I’ve managed to plow in over 10 hours of gameplay into Horizon Zero Dawn, so what are my thoughts?
What can I say about this game that hasn’t already been said? Very little it seems, but I can at least offer my opinions on what I think makes this game so good and also what features are really starting to grind my gears.
The game itself is incredible. The visuals are to die for and the storyline is progressing really well. Every now and then, I have to stop shooting things in the face and appreciate just how beautiful the game is. The varied scenery is always picturesque and consistently stunning no matter where you are or what you’re doing; literally every frame is captivating with no detail spared. The weather effects are spot on too; from blowing sandstorms in the sun-kissed deserts to the blizzards up in the higher reaches of the land. It’s not just these intricate detail of these effects, but it’s how Aloy interacts with these that make the game so immersive. If it starts raining, Aloy will arch her back away from the rain and bring her shoulders up; or if you’re facing the oncoming rain, Aloy will put her hands over her eyes as if to shield them. Even if it starts to drizzle, Aloy will put her hand out and rub her thumb and forefinger or look up to the sky in a cute and curious fashion. It’s these subtle human characteristics that really help to bring the game to life.
The story is ticking over nicely and I’m incredibly intrigued. The plot has a firm, hold of me, and I’m not sure if I can play another game whilst my questions remain unanswered. It’s a compelling story led by an engaging lead protagonist who I think I may actually be in love with. All plaudits have to go to the brilliant voice acting (although patchy at times) and narrative the game has. Even the side quests keep me well entertained. In terms of what Aloy must actually do in these side-missions, the game doesn’t offer much variety: go here, use Aloy’s Focus to discover a track, follow it, fight the enemy. That’s more often than not the pattern of most side missions, but that’s fine as the gameplay loop is satisfying and again the stories keep me invested.
I’m playing the game on ‘Very Hard’ and the combat is a joy. I find it really refreshing that anything can kill me. It’s not because I’m mad, but because it forces me to think things through. As obscene as it sounds given the nature of the game, it actually makes Horizon Zero Dawn much more realistic for me. If this game was real, you would not slide into battle against a group of Watchers, knocking arrows off here, there and everywhere. You would need to prepare, think up a plan and execute it perfectly to avoid casualties. That’s exactly what playing on the toughest difficulty forces me to do. Not only do I need to concentrate more on my surroundings, but I have to plan out my attacks, try to isolate lone enemies for stealth kills and I need to make use of all of the tools I have. I love that I need to focus on stripping robotic enemies of their armour, exploiting weaknesses to elemental damage or vulnerabilities in their structure to take them down. I feel that if I wasn’t playing on such a high level, I wouldn’t do any of these things. Every skirmish would be the same, you’d have me running in, jumping in the air and killing everything without breaking a sweat. Where’s the fun in that? My biggest regret of last year, was playing The Witcher 3 with a normal difficulty. I rarely used mutagens or poisons, and almost never prepared for a boss fight as I knew I could kill anything without any boosters. Playing on a harder setting would have forced me to do these, and as such, I think I would have loved the game even more.
Horizon Zero Dawn is brutal. It’s unforgiving in the sense that every mistake is often punished. Of course, on a lower difficulty this might not be the case, but I seem to be dying rather frequently at the minute. Now this might just because it’s still early days, I’ve got low damaging weapons and very little armour. I might improve once I start to level up more skills, but honestly, I don’t think any of this is a reason for my downfall. For me, I die so often because of a defect with the game. A severe lack of a feature shall we say?There’s a lack of clear damage indication during fights and whenever I die, it always comes as an unexpected shock. When Aloy is hit, it’s very hard to tell how close she is to death in the heat of battle. After one hit, a quick look at the health bar tells me she’s lost around 15%, so I carry on, only for her to die from seemingly innocuous attacks seconds later. It becomes incredibly annoying during the more crucial encounters, and no matter how aware I seem to be of the problem, the act of spinning plates is too much at times. Even Call of Duty’s heavy breathing or blood spatter would be more informative. I just need something that screams “YOU’RE ABOUT TO DIE… HEAL!” or something…
The game’s AI has been iffy at times, more so with the human enemies than the machines. This one time I cleared out a bandit hideout, and as I circled round to finish off the last guy, he stopped looking for me and went about his business as usual. I’d just killed around 30 of his buddies and he just wanders back to his post and continues to chop wood or whatever the hell he was doing. Now it’s not quite on the level of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, where an NPC will just disregard the arrow sticking out of his eye as ‘the wind’, but it detracted some slight enjoyment from the moment. It was an easy stealth kill to finish off the hideout though, so silver-linings and all that. I’ve only witnessed this a couple of times though, and it certainly isn’t game-breaking.
Other than these two, there are very few issues that I have with the game. There are a couple of problems with the UI and in-game menus, but nothing too substantial. The waypoint system means it can often be tricky to actually get to the objective, as the marker is often all over the place. The marker that’s placed in the centre of the screen tends to follow the main pathways, whereas the marker that’s placed on the compass atop the screen is as the crow flies, meaning they’ll contradict each other, especially when Aloy ventures off the beaten track. There have been many times I’ve resorted to opening the main map and using that to guide me instead, as the in-game guide is useless and sometimes sends me on the longest route possible.
I know I’m nitpicking, but to be fair this game is so good that these issues can be so quickly overlooked. If these are the only gripes I have, then Guerilla have made one hell of a game here. I’m loving every second of the game so far, and I still race home from work as quick as I can to get back onto it. I have to remind myself that I’m a grown-ass man sometimes!
Climbing things is something I have a real problem with as you may know. But the Tallnecks in this game aren’t as bad as I first feared in the runup to the game’s release. If you read my recent rant about climbing towers in games, you’ll already know that I’m really enjoying scaling the Tallnecks in Horizon Zero Dawn. The feature is there, but it’s not shoved down your throat. There are only a handful to climb anyway, so it’s in no way an overpowering feature. It feels different to what we’ve had in other games, and I actually quite like hopping on board and overriding them.
Although I’m new to the console, this seems to me like a must-have game for any Playstation 4 owner. If you have a PS4 Pro, well, why are you wasting precious seconds reading this? Go and get it right now! This is the only game that fully justifies having the enhanced system… it’s just so pretty!