and side missions available to Aloy. They might detract from her more important missions, but they hardly ruin the game experience. In fact, they’re often fun romps that expand the story and sometimes affect how the game’s future plays out.
There’s also a reasonable set of collectibles available, as is usual for the RPG genre. The best things about HZD’s collectibles are their reasonable number/challenge and their adequate returns-on-investment. There are rewards on completing sets of collectibles. They’re not game-changing but they’re enough to give a boost for any struggling player.
Take me there. Let’s loose the cat out of the bag. HZD is set in the state of Colorado after hundreds of years. The visuals, melded with a deep focal draw distance and a dynamic lighting system, make HZD one of the most strikingly beautiful games of 2017. The internet is littered with American players visiting spots in Colorado and photographing them in the game and in real life. I even found myself stopping in the middle of play just to admire the amazing scenery from atop a mountain or looking up at massive vistas of post-apocalyptic America.
Besides the stunning scenery, HZD is blessed with the most realistic character modeling and voice acting since Witcher 3. HZD’s characters have the most captivating eyes I’ve seen in video games. Plus, the voice acting is a perfect blend of realism and slight language degradation.
Horizon Zero Dawn is, hands-down, one of the best games of 2017. Its immersive story-telling gels perfectly with stunning visuals, complex game mechanics, and lovable characters. Even after dozens of hours of gameplay, there’s only one way to cap off this amazing gaming experience: we want more!
Developer: Guerilla Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: Action role-playing