Horizon Zero Dawn Review – Guerrilla Games’ Magnum Opus

I’m just going to come out and say it: Horizon Zero Dawn is the game you’ve all been waiting for. All of the hype surrounding Horizon has been completely justified. This is not only a must-own PlayStation 4 game, it is a title that cements Guerrilla Games’ place among the pantheon of elite AAA developers. Horizon Zero Dawn is an unrivaled masterpiece.

Horizon Zero Dawn takes place in the distant future — long after a disaster has wiped out much of the human race and reduced its once mighty cities into hollowed out ruins. Humanity still lives but in small tribal communities and stone cities. People have to survive off the land — a land they have to share with deadly robots that resemble animals. These automatons were once peaceful — but for reasons unknown — they are now hostile toward all humans.

This is the world that Aloy — the game’s protagonist — is born into. Like most video game characters, Aloy is a vessel for the player. She is determined, unwavering, committed, and willing to accept any request presented to her. While she’s no different from a thousand other video game stars, Aloy still has a distinct personality that people will admire. She is a perfect instrument for the player to explore the world with.

While Horizon Zero Dawn isn’t nearly as big as other open-world games, its scale is impressive. This land contains snow-capped mountains, scorching deserts, dense jungles, expansive forests, and just about any other type of earthly environment you can imagine. Human settlements range from small villages to large kingdoms. All of these locales are littered with remnants of the old world. Despite the dangerous surroundings, this is a land still begging to be explored.

Considering how every robot wants to kill you, combat is a large part of Horizon. This isn’t a problem since fighting against machines is one of Horizon‘s highlights. The game not only gives you a good variety of machine types to go up against but offers a good range of weapons to defeat them with. A bow and arrow is your main weapon, but you can also use traps and slingshot bombs. Some enemies can even be immobilized with metal ropes. As the game progresses, you’ll have to use every single weapon in your arsenal if you hope to make it out of encounters in one piece.

As great as it is to face off against robots, the same cannot be said when encountering human enemies. Most battles with humans can be ended quickly with a headshot. There are some enemies which require a few headshots to take down, but they aren’t overly difficult either. Most of the time, human encounters (which happen a little too often in the main campaign) feel like roadblocks. This is a shame considering how much fun it is to fight robots.

Though Aloy is certainly a capable warrior, she is surprisingly fragile. She can be killed fairly easily by melee attacks. Because of that, it is better to use stealth in most cases. While the stealth mechanics aren’t exactly deep, they are adequate enough to get the job done. Hiding in bushes and silently finishing off robots and humans is immensely satisfying. The game even offers a few items which allow you to be extra stealthy. Don’t get me wrong, you can go in with all arrows blazing if you prefer, but trying to take out foes stealthily is always the smartest option.

As you discover new lands, complete missions, and kill enemies, you’ll gain experience points. Once a new level is reached, you’ll get skill points used to unlock various abilities in a skill tree. This is all standard fare for an RPG (and even a few non-RPGs) these days. The game doles out experience points generously and often. Gaining levels never make you physically overpowered, however. Aloy is just as strong at level 1 as she is at 37. However, all of the extra skills she picks up help immensely. Not to mention the various weapon and outfit mods that also help keep Aloy alive and in fighting shape.

Graphically speaking, Horizon Zero Dawn is without a doubt one of the best looking open-world titles ever created. Guerrilla Games is known for producing exceptional looking games, but the studio has truly outdone itself this time. Everything from the terrain to the beings that inhabit it is rendered in magnificent detail. Dynamic weather, lighting effects, and a full day/night cycle also contribute to the visual excellence on display.

More than any other game, Horizon Zero Dawn takes full advantage of the PlayStation 4 Pro. The game is displayed in full 4K resolution thanks to the PS4 Pro’s checkerboard rendering. Horizon may not technically be a native 4K game, but you’ll have a hard time realizing that. Those with 4K HDR-enabled televisions will enjoy the full graphical splendor that Horizon has to offer. But folks with 1080p TVs will still be treated to the best looking console game ever released.

As great as Horizon‘s graphics are, there are some imperfections. Like any open-world game, players will encounter minor bugs and glitches. These snags aren’t anywhere near the sort of hiccups found in Bethesda-produced games, but they’re present regardless. The most notable issue is with lip syncing. Main characters are mostly unaffected, but side characters’ lips often times do not match up with their words. In any other game, this could be forgiven, but with a game as graphically detailed as Horizon, it stands out.

While the game’s graphics are certainly a big selling point, it is Horizon‘s story that makes it truly special. The way the characters and the world evolve as the game progresses are immensely satisfying. The main story unravels in a masterful way, and by the end, most of its mysteries are fully answered. Though some of the plot elements may not be wholly original, the overall tale is actually quite unique. This is a rich world with a deep history that is begging for sequels to expand upon. Horizon Zero Dawn‘s story will stick with you long after the end credits have finished scrolling.

Guerrilla Games has to be commended for Horizon Zero Dawn. In a generation filled with sequels, reboots, and multiplayer-only experiences, Horizon is truly a breath of fresh air. Horizon sticks the landing when it comes to story, gameplay, and especially graphics. While it isn’t a perfect title (no game is), any shortcomings are minimal at best and don’t detract from the overall experience. Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the greatest success stories of this generation. Every gamer under the sun should do themselves a favor and pick this game up.

This review of Horizon Zero Dawn is based on a physical copy for the PlayStation 4 which was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.

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