Horizon Zero Dawn – Beware the mighty Thunderjaw!

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I’m glad my first PS4 game was Horizon Zero Dawn. Though some may disagree, I am a believer that great games make a great console. I don’t think I’ll be letting go of my PS4 anytime within the next century since it’ll be a crime not to play Horizon Zero Dawn one more time.

There will be minor spoilers in the review, but don’t worry too much as I’m merely touching the surface of what the game has to offer.

Story

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It was a delight following the game’s protagonist, Aloy of the Nora, on her journey. After we watch a lengthy cut scene of a child Aloy trying to come to terms that she is an outcast, we’re first given control of her when she falls into a hidden area – where the remnants of a destroyed civilization greet her. It’s a gripping introduction that served well to draw players in.

The mystery surrounding Aloy’s past and how she came to be kept me hooked. While the story isn’t the most complicated I’ve seen, it had its fair share of plot twists and ‘Holy shit’ moments that kept me on the edge. The writing did feel slightly cliché at times, but that’s something I can live with. All in all, the story was fulfilling and well-paced throughout.

Another thing that contributed to the story was how well the world of Horizon Zero Dawn was fleshed out, which we get to experience via side quests. There wasn’t a single thing that felt unnatural about the setting and how things played out.

Horizon Zero Dawn proved that side quests in open world games can avoid being the boring, overused filler that is a staple of other triple A games.

As Aloy, you get to rescue people from bandits, foil any and all dastardly plans, as well as explore large caves known as ‘Cauldrons’ which make the mechanical beasts that populate the world of Horizon. After the quality time I spent with the game, I can proudly give my recommendation and that it is undoubtedly worth the price tag.

One downside is that while the side quests are enjoyable and serve well to flesh out the world, they sometimes distract me too much from the main story. I could be on my way to the next location when I’ll get the urge to explore my surroundings – and end up stumbling onto another side quest to add to my ever growing to do list. It’s not a huge detriment and more of a pet peeve, so it wouldn’t be a negative if you’re a person who loves content.

But I think the story would have had more impact if I wasn’t running off every twenty minutes to help someone find their lost kin.

Characters

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Aloy talking to Sylens

At the beginning, Aloy’s your token ‘I can’t remember my childhood so I want to find out’ protagonist and as tropes go, it’s on the more clichéd side. Nevertheless, Guerilla Games did a marvelous job of showing the players that she is more layered than she seems, through the use of main and side quests. To be honest, Aloy is one of the most intriguing characters I’ve had the pleasure of following. While she does often dream of taking revenge (due to some major plot points) she doesn’t turn into the cynical, depressed protagonists we see far too often.

Throughout my time as Aloy, it was exciting to learn about her as a character. Little things like mumbling sarcastically to herself when she’s inevitably dropped into another dangerous situation. Sassing the assholes who judge her without getting to know her. Making hilarious quips that proudly showcase her dry sense of humor. Her voice actor did sound bland at times, but those moments are few and far between.

There to balance her slightly naïve outlook on the world, is Sylens. After helping her escape from her enemies, he expresses an interest in assisting her. When I first encountered him, my first assessment of the man was that he’s a dick.

But as the story progressed, I began to grow fond of his analytical, and often cold, demeanor. He’s the perfect balm to Aloy’s brashness, often preferring to look at the bigger picture. Sylens comes off as a selfish self-centered person, but really, he’s just a person with flaws. Like Aloy. Like everyone. Overall I thought he was an excellent character that contributed in making Horizon Zero Dawn a cut above the rest.

Some characters get a good chunk of development, but not all of them. It’s unfortunate, but I’d rather have several interesting and well written characters than a large roster of plain boring ones. Two of my favourite characters are Erend, a bodyguard to the Carja King, and Neil, a bloodthirsty and psychopathic bandit hunter.

Gameplay

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Horizon Zero Dawn runs like a dream. Even on my original PS4 I suffered zero lag and frame drops, a far cry from most modern titles. The only thing I was annoyed by was the long load times when I fast travelled from one point to another. This is a minor nitpick, considering there are no loading screens when you run from place to place, but it was still irritating to wait. There is also little to no bugs, and wow did that make me happy.

Another major positive was the game mechanics. Aloy’s numerous weapons provided me with an awesome and versatile hunting experience. When taking out a Stalker for example, I could shoot a ball of volatile electricity to stun it, and then smoothly switch to a bow to blow its grenade launcher off. I think a large chunk of the hours I spent in game was hunting down every single machine I could find.

The large variety of machines kept the game challenging. However, one thing that annoyed me is that the map is overflowing with hostile machines. Once, I entered a new area to explore, and was immediately attacked by three types of machines. One of them was a giant, fucking bird that could shoot electricity from its chest. Needless to say, I wasn’t a happy camper when I had to reload my save because Aloy got torn to small, meaty bits.

Conclusion

Horizon Zero Dawn is a strong contender for GOTY. Considering that I’m still thinking about how fun the game is while playing Persona 5 – an amazing game in its own right – I think Horizon Zero Dawn is worth its asking price. I’ll be back to hunt machines again, that I can guarantee.

9/10

I need a sequel…now.

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