Horizon: Zero Dawn Review

Horizon: Zero Dawn PS4 Review

Never has the term man versus machine been taken more literally. It’s time to prove your worth in the Sacred Grounds, become a Brave, and cast off the shackles of the tribe’s alienation.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is the incredibly beautiful action role-playing game released worldwide as of the 1st of March 2017. Development for this game had started as early as 2011 by Guerilla Games and was published by Sony Interactive Entertainment exclusively for PS4. The game director, Mathijs de Jonge, considered the idea for Horizon Zero Dawn very risky, because it plays with the contrast between the beauty of the environment, and the danger of the game setting. They wanted “trial and error” to be how you learn to play the game, having chosen to not implement a tutorial. You may agree that this is risky, and it darn well is, but Guerrilla Games succeeded in making this an enjoyable part of the experience.

Beautiful Danger

Look at that High Definition!
When I first started the game, it didn’t waste any time pulling me into the story. In fact, I was busy typing something on my phone when it had started, and it felt almost as if it had pulled my face toward the screen going “Look at all these environments! The details on the characters look great, don’t they? How about we throw in this story to emotionally involve with the story and development of this baby girl and her foster father! Oh, look, now you know her name! Want to find out more? Press New Game NOW!” – to which I made no hesitation. In fact, I was so in awe of the beginning cinematic before the game launched, that when the Game Menu appeared, I was stuck just staring at the setting and environments on my screen at that moment, trying to make sense of the fact that only 5 or so minutes in, the story of the game has already clutched me and pulled me in.

I will get back to the whole story-loving part in a bit, but for now I want to talk about the surroundings and the world you get thrown into once I finally made my way past the Game Menu, and playing the game. I was impressed with the level of detail that was put into, what seems like, everything. The fields of grass almost seem to move like it would in our world, in a mock synchronisation when the wind blows it or when you move through it. None of the mountains or rocks seem to look alike when I run past them. When I stumbled upon the Photo Mode in the Pause Menu, I had a little chuckle, but then marvelled at how much fun I was having playing around with all the features, brightening the image or adding more contrast, or vignette, changing the time of day, just to take an incredibly satisfying screenshot. It feels like a true adventure running around in this world.

What Year Is It?

Digital Forestry
The game is set in the future, where humanity has mastered holographic technology and robotics. Unfortunately however, due to an unknown calamity, humanity is sent back to the tribal ages, where machines dominate the planet. Today’s tribal societies refer to their advanced predecessors as the “Old Ones” and not much is known about them, because it is forbidden to explore the ruins, and they shun the technologies of the Old Ones.

You follow the story of Aloy, a determined huntress and archer. As an infant, she was entrusted to Rost by the Nora Matriarchs to raise. Unfortunately, Rost is an Outcast, and all Outcasts get shunned by the Nora Tribes-people. As a result, Aloy never knew the love of a mother, and gets shunned by adult women because of reputation as being a “Motherless curse”. Aloy runs off upset and falls into a pit where she finds the ruins of the Old Ones, as well as a Focus, a small device that interacts with your neural network which grants you special perceptive abilities and the ability to interact with machines and also Old One technology.

She later becomes curious about the identity of her mother and why she was abandoned, deciding that Rost will help her train to take part in an event called The Proving, a coming-of-age ceremony to become a Brave for their tribe. The winner of said Proving will be granted a boon by the Matriarchs, to request anything that they please. Without spoiling much, Aloy takes part in the Proving, but something really, really bad happens, which causes that the Matriarchs anoint Aloy to be their Tribe’s Seeker, where she must leave the Sacred Grounds of her Tribe to solve the mystery of the Proving calamity, find out why the machines are becoming more aggressive, and find out where she came from.

Hunting For Dummies

Set the Arrows Free!
Game mechanics revolve around combat, stealth tactics, resource gathering and the utilisation of the skill tree. There is a leveling system present in Horizon. Every time Aloy levels up, you gain skill points which you spend in the Skills tree. There are three branches; Prowler, which gets used to better your stealth tactics; Brave, which improves combat; and Forager, which improves healing and resource gathering. You level up by gaining experience points, as usual, and these are accumulated by destroying machines and completing quests.

You can get bonus experience when destroying machines by, for example, using a Stealth Strike to destroy it, or by shooting off the components they carry on their bodies. Aloy is equipped with a Hunting bow and Spear when you start, allowing for ranged and melee attacks, where melee has two types of attack; light for quick hits and heavy for stunning and for more damage.

Later on in the game you are able to buy more weapons, some examples being the Tripcaster and Ropecaster, which are used to set up Traps for the machines to run over or into for them to get stunned, allowing you an easier and quicker kill without more mobs coming your way and giving you more trouble. Your ammo also diminishes over time, so it is essential that you make sure you are well stocked on the resources necessary to be able to make more ammunition if you need it, by gathering it in the wilds, either from the nature or even the machines. Your environment is interactive as well, allowing you to climb up certain mountains, jump between columns, rappeling down hillsides, etc. The open world is a stunning place to venture. There are even herbs in the wilds that you need to make sure to collect, which fills up your medicine pouch. When you use the contents in your medicine pouch, it fills up your health at the same rate that the medicine bar drains. Fortunately, later on, you will get the opportunity to double the capacity of the medicine pouch.

To ensure a successful hunt or encounter with the machines, be sure to couple what you learn in the beginning stages of the game with skills that you acquire in the Skill Tree. For example, there is a skill called Hunter Reflexes (which is so far my favourite ability to use) in the Prowler branch, which slows down time while aiming during a slide or a jump. Couple this when running off of a ledge and jumping, it makes it easier to hit the sensitive spots of your target when they’re running towards, or away from, you, and you feel like such a badass when executing these actions and successfully taking down an enemy.

There are so many more skills to get, and I cannot wait to unlock them after being exposed to the ones I have now. Eventually you get to “hack” some of the machines to use them as mounts, which is very useful after you get anointed as a Seeker.

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Conclusion

Like I mentioned before, the stunning graphics and story pulled me in the minute I launched the game. I am finding it hard to fault this game on anything. It has everything that I love in a game. Gorgeous surroundings to explore, stunning music that makes the adventure so much more enjoyable, a story filled with intrigue, and mystery, and suspense, and tragedy, and fantasy. The characters are all likeable in a way. Even the one boy I had an intense dislike for in the beginning. (#nospoilers)

I have no shame in saying that this game is worth every cent spent. It is currently going for R915.00 at BTGames. This game has kept me entertained for hours, and I am certain it will do the same for you. Guerilla Games took the risk, and pwned the result!

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