Review: Horizon: Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4)

Reviewed by Jessie Ljunggren, posted Mar 10, 2017, last updated Mar 11, 2017
Mar 10, 2017
  • Release Date (NA): February 28, 2017
  • Release Date (EU): March 1, 2017
  • Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Developer: Guerilla Games
  • Genres: Adventure, Action, Open World
  • ESRB Rating: Teen
  • PEGI Rating: Sixteen years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
A little bit Diamond Age, a pinch of Persia, and a beautiful dystopian world pull the otherwise tedious Horizon to near-epic levels.
Jessie Ljunggren



Horizon starts out with a naming ceremony for an Outcast (non-tribe member) baby and her appointed guardian, who is also an Outcast. Both of them are to be shunned, but one of the tribe's matriarchs performs the ceremony anyway, much to the chagrin of others who share her position. Rost, the child's guardian, is more than happy with his duty to name and foster the baby, who he names Aloy (Kinda like "Alloy", a merging of two things *hint hint*). Having lost his own daughter and being cast out of the tribe for reasons unexplained in the intro, you really get the sense that he is overjoyed to have a purpose and someone to share his life with. He still respects tribal customs, and raises Aloy in this fashion, guarding her against trying to communicate with the tribe.

Aloy, however, has a strong urge to know and have approval of a motherly figure in her life, but is heartbroken to find none of the tribe mothers will even look at her when she approaches them. It's after she runs away crying from the experience when she falls into a ravine and discovers an ancient underground bunker full of advanced machinery and technology. This is where she finds a Focus, a small device that she can attach to her temple to project holographic images, and also an integral part of the storyline and gameplay.

The Focus allows her to scan enemies and objects, to learn about their weaknesses and patterns. If you've ever read The Diamond Age, this seems very much the "Illustrated Primer". A while after finding her way back to Rost, she finally prods him into revealing that he does not know who her mother is, but if she were to win The Proving, she would become part of the tribe again and be granted a favor of the matriarchs, which she could use to ask about her mother. A training montage ensues and you flash-forward to young adult life, equipped with all the basic abilities and your Focus just days before The Proving.

This bite-sized synopsis sums up the plot without giving away any spoilers, however, you can pretty much guess the rest of the story from the very heavy context clues given to you shortly after the introductory events. The writers didn't really seem to put a whole lot of mystery into the plot, but rather give away chunks of information at certain intervals throughout the game.




Combat and Gameplay

The combat is fluid and fun, no doubt about it, but it has 2 things that I have a major problem with.

The first is that unless you spend your skill points on the ability to deal extra damage to units you have downed, it's nearly impossible to melee a humanoid that you've knocked on it's butt. The melee isn't context sensitive so the game doesn't know to attack downwards, so you'll just swing your weapon uselessly over their prone bodies. This can be problematic because it can put you into a long delay and on the other side of them after the end of your combo, giving them time to get up and start their own attack. Be sure to buy the skill early or prepare to be frustrated.

The second problem is that you can buy the first column of skills all the way down, plus the "Whistle" move and basically Bamboozle™ every enemy in the game. Pick a brush far enough away from the cluster or camp of enemies and hide in it, whistle to attract one, then shank him with the R1 sneak attack. Rinse and repeat. You can basically do this around level 10-12, depending on how you allocate your skill points, and it makes a bulk of the early to mid game a joke. Unless you accidentally slip out of the bush or the AI glitches and sees your somehow, you wont use normal combat at all.

Other than that, the game boasts a fantastic combat engine. You can animation cancel into a dodge with invulnerability frames, then pop back up and start swinging again. It feels especially awesome when you are surrounded by a bunch of robotic enemies and you're dodging, weaving, and slashing to take them all down.

The skill system feels kind of weak, and some of the abilities you can "earn" seem like you should have had them from the start. The game could have easily done away with the level up and skill system and been fine. You eventually gain the ability to take over and control robototic animals, which is pretty cool, and will make you feel like Chris Pratt with raptor robots at your command. Using the horse-like machines to get around makes travel much easier as well, and the designs of all the "animals" is great.

The game has a LOT of scavenging and collecting items from not only the machine animals, but regular animals and natural resources as well. You can craft upgrades right from the inventory screen as well as on the fly crafting of ammunition, which can be performed while running or in the middle of combat, which is handy but doesn't really make sense in the scheme of things. The various types of traps and weapons are really fun to use, but I end up hoarding most of them in favor of the Bamboozle™ method.

It feels like a bulk of the side quests are boring "fetch" quests, and even some of the required quests are boring, having to use the Focus to follow tracks endlessly around to find X person or Y animal. Most of the non-main-story content seems tedious and really left me feeling like I wish I could skip it and get back to finding out more about Aloy's origins. The Focus can be used to scan enemies to learn more about them, as well as long-dead human's databases and recordings that help you to learn about the world before, adding lots of fairly interesting content to the game.





Graphics, Glitches, and Sound

First off, the graphics are incredible. Awesome textures and design make the world feel real, and the view distance makes everything feel vast and open. The only major problems that I have with the graphics in the game come from the cutscenes. The facial animations are good but the lips of the characters seem stiff and weird, like they all just got done having lip injections. Additionally, if you have subtitles turned on and you are viewing ambient speech subtitles, then click a context sensitive object that moves you into a cutscene, the subtitles will be pushed off the bottom of the screen if there is more than a single line of dialogue to display. While the subtitle issue could be fixed easily with a patch, the plastic surgery after-effects will be a permanent fixture of the title.

There are some weird spawning issues too, such as units spawning on top of the machines you have taken control over when you activate a mission node or scene trigger. I also recall a time early on in the game where I quick saved at a camp fire without realizing a giant acid spewing mech was behind me. I got killed, then loaded back to the machine killing me over and over. To make matters worse, there was a knee high stone wall that Aloy just couldn't seem to get over properly surrounding the camp site, which resulted in a few more deaths before I could escape and evade the creature.

I've decided to lump sound into this category as well because I don't have much to say. The sound effects are top-notch, the voice acting is good, and the music is... well... I think there's music? None of the scores really stood out to me; no catchy tunes floated on the breeze while roaming around in villages, the combat music is forgettable (I couldn't even hum it if you asked me to), and while the music works as intended according to what's going on in the game, don't expect any orchestral concerts for the soundtrack.


Excuse me, sir... GET OFF MY HORSE!


With all said and done, Horizon: Zero Dawn is definitely worth a purchase, there is plenty of content to keep you busy, and even though the story is predictable, it's interesting enough to make you want to see it through to completion. Replay value seems fairly low because of a lot of tedium in doing quests not necessarily related to the main plot, and the fact that the collectibles don't impact the game in a multiple-ending kind of way. Since the climbing mechanic is prop based, you shouldn't get stuck traversing obstacles either, so the game plays out smoothly without a lot of fiddling to get Aloy to do what you want. Be sure to check it out, if you get a chance-- especially if you have a PS4 Pro.

+ Amazing Visuals
+ Great Combat
+ Good Voice Acting
- Easily Bamboozled Enemies
- Botox for Everybody
- Restrictive Combat
- Soundtrack?
9 Presentation
Overall a great graphical experience, but too many boring and tedious side-quests mar an otherwise fantastic game.
8 Gameplay
Tight combat and combos with responsive dodge mechanics make the game a joy to play, though you'll be forgoing this most of the time for the Bamboozleâ„¢ method.
7 Lasting Appeal
While completionists will have a great time finding all the Flowers and Vessels and such, they aren't really interesting enough to keep a casual player going back to find them all. It's fun to roam around but there isn't a great need to unless you are grinding for parts.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Definitely worth a purchase as you'll get your money's worth in play time and experience. One of the best exclusives for PlayStation.

Chary, rileysrjay, BORTZ and 3 others like this.

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