As soon as you open the game and choose a language, you are thrust into a very beautiful opening cinematic, one that ended with a strangled croak as I tried not to cry. Already I could see the depth of the story and the world that I was entering. I was then greeted with a beautiful menu screen that I continued to look at and listen to as the wondrous soundtrack that accompanied it played.
I took in a deep breath. This was going to be good.
If you didn’t get it after that first scene, then after the first couple of main story missions you’ll realise that this is a very story-heavy game. And I love it for it. Sometimes it’s hard to have a compelling narrative in an open world, but Horizon Zero Dawn really nails it.
Now, I am a map-clearer type player, where I have this obsessive need to clear the map before I continue on main missions. Instead of the tedious grind that sometimes occurs in big open world games, like the Assassin’s Creed series, each side quest came with its own meaningful story. And the main story was so compelling that I wanted to continue playing it, unlike games such as Skyrim where the main mission gets lost in a sea of other quests.
It felt as if each side mission had an impact on not just the people you were helping, but on Aloy’s character and sometimes even the world. The characters feel real, which is helped with the great facial animation on most of the people you met. And it wasn’t like you never saw these people again, occasionally the characters you helped were like, “Hey, if you’re ever in so-and-so, look me up,” and they’re there and they remember you.
For me, that really brought the world to life.
As I played, I felt a lot of freedom to do what I pleased. I could do whatever without this nagging sense that I was against the clock or constrained to do certain things before anything else. It felt good. I never thought that random battles against machines or bandits in the wilderness were pointless. I never felt that I was neglecting the main missions when I was following a trail of rotten fruit to find a thief, or saving a plantation from a machine infestation.
Oh, and it’s beautiful! And Guerrilla knows it. They’ve added a Photo Mode feature where you can just pause the game and take little snaps of your adventures.
Every piece of land is different from the next. No bit of ground or mountain or tree seemed like it was procedurally generated or copied from someplace else. There was always some rock or mound or patch of dirt that made the land rise and fall like it was a real place. This lead to the occasional backing into a cliff, backing off a cliff, and/or falling into a river in the midst of battle, but that added to the experience! As if each combat encounter had its own narrative!
Ah, combat. Let me tell you about the combat. I didn’t end up using all the weapons that were available to me, simply because I found a rhythm that worked (mostly), but after 39 hours of playing, I never grew bored of the combat. This is due to there being many different weapons and traps and ammo types that allow you to change your tactics even in the middle of a fight. And then you might be up against several enemies with different types of weaknesses. One might be susceptible to shock attacks, but the other shrugs off shock like it’s dandruff. You find yourself changing weapons (and crafting more ammo) in the middle of a combat roll while dodging an attack like the badass machine huntress you are. *grunts enthusiastically*
I found that pre-battle tactics are always super helpful. Sneaking around setting up traps before starting the fight and then have them run into your fire wire as they chase you down. Hah! Take that you dumb machine. It just makes the whole fight feel more rewarding. Because not only did you win, but you won by using your wits, rather than because you’re a certain level..
Oh, and that’s another thing that I like about Horzion Zero Dawn. There are combat and strength abilities that you can unlock with skill points, but you don’t get stronger each time you level up (though, your health pool increases by 10). You can also buy better weapons, but when you win battles it’s because of your tactical use of combat skills and your abilities as a gamer. This makes every fight feel like you deserve to win. But this does mean that sometimes it is definitely better to sneak past enemies, instead of engaging with them.
Can I just say that the soundtrack is absolutely amazing. As you get further through the main mission, unbelievably it just gets better and better. It’s one of those scores that really pulls you into what is happening. If this doesn’t make it onto Spotify, I will be severely disappointed. I will definitely buy it if I have to.
After completing the main mission, the vast majority of the side quests, and nearly a full working week of immersion, I am satisfied! This was an amazing game! I stayed up till 2am to finish it and definitely and still do not regret the wreck I was the next day (and the day after that). What a story! What a world! What cool characters!
At the end of the credits is the sentence Thanks for playing!
No, Guerrilla, thank you for making this game.
Disclaimer: All images in this review were captured on a standard PS4