Horizon Zero Dawn is a name that conjures a seemingly science fiction feel. A feeling of something grand and mysterious at the same time. Any Horizon Zero Dawn Review is incomplete without exploring the feelings the game evokes on a much more personal level. Ultimately this feeling can decide whether to buy Horizon Zero Dawn or not.
You might also be interested in an earlier post about Horizon Zero Dawn.
1. The Setting
What comes to mind when we hear post-post-apocalypse? Typically, post apocalypse conjures up images of dust, debris, radiation-filled zones and so on. But post-post-apocalypse is different.
Nature has had a chance to reclaim the world. Rather than ravaged wastelands, the world is covered with lush forests, snow, a desert ecosystem and everything in between. It’s like you have taken a time machine and traveled back to the time when the first humans were beginning to appear in the world.
What’s the catch?
Only in this case, the humans know that there was a civilization before them. A civilization about which they hardly know anything except for the mysterious structures spread across the world. Buildings churned up by nature to hardly resemble anything like the buildings we know. Fallen bridges not bridging anything. Traces of the old civilization such as broken watches, or maybe a mysterious electronic device, or corrupted audio recordings that don’t make any sense to the new civilization.
This is the setting for Horizon Zero Dawn. And even if most of the things about the game were not that great, the setting alone would be a huge reason to play the game.
The series of main quests and side quests take our protagonist Aloy through a vast array of lands. We have dense forests covered with all manner of flora and fauna. We have snow-capped mountains where dangerous pitfalls await. Also, we have the desert areas where hiding from enemies is not easy but where you can also see the city on the horizon.
And there are many cities and towns to explore. Some of them are only like small settlements. However, some are pretty large. The primary city known as Meridian in the game is absolutely huge with a main urban center perched atop a mountain whereas small villages surround it. All around it there are walls and watch-towers protecting the inhabitants from the dangers of the world.
Overall, the setting of Horizon Zero Dawn is a joy to behold. I would give it 10/10 for its sheer scale, ambition and attention to detail.
2. The World
Good settings falter without good stories and characters.
Luckily, Horizon Zero Dawn has an amazing story. Basically, the story has two threads. One is the present-day story where we follow our protagonist Aloy right from her childhood as she explores the world and becomes a skilled hunter and warrior. Ultimately, she is the focus that moves the story forward.
However, the other thread of the story is what makes sense of the world. As mentioned earlier, there is a mystery surrounding the world. The mystery of the previous civilization and how it collapsed. This is the story that drives Aloy forward through the world. The beauty of the game is that after you have probably been half-way through, you will also be utterly invested in finding out the truth and that will drive you to continue. And that’s always a good thing with video games.
The writing is pretty consistent throughout. Of course, it does not reach Last of Us levels but is great considering the science-fiction base of the story and an open-world setting. Most of the times, you have a good reason to engage in fights and accomplish missions in that it doesn’t feel like a bullet-point.
Most of the characters are well-written and have their own arcs. Whether it is the Sun-King of Meridian or Aloy’s friend, Erend or the High Matriarch, Teersa. Even though the characters are not so memorable that you will remember them long after you finish the game, they serve their purposes in the story well enough.
The main character, Aloy, is consistently well written and after the initial getting-used-to period, you will mostly be able to identify with her motivations. In general, she is a great character and is a great addition to the long list of iconic characters of Sony Playstation games.
For story and characters, I will give the game a 9/10.
3. The Gameplay
Gameplay in open-world games isn’t an easy thing to pull off. However, Horizon Zero Dawn seems to be designed to pull of tough things easily.
The gameplay is one of the best I have played in a long time. The core loop involves you, as Aloy, fighting machines. These mysterious machines are everywhere in the world. They are inspired by real-world animals or some imaginary animals as well. They also retain the traits of the animal. For example, a machine named Trampler has a primary attack strategy of trying to charge at you and basically trample you.
There are things known as Snapmaws heavily inspired by Crocodiles. They will be found near lakes or rivers and will try to bite your head off like typical crocodiles. Glinthawks, as the name suggests, are like hawks. They can see for long distances and will attack you from the skies as if you were a rabbit.
There are many more machines and even when you think you have seen them all, the game surprises you with a few more. And yes, there is a Thunderjaw as well. And it resembles our very own favorite T-Rex. Fighting it is definitely the highlight of the game.
Once you destroy these machines, you get parts that you can use to make more sophisticated weapons or replenish you stock. Aloy also levels up and learns new abilities that lets you use different strategies to defeat different types of enemies.
Apart from machines, there are also human enemies primarily belonging to the enemy clan known as Sun Carja and also the bandits spread across the map in bandit camps. Taking out a bandit camp provides some good rewards and experience.
Overall, the gameplay is extremely satisfying. A definite 10/10 in my view.
4. The Quests
Quests are the bread-and-butter of open world games. And Horizon Zero Dawn has plenty of great quests, ranging from epic enemy showdowns to some tiny personal stories.
One side-quest, in particular, lets you encounter the tragic love story of a couple separated their clan’s rivalry. Another side-quest reveals a case where a young man betrays his entire family to capture the family estate by luring the deadly machines. Ironically, he is killed by those same machines and you, as Aloy, saves the last remaining member of the family.
There are also several other side-missions and generally, all are rewarding. A special example is searching for what’s known as Cauldrons in the game world. These Cauldrons are like scientific facilities from the old world where you can gain more abilities and weapons. However, you have to defeat a specific type of machine to finish the Cauldron.
The main quests are what propel the major story and plot points. Most of the main quests revolve around unearthing the secret of the previous civilization and ultimately finding out what happened to them and how did the machines came to exist. These quests are what sends you across the map and makes you explore the different ecosystems the game world has to offer.
However, I can point out that the quality of the quests improve drastically after you reach the city of Meridian. And maybe, it good be a bad thing because it does take a while to reach that point in the game.
Overall, the quests are pretty well designed. Not for once did I feel the need to grind to achieve the minimum level required for a particular quest. It flows pretty naturally in terms of difficulty level.
Of course, these quests are still relatively tiny as compared to other open-world games such as Skyrim or Fallout 3 where each quest itself was like a mini-game into itself. Also, there aren’t many alternative outcomes and the game generally has only path albeit a very good path.
Overall, I would give 9/10 for the quests because I would have loved to see a lot more complex quests. The potential is definitely there for a much more consequence-ridden quest design.
5. Technical Aspects
Technically, Horizon Zero Dawn is a masterpiece. It shows off the power of PS4.
Guerrilla Games (Killzone fame) are anyways known for their graphics and they don’t disappoint in Horizon Zero Dawn. During my 50+ hour playthrough, I didn’t notice any glitches or frame-rate drops. The game runs pretty smoothly.
The attention to detail is stunning especially when it comes to the machines. Each part of their body is like a component. When you shoot arrows, these components fall off individually. The effect of sparks flying off as the components dislodge is pretty satisfying and adds weight to the combat.
The day-night cycle in the game is beautifully implemented. Each terrain is beautiful to behold and makes the world come alive.
Overall, the game is a great showcase for the capabilities of PS4. In this department, I will definitely give it a 10/10.
The Final Verdict on Horizon Zero Dawn
So that was basically our Horizon Zero Dawn Review.
Our final aggregate score for Horizon Zero Dawn comes to 9.6/10
The question, however, is that should you buy Horizon Zero Dawn?
I would say that YES you should.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a game you should not miss if you own a PS4. It is one of the most influential games of this console generation and is definitely gearing up to one of the biggest new franchise in Sony’s stable.