Horizon Zero Dawn Review: Guerilla Games Bounces Back

An empty shell of a civilization lost in the aftermath of an unknown apocalypse.  Monsters tower over a wild landscape of mountains, deserts and jungles, leading to one question residing in the back of the mind: what happened here?  Tribal communities litter the world in a never-ending conflict with machines and rival humans.  A variety of wildlife traverse the roaming hills and forests among the shadows of their technological predecessors. But what could possibly lie beneath the ruins of this ancient society and the secrets that they hold?  These are the questions you will ask yourself as you embark on the journey as Aloy, the female protagonist in Horizon Zero Dawn.

Guerilla Games, which is known most for creating the first-person shooter Killzone, took a leap of faith by creating their first open world RPG.  With a massive marketing campaign and stunning trailers, Horizon built up a lot of hype that had people curious of whether they would live up to their bold claims.  After putting in 60+ hours of gameplay on Very Hard difficulty, I must say that Guerilla Games have met and exceeded my expectations.

Aloy, orphan and outcast for reasons that are not explained out of the gate, endeavors on a mission of retribution and salvation for her people.  As an outcast, her guardian teaches her how to survive among the steel monsters inhabiting their lands without assistance from the Nora tribe.  After falling into ancient ruins early in the story, Aloy obtains a communication and tracking device called a “Focus”, which will help you unravel events throughout the game.  The entire plot of Horizon gives a sense of an underlying theme, pitting nature and humanity against modern technology.  Aloy struggles to find answers on where she came from and what really happened to the Earth.  The games story can be very dark at times as you learn how the world ended in this post-post-apocalyptic setting, which is satisfying and unexpected coming from a developer of bland sci-fi shooters.

(AI) Artificial Irrelevant

Aloy tracking the steps of a watcher.

Usually when I write a review I like to focus on the aspects that made the game great before I pick a part the small nuances, but this is bigger than the Catalina wine mixer.  It appears Guerilla Games spent an extensive amount of time to make a consistent and viable AI system for their Dino-Robotic monsters in the game.  Now you might be thinking this is good news, right? Wrong.  Guerilla Games spent so much time focusing on the Human vs Techno-Beast part of Horizon, that they butchered the human AI to the point of no return.  I understand that the game is primarily about the robotic creatures, but why have an abundancy of bandit camps, ambush missions, and a human vs human driven part of the campaign if you weren’t going to put the same effort you did into the robot AI. If you have bought and played Horizon, you know exactly what I am referring to (walking into a camp and killing 20 humans without being noticed).  Stealth adds another layer to open world games you might not find otherwise, but there should be limits to where it does not feel broken.

Now to be fair, the AI for the dinosaur like robots is phenomenal.  They have a good sense of awareness and can spot you if you are not careful.  They tend to swarm and surround you like a pack of wolves (or a frenzy on Black Friday trying to get the latest tickle me Elmo) when they are alerted of your presence.  You now have an interesting situation to evaluate, should you run, hide, or come out arrows blazing.  This is the beauty of Horizon Zero Dawn, there are always multiple choices to make when taking on your enemies, however, I tend to choose the epic showdown every time.

No Guns… No Problem

Taking in the View

Even with some minor flaws in human AI and a corny dialogue that sometimes is cringe worthy, combat is where Horizon excels.  The combat system is simple, as the mechanics are easy to learn but complicated enough to give you a challenge.  You have a variety of options to utilize during your battles with humans or robots.  Aloy has a weapon cycle that can be switched back and forth during combat, even allowing you to roll and dodge attacks in slow motion while you switch weapons.  There are 6 weapon types for you to choose ranging from rope and wire traps to slingshots and bows.  Horizon incorporated a small version of a rarity system for weapons and armor with items categorized as common (green), rare (blue), and very rare (purple), each with their own unique benefits. These item levels will play an important role in how you progress in your abilities to take down stronger opponents later in the game.

Nothing compares to hunting down a gigantic dinosaur like robot through a barren wasteland. Utilizing the skills, you have learned over the course of the game is essential to take down the big boys.  The perfect combination of stealth, ranged precision and traps must be used to stand a chance.  If you really want to make things interesting, play on very hard and test yourself in these situations to add an extra layer of complexity and depth.

Horizon is an open-world sandbox which is aesthetically pleasing with a vast amount of area for you to explore. It is like Far Cry 4 with regards to the map concept, but takes a different approach with villages and cities for you to navigate to.  Take a climb through the snowy mountains and see what treasures you will find, or ride a mount through the desert avoiding some of the more intimidating enemies.  It really is up to the player how they approach and explore the world of Horizon.

The map is quite large in size with 3 major “Zones” for you to explore, each of which is accessible when you complete certain sections of the story. A few cities litter the map with corresponding side quests that will easily give you plenty of extra content other than the main story. These will give you extra experience and currency for you to use as you progress through the game. As you find these side quests throughout horizon, there are a few dungeons for you to explore with some challenging boss fights. I will not spoil any details concerning these but I highly recommend going to each dungeon for a unique fight that you will not find elsewhere in the game.

One major aspect of the game is to gather supplies, herbs and flowers for you to use to craft everything from ammunition to bigger carrying sacks. You have a “medicine pouch” which is filled up by gathering medicinal herbs throughout the map.  This will be extremely reliable during your big fights so make sure to stop and keep it full anytime you have the chance.  I will say that it is more of a chore, but it is needed to be able to hold your own in fights. Crafting in Horizon is a nice touch, with the possibilities of upgrading individual weapons and armor with buffs and additional effects. The main way to obtain items for upgrades is through killing robots or loot drops around the map. Weapon upgrades will vary from item to item with additional slots associated with each item level. As I stated earlier, once you get deeper into the game you will notice the comparison to Far Cry.


After putting 60+ Hours into Horizon, exploring the entire landscape that is offered, and killing more robotic monsters than I can keep track of, I will say that Horizon is one of the best PlayStation exclusives to hit the market in years.  Guerilla has finally found their niche as a studio and developed a game that they can truly be proud of, and that I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to play.  Overall, Horizon has decent customization, a beautiful landscape, satisfying mechanics and a phenomenal story that will draw you in and make you hungry for more.  Congratulations to Guerilla Games for making the next hit and bringing a fresh and interesting concept to open-world games.  Viral (9.0/10)


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