The eighth generation of video games haven’t taken as many risks as the previous generations did. Nowadays remasters of older games are all the rage, which is why it is a breath of fresh air when a newer game bursts onto the scene. From the creators of the Killzone series comes Horizon: Zero Dawn. The game combines elements seen in the Assassin’s Creed series but with a completely original story of its own. It is masterful in weaving a plot thread that expands the more the player dives in. The resolution for the story is satisfactory only in the eye of the beholder as some might find it ant-climatic while others could perceive it as poetic. The gameplay is uneven at times but with a host of options present to perfect in a vast, unique world there is a whole lot to uncover, meaning the game will keep you occupied for a long time.
The story involves the outcast known as Aloy. Outcasts are those who have been shunned by their tribes. The world seen in Horizon: Zero Dawn is the same as ours but centuries in the future. After an unknown calamity – that is slowly unravelled as the story progresses – wipes out the previous, more advanced predecessors of humankind, society is thrown back into primitive times. The only remnants of the earlier civilization remains in their creations: the machines. These machines serve as cattle for the most part, and are hunted for their parts as currency on occasion. The tribes of this time regard a robotic entity as All-Mother, and seek to derive wisdom from it. Coming up with their own doctrine, Aloy is treated as an outcast owing to her mysterious birth. Taken in by a hunter named Rost, Aloy masters the art of survival and happens upon an earpiece called a Focus that grants her abilities to perceive her surroundings on a more advanced level. The story involves Aloy’s journey through the world seeking to uncover her parentage, a diabolical plot by an opposing tribe to wipe out the others and the arrival of a much more sinister foe.
As is evident the story is overaching with several plot points let out, only to bring them all together by its conclusion. It manages to entice the player to keep on moving forward. Although the plot doesn’t always seem engaging, the mystery behind Aloy’s origins continually shapes up, and the player is left curious enough to keep their reservations to themselves until they find out the entire plot. Other subplots are also in place to bring more personality to the other characters as well. However, these subplots aren’t as intriguing as the main storyline as Aloy develops a sort of apathy to most characters’ concerns over time. Aloy is on the whole a brilliant protagonist with a headstrong personality and a quick wit even in the most dire of situations. She is the character with the most charming qualities with hardly anyone else coming close. A drawback of the game is the lack of development for its secondary characters. There’s small justification in that there aren’t many supporting characters that stick around long enough – Aloy switches between different tribes at a fast pace – but this raises a negative point due to the game not housing more characters as that would have made the story richer.
Aloy takes center stage as the protagonist but there’s some lost potential in other characters that could have been explored. One of these is Sylens, whose secretive ways didn’t give much of a payoff by the end, along with characters that were introduced with the implication they would grow into more solid supporting roles but ultimately are restricted to the background.
Gameplay won’t feel very similar to other games in the genre. Aloy is equipped with a number of bows that have different characteristics. These include the fire arrows, precision arrows, among others. The appropriate arrow should be equipped to deliver maximum damage. While others could get the job done you’ll feel the gravity of the situation when a boss refuses to die due to the incorrect arrow used against them. Aloy also has a spear in handy used for melee combat. Melee combat will take a backseat in general. Although it is more effective when wanting to dispose of enemies with stronger strikes, its attacks don’t throw off the enemy, which means ALoy is left vulnerable to damage herself. Enemies comprise of a mixture of cultists humans and machines. Humans are relentless in their attacks, and don’t back down despite getting hit with either the arrows or the spear. Machines greatly vary based on the location Aloy is in. In some spots they are easy to kill with a few hits from the spear while in others its best remain cautious for an all out assault might await the player if they are not too careful.
Platforming is available too but doesn’t present itself as much as one would have liked. Aloy is agile, capable of swinging, climbing and swimming, but she doesn’t have the punch required to land an absolute hit, which may frustrate some players as they might be forced to flee from a fight more times than one. A quick escape generally isn’t possible as Aloy lacks somewhat in speed when having to climb. The player can hack into machines and mount them in order to better traverse the world. The map is vast in size, and every tribe has a different feel to it that incorporates the storyline. However, the open world doesn’t have much to offer once you’re done with the main story. This is a significant drawback as the novelty of exploring the large world runs out quickly when there’s nothing much to do other than hacking some machines or fighting bandits.
Upgrading Aloy’s weapons and armor provides incentive to carry further in quests. The player could finish the story without maxing these out but for an easier route it is preferable to do so. The game doesn’t do a good job in communicating to the player of the need to regularly upgrade as the interface is a mess. Earlier on enemies are relatively easy to take down and by the time more difficult challenges appear the player is bound to have overlooked the importance of updating. Enemy parts are sold for more valuable items such as potions or armor, and it is vital not to ignore combat as these items are necessary to go forward lest you want to be stuck in an unwinnable situation against a powerful boss.
Graphics are a mixed bag. The environments are well crafted. The world is natural to the fullest, and is an appropriate depiction of nature harking mankind to its primitive state. The character models have been detailed perfectly. Each tribe’s native dress has been separately designed. Aloy is perhaps the only character to differentiate in appearance in comparison to others, who more closely resemble contemporary tribal folk, but there is justification for that as part of the story.
The negative points for the graphics would be the lack of vibrancy to the character movements. Facially they have been detailed to look like actual people, but the manner with which they speak or move is clunky at best. Characters in conversation have the same expressions whether they intend to be angry or fearful, while their gestures are recycled for every interaction. Some further work should have been done to add more life to their movements in cutscenes.
The soundtrack does its job well, especially during times of distress. In the moments the foreboding music accompanies the setting well. Meanwhile, when important revelations are made the soundtrack creeps up on you to signal a vital piece of story to ensue. The wilderness has an authentic feel to it due to the rustling of the wind that aptly whooshes through the tall grass. Voice acting is superb when it comes to Aloy and a few characters like Syles or Rost. In the matter of others it is not truly up to the mark. Relatively minor supporting characters speak in a dry manner, which isn’t helped by the lack of facial movement. You never know by tone if they mean to be threatening or not until the soundtrack informs you. By and large the acting is passable, but mainly due to the efforts of a select few who have done their jobs well.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is sure to pique the player’s interest. Where it manages to do so is up to the player themselves. The majority should be engrossed in the storyline which, while not being totally satisfying by the end, does a commendable job at holding your curiosity in its grasp. The gameplay could have been perfected to showcase more fluidity in combat, but you will be too busy trying to finish the main storyline, or upgrading Aloy to her full potential, to notice until you’ve played through hours of time. It offers an open world unlike ever seen before in gaming and for that Horizon: Zero Dawn deserves all the praise.