A brand new open-world with a wonderfully unique premise, “Horizon: Zero Dawn” is an impressive new franchise that delivers a very strong start that PlayStation fans should certainly experience.
“Horizon” is a third person, PlayStation exclusive role-playing game based in what is considered a post-post-apocalyptic world: modern society has long been gone, and now humans have been reduced to survivalist and tribal communities living in fear of an unusual wilderness. The protagonist, Aloy, an outcast of the Nora tribe at birth, transitions from her cloistered life with her father into an adventure of discovery and redemption.
The player and Aloy are sent into the wide-open world almost immediately, following a short montage-like introduction. Despite some basic tutorials on mechanics, much of the discovery is left for the player to make. The playable area is massive and demands much time to be fully explored and experienced. Though some side quests devolve into minor fetch quests, character performances and world building justify the desire to complete them. The overall dynamic of “Horizon’s” world elicits both a sense of wonder, but also vulnerability.
This vulnerability stems from the danger that the open-world wilderness presents to the player. The main predators of “Horizon” are not dangerous animals, but instead are robotic animal-like machines that roam the land as the top of the food chain. Enemies emphasize proper strategy in planning your attack because even the smallest machines pose a threat. Luckily Aloy’s aptitude with her equipment, especially her bow and arrows, are the perfect tools to get the job done.
The player is able to craft a variety of different types of traps and other projectiles, but Aloy’s bow and special arrows are the center point to her arsenal’s strength. Crafting arrows and preparing traps happens mid-game, so it actively doesn’t sacrifice the momentum of fighting with menu browsing. She is able to craft arrows paired with special elemental effects which can affect enemies in different ways. In fact, later on in the game, the relevancy of traps is often reduced due to the frantic nature of “Horizon’s” combat.
“Horizon” combat typically begins with stealth and preparation, because running in with arrows blazing is often times a mistake that will be punished. Enemies follow typical open-world tropes of patrol patterns and activities, but once a battle has begun, they are relentless in their methods of attack.
While enemy artificial intelligence isn’t top notch in certain situations, most of the time the machines mix up their approaches and strikes quickly but efficiently enough to force the player to defend and consider options. Much of the environment – such as tall grass and natural cover – can be used to the advantage of the player, especially in stealthy situations.
The landscapes and atmosphere of “Horizon” are certainly beautiful and well detailed, but its world as a concept is the most engrossing. The premise of a hybrid post apocalypse mixed with a primitive pre-civilization caricature makes the characters and the story most memorable. The world building and lore of the game help carry some of the unintentionally melodramatic performances of many of the characters in side quests, but it doesn’t thoroughly detract from the experience.
Aloy’s performance is convincing no matter what dialogue options you choose, but there’s an inherent hero archetype in her actions. So while you can’t entirely dictate how you build the main character’s personality, it creates an interesting conversational meta-game which personalizes how the player and non-playable characters interact in game.
While many open-world games fall into typical tropes of games in the past, “Horizon: Zero Dawn” manages to break the mold with an inventive and exciting new premise never seen before in the mainstream video game market. Though some character performances are a bit melodramatic and their respective side quests aren’t revolutionary, “Horizon: Zero Dawn” builds an amazing and unique world that should be experienced by PlayStation fans.