By Myles Jordan – When I first saw the trailer for Horizon Zero Dawn, I thought it looked interesting, but little did I know just how unique and interesting of a concept Guerilla games were developing. As was to be expected, many looked upon their latest project with uncertainty due to their lack of experience outside of the FPS genre.
How wrong we all were.
Horizon is an open world action adventure title set in a post apocalyptic Earth that is inhabited by a wide variety of robotic animalistic machines. As the feisty female protagonist Aloy, you come from a tribe called the Nora, who are very shamanistic and worship an unnamed “all mother”.
She comes equipped with a variety of Bow and Arrow based weaponry, alongside a staff, some elemental bombs and a small selection of traps and gadgets. Her staff is especially interesting, as it allows you to brainwash enemies into fighting on your side, a dynamic which can change the outcome of a battle.
Aloy often feels like the only sensible person thinking straight in a world full of idiots, in part due to her “focus”, a piece of technology that allows her to interact with relics of the old world, which other characters often dismiss as a form of “witchcraft”.
The game is structured almost like a Witcher or Elder Scrolls title in terms of how quests are given. You find a new town, speak to the locals, and before you know it you’ve been roped into 3 or 4 side quests which you can further pursue at your own leisure.
Whilst on the topic of side quests, I found these to be a shining example of Horizon’s brilliance. Rarely are any two missions the same, which comes as a refreshing change of pace from the games we see today. Too often are open world games repetitive in nature, both tonally and physically. I can recount at least 3 side quests from the top of my head that ended in a completely different way than I expected. Not every confrontation ends in bloodshed and not every character is a stereotype.
What sets this game apart from it’s open world brethren is how dense and compact they’ve managed to make this world feel, without altering or damaging the sense of scope in any way. In a game like Assassin’s Creed, you’d expect to climb 30 or so buildings for viewpoints, max. In Horizon, each “Tallneck” is a moving obstacle that needs to be tactically scaled. “How many are there?” I hear you ask. Four. There are four viewpoints in this game.
Horizon is a rare exception to an otherwise dying and uninteresting genre, and manages to mix things up with a more concise and conscious design on a base level. Don’t get me wrong, you can still expect certain conventions from the genre, Bandit Camps or Corruption Zones that are essentially just enemy forts that need clearing out, but for everything you’ve seen before, there’s something fresh here too.
Combat feels dynamic, fluid and fast paced, almost playing out like a third person shooter. However the variety of enemy types keeps things interesting, with specific weak points you can exploit to disable a type of attack, or sometimes even dislodge a weapon you can pick up and use against them.
The sheer level of storytelling seen in this game is something to behold. Whilst the main plot is something I won’t spoil, the game also has a habit of dishing out audio files and text drops for people like myself who enjoy background lore. It’s somewhat unique to each location too, giving off a Fallout vibe, where you discover what happened to someone and occasionally stumble upon their corpse.
What’s most remarkable to me is how Guerilla managed to refine and tie together elements from some of my favourite games. The combat can often remind you of Shadow Of Mordor, whilst using Aloy’s headset (called a Focus) can aid gameplay similarly to the detective vision from the Arkham games. Sometimes riding your mount down a dusty road can bring back Red Dead Redemption memories. There’s the Fallout-like ambient lore I mentioned earlier, alongside other gameplay elements like a more rudimentary climbing system similar to that seen in the Uncharted games.
Although it’s not something I usually care about, Horizon is one of the most inclusive and culturally diverse games I’ve played to date. Main characters come from all different races and backgrounds, the tribe in which you begin the game is lead by a trio of Matriarchs whilst another is led by a Sun King. There’s a nice variety of personalities and stories on display, and I can’t praise Guerilla enough for this.
In the end, we have another smash hit exclusive for the PlayStation 4 bringing with it a masterfully designed open world, full of interesting personalities, a wide breadth of lore and activities and hopefully the beginning of a new franchise that we will hear from for years to come.