This will be the second time Horizon Zero Dawn (HZD) has been reviewed on our site! You can check out Jaz’s PS4 review of Horizon Zero Dawn and also her review of the DLC The Frozen Wilds, for a different perspective. While she was smitten within moments, it took me awhile longer to fall in love with HZD.
The great thing about the PC Edition of HZD is that it comes complete with The Frozen Wilds, as well as some other extra little treats! However… I’m sure you’ve heard, by now, of the issues that have plagued the game since release and I will quickly cover my experience with them. When I first downloaded the mammoth game, thinking my PC matched the minimum requirements, then waited almost an hour for the optimisation process to be completed – I discovered almost instantly that my computer DEFINITELY could not run it.
For reference: Horizon Zero Dawn System Requirements (Minimum)
- CPU: Intel Core [email protected] or AMD FX [email protected]
- CPU SPEED: Info
- RAM: 8 GB
- OS: Windows 10 64-bits
- VIDEO CARD: Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 (3 GB) or AMD Radeon R9 290 (4GB)
- PIXEL SHADER: 5.0
- VERTEX SHADER: 5.0
- FREE DISK SPACE: 100 GB
- DEDICATED VIDEO RAM: 3 GB
Horizon Zero Dawn Recommended Requirements
- CPU: Intel Core [email protected] or Ryzen 5 [email protected]
- CPU SPEED: Info
- RAM: 16 GB
- OS: Windows 10 64-bits
- VIDEO CARD: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6 GB) or AMD Radeon RX 580 (8GB)
- PIXEL SHADER: 5.1
- VERTEX SHADER: 5.1
- FREE DISK SPACE: 100 GB
- DEDICATED VIDEO RAM: 6 GB
So, wanting to be able to still review the game somehow, I took to social media to beg for someone to lend me an actual decent rig for a few days (lol, I now see I was never going to finish it in a few days). A few days later, the wonderful Skip Parker, from Geeksphere, heard my pleas and let me borrow a more than decent PC! Were all my problems solved? Did the game now run perfectly? Certainly not. It went on to crash several times and I experienced weird glitches and bugs for up to a week of playing. But it was good enough, so I was relieved. HOWEVER!!! I am happy to report, that after MANY patches, the game runs beautifully for me AND ON MY ORIGINAL PC, TOO!!! I find it immensely frustrating that they didn’t take the time to sort out the issues pre-release, because I’m sure a lot of people are now, never going to experience the absolutely amazing world of Horizon Zero Dawn. That makes me weep (on the inside).
Before we get started, I want to assure you I will not be spoiling or even touching on the main storyline (beyond the very beginning). It is an incredible journey for you to discover entirely yourself. The game kicks off with Rost, a God-of-War-esque, tribal fella, suddenly becoming responsible for a little baby girl (Aloy) – in a world where predatory machines roam wild. It’s clear his tribe (The Nora Tribe) doesn’t want him around and that some wise old lady character (Lansra) is pretty pissed that another wise old lady character (Teersa), is giving him the tiny tot. Soon Aloy grows into a pretty fricken annoying kid and you play as her for awhile, falling into and exploring a mysterious underground machine structure, interacting with other kids, sneaking past machines and arguing with her dear old father-figure, Rost.
This initial gameplay definitely did not draw me into the game. I think it was a combo of child Aloy being weirdly animated and being a bit of a brat, but I was not a fan. Rost, on the other-hand, had that familiar, emotionally distant, stern but still warm and caring vibe I associate with Joel from The Last of Us. I was a fan. Luckily, Aloy grows into a wise-beyond-her-years, extremely capable and very beautiful young woman. She annoyed me no more!
The Guerilla Games team have created something incredible with Horizon Zero Dawn. It’s an expansive, open-world and heavily story-based game. If in depth conversations aren’t your style, you might not connect with it as strongly as I have. I grew up on the point and click, heavily conversation-orientated games of the 90s. They’re what I live for.
The characters are all thoughtfully written, diverse and relatable. Even brief side characters have a well-rounded depth to them which, from what I’ve seen, can be a rarity in open world games. The thing that I found MOST delightful, is the way male allies interact with Aloy. She doesn’t have to earn respect before it’s given, before she can be spoken to like an equal and she isn’t sexualised. She is also free to, and praised-for, speaking her mind and confronting authority when necessary. I especially love the relationship that develops between her and Erend, a member of the Carja Sun-King Avad’s Vanguard. My favourite quote that summarises their relationship (and possibly my favourite quote from the entire game) is:”You know what? When we met, I thought I was a big shot talking to a pretty girl hidden away in the middle of nowhere. Now I see that I was just lucky to get a minute of your time. Try not to forget about me while you’re out there changing the world.”- Erend
Another character who pops up from time to time, that I absolutely adore, is Nil! Clearly unhinged (he calls his knife ‘the people opener’), and at times a little troubling…there’s something about him you just can’t shake. I feel like (even though he’s a Dexter-level sociopath) if I came across him, drenched in blood and surrounded by corpses I would still be like… “you come here often?” *wink*
As you might suspect, with a female lead, there are also a whole bunch of badass supporting female characters as well. Sona is the War-Chief of Aloy’s tribe. She’s a deadly serious, unflinching and strong leader. She’s also the mother of two of the kindest and bravest characters Aloy meets: Varl and Vala. She speaks a little robot-like (which somehow still works for her) and it’s hard to warm to her as a person, but it’s impossible not to fear and respect her.
Teersa is a High Matriarch of the Nora Tribe. She is Aloy’s ally from day one (literally) and tries to lead the strongly religious tribe in a compassionate and accepting way – even when it goes against their wider beliefs. Vanasha, a Carja spy, may not be strong, but guided by her own moral compass, she uses her wits and connections to help people from all walks of life. Although Vanasha, among other characters, does not embrace Aloy’s direct way of speaking and at times I felt pretty sorry for Aloy as she desperately tried to get a straight answer out of Vanasha. Those are just a handful of examples of the ally characters Aloy can encounter on her travels.
The game, itself, is breathtaking. Just like I did in Ghost of Tsushima, I found myself spending a lot of time in photo mode, trying to capture the beauty of the world around Aloy. Time passes by the shifting of morning to night and coupled with the outstanding soundtrack, it really does effect the whole feel of the game. I found myself confidently sprinting around during the day, but as soon as the moon rose I was suddenly crouching and keeping to long grass, holding my breathe so I wouldn’t miss the sounds of potential approaching machines.
As you can tell by the screenshots I took and what I’ve focused on in my review – the human characters and extremely intriguing plot is what captivated me about Horizon Zero Dawn. The machines and fighting the machines were definitely not my personal highlights. They’re INCREDIBLY WELL DONE and therefore much too stressful for me. I started the game on normal mode, and about 14 hours in switched to easy and around the 20 hour mark switched to story mode. For me, story mode was perfect. It took away the sense of absolute dread every time I encountered a new enemy or ‘boss battle’ and meant there was nothing keeping me from getting fully immersed in the characters and plot. For other’s the combat and machines will be the absolute highlight, I have no doubt. Combat is varied and challenging. You can set traps, place trip wires, lob explosives, pin them down with ropes or use an extensive array of bows and arrows with varying results. The skill tree, which I embarrassingly didn’t find until I was already level 14, unlocks all sorts of exciting abilities. From stealth kills, to machine repairing and taming you’ll find a skill set to match your play style.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my preferred combat style was 100% stealth. You gradually unlock the ability to ‘override’ more and more kinds of machines (by exploring areas called cauldrons), which essentially means that they can do a lot of the open-world fighting for you. More often than not I would sneak up to a group of machines, override the scariest one and then sit back and watch it tear the others apart while I assisted from a safe distance (only when necessary). Sometimes I would also set a few traps and tripwires as I retreated, for good measure.
Although I feel like I’ve probably overloaded you with information, I actually haven’t even scratched the surface of what Horizon Zero Dawn is actually about. I don’t want to. I went in knowing almost nothing and got absolutely blown away as I discovered each story line and Aloy’s purpose. So far, I’ve sunk 33 hours into Horizon Zero Dawn and there are still so many characters I haven’t met and stories I haven’t lived. I want to give myself as much time as possible to fully explore and get to know the world of Horizon Zero Dawn, and I know you will too.
All screenshots were captured by me, on Skip’s PC 😛