An adventure well worth taking.
Horizon Zero Dawn on PS4 Pro
Horizon Zero Dawn marks a new chapter for Guerrilla Games. Gone are the Helghast and linear levels of the Killzone franchise. Guerrilla has replaced them with a sprawling open world, lavished with collectibles, side quests, an intriguing story, and formidable mechanical creatures. It’s a drastic change for the developer, but one that has most definitely paid off.
Horizon Zero Dawn takes place in the distant future, but Earth isn’t some ideological haven of cutting edge technology and hovercars. It’s been cast back to the primitive ages, one laced with the legacy of our civilization. The wilds are teeming with a variety of mechanical creatures, while humanity lives on in scattered tribes. Players take control of Aloy, a young outsider who seeks the answers to the origins of this world, as well as some more pressing questions close to home. Aloy has never known who her mother was, and as such has been looked down upon by the nearby Nora tribe her entire life.
From its very opening cutscene, Horizon Zero Dawn’s world lures you in with its mythical sights and sounds. Seldom was there a landscape or stunning view from atop a Tallneck that I didn’t want to capture with the addictive photo mode. But my fascination with the world went much deeper than these cutting-edge visuals thanks to its environmental storytelling. The intriguing lore of Earth’s past, its current state, and the tribes that inhabit it are interwoven to create a dynamic environment that doesn’t always need Aloy to be the catalyst.
As you explore the wilderness, it’s not unusual to see a vulture-like Glinthawk grinding away at the metal carcass of a fallen creature, or for Chargers to sprint across the vast expanses of their territory, their horns demolishing anything that stands in the way. Merchants and NPCs go about their daily lives, with the sun-soaked city of Meridian acting as a cultural hub in this divided world. At times, the worlds of human and machine collide, and on a venture to ascend a nearby Tallneck, I watched as a couple of tribeswomen fending off aggressive Scrappers. Feeling the hero once again, I lurched into action, dispatching the Scrappers with some well-placed arrows to their Radar. Rather than continuing on with their lives, the tribeswomen awarded me for my troubles, shouting me over from the ridge. It’s in these moments that Horizon Zero Dawn’s spontaneity shines, remaining a constant trove of excitement and intrigue to explore.
Few sprawling open worlds on Horizon Zero Dawn’s scale manage to install a sense of danger and fear in you every time you explore them. There were a good few times I was caught completely off guard by a tough machine while I was on my way to a quest, leaving me no choice but to take it down. Though there’s always the option to run, a Stormbird or Sawtooth will make light work of closing the distance, picking away at your health bar faster than you can replenish it. These machines aren’t dumb (though they can sometimes have their moments); these are hunters. Groups will circle you, winged variants will use the skies to their advantage, dive-bombing you and keeping in your blind spot to avoid being hit. When Aloy emerges victorious from battle by the skin of her teeth, you can’t help but feel relieved. The machines are the true stars of the show here. Not just because they look great or act so freely, but because they’re a delight to hunt and conquer.
Every machine in Horizon Zero Dawn has an animalistic instinct and feels unique to face off against, and it’s this diversification that makes combat so satisfying. One of my highlights in Horizon Zero Dawn came from strategizing against a giant t-rex robot equipped with missiles, lasers, radar, and a lethal tail attack. Out in a scorching desert, Aloy was pinned behind a large boulder, with the Thunderjaw bombarding her with missiles. To give myself a standing chance, I needed to take these missiles out of the equation. A quick look at my Machine Catalogue – a glossary of sorts that tells you about each beast you discover – identified these launchers as vulnerable to tear damage. When the barrage briefly subsided, I emerged from cover and, using special arrows, tore its missile launchers clean off. Now able to move more freely, I strafed around its side, ripped off the cover to its big mechanical heart, ignited a fuel pack with a flaming arrow, and coaxed it into an explosive tripwire I’d manage to lay. It’s nothing short of a delight when your offensive strategy pays off and a machine collapses to the floor, and thanks to a good variety of machines roaming the world, combat stayed compelling throughout my 30-hour playthrough.