What Horizon Zero Dawn Gets Right – And What It Doesn’t

Zeroing in.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is undoubtedly one of PlayStation’s biggest exclusives since Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. The game has been adored by many players due to its huge, detailed environments and incredible lighting, but the game does more than offer just a pretty face for the PlayStation brand which we discussed in our review for the game. However, I thought I’d discuss some of the finer things Horizon gets right, and wrong. For the sake for starting off on all the right notes, we’ll discuss what was good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRQDqurZJNk

Horizon: Zero Dawn has a good story

Without spoiling the campaign, the game is very clever in the way its missions and side missions are structured, so it allows the player to seek out every minor detail before they complete the story. Not only that, but based on the player’s side missions completion, the game modifies the ending and feature allies that aid you in the final mission of the game. This was particularly nice when I played the game, as it gave me more reason to play through and complete all the additional objectives.

She’s got the moves

The good thing about the protagonist Aloy, is that she has an incredible skill set that allows her to freely adapt to each situation that she faces throughout the game. Aloy is able to slide, jump, roll, dodge, and slow town time when aiming. This in turn, allows Aloys combat skills to be so fluid and empowering to the player that lengthy machine fights can still be very enjoyable.

It’s quite easy to play the game how you’d want to play, whether that’s more stealth-focused or combat-focused and you’ll feel so powerful doing so, regardless of your choice. What also makes Aloy so great are the enemies that are pitted up against her. Learning to use equipment and weapons effectively is key to taking out these machines. You can take out the heftiest of them with the right weapon and as you all probably know; the bigger they are, the harder they fall and the more satisfying it is to destroy them.

Beauty in its true form

Every stretch of its diverse environments are beautiful, especially in 4K. Horizon Zero Dawn looks so good that that alone will make players want to explore and take pictures using the games photo mode, but if you’re not much of an in-game photographer, the beautiful and vast landscapes in Horizon with tempt you to hunt for secrets and collectibles, which are also very interesting to find and are often placed atop mountains that involve intricate climbing sections.

And the beasts…

As discussed earlier, what makes Aloy great is that she has powerful enemies which quickly make use of her skills in combat. There’s a selection of about 15 different machines to take on and each one has a weakness. However, some are colossal, and this in turn results in pushing you to adopt a more strategic way of taking them down, as you’re having to shoot off vital components to be able to stagger the target and deal more critical damage.

It’s not just how you kill the target either, these enemies have gorgeous animations and will react to the player more aggressively the higher the difficulty is set. Other machines however, may just be better suited to override and ride around environment with, so the choice is with the player in that regard.

However you interact with these machines, it’s safe to say that the attention to detail for each machine is phenomenal and I actually spent a good amount of time just looking at the outer-workings of these machines, right down to the wires and components using the game’s photo mode.

My favourite has to be the Thunder Jaw; mainly because it looked like a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex with cannons on its back, and I generally like anything that brings such ridiculous death and destruction to players in video games.

What wasn’t so fun..

What’s great about the game is that the player can climb large mountains and look over the horizon and see small details in the distance, whether it be a formation of birds, or a big machine many miles away. The problem with that though is that the game offers many high points and spectacular views, but unless the player is in a collectible and grappling hook area, there is no way to get down that doesn’t risk certain death. This is quite frustrating and the game will normally dump the player back at the last camp site upon death, giving the game a sense of restriction despite its open-world setting.

Another key criticism is that while settlements and the cultural architecture look great, the people and animals within them are often quite stiff. This is most noticeable when arriving at the first settlement and Meridian in particular.

The only other characters that have Aloy’s standard of character design throughout the whole game were Rost and Erend, everyone else just seemingly moves and talks like uncomfortable mannequins – even young Aloy looked like a Troll doll. This was perhaps the biggest shame, as a cast of more memorable main and side characters would have made the game feel like Aloy was genuinely bridging the gap between tribes and outsiders, which is the point of the game to some extent.

Conclusion

Horizon does an incredible job at giving PlayStation fans an enjoyable open-world game with faux-RPG elements, that appeals to more than just the average crowd. It’s essentially an action-adventure game within a massive RPG world, which is something games like Tomb Raider have dabbled with in recent times. Horizon: Zero Dawn is the most successful of them, as the vast world is just waiting to be explored with many, many secrets to be discovered, giving the players any number of things to do.

Written by
I am a gamer with a passion of all things relating to it. I co-develop a ROM Hacking project called Pokémon Liquid Crystal with a team of experienced developers and also have written for gaming and tech news outlets such as Neowin and Dashhacks. In my spare time, I wreck scrubs at Destiny and trophy hunt.

14 Comments

  1. Although I agree with the NPC criticisms, it’s nothing you couldn’t also say about Fallout 4, or Skyrim, or Borderlands.

    Also I always found a way down, in fact I found the landscape to be designed much better than, say, Skyrim.

    So essentially. No. Shush. It’s pretty awesome. You get to ride Zoid and have them as pets. Game of the Year so far.

    • “Also I always found a way down” Yep. I noticed, as long as you’re careful, you can pretty much scramble down most steep cliff, rock surfaces without taking too much damage. Just don’t go jumping off a cliff and you’re normally ok.

    • Agreed. The bane of open-world games. Everyone outside of the main cast suffers to a certain degree.

      Also, with regards to climbing, I agree again. I found a variety of ways down. Some of them health-hittingly dangerous but I just survived. Dropping down precariously from ledge-to-ledge – and not in the ‘Press Square to Drop Down to the Ledge’ way either. These were bits of rock that could barely support me. Was silly and daft and as TC mentioned last week, the climbing was good as you COULD actually climb (well, run, jump and spam-jump). :D

    • I also agree about the climbing, it’s good to have the level of freedom we’ve bee given, there are routes up most hills but it’s good to be able to scrabble up wherever and then have to risk pain on the way down. Even Aloy comments on precarious climbs and descents, she knows we’re impatient stick twiddlers!

      I think given more money every single conversation could’ve been motioned captured, there isn’t nearly as much dialogue as games like Skyrim and no significant branching but I appreciate that a budget was set, so it’s a big stretch. Hopefully if we ever see a sequel Guerilla will consider aiming for the standard set by Uncharted.

      I really, really like Aloy. She’s not a glamorous, bit titted dose of superficial fap fodder but a fierce, angry Celtic type with an ugly but practical hair cut, bad teeth and just the right balance of compassion and aggression. Ginger heroines rock. Oh and nice article Jake, I’m enjoying taking part in even more Horizon love.

    • It is an incredible game. I just think they could have made getting down from any high point a little easier, rather than taking baby steps down rocky dents in the mountains. I did play Zelda before finishing, so it had tainted my view on how high points should. Not saying every game should give you a paraglider, either but there needs to be less tedious means of getting down from these points.

      • There was a few points when I thought some sort of hand glider would be cool. Maybe the sequel can include that, use a Stormbird wings to make a glider.

      • Or maybe the dlc/expansion could allow you to play as Condorman.

      • I’ll have a treble then…?

    • Glinthawks and Stormbirds were literally something I was expecting to mount like a craxy Dragon tamer. Just to be able to craft a glider out off their parts like you said would have been so great. It’s just a small thing that would have given us a bit more freedom I think.

      • Some sort of Glinthawk override gliding feature would be amazing, especially if it meant you could then take down Stormbirds from above, Avatar style!

  2. I’ve played maybe 20-30 hours so far and really enjoy the open world, combat and so on, but due to really poor voice acting, and just plaing boring/generic characters….I’ve completely lost interest in the storyline and find myself often skipping through whatever they have to say.

    I don’t really care about these people or what trouble they may be in…just tell me what i need to do and I’ll go do it.

    Combining those poor characters, with lip syncing that often wanders miles off, and some terrible clipping (I think that’s the term) where the headwear for example often moves in and out of character bodies, and it’s a game that so often looks great, and just awful at others.

    Overall I think 8/10 is a fair score.

    • I feel quite the opposite with regards to the NPC and storyline. The further the game progressed, the more invested I became in finding the backstory and helping people out. For me it was quite an fresh story on a old theme (apocalypse).

      I just finished the whole game with all side quests/errands done and envy those that has this game ahead of them. It is not the best game I have ever played, but story wise it was the one that caught me most the last couple of years. The Last of Us was probably closest.

      As for the criticism in the article, I do not share it. I had no trouble getting down from the steepest mountains, and the few times I fell to my death I did a stupid jump instead of carefully looking for handholds. Actually I think the game is quite forgiving when it comes to terrain. But yes, it is harder to climb down than to climb up, much is it is in real life.

      Cannot say anything about clipping or bad lip sync, it worked flawlessly for me. I am sad to hear that others didn’t have the same great experience.

      Could the NPC be more fleshed out? Could there be more interaction with non-story NPCs? Yes on both counts. But it still is an awesome game.

  3. The beasts animations are great. I had to destroy a Rock Breaker the other night – I took out all of its claws etc and then almost felt sorry for it as it was just crawling around hopelessly on the ground and couldn’t defend itself. I felt it was my duty to put it out of its misery… then collect my loot and removing its heart! ;)

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