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Horizon Zero Dawn review

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Summary

Our Score:

9

Pros

  • The most gorgeous console game ever made
  • So much stuff to do
  • An engaging story

Cons

  • Waypointing can be a little iffy

Available exclusively on PS4 (with PS4 Pro HDR and 4K support)

Guerilla Games has been synonymous with Killzone for well over a decade. It’s a series I’ve personally loved since it debuted in 2004, even though it’s been considered by many to be overshadowed by its competitors. For a developer to make a single series for 13 years and still deliver a title such as Horizon Zero Dawn is incredible. Not only is it comfortably the most gorgeous-looking game on PlayStation 4, but it’s also brilliant fun to play – and often verges on masterpiece levels of game design.

Let’s start with those visuals. Ahead of launch in carefully chosen gameplay footage, you’ll no doubt have seen just how stunning this game is. What’s surprising is how it remains consistently beautiful through every frame. Playing on PS4 Pro, this adventure is easily the best example of 4K and HDR I’ve yet to experience. If you’ve been looking for a reason to justify purchasing either the Pro or an expensive new TV, Zero Dawn is it.

When running around completing missions it can be easy to forget that Horizon offers beauty in every landscape. Taking the time to stop and take in the view never fails to disappoint. The lush greenery that Aloy, our flame-haired heroine, sneaks through to hunt animalistic machines, the sun-kissed desert that whips up sandstorms as she rides through the mountains or the snow-covered trees – every frame is a painting with no detail spared.

Watch: Horizon Zero Dawn review

You know a developer is confident in its game’s visuals when it includes a dedicated photo mode, and I’ve spent more time taking snaps in Horizon’s world than I have on most holidays. I’ve said it already, but this is the best-looking game on PS4. Yes, even better than Uncharted 4.

It’s also incredible how smooth the performance is. In my time with Horizon I’ve experienced hardly any issues and not a single noticeable framerate drop. The only slight quibble is occasional texture pop-in as the game is a bit late to load the surrounding scenery, but other than that, I’m often wondering how on earth this thing is running on a PS4. This was the type of experience I thought I had to buy a top-end PC to experience.

When you’re done gawking at the scenery, you’ll be moving through Aloy’s engaging and compelling story. It’s well told and assisted by excellent voice acting from every cast member. Guerilla Games has set up some excellent themes that kept me invested even when there could be hours between campaign missions.

In a post-post-apocalypse, Aloy – a young huntress based in the northern regions of a vast land – seeks to discover more about her past. She’s surrounded by a people who, in the face of fear and uncertainty, have devolved and retreated into tribalism, blind faith and violence. Aloy’s hunt for not only her past, but the past of the human civilisation that came before the divided one in which she exists, is incredibly intriguing.

Related: The Last of Us Part 2 news and rumours

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It kept me invested because this is a story unlike any other in video games. There are clear inspirations – Zero Dawn’s map structure is reminiscent of Game of Thrones, except with robots instead of White Walkers and incestuous royalty. The Nora – Aloy’s adoptive people – represent the Northern tribe, and as such are treated as savages. As the story slowly peels itself away, you’ll only become desperate to find out more. It is why my attempts to play for just 30 minutes often led to several hours of solid gameplay. The extended sessions were aided by an incredibly satisfying combat system, too.

Zero Dawn was announced at a time when it seemed every game needed a bow and arrow. Rise of the Tomb Raider and The Last of Us did it to good effect, but Aloy’s use of wood and string is the most enjoyable of the lot. Her freedom of movement on the battlefield, coupled with a vast arsenal which only grows larger, makes every encounter incredibly tactical.

Aloy must focus on stripping these vast machines of their armour, exploiting weaknesses to elemental damage or vulnerabilities in their structure to take them down. There aren’t any easy fights, either – Aloy is often the weakest dog in the fight. This is why taking on multiple enemies at once is usually futile, and in many cases it’s wiser to either avoid confrontation or stick to stealth. I’ve died plenty of times in battles, no matter how much I improved.

This doesn’t become frustrating, but what is annoying is a problem Guerilla carries over from Killzone: the lack of clear damage indication during fights. When Aloy is hit, it’s very hard to tell how close she is to death in the heat of battle. After one hit, a quick look at the health bar tells me she’s lost around 15%, so I carry on, only for her to die from seemingly innocuous attacks seconds later. It becomes incredibly annoying during the more crucial encounters, and no matter how aware you are of the problem, the act of spinning plates is too much at times. Even Call of Duty’s heavy breathing or blood spatter would be more informative.

Between fights Aloy will need to forage for resources. Horizon teeters on the brink of becoming diet Diablo with its approach to gathering everything in sight, particularly in the early hours of play, but soon you’ll become accustomed to the myriad items you must utilise. Hunting not only robots, but also the animals of the world to create health potions, new weapons, traps and more are vital in order to remain well equipped for what lies ahead, and it’s not long before you’ll be crafting plenty more and resources you believed to be plentiful quickly become empty.

Related: Prey preview

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This is why running from location to location isn’t such a chore. While there may be several miles between objectives, quick-travel isn’t always the most viable option, as gathering materials is often a necessity. It also helps that there’s a huge number of side missions to do along the way.

Guerilla has put as much thought into its side quests as the main missions, meaning I want to collect each of them and keep them in my to-do list, ticking off as many as possible before moving on to the next main campaign mission. Each has its own self-contained narrative, much like a tale in The Witcher 3, and speaking to inhabitants of the world once again is great because of the great visual design and voice acting.

In terms of what Aloy must actually do, the game doesn’t offer much variety: go here, use Aloy’s Focus to discover a track, follow it, fight the enemy. That’s more often than not the pattern of most side missions, but that’s fine as the gameplay loop is satisfying and again the stories keep me invested.

The problems arise more in the menus and UI. The waypoint system means it can often be tricky to actually get to the objective, as the marker is often all over the place. The marker that’s placed in the centre of the screen tends to follow the main pathways, whereas the marker that’s placed on the compass atop the screen is as the crow flies, meaning they’ll contradict each other, especially when Aloy ventures off the beaten track. There have been many times I’ve resorted to opening the main map and using that to guide me instead, as the in-game guide is useless and sometimes sends me on the longest route possible.

Related: For Honor review

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Another issue is with the selection of active quests. Aloy can only select one quest at a time, but this also includes tutorials which can often be completed during a main or side mission. For example, after obtaining a new weapon, its tutorial might instruct you to “kill five machines” with it. This tutorial, and its rewards, will only be earned while the quest is active, but doing so will deactivate all other quests. It’s a minor issue, but it is annoying that I can’t simultaneously complete overlapping missions.

VERDICT

I didn’t expect Horizon Zero Dawn to be this good. I doubt I’ll be the only one saying they were surprised that the Killzone developer has been able to deliver a game with such breadth, depth and consistently rewarding gameplay.

Couple all of that with a compelling story led by an engaging lead protagonist and you have a brilliant game, an absolute must-buy for all PS4 owners.

Those with a PS4 Pro and an HDR TV will find an even more beautiful experience on offer, but everybody who plays Horizon: Zero Dawn is in for an absolute treat.

Overall Score

9

LeeTronix

June 21, 2015, 8:48 pm

The preview I saw of this at E3 did not float my boat it looked boring and with a storyline that seemed typical and lacklustre. I did not think much to the graphic detail either.

That said maybe if I was to get a better closer view it might be visually much better and smoother than what I saw but as for the story I just am not feeling it...I hope its not all about running around trashing dinoandroids and that's it, please tell me it is not another different but same same same type of game!

DeathWielder1

June 21, 2015, 9:41 pm

If this game is "open world hunt mecha-dinosaurs" i am so in

sampson3121

June 23, 2015, 4:42 pm

he said as a tear fell to the ground.

LeeTronix

June 24, 2015, 8:45 am

Passes a tissue :(

I think it would be nice to always have a bigger glimpse of the story further in the game but when you just see scenes like this from game teasers to me anyway it just seems the same and they do not really showcase anything else because its really all the same, that is what gets me with these games...

Tyler Watson

January 31, 2017, 4:53 pm

Now that it's given more details, the game got me. But not at a point to pre oreder. I'd rather wait for reviews. If Watch Dogs and No Man's Sky (for examples) had a lesson to be learned, it's to never pre order a new IP unless you trust the devs 100% and you have strong confidence that the game will meet your expectations. I have been tempted to pre order, but I want to be safe that way I don't risk being sorry.

Midas Miser

January 31, 2017, 9:24 pm

Absolutely correct, Tyler. I made the same mistake as you with No Man's Sky.

Tyler Watson

February 1, 2017, 4:57 pm

For sure. It's a shame. I was on the fence about pre ordering NMS, but what they advertised got me tempted. When the disappointment got me, I simply decided to just get the Platinum trophy then get rid of it. I am admittedly tempted to pre order Horizon because everyone who got their hands on it was nearly always positive about the game only with only a couple ignorable negatives. And since I played a lot of Bloodborne and Rise of the Tomb Raider in recent months, I'm no stranger to high paced difficulty, stealth, and studying enemy movements, along with the fact I love Elder Scrolls and enjoyed Killzone 3 and Shadow Fall despite their flaws. So Horizon might just be right up my ally. I love challenging games. If I pre order, I'll have to really think about it as anyone should if the "pre order syndrome" gets you.

Vanessa Bouchard

February 7, 2017, 4:53 pm

Seems to me that it's going to be alot like Witcher 3, wich is not at all a bad thing

LeeTronix

February 7, 2017, 5:00 pm

I hope you are right :)

Yummy Bear

February 9, 2017, 6:53 pm

I loved NMS though, even with its short comings.

L4lefty

February 20, 2017, 5:08 pm

Pre-ordering is a blight on gaming, so well done you for being shrewd & patient. If more people did this, we wouldn't get developer/publisher lies, hyperbole & half-finished games as much as we do.

mode11

February 20, 2017, 6:26 pm

Not sure why you'd ever pre-order anything. There's always plenty of games to play - why not wait a couple of weeks to read reviews and for the price to halve on Amazon? The shelves are usually heaving in CEX too, once everyone's beaten a campaign mode.

Tyler Watson

February 22, 2017, 2:00 am

First off, I get really repulsive when it comes to something I really want so I'd be dying on the inside if I chose to hold off. As for Horizon, I am very confident in the game. Third, the day you post, reviews had been released. I've known for a while the game was gonna have its embargo lifted early, so if it was bad, I could just cancel my pre order. But I won't need to because the reviews have been very positive. Last I checked, the new IP has an 88 on Metacritic. You know the game is good if presented well and nothing is hidden without spoilers. Look how Mafia 3 was presented, and it was a disappointing game. Nothing but cut scenes and epic gameplay. Ubisoft's For Honor only showed combat and maps, and that's the only real good thing about it.

Wyatt King

February 28, 2017, 3:35 pm

Time to rejoice!

Aaron Dougherty

February 28, 2017, 7:58 pm

Another big game for Ps4 likely to be rolled out with many issues with the thought from developers that they can just patch the issues. I remember a time when they used to have to actually put time and effort into games because they didn't have a 'second chance' to fix it online.I predict major problems on release.

Uedukai

February 28, 2017, 8:08 pm

aaaaand there were no problems on release. Game runs awesome.

Uedukai

February 28, 2017, 8:12 pm

You mean 'impulsive'. Repulsive means you don't want it. I would get in the habit of looking at what developers made games with a bad track record. Guerrilla Games has a very good track record, and has been working on Horizon for the past 6 years. Nothing at all like No Man's Sky lol (which was pretty obvious to be a bad game from the get-go to anyone that did a bit of research)

WireframeMonster

March 2, 2017, 4:51 pm

Yep the game is pretty sweet! No issues here. I bought the collector's edition and I don't regret it. Plus the statue is awesome. The game is intense. The controls are so smooth and accurate. I always choose to be a hunter in games that give me the option and this is everything I could want from a hunter.

Jaunty Hats

March 3, 2017, 11:16 pm

How stupid do you feel about being so wrong now? LOL

Tyler Watson

March 6, 2017, 7:01 am

Yeah impulsive, my mistake. Fair enough, but also know, devs with great track records have released a bad seed or two. And devs with awful track records have released gems before. People had high hopes for NMS due to its concept. I'm a believer of molding from bad decisions. I made a poor decision, but it made me wiser. You don't get scars without injuries. Just like you don't learn unless there is something to be learned like mistakes.

Tyler Watson

March 6, 2017, 7:07 am

And anti-pre order extremism will not do anything to change that. Pre orders are fine. You just need to know what you're buying. It's a no brainer to avoid pre ordering games with bad deals or blatant cash grabs and/or if you have low confidence, or signs point it being disappointing. I always looked at pre ordering as a method to buy a game and you're on a budget. So you gradually pay instead of paying up front. I always pre order the standard edition of the game I look forward to. If I love it enough, I'll purchase the DLC.

L4lefty

March 6, 2017, 2:02 pm

I'm not willing to offer a penny, or even agree to an intent to buy blindly (understanding I can have my money back, of course) ANY product before I see it, read reviews, or know with a reasonable degree of confidence what I am buying. Not just for because it doesn't make sense to me, but the principle of it too. The logic in asking me to order a product simply on trust to ensure day one access is cynical, greedy, and actually...just not a good enough incentive. All the more so since our rights as consumers for digital products are typically: open the box it's not going back, or download & no refunds. As with those two examples, the law is seemingly far more opaque than for other kinds of purchases.
Factor in review embargoes, rip-off DLC/season passes, content hiding behind a paywall, release delays, broken promises/badly coded games at launch (Not fit for purpose for most any other types of purchase), & other issues...pre-ordering simply feeds & endorses bad practices. Not the consumer's fault, but as an individual I can have my little say by not offering to buy a game before it's even out.
I've never felt left-out on release day when maybe I had to wait a few hours, or days because I didn't guarantee a copy of a game. Patience is a virtue. I'll pass on that weapon skin, or a few in-game credits, perks & other feeble incentives without losing too much sleep. I'll grind a bit harder instead.
I absolutely respect your choice to differ, Tyler. Fair play to you mate. I wouldn't describe a position of not liking pre-ordering as extreme, I'm just not willing to feed a cynical practice based on greed that exploits gamers more frequently than it benefits them. For any game.

VRWatchman .com

March 6, 2017, 6:34 pm

Thanks for deep review!

VRWatchman .com

March 6, 2017, 6:35 pm

haha!

Bugblatter

March 9, 2017, 11:31 pm

It's worth mentioning HDR also works on the original PS4; I'm using it with this game.

I've yet to really see what the HDR hype is all about, and I've watched a fair bit of HDR content. However this is a beautiful game with or without HDR (yes I tried it both ways).

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