Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4) Review

Ken McKown

A brave new world.

First party Sony games always feel like an event, whether it is because of the coverage that leads up to their release, or perhaps because of the pedigree behind the developers crafting the title. Horizon: Zero Dawn feels like it has been coming for ages. I feel like leading up to the game we have seen so much of its mechanics and world that nothing could surprise me once I got my hands on it. I was wrong. Horizon is a massive game and overly ambitious at times, mixing mechanics from many familiar titles and showcasing moments of brilliance from time to time.

Horizon follows Aloy, an outcast of her tribe in a world filled with mechanical beasts in what seems like a future version of a world that is starting over. The story behind the mystery is intriguing if nothing else. Uncovering the mysteries of why these beasts exist takes players on an interesting adventure. As the story unfolded I found myself nodding my head thinking “so that is how they explain it” as opposed to “oh wow, I never saw that coming.” It might be predictable at times, but that doesn’t make it any less intriguing.

MSRP: $59.99
Platforms: PS4
Price I’d Pay: $59.99

While the story is good, it has problems. Again, it cannot be stressed enough how hard it is to tell a story in a video game. Aloy as a character is fine, but I didn’t feel connected to her a lot of the time. The intro delivers a strong opening, but then she spends so much time dealing with arbitrary side missions that her development feels stunted. Speaking of side quests, the dialogue in Horizon is oftentimes very good, but also equally bad. Some of the side characters voice actors feel like they would rather be somewhere else. It is jarring, as are the stiff animations during some dialogue scenes.

A lot of people have wondered since it was announced what kind of game Horizon is. Even after spending dozens of hours in its world, it is still hard for me to pinpoint it. It starts out with lots of inspirations from Far Cry, large open-world with plenty of crafting and side missions scattered throughout. Heck there are even bandit outposts to take down, which then turn into locales complete with merchants.

The game also has a loot system that feels underdeveloped. There are standard common, uncommon, rare, etc. items to be found, but most just feel like better versions of what I already had. Once I found a merchant selling the best items, I grinded for shards (the game’s currency) and just bought what I needed. Loot boxes also exist, but mostly contain crafting items and modifications, which can be placed on weapons and armor respectively.

There are a lot of systems in the game, things like elemental damage, percentages on weapons and armor that detail their abilities. All beasts have weaknesses that can be scanned by Aloy’s focus. Yes she has Batman’s detective vision, but fear not, the game does a great job explaining it, and why she is so adept at using it. It feels like Guerrilla Games threw a lot at the wall to see what stuck, but kept it all anyways. I love a lot of the things the game does, hunting missions for example are super fun, but players could easily beat the entire game without ever doing them, which is weird.

The world of Horizon is massive. From the snowy mountaintops to the sand-filled desert, each new environment simply pops. This game is beautiful, which is no surprise as Guerrilla Games is known for their graphical prowess. They know how to push hardware, and considering Horizon fully supports PS4 Pro, one can imagine how gorgeous this game is. Screenshots don’t do it justice, though I fully expect my Twitter feed to be flooded with them come launch day. Of course the game features a photo mode, with all the usual options.

Travelling around the world was easy once I started unlocking campfires, which serve as fast travel points, as well as places to save the game. It is worth noting that players should set the quest in their menu to craft the gold travel pack early on, that way scrounging for resources just to seamlessly move around the world doesn’t suck all the fun out of exploration. The world is littered with monsters, and it feels a bit unbalanced. There were level 14 quests that required me to pass through areas with level 20 monsters, which is frustrating because if they saw me, my life was ended quickly.

Visually Horizon: Zero Dawn might be the best looking game I have ever played. That is not hyperbole. Guerrilla Games are masters of visual fidelity, and the sheer amount of detail on display here is insane. Subtle details, grass blowing in the wind, gorgeous landscapes, and all presented in glorious high definition. I played the game on a PS4 Pro on a 1080p set, and the scaling the game does is crisp and beautiful. Frame rate was rarely a problem, and the world just popped. Every new landscape had me stopping to take it in, and the wildlife, both organic and mechanical, was a glory to experience.

I really enjoyed my time in the world of Horizon. From its gorgeous landscapes to its interesting combat, the game feels like a world begging to be explored. However, some of its systems feel half-baked and shoehorned into the mix, creating a lopsided experience at times. Still, like most Sony first-party games, it still feels like a special event, and I would love to see Guerrilla Games get another shot at something outside the Killzone universe, heck I would definitely be in for another game in the Horizon universe. This is a great experience, and one PS4 owners will definitely not want to miss.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

Good

  • The world is amazing
  • Visually stunning
  • Story is really interesting

Bad

  • Half-baked systems
  • Frustrating traversal
8

Great

Ken McKown
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.
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