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Horizon Zero Dawn Review

Horizon Zero Dawn

Earlier this month I took on the noble task of volunteering to review Horizon Zero Dawn. After about a dozen hours into the game, I am getting all aboard this hype train. If you're not familiar with HZD in the first 3 weeks of it's success, then allow me to take you on a journey of a game that I would describe as Fallout meeting Jurassic park while being on a double date with The Witcher & Red Read Redemption. Oh yea, it's a doozy..  
Horizon is PS4 exclusive open world single player RPG that successfully blends most of the best elements of this genre of game. The title sets the bar high early in 2017, taking some eyes off of Zelda and the Switch launch (2 GOTY contenders perhaps). You play as Aloy an outcast of the tribal society that exists at this point in the world and get the benefit of all the usual suspects:
  • Dead eye or slowing down time while aiming weapons
  • A bad ass array of primitive weaponry with elemental options (fire arrows, freeze bombs, stock trip-wires etc)
  • Marking enemies so you can plan your approach
  • Stealth take-downs and the ability to lure enemies to you there
  • Three talent trees to customize your experience and abilities
  • Scaling gear, weapons, mods and enemies
  • A fast travel map option.

Ultimately what sells me on this game is that it does all of the above and does it so well. You don't only have dead eye when standing still, you can also do it while jumping or sliding under belly of a mechanical behemoth to shoot at the weak point. Not only can you mark enemies but you can also see their patrol routes to plant traps along the way or move past unnoticed. Enjoy the hilarity of a 10 ton killing machine with high powered robotic sensors not seeing you in that 2 foot tall grass.

Don't mind that Strider corpse, it was already there

Let's break this down into the pros, the cons, and final thoughts given I have not finished the game yet but played a variety of the content in the game. 

PROS

Setting

The first thing that jumps out about this game is the location and level design. Guerilla Games created a beautiful landscape and the detail on both humans and the mechanical creatures you encounter are extremely well made and add to the environment. Immersion! The ruined world can be a lush jungle overtaking collapsed sky scrapers, tribal villages of the different factions, or the underground metal world with relics from the past. The world is filled with easy to see resources that can be quickly collected, herds of mechanical beasts and brilliant landscapes. Really this game deserves to be on PC at some point to push it to the graphical limits.

What's behind door number 1?

Gameplay

Gameplay is another aspect that Horizon succeeds in. Yes the climbing is a little bit clunky and there is the occasional invisible wall, but for the most part the game feels great to play and doesn't get repetitive. The melee works well even though we're limited to a light and heavy attack but the real focus of the combat is the ranged weaponry and traps. Speaking of that, the elemental explosions look awesome in this game and you'll need to use the right type to get past harder foes.

Determining how to attack an enemy is revealed by the game's player assistant, called a "Focus". Activate the focus and you can see loot, wild animals for hunting, and enemies in the area around you. It also provides information on weak points of the machines you are fighting if you can scan the right spot. There is no stamina bar in this game for good reason, you spend a lot of time sprinting or rolling out of the way of attacks. Enemies have normal vision and hearing detection that you might expect from a Metal Gear game, and yes you can kill people next to that tall grass over and over.

A stealth massacre

Economy

Okay so we've got this great world to explore and sweet ways of tackling the various obstacles we'll face, but how do we actually pay for it all?! This category is the most significant for the game to scale well, and in Horizon you really make every piece you can pick up to use. Unlike in say Fallout where you can collect literal trash for hours and weigh down your character with nothing gained, Guerrilla Games took a smart approach. You can only loot enemies and chests with the loot symbol hovering over.  

Loot drops follow typical color scheme so you can go for the good stuff first

Everything you collect will be used somehow, and they tell you upfront what it can be used for. From crafting ammunition, potions, traps, being only good for selling to merchants, the materials you collect will all be put to use. You can even upgrade carrying capacity for every item and ammo type which is a great touch! Did I mention you know how to craft all of this stuff just naturally? Once you buy a new weapon you can automatically craft the ammo types for it provided you have the ingredients. Nothing is worse than getting a new weapon and then not being able to use it. You can also quickly craft potions and ammo in combat so even if you run out momentarily, find a place to get your self back in fighting shape. 

CONS

While the bulk of this review will be in the pro category, this game is not without some failings that should be pointed out. Firstly I'm sad I can't play this on a 1080i on max settings. That aside, here are some flaws in the game that I think are worth noting or can be fixed in a patch:

  • The D pad item system - While it's nice to be able to swap around what item we want to use in combat, it really gets bogged down if you have all the traps and potions available. I need to click 8+ times to find my potion mid combat? Looks like I need to pause anyways so it really doesn't feel helpful.
  • No mass loot - even though they streamlined the available items and crafting system in the game, sometimes you just end up taking down dozens of baddies but then have to hold triangle for a solid five minutes afterwards to collect everything. We can do better this and should be fixable imo.
  • Too much usage of Focus - The focus is your character's tap into the Matrix, it allows her to interface with the world in a way no one else does. It's so good it becomes hard to not use constantly and much of your time is spend just marking and scanning the area ahead.
  • Main character's face - no other way to say it, some of the characters look great and all of the ambient world is fantastic but something seems wonky to me about Aloy. Could just be me though!

Closing Thoughts

Horizon is a well thought out and very satisfying game to play. I was feeling pretty sad with missing out on the Switch and Zelda but then after playing this game it has made up for that in spades so far. We're not in Hyrule but this world kicks a whole new level of ass. It seems well worth the spend to pick up this title if you like this style of game, I can't wait to find out more about how the world came to this point. There are breadcrumbs from the past, so it seems like that is coming.
"Vantages" in the game give you literal glimpses into the past
In the first quarter of the game I've faced some pretty intense machines, so I can only guess I'll be fighting something ridiculous in the very near future. If this is the way the earth ends up after the apocalypse then maybe the 2016 election isn't so bad after all... Let us know whether you agree or disagree on this game, or what game you're playing to start off 2017. Now if you'll excuse me it's time for me to get back into this land of Jussasic Fallout Westworld Solid 5. Is that power armor I see...?
Oooooooo

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