Release Date: 2017
Developer(s): Guerilla Games
Publisher(s): Sony Computer Entertainment
Platforms: PS4 (Exclusive)
When I saw the very first trailer for this third person action RPG, while watching Sony’s E3 presentation in 2015, I was simultaneously intrigued and skeptical. The game looked sleek and fluid, if the trailer was to be believed, and the graphics were pretty sexy. Upon release, the game garnered positive reviews, and even a few award nominations and wins. I still wasn’t 100% sold, so a friend decided to lend me his copy. He was adamant that it was a great game that he couldn’t stop playing.
Set over a millennium in the future, humanity and the earth are not what we would remember. Mother nature seems to have reclaimed the land, old metal ruins litter the landscape as monuments to humanity’s former glory and hubris. Machine animals co-exist with the natural fauna and flora. And human culture has seemingly reverted to its tribalistic roots, living in harmony with the world around it. Aloy is an outcast in her tribe, the Nora. She has no mother, and in a matriarchal tribe who worships the goddess they call the All Mother, this lack of maternal parentage is unforgivable.
Aloy is raised by a fellow outcast, Rost. He is her teacher, her guardian, he harshest critic, and the closest thing she has to parent. Aloy wants answers, and the only way to get them is to compete in the Nora’s annual Proving contest. The contest is open to all young would be warriors, with the finishing participants being proclaimed tribe warriors and the winner receiving a special gift. Aloy wants to win so that she may ask her questions and finally know where she comes from.
On the cusp of her win, the Proving is attacked, leaving most of the young warriors, tribesmen and women dead. With the blessing of the tribe’s elders, licence to freely roam the landscape, and her trusty Focus (an ancient device that Aloy finds as a child and uses to gain insight into the material world around her), she sets off to find out who attacked the tribe and also gain the answers she has always sought.
Style & Weapons
Much like the rest of the game, the weapons were an artful blend of history and tech. Aloy has an array of bows and arrows, and you acquire different variations as you advance through the plot. My go-to weapons, due to the variety of ammunition between them and their versatility in various situations, were: Aloy’s Hunter Bow (short range), Tripcaster (for setting electric, fire or explosive traps) and Sharpshot Bow (long range). Through character ability upgrades and weapons mods, these proved to be the most effective for my play style. When all else failed, Aloy’s trusty spear could be relied on in close quarters. All of which was highly reminiscent of Tomb Raider.
Every player will find their favourite combination of weapons that they will rely on. The game’s remarkable fluidity in combat makes it easy to toggle between weapons, and for the player to try everything out to ensure that they make an informed decision. Aloy’s Focus also allows the player to scan and identify “soft” spots and crit areas on each enemy. The machines are varied enough that you have to rely on a variety of weapons and ammunition types to achieve maximum component yield.
The basic currency in the game is metal shards. These are used in trade but also as crafting material, to make arrow heads and other items. It’s easily scavenged, together with wood and other flora for ammunition, elixirs and poultices. The crafting system in the game isn’t overly complicated and materials are abundant in the initial areas of the game. So, make hay while the sun shines by grinding a little longer in the beginning and upgrading carry capacities and items yield advantages.
This game is big. And not just in scale but in the number of side quests and additional odds and ends you can choose to do. I loved the various environments (desert, grassland, machine factories underground), and they were suitably diverse without feeling out of place in the game. I think the developers put a lot of careful thought and consideration into the feel of each area and that shows in the game play. This also stopped the side quests from feeling repetitive or labourious (like the Riddler Challenges eventually did in Arkham Knight).
There are so many things that I absolutely loved about this game, which made it difficult to put the controller down. The story itself is at the top of that list. I liked the reveal of the plot and at times, it had my husband and me debating about what we thought happened to “the Old Ones” or where the machine animals came from or who Aloy’s mother was. There was a graceful blend of old, new, ancient and obsolete. This could be seen in the weapons (using bow and arrow technology with high-tech capabilities), the culture (tribalism while embracing the technology that surrounds them) and the story (merchants looking for ancient, finely made, ceremonial stoneware which turn out to be everyday coffee cups).
I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the sleek, finely crafted machine animals and the stockier, less refined Old Ones’ machines. Mostly, I enjoyed just being able to get lost in the setting and running through the landscape, trying to see how high I could climb before hitting a ceiling or restricted area. And then seamlessly falling back into a quest (main or side), stalking up to a Broadhead to enslave it, and then riding my noble steed into my next battle.
There are many things that I could intellectualise and poke holes into but really, this is just a game, and for the experience I had playing it, I think it is a damn fine one. I will say that Aloy, as a character, was irritating but she is meant to be a teen, with a chip on her shoulder, and going through some shit, so I can let that slide too.
I am eagerly awaiting the DLC – Frozen Wilds – due to release later this month but until then, I will happily be running around in NG+.
My Rating: 5/5
Horizon Zero Dawn is available for download via the PSN Store and can be purchased at various other outlets and online stores.
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