As a PlayStation fan there’s an unshakeable urge to gobble up every big exclusive game created by Sony’s steadily growing stable of world-class studios. That urge has led me down unfamiliar paths, for better or worse, whether failing to get off the start line with Gran Turismo or taking a swing at MLB The Show.
At first glance, Horizon: Zero Dawn seemed like it would be right up my alley. Third person action games are my jam, and even though it waned in its twilight years, I still find myself attached to Guerrilla Games’ Killzone series, hoping for a big return. So it came as quite a surprise to find that I didn’t really enjoy my time with the developer’s latest series, even after giving it a second shot.
What’s stranger still is that I’ve spent a lot of time with Horizon. While I didn’t indulge in multiple playthroughs, I did explore enough to earn myself the platinum trophy. Why wasn’t I enjoying Horizon? Maybe, I thought, it had something to do with launching in close proximity to another genre-defining open world adventure game – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
After almost five years, I wanted to give Horizon another shot. Over the past half a decade, Zero Dawn has been labelled an essential experience for PlayStation gamers, Aloy quickly becoming a Sony mascot. On top of that, Forbidden West is just weeks from release, promising a bold new chapter with some intriguing gameplay enhancements.
Making the most of the game’s enhanced performance on PS5, I picked up Horizon: Zero Dawn where I left off and headed to the far north, to the Frozen Wilds DLC. This was perhaps a bit foolish. The DLC chains together a series of Horizon’s toughest challenges with corrupted machines stalking Banuk territory. Still, I saw this as an opportunity to embroil myself in the part of the game I liked least: the combat.
Delving into Frozen Wilds would force me to actually use the various weapons, tactics, and gadgets at my disposal, scouring the in-game bestiary for clues on how to take down Horizon’s fiercest enemies. Despite my best intentions, this didn’t happen. The fundamental reason why I don’t like playing Horizon is because it’s extremely hard to feel a sense of mastery during combat. It doesn’t matter which arrangement of mechanical beasts or bandits you fight, you’ll spend most of the time frantically dodging while trying to land a well-placed shot, abusing the game’s slow-mo in lieu of your own marksmanship skills.
Even the feeblest opponents have a tankiness to them, forcing you to peel off armour or strike weak points that can be hard to find as you’re barrage with attacks from every angle. Even when I did manage to trigger an ambush or run rings around some of Horizon’s metal giants, these moments weren’t satisfying to me. I just wanted the fight to end so I could pop open the crafting menu and numbly replenish my spent ammo before moving onto the next objective marker.
Towards the end of Frozen Wilds (which takes only a handful of hours to complete) I kicked the difficulty down to easy and went to town on my foes with Aloy’s supercharged spear. That’s perhaps even more frustrating than the combat itself: wanting to see more of this enchanting post-apocalyptic world yet seeing each skirmish and boss battle as an obstacle.
I want to continue Aloy’s journey into the Forbidden West, but I won’t be doing so alongside the many day one players who snap the game up on PS5 and PS4. I’ve no doubt Guerrilla will deliver in expanding its rich setting, story, and characters, but it’s the gameplay – and more specifically, the combat – where I’ll be looking for meaningful improvements.