Horizon Zero Dawn Review

Horizon: Zero Dawn (H:ZO) is an open-world action roleplaying game by Guerilla Games. Released on February 28th, 2017, H:ZO is the first IP we’ve seen from Guerilla Games since Killzone in 2004, and they have created another unique and refreshing experience in H:ZO.

H:ZO takes place in a distant future where humankind has reverted back to small tribes and nature has overtaken urban centers. But they are not alone; throughout the reclaimed wilderness packs of machines rove about, varying from largely docile Striders or Grazers to the aggressive and truly terrifying Stalkers or Ravagers. The player character, Aloy, explores this world, acting as a mediator between the various tribes, honing her skills in hunting machines, and exploring the mysteries of their origin.

Players explore the present day story through Aloy’s service and interactions with the different tribes of her region. They also find clues to the past in the form of vantage points, that offer stunning visuals of what ruins looked like in the past, and holovids to accompany them that drop details of what led to the creation of the machines and humanity’s fall. If you prefer straightforward narratives, H:ZO may not offer what you’re looking for. The information about the past does not appear in a specific order and expects the player to connect the dots.Similar to Bioshock’s audiotape storytelling, the player is presented with specific details of individual’s and their experiences. This offers a powerful, raw look into how people handled tragedy and hardship, but often creates as many questions as are answered. I found this to be exciting and engaging, but I can understand why others may be critical of it.

H:ZO possesses an impressively enriched open-world atmosphere. Towering mountains, lush forests and rivers, and quickly changing weather convinces the player the world they are in is alive. Music changes and adds tension when hunting the machines and trying to maintain stealth. You can bask in the beauty of the world around you, but if you daydream for too long you are quickly reminded that you are no longer at the top of the food chain.

That is where H:ZO shines its brightest. The combat is complex, exciting, and challenging, throughout the game. You are provided with various weapons, including a spear for melee combat, a close-range bow, a weapon for shooting darts like a shotgun, for laying traps, for slinging elemental bombs, or for temporarily tying up machines. Stealth is also extremely important to your success, whether you're setting up traps to ensure your safe escape, obtaining the best vantage point, or, my personal favorite, approaching enemy machines to override them. By overriding machines, they will become friendly towards you, can be ridden, and will defend you if you are attacked.

What sets H:ZO apart is that the combat maintains this challenge and freshness throughout the entire game. There is a leveling system that provides increases in health and lets the player select certain skills that improve their stealth capabilities, healing, or crafting, just to name a few. While this progression does make you feel stronger, if you become overconfident and rush into a fight, even with machines from much earlier in the game, you can easily be killed. Each machine has certain components on their body that can be damaged and eventually removed. By doing so, the player can cause extra damage to the machine, but also limit their capabilities. For example, the Ravager comes equipped with a cannon on its back. If the player knocks this off, not only does the Ravager lose access to this attack, but the player can pick up the cannon and use it for themselves. Each new machine requires the player to learn where their weaknesses are, what weapons are more effective, and what strategies to use to be successful. H:ZO makes you feel like a flesh-and-bones creature in a world of harsh nature and harsher machines, but even better, it makes it fun.

H:ZO strikes a fantastic balance between engaging storytelling, beautiful aesthetic, and deep and exciting combat. It doesn’t offer sprawling skill trees or catalogues of weapons and upgrades, but it doesn’t need them. There is a genuine depth to H:ZO and here’s hoping this is a sign of things to come.


Written by : David Weir