I still don’t get Horizon Zero Dawn

horizon zero dawn artwork

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.

horizon zero dawn frozen wilds screenshot

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.

horizon zero dawn frozen tallneck screenshot

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.

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Written by
Senior Editor bursting with lukewarm takes and useless gaming trivia. May as well surgically attach my DualSense at this point.

8 Comments

  1. One of the most boring games I’ve ever played

    Robot dinosaurs should be exciting af, but it was formulaic, painting by numbers and dull as hell

  2. Each to their own. While the intro was far from perfect, the rest of the game was fun. A great mix of stealth and action. Taking down some of the bigger dino’s was lots of fun, where you can approach them differently. But the thing that really moved HZD beyond eg. BOTW in my book, was the story. The story was well written, with real consequences, lots of lore and unlike BOTW where the story was pretty much non existent. If I have to care about people and the world in a video game, it needs a strong story to back it up.

    • Couldn’t agree more. I loved hunting for the little remnants of history that pieced together the bigger picture. IMHO, the story of Horizon Zero Dawn is what sets it apart from most other games.

  3. We have pretty much the opposite opinions and experience! I love the combat and found it more engaging than pretty much any other game I’ve played. It actually matters where you shoot, which in and of itself is more than most games ask of players.

    Zelda was more fun to explore, but the combat is about the same as it was twenty five years ago.

    I went out of my way to engage in combat, but if you disliked the combat I can see why you’d dislike the game.

  4. Add me to the list of people who thought the combat was great. I liked the way scanning for weakness and preparing the right weapon for combat payed off. When traveling across the map I can’t help stop and fight anything that looks tough.
    For me the down side of the game is just how massive it is. I’d get the trophy for completing the story with the fewest collectables.

  5. I actually held off picking up HZD for about a year as i really didn’t think i would enjoy the combat but i thoroughly enjoyed it in the end! Each combat encounter felt like it was my battle to win whether i was just spamming the bow or utilising the various traps etc. That contrasts positively against some other games i’ve played -such as Kena for example, where you are pretty much restricted to the same selection and tedious sequence of moves for every encounter.

  6. Loved it on first play through, 10/10. Replayed it last week in prep for the HFW review and.. yeah not great. At a very hard push I would agree with our 8/10 review, but it’s more of a 7.

    I’ll tell you on Feb 14th if Forbidden West is better :)

  7. I was late to the party with Horizon Zero Dawn and picked up the complete edition on sale for cheap just before the PS5 arrived. I ended up absolutely loving the base game and managed to grab the platinum, without feeling like a grind. Story was excellent and that was the main driving force of the game for me. But strangely as soon as I jumped into the Frozen Wilds I was instantly bored. Odd! Guess the combat did end up becoming too repetitive. Still, I’m hoping the new setting for Forbidden West will freshen it up.

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