Horizon Zero Dawn

The Netherlands doesn’t exactly spring to mind when it comes to videogames, but nonetheless, a subsidiary of Sony, Guerrilla Games, based in Amsterdam, began development of Horizon Zero Dawn in 2011, with its release coming on the PlayStation 4 in 2017. Most know the developer for the Killzone series, indigenous to PlayStation line of systems and a first-person shooter franchise, with HZD being their first foray into console roleplaying games. Despite this relative lack of experience, the game released to critical acclaim, which at least in this reviewer’s experience is deserved.

Horizon Zero Dawn occurs in a post-doomsday setting, players controlling the female protagonist, Aloy, who finds an ancient device known as a Focus as a girl, and uses it to her advantage as she explores the title’s vast open world when she matures. The narrative is enjoyable for the most part, with the mysteries of the time before the game’s primary events providing a decent drive to advance the storyline, Aloy far from being a blank-slate heroine. There are occasional grammar errors in the script, but these hardly detract from the plotline’s unraveling.

The game best excels in terms of range combat, with Aloy able to equip up to four weapons at once, including bows and slings. The player can use her Focus to analyze the main machine enemies for their weak spots, with additional damage dealt when striking these places. Odds are that foes may take notice of her when she’s sniping at them, and fortunately, melee combat isn’t half-bad, with short, standard and weaker spear strikes executed with the R1 and stronger but slower ones executed with R2. Killing the mechanical beasts allows her to loot their cadavers for various materials used alongside metal shards, the chief currency, to create new weapons and armor, not to mention ammunition.

Aloy gains experience from killing enemies, standard to most RPGs, with level-ups increasing her maximum HP and granting her a skill point, players able to invest these in a series of innate skills, providing benefits such as quieter movement speed and increased loot from foes. Difficulty is mercifully adjustable, accommodating players of various skill levels, and aside from the frequent randomness of drops from killing wildlife such as foxes and boars necessary to increase aspects like maximum ammo and resource space, the battle system is a definite boon to the game.

Control is solid, as well, with crystal-clear direction on how to advance the main storyline and even the myriad sidequests (although there exists the occasional lack of clarity in some errands, with exploration definitely being rewarding, and making the chief plotline easier. The player can further create Fast Travel Kits to provide instant (aside from the sometimes-long loading times) conveyance between campfires that double as save points, and later on create an Ultimate Fast Travel Kit with infinite uses. Granted, death may come more frequently from long falls when climbing (which fortunately isn’t entirely free-range) as opposed to enemy attacks, but even so, interaction helps HZD more than hurts.

The voicework excels as well, along with the believable sound effects, although as seems the case with most Western RPGs, the sound team barely bothered when it came to the soundtrack, with most pieces being ambivalent or nonexistent, although the quality of what little music there is proves decent.

The graphics are near-perfect, with believable environments, character models, and textures, although there are minor signs of choppiness during cutscenes and things such as Aloy passing through grass as though it’s not there.

Finally, even if the player doesn’t partake in the countless side missions, a playthrough doesn’t take too long, somewhere from one to two days total playtime.

Overall, Horizon Zero Dawn for the most part is what an open-world RPG should be, given the solid combat, the freedom that doesn’t leave players feeling lost at all, the excellent narrative, the superb voice acting, the polished visuals, and plenty of content to pad out the title if players so desire. It does have some minor strikes against it, however, such as the limit on inventory space even with upgrades, lengthy load times, the forgettable soundtrack, and some negligible visual impurities, although fans of action RPGs and open-world games in general would be hard-pressed to pass this opportunity up, given it’s one of the strongest releases of 2017.

The Good:
+Solid ranged and melee combat.
+Campfires allow for easy conveyance around world.
+Excellent narrative.
+Great voicework.
+Polished visuals.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Limit on inventory, even with upgrades.
-Some long loading times.
-Soundtrack is largely forgettable.
-A few graphical impurities.

The Bottom Line:
A candidate for best game of 2017.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 9/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 9/10

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