Wow, so here I thought I had already reviewed Horizon Zero Dawn, but instead I had blogged about how excited I was for it to arrive. If you’re interested you can read that blog post here.
Well, Horizon’s been out for nearly 8 months now. I remember the day I bought it. I spent around $90 for the digital deluxe edition. At the time I thought it was a good deal, but in hindsight, not really. I won’t talk about that edition, but I found the stuff included in the package was okay, not fantastic.
Let’s talk about Horizon Zero Dawn. The story is set in the 31st century, in a world where humans have regressed to primitive tribal societies due to some disaster that happened in the past. Their technologically advanced predecessors are vaguely remembered as the “Old Ones.” The buildings and ruins can be found scattered across the land. Machines dominate the Earth, and some appear to resemble animals we love such as horses, or t-rex dinosaurs. They used to peacefully coexist with humans, who occasionally hunt them for parts, but then they started to become corrupted causing machines to be very aggressive toward humans. Not to mention that bigger and deadlier machines have been unearthed to reek havoc on the land. There are three tribes that are prominently featured: the Nora, the Carja, and the Oseram. The Nora are fierce hunter-gatherers who live in the mountains and worship nature as the “All-Mother.” The Carja are desert-dwelling city builders who worship the Sun. The Oseram are tinkerers known for their metalworking, brewing, and arguing.
HZD (Horizon Zero Dawn) is a role playing game where the player plays Aloy in a 3rd person perspective in an open world environment. She’s our female protagonist, and I must say I love this. Not many games feature strong women in a leading role in video games. And less so in modest, normal clothing. I applaud Guerrilla Games. Aloy is very curious about the Old Ones and their fate. The story is centered around her curiosity and what she finds in the ruins. For one, her Focus.
A Focus is a small device worn by human users that served as a multipurpose neural interface. This device is responsive to the user’s gestures and voice, and displays a visual 3D interface visible only to them, aiding in the operation of machinery and technology alike, as well as in communications. Aloy finds her focus in the ruins near her home when she’s a child and from then on she relies on her focus to help her in many ways:
- Scanning machines and registering their information, including weaknesses, in the machine catalogue in the notebook. This briefly leaves them and their weak points highlighted.
- Optionally places a trail on the ground indicating a machine’s patrol route.
- Decoding datapoints, glyphs, and vantage points.
- Revealing tracks or evidence left behind by humans or machines.
Let’s move on to other aspects of the game. Aloy has a skill tree which helps a lot with the game. If you purchased the Frozen Wilds DLC, then you’ll get an additional 12 skill tree slots, some of which I absolutely love as I can harvest more amazing parts when I take down machines. Super helpful when you run out of resources and you need to get more. This cuts down on grind time. As you’ll see in the screenshot below, the Traveler skills on the far right are only available if the DLC is installed.
There are also many merchants scattered around the world (is it strange I don’t know the name of Aloy’s land?). Visiting each one will give the player a variety of different weapons and resources to buy, and this is in the loading tips, but it’s only partially true. What you do want to do when visiting a merchant is buy their free box. Each one has one and who doesn’t like free things? You can’t revisit the same merchant twice and get another box. Once bought, that’s it. Another thing merchants sell are maps. There are four maps that cover all four types of major collectibles; Metal Flowers, Banuk Figures, Ancient Vessels and Vantages. These collectibles are the hardest to find, and the most non-essential (but super valuable!). The maps will allow the player to see the general location of each collectible. Collecting each set will allow the player to exchange them for a reward box with a specific vendor in Meridian. In the Frozen Wilds downloadable content, or The Cut as the area is called, there are also collectibles there, but these maps must be purchased from merchants with blue symbols and only when you reach that area.
There are many gameplay mechanics available to Aloy in HZD. One of them is being able to override certain machines so you can have your very own mount. Sadly the only machines Aloy can ride are broadheads, chargers and striders. Using her focus she can find weaknesses on all the machines to take them down faster. Another important aspect is that even though Aloy can override these small machines early in the game doesn’t mean she can override everything. You, as a player, must guide Aloy through the land to find Cauldrons. These are ancient areas built by the Old Ones. They’re identified by the large, metallic, triangular entrances guarded by machines. Cauldrons aren’t exactly easy. I remember a friend of mine entered one when he was only level 10 or 15, and when he reached its core, he was confronted with a new, ultra large machine. He was stuck in this room and had to take it down (along with the two watchers). He told me he couldn’t take it down and was stuck in there for days, and had to revert to an older save to escape. That’s the thing. Once you enter, you cannot just fast travel away. This is a no-going-back zone until it’s complete. So when you do play this game, make sure you’re at least the level required. I believe the map will say the level of the intense areas. Same goes with corrupted zones. There are some easy ones, and there there are zones that require you to be level 30+ due to the difficulty of the machines. Okay, so going back to overriding machines. This is an awesome mechanic. It doesn’t work on corrupted machines, but it does on the normal ones. Let’s say you reached an area and there are 5 longleg machines. These are nasty. If you stealth approach one (this is important!!! They can’t see or hear you coming or it won’t work) and override it, it will fight the other machines. One important detail though, you cannot control it or give it commands. But I love watching it destroy other machines. Of course if you can override multiple machines, you have a better chance. Now, if you start attacking the non-overriden machines at the same time, they will start to attack Aloy instead and then you have to fight multiple machines off, unless you can successfully go into stealth mode again (which doesn’t always happen). If you use Tearblast arrows from your Sharpshot bow once on specific components on the machines, they might be puzzled but will not attack. Tearblast arrows are my favorite. Other mechanics is being able to upgrade Aloy’s purchased weapons and outfits with modifications. You can scavenge low-end mods from smaller machines, and boss-like machines (such as the Thunderjaw (kind of looks like a T-rex without arms equipped with cannons on its face and a disc launcher on its back). Defeating these will sometimes give you better modifications. If these machines happen to coincide with a side quest (say for the Hunting Ground trophy) then you’ll get purple mods which are the best ones. I love that the best and strongest of anything is purple. It’s my favourite colour.
Then we have side quests and errands. Unlike other open world games designed by other companies that fill the world with useless junk just to make their games longer (cough *Ubisoft* cough) this game is done nicely and well with the side quests and errands. I very much enjoyed doing the side quests and errands because they add to the story instead of just filling up the world with nonsense to make the game last longer. I remember finding an errand in a settlement where a wife and husband had a fight, and Aloy was tasked to finding the husband. I find him huddled on a hill. When I speak to him, he tells me all his beer casks are in the field below among a herd of Tramplers. I have to say it was the most memorable errand I had to do in the game. Since new game plus came out, I haven’t found it, but I found a different side quest where this crazy man wants to drink the blood of various machines. Haha. You never know what you’ll find when you explore the area.
Finally we have the new DLC, The Frozen Wilds. Just look at that… so cold, so snowy!
I thought for some reason that the DLC would be separate from the main game the same way Naughty Dog set up the Left Behinds. But nope. In fact, they added a new section of the map up above the Banuk settlement and in order to unlock it, Aloy must find the appropriate quest giver. There are 4 of them scattered across the map, and thankfully has a blue icon which is unlike any other icon in the game so it’s easier to see them (if you’re in the general area). Guerrilla Games suggests you be at least level 30 to start the DLC but when I went in I was already level 50 with all the best weapons, and I found it super hard. The new machines… holy crap. Intense! I do love the new additional stories they’ve added, and in total (including finding all the collectibles) it’s a good solid 15 hours of extra gameplay.
All in all this is one solid game and it’s worth the money spent. Even better though, in December, 2017 they will be releasing the complete edition which I will assume contains the DLC for $60 CAD. That way those who missed the Black Friday sale will still get a chance to grab the game.
Things I liked about this game:
- I have a special affinity for games with female protagonists, especially ones that are not scantily dressed with absurdly large breasts. I like that Aloy looks normal, and is properly dressed, and she’s sarcastic and a bad-ass.
- This is the first and only open world game where I was genuinely interested in finding all the collectibles.
- The machines. Love them all.
- The environment and the graphics. So spectacular.
Things I didn’t like :
- I was totally expecting some amazing cutscenes when Aloy sees her first Tallneck. Some people said it was like The Last of Us when Ellie encounters the herd of giraffe, except in HZD I didn’t get a cutscene. So the the new machine encounters were less enthralling.
- The facial animation when having conversations….. I can tell it was done by hand and not with the new tech that Naughty Dog uses. It felt off, but meh, it’s not super important.
I highly recommend this indie game by Guerrilla Games. They know how to make an excellent game, and I hope they create more in the future with better improved facial animations 🙂
My rating? 10/10
Should you play this? Definitely!!
Bitchin’ Gamer Girl