By Jeremy Julian @faithfulmantis
The open world genre is arguably the hardest type of game to develop. The developers must pay attention to how large the world is and what to populate it with. These large games are expected to be varied and fun when it comes to the environments and gameplay elements.
Take a game that has a well-written and well-acted story, add in fantastic combat and a breathtaking expansive world. Horizon: Zero Dawn is that game. The PlayStation 4 exclusive title is developed by Guerilla Games, known for the long running “Killzone” series on PlayStation.
Guerilla took a departure from the typical action packed military shooter and decided to do something new and unique. Horizon is an open world Action-RPG that takes place in post-post apocalyptic America.
Yes, it takes place after the post-apocalypse of society. The game’s setting is perhaps the most unique aspect of it. It is an era where the Earth has already been destroyed and rebuilt.
The protagonist of the game is Aloy, a woman cast out from a matriarchal tribe called the Nora. The world includes three other tribes that the player will encounter throughout. One thing that stands out about these tribes is that they all have their own distinct cultures and religions.
Aloy is a woman that wants answers for herself and for the world surrounding her. The way the game tells her story is brilliant and filled with incredible voice acting. Aloy is voiced by Ashly Burch, and characters encountered in the game are voiced by additional talented actors.
The story is great overall. It kept me interested in the characters and the world surrounding them. It had me searching for collectible pieces of information like audio logs scattered throughout the land in order to find more about what happened to Earth.
The narrative in Horizon is great, but it wouldn’t be what it is without how the world is presented. It is probably the most beautiful console game I have ever seen. The way objects react to elements like wind and sunlight feels real and immersive. The game’s map is massive and incredibly varied.
There are many different environment types to be explored from snowy mountains to tropical jungles. These areas are all populated by many of the game’s various robotic animals.
The design of each robot is a technical achievement in its own. Every robot is basically a killing machine version of animals that have existed in our world.
The Thunderjaw, for example, is a massive robotic T-Rex that has multiple weapons on its body from machine guns to rockets. Taking down huge enemies like this can get challenging but they are very fun and rewarding. The game gives Aloy many tools to take down these daunting creatures.
Aloy starts off with just a simple bow and arrow, but her arsenal grows, and she even gets many new abilities. It is a role-playing game, so it’s reliant on heavy resource usage and skill points to upgrade the character. The upgrade system is similar to other RPGs, in that it has three differing skill trees that all have different focuses.
The skill tree system is simple but well made and with each growing skill Aloy gets, it becomes much easier to take down some of the more powerful foes. The weapons she has are varied and it is important for players to switch it up in combat for most effectiveness.
An example of this would be using the rope launcher to pull a flying enemy to the ground and finishing it off with a melee critical hit. In Horizon, anything can happen and the game allows the players to take on challenges in different ways. The game encourages you to play it however you want.
Stealth is a viable option in just about every encounter, and while it’s difficult and time-consuming, it pays off in the end. What stands out about the gameplay the most is how well polished it all is. It is a seamless transition whenever Aloy is switching weapons or dodge rolling away from these large enemies to avoid taking damage. Gameplay is fast, frantic and gives players so many tools to play around with.
Strategy is everything when it comes to tackling the robots. Each enemy has distinct weak points on their bodies and it is encouraged to take those out to down them faster. Horizon gives you freedom like very few games do.
The freedom to fight enemies in any way, but also the freedom to explore the world however you want. The open world is filled with many meaningful side-quests and errands to do. These side missions aren’t just mere distractions from the main story. They have varied and complex storylines of their own and it’s worth doing many of them.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game that takes elements from other open world adventure games, mashes them up and makes them better. Its cast, world and gameplay have enough variety to keep you playing for dozens of hours. In my play of the game, it took me around 20 hours to complete but I still have plenty of side missions to do and unlockables to collect.
It tells a great story about a new set of humans living on Earth and how they try to uncover answers from the past that have been lost. Also, the environment in itself tells a story. The game stretches from desolate desert regions to large populated cities that have all walks of life.
Guerilla games took a risk when making this game. It’s ambitious and it’s released in an age where people are beginning to tire of typical open world tropes. This game feels new and fresh. Everything in the world feels meaningful. To me, Horizon: Zero Dawn is the best Playstation 4 exclusive so far. It is a memorable and special experience that all Playstation owners should pick up and play.