After finishing this game, there is still that overwhelming feeling that it went well beyond expectations and did so in great fashion.
The story revolves around Aloy, a young women trained as a hunter in order to survive the savage world she lives in. She is a motherless child raised as an outcast by a fellow outcast, Rost. Her desire to understand herself draws her directly into a civilization she knows or cares very little for. As she digs deeper into her own past she finds that there is a greater mystery in her world than herself.
From the first moments of the game, you are drawn into the world. It is an understatement to say the game looks fantastic. My experience with an original PS4 leaves me to wonder how the game could look any better on the PS4 Pro. The one visual issue I have with the game is the lip syncing of the cutscenes. The audio always seems to be off from the visuals but never quite in the same way as the last cutscene. It is a bit unsettling to have this issue since the story is such a major factor in the game. Even with this issue never resolving it did not stop me from being immersed into the world. Not only is it the looks of the game but the sounds. Firing an arrow, meleeing an enemy, and ripping metal from a machine all have sounds that carry weight. The music of the game almost feels like it is a narrator. Coming on in a tone to set the mood and somewhat foretelling what comes ahead. There were times that I had a memory of a feeling of watching Bladerunner.
Starting small then going big is how everything unfolds in this game. Everything from starting as a young child then becoming a young women to venturing out into the jungle only to find what you thought was the end to only be the beginning of a new valley to explore. There is even a graduated scale unto which the machines are introduced with small Watchers coming first leading way to massive Deathbringers later. Aloy herself grows not just physically but emotionally. How Aloy changes with her experiences and becomes more aware of her world are some of the best moments within the game.
The problems in this game are not much different than that of other games. The loading times feel like an eternity. The only happen when you first load the game or fast travel but it is a quite a nuisance. Luckily, there are no loading screens when you enter different areas. Quickly your inventory becomes a crammed mess of stuff that you don’t know when or if you’ll ever need. Knowing the uses for items could have been clearer since you keep running out of space even after upgrading your storage as much as possible. As in other quest driven games, you start out with just a few but then once you talk to a few people you now have a whole mess of them. They are divided into categories but at times the number of them you have can seem daunting. What gnawed me the most was the fast travel system. You may be in the middle of a quest only to find the next phase is somewhere across the map. The problems are that you can only fast travel to campfires you’ve already been to and you have to use a consumable even then. Did I mention you also need to craft or otherwise acquire said consumable?
What the game rewards you with is by far well worth any of its problems. Things like upgrading your skills or learning a new weapon never came off as a chore. Sure you had to earn those things but when you got them it felt good. It was definitely a satisfying feeling the first time you take down a new enemy. When you first see it and have that thought “how the f… am I going to kill that?” then a few minutes later you are looting the carcass, it feels pretty good. Exploration is astounding in this game. Many of times I found myself well off the recommended path but there was no penalty for doing so. Well, I did get a message that I need to return to the playable area a few times. Even with that the game seemed to let you go about things as you pleased, not forcing you to do exactly what they intended.
How many other games this one reminds me of was somewhat surprising. When I first decided to buy the game I thought it was going to Mass Effect like with a semi-linear, semi-open world and it is. It is also something more. Character and story elements seemed to be borrowed from the likes of Uncharted, as well as the need for wall climbing. There are also the small things of cauldrons being like tombs or campfires for save points al a Tomb Raider. Killing and pillaging felt more satisfying but still similar to Far Cry. On a personal level, I had some feelings of Halo comeback when I was doing silly jumps trying to get over and around mountains. It brought back those days of exploring the Halo maps just trying to find something interesting or that no one else had. Of course you have to have a sense of being Batman when you are scanning with your focus. I even got a little misty and upset about Horizon reminding me of Destiny in ways, the way it looks or how you can interact with the environment. However, the game that it really reminds me the most of is Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. When I could go anywhere, do anything I felt like I was in that sandbox again. There where many, many encounters I walked away from thinking that I did not go about it as they intended but all the systems are there to let me play the game my way. That was when the game felt at its best and that feeling happened often.
The breadth of this game was its biggest surprise. No spoilers but I will say that the game went far passed where I thought it would leave off. What they put into this game I had expectations to be spread across two to three games. I commend Guerrilla Games for committing this much content and story into one game. They could have strung it out but they didn’t. That is not to say that the game did not leave things open to a few sequels.
Having put just short of forty hours into the game on my initial play through, I can say with great confidence that it was well worth it. If there were ever a doubt that the makers of Killzone could do better, those doubts are over. In fact, I may say that Horizon: Zero Dawn is my most satisfying game experience in the last few years.
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A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.