Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon Zero Dawn takes place in the 31st century, with the beginning of the game taking place around the year 3027. The game starts with our protagonist, an outcast of the Nora tribe named Aloy, as a child. During the brief child arc, the player is taken through a tutorial of basic controls, the combat system, the crafting system, and how to use a device called the “Focus” to see the world around Aloy in a different way.
The premise of the game starts with Aloy training to participate in a competition known as the Proving in hopes of being accepted by the tribe that cast her out shortly after her birth because she was “motherless.” Aloy was raised by her guardian, an outcast named Rost, who teaches her combat and survival so that she can participate in the Proving.
The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic, primitive world where people band together as tribes and live in villages and small towns in areas that were once known as eastern Utah and western Colorado. Weapons consist primarily of bows and arrows, spears, and slingshots. Ruins left behind by the “Ancient Ones” litter the world. And to top it all off, the land is crawling with machines that take the place of most animals and predators. The only actual animals you’ll come across are boars, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, turkeys, geese, rats, and fish.
Aloy’s journey takes her beyond the sacred land of the Nora where she searches for answers of where she came from and the origin of the machines that they share their lands with.
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Platform: Playstation 4
Rating: T (Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Blood, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Themes, Violence)
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Aloy is the protagonist of this Horizon Zero Dawn and the only playable character in the game. The player starts with Aloy as a child while they learn basic mechanics of the game. Once the “tutorial” portion is over, the rest of the game is played with Aloy as a 19-year-old.
The game itself plays from a third-person view from behind Aloy. Certain weapons can zoom in the view and certain visual cues will zoom in on particular areas, but you spend a lot of the game pretty close to Aloy.
The dialogue for the game presents you with various choices and prompts during the conversation. Most of the time, it’ll be a small wheel that gives you between two and six choices, and each of the choices will be a few words at most. Once the player makes the choice, then Aloy will speak her part of the conversation which will be based on the choice you made. Most choices are optional choices that you can use to dig for additional information whereas some choices actually determine how the rest of the conversation or situation will go.
On occasion, you will also be given three special dialogue options: One with a fist (Confront), one with a heart (Compassion), and one with a brain (Insight). These conversation points have the potential to affect the rest of the conversation or even the situation later down the line. Your first opportunity to use these options comes when Aloy is confronted by a group of Nora tribe children during her child arc.
Combat is easy to engage in. Aloy’s primary weapon is her spear. The spear can be used light melee (R1) or heavy melee (R2). Light melee provides more control and can often be combined with stealth attacks while heavy melee packs a harder punch but can be harder to control.
Beyond her spear, Aloy has a variety of ranged weapons at her disposal with her main secondary weapon being a bow. At the beginning of the game, you are presented with a bow that can fire normal and fire arrows, but later down the line you can buy bows that shoot frost, electricity, and corruption as well as have special abilities to knock pieces off machines. Besides her bow, Aloy can also use slingshots to throw bombs and a trip caster that will set up elemental ropes that you can lure enemies into.
Machines are the primary enemies of the game you will face. After the Proving, Aloy is able to use her spear to take control of certain machines to fight alongside her or provide her transport across the land. Other enemies include bandits and an enemy tribe known as the Shadow Carja and are fought within bandit camps and areas occupied by the tribe respectively.
Aloy gains experience and levels up throughout the course of the game. Most experience can be gathered through killing enemies, completing quests, and discovering new and fancy secrets. However, Aloy’s experience level doesn’t necessarily determine the skill points she gets for her skill tree. Taking on certain sidequests will grant Aloy with additional skill points she can use for her skill tree.
Speaking of the skill tree, Aloy has a skill tree with three sections: Prowler, Brave, and Forager. The Prowler tree mainly covers combat abilities, such as stealth abilities and strengthening Aloy’s melee attacks. The Brave tree covers damage, weapon accuracy, and the ability to shoot more arrows in one shot. The Forager tree mostly covers passive abilities such as increasing how many health herbs you can carry, how long you can override a machine to be passive, or how to get extra loot after a kill.
The crafting system mostly consists of crafting ammo, traps, and potions, as well as adding modifications to Aloy’s weapons and armor.
Crafting requires specific items depending on what you’re crafting. When it comes to arrows, you have to make sure you have ridgewood and metal shards. If you’re crafting fire arrows, then you need to add blaze. And then there are storage upgrades for most of the ammo types, up to 4 levels, which usually require some variety of animal skin or bone.
As for modification, modifications are most commonly found on various enemies. Green marks a common modification, blue is uncommon, and purple is rare. Modifications can vary in what they offer, but they will offer a variety of bonuses to weapons and armor, such as increased damage, increased tear, increased stealth, etc.
The merchant system in this game is more than just making purchases with in-game currency. For many purchasable items, Aloy must have not only the right number of metal shards to trade but she will often also need a secondary item (or even up to three or four items) to complete the trade. Most of these additional items vary between machine lenses, machine hearts, animal bones, and animal skins, but can occasionally throw a random oddball item needed for trade. This makes it sometimes tricky to acquire the weapons or armor you want, buy it also adds to the challenge of the game and makes it more interesting.
Horizon Zero Dawn has optional collectibles you can gather throughout the game to trade for special loot boxes sold by special merchants. These collectibles are metal flowers, “ancient vessels,” and Banuk figurines.
One special ability that Aloy possesses is her ability to use an item called the Focus. This item is toggled on and off by the use of the R3 button. The Focus allows Aloy to explore the world around her through a different view. She can detect and track footsteps of machines and humans, detect the outlines of machines and humans, detect weak points on machines, and interact with special data points that provide insight into the past of the Ancient Ones.
The visuals in Horizon Zero Dawn are seriously on point. I found myself sometimes just stopping and looking over the landscape around me or taking a look out over the vast land below me when I stood up on a cliffside. There is so much beauty and detail in this game, its characters, and its environment.
Honestly, my only complaint with the visuals was Aloy’s hair aggravated me every now and then with how it fell over her shoulders during certain cutscenes.
For the most part, the music is most prominent during battle and when you’re in your Start menu. At least that’s where I noticed it most prominently. I, personally, am a big fan of the main theme song that plays (so much, in fact, that I have it set as part my PS4 theme right now).
I also had the pleasure of playing this game with a pair of Astro A50s feeding me audio, and I felt very immersed in the game when I played with the sounds I heard around me as I ran Aloy around through the vast open world.
Other audio cues include Aloy being helpful when I got lost as to where I was going. Aloy spends a lot of time talking to herself (though, this feels more like the developer’s way of having her talk to the player). I felt they chose a very strong voice actress for her and never found her voice to become annoying or overbearing at any point.
Okay wow. Maybe I got a little carried away with everything else up to this point… but hey, I’m extremely passionate about this game. I was interested in what I’d seen in the few trailers and promotional art I’d seen. However, I hadn’t really expected to get the game myself until my boyfriend had mentioned that it had released and he was interested in trying it out. I bought it on my PS4 to share on his so we could both give it a whirl. Worst case scenario, one of us was bound to like it.
Lucky enough for us, we both fell in love with it. This is where the interesting part comes. We played the game in totally different ways and enjoyed it on our own way while still playing through the core game. I started heavy into main story quests and a few side quests and didn’t start going after Collectibles until near the end of the game. My boyfriend started right off with gathering Collectibles and participating in an optional section called the Hunting Grounds (where you are given specific criteria on how to fight an enemy and get points based off how quickly you complete the objective) before he jumped into the story. He ended up on par with me in levels even though I was way ahead of him in the story.
While there isn’t any new game plus mode for this game, there certainly is plenty to do. Once you’ve gone through the story and learned about the main plotline, it might be a little hard to reimmerse yourself back int the world for a second playthrough, but there’s always something to be done until you hit that 100% completion.
Now, I played the game mostly on Normal, and my boyfriend played mostly on Very Hard. Early on, when it came to boss fights, I honestly had to crank the difficulty down to Easy so I could actually get past the boss. About midway and into the end of the game, however, I was able to enjoy the game on the Normal difficulty setting because I’d finally gotten a grasp on controls, how to use my weapons, and how to target the weak points of the boss. But I did struggle every now and then with content that sometimes felt too difficult despite being either at or way over-leveled for the area or boss.
If you’re someone who wants to enjoy the scenery and run basically everywhere, I’d recommend it. There is a fast travel system in the game, but you end up getting stuck in a loading screen every time you fast travel. And I noticed that the further away I was traveling, the longer the load screen took.
All in all, though, I played this game pretty hard. I started the game on 3/7 and finished it by 3/20. I mostly played on my weekends and after getting off work most nights. I only have done 35% of the PS4 trophies… but that’s also because I basically avoided the Hunting Grounds. The concept seemed pretty cool, but it just wasn’t something that held my attention for too long. I like a challenge, but sometimes I just want to play it my way. Don’t tell me how to kill things, darn it!