Horizon Zero Dawn is a survival game. Not in the sense of the genre—where you must carefully ration food, brave the elements, and face endless waves of enemies—but in a way that brings to light how fragile humans are. We’re not Rambo, as many video games make us feel; we’re not invincible. Instead, this title joyfully mocks that mentality, often killing you in two or three unavoidable strikes from foes much more powerful than your frail human frame. If you want to live to adventure in Horizon, you’ll have to learn to survive it.
Served up as a third-person action-adventure game, Horizon Zero Dawn follows the story of Aloy, an outcast who begins unraveling the mysteries of the game’s breathtaking world while trying to figure out her own past. Through various environments, dungeons, and cities, Aloy must fight and stealth her way deeper and deeper into the mysteries of her world’s curious past. As Aloy grew up in a very secluded area, the player gets to discover things as Aloy does—learning about the game’s tribes, lore, and location from a very natural point of view.
From assisting the Hunter’s Guild in taking down a dangerous beast, to scouring the depths of ancient ruins, Aloy is a strong and incredibly capable character. While the player is often given opportunities to shape Aloy’s personality by choosing to respond more from an aggressive angle, a heartfelt angle, or a clever angle, these only occasionally cause consequences or variation later on. Instead, the majority of who Aloy is comes from the lines delivered by the incredible Ashly Burch. But, I don’t want to spoil too much of Aloy’s journey for you, so let’s move on to more about the game, outside of plot.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a game that you could simply watch someone play for hours. Everything from Aloy’s braided hair to the mechanical intricacies of a Snapmaw is mesmerizing, and when possible, I often stopped and just looked around to see what I could see. I onced raced the light of the sun as it set behind a hill. Another time I listened to rainfall in a glade as I hunted for the tell-tale triangular patch of foliage that marks one of the collectable Metal Flowers. Yet another time, I spotted the paintings that bely a climbing puzzle across a valley, planning my route as Aloy made her way nearer.
A fascinatingly deep Photo Mode exists to catch these moments. With everything from filters to focal depth, I can’t wait to see what images photography nuts and fans of the title end up capturing. All of the shots in this review were pulled from my use of this mode, documenting my unique run through the world of Horizon Zero Dawn. While the majority of images that sit on my PlayStation 4 hard drive are scenic vistas, I tried to capture some engaging shots of gameplay as well. I hope you enjoy.
It seems silly to say this, but I was really happy that Horizon Zero Dawn made viewing the game in its beauty a viable option. I know this sounds confusing, but let me explain. In many games—first starting for me with Batman: Arkham Asylum—a sensory mode has been added that allows players a more obvious way to interact with the game’s world. In Arkham, this was Detective Vision, in Watch Dogs 2 the NetHack feature. While things like enemies and objects of interest are highlighted, the rest of the world often fades away into wireframe or some other simplification. Unfortunately, in those other games, the perks of running in such a mode are often too great to sacrifice, so you end up playing much of the game from that perspective.
However, when using Zero Dawn’s Focus feature, the rest of the world doesn’t disappear. Instead, a spherical scan emanates out from Aloy, drawing attention to things within range. Additionally, all of Aloy’s attack abilities are taken away, and her movement speed is slashed. If you want to use your Focus, the game demands an equal trade. Instead of living in Focus, I found myself using it to plan or scout—it was a tool used to prepare for the hunt, not a Predator-sense that gave me godlike abilities.
The most powerful part of Horizon Zero Dawn is that the game forces you to become a hunter; rush into battle, and the game will crush you. Honestly, it took me a while to break this habit. My aim was good enough, and I could run and jump away from early enemies until I was able to take them down. However, it only took a couple of times of being obliterated by a Thunderjaw before I started to play much smarter.
In the game, taking down more deadly Machines requires knowledge of your prey, not to mention careful planning. Soon, I was setting out trip wires and traps on paths I knew the creatures would take, and my first takedowns of bigger beasts actually came with a sense of accomplishment. Being a successful hunter feels amazing in Horizon Zero Dawn, and I never got the feeling of my kills being repetitive. Whether it was the environment or the prey, each fight I ended up in felt unique, and benefitted from a revised tactic.
Choosing the right tool for the job is an important part of the hunting strategy, but this is where things start to get a bit frustrating. Each weapon has various ammo types it can use, and each ammo type requires its own items to be crafted and its own quiver for those ammo types. For instance, the Shadow Hunter Bow can use Hunting Arrows, Hardpoint Arrows, and Fire Arrows, but not any of the other six types of arrows in the game. If I craft an increased arrow carrying capacity for arrows that can be shot with the Shadow Bow, it won’t allow me to carry more arrows that can be shot with the Lodge War Bow. While this muddling makes a small bit of sense, it also seems like an unnecessary complicating of the system. I get that my Lodge Ropecaster can fire Tie Rope Heavy, but why can’t it also use the Light variation? Why should I have to keep a worse weapon just to use that ammo type? Worse, the system only gets more convoluted when you find that each bow has a different effective range, accuracy, and firing speed than the others.
Piling frustration on top of that is the merchant system in Horizon Zero Dawn. Despite being able to sell multiple items at a time, you can only purchase one item at a time. This requires holding down “X” for one second to confirm your purchase, which doesn’t sound all that bad until you run out of Wire. It takes ten Wire and ten Metal Shards (currency) to craft a Tie Rope Heavy (one of the most useful ammunitions in the game). While you can purchase ammo packs to speed things up, this just seems like a massive oversight.
Another confusing aspect of the game is that Aloy cannot grab onto ledges unless they are specifically marked. Despite being able to climb mountains, fearlessly pulling off massive dynos over chasms, and overall being a parkour master, there were many times when trying to navigate the world where Aloy was stopped by a rock just slightly higher than her jumping ability. I get that this is a small thing to nitpick a game for, but with how stellar the rest of the experience was, I feel like ledge grabs would have been a no-brainer—Horizon would have only benefitted from a greater sense of explorability.
All of that said, there is a ton to explore in the game. Even sitting at 90% game completion, my map is covered with Side Quests I have yet to tackle. I’m really looking forward to getting to wrap the remainder of these quests over the next few weeks—especially once Reddit will tell me where one particular item I cannot find is located. Unfortunately, I’ve also found that my post-credits adventuring is much more dangerous than before. When progressing through a mission, the game would assign auto save points. However, when venturing outside of the mission, these auto saves did not exist. With no other savepoints within the dungeons, this meant that death would teleport me out of the cave to the nearest save point, sans any items I collected during my delve.
I would consider Horizon Zero Dawn a must have for anyone who has a PlayStation 4 and loves action and exploration. Evoking thoughts of what a third-person Far Cry game would play like, this title will be one that I leave installed on my system, long after beating it. From the plot to voice actress Ashly Burch’s spot-on delivery as Aloy, there’s a lot to enjoy here, even after the initial playthrough is complete.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a great choice for those craving action and adventure. With a terrific combat system, a strong female protagonist, and a deep pool of side content, it will surely go down as one of PlayStation’s star exclusives.
Sony Interactive Entertainment
T - Teen
|Horizon Zero Dawn is available on PS4. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Matt learned how to play video games from his grandma, who bravely adventured with him through the “terrifying” halls of Shadowgate. He plays a lot of Dungeons & Dragons on a podcast with comedians.