Last week, I travelled to Guerrilla Games in Amsterdam to play over four hours of Horizon: Zero Dawn, which were two main sections of the campaign. They were widely different, with the first session containing the intro cutscene of the game as well as the first three chapters. The second section revealed a lot more of the map and world as a whole, as well as Aloy’s arsenal of weaponry.
ALOY’S FIRST STEPS
This initial section excited me for Aloy as a character. Watching her develop in these initial stages from a baby, to a young child is something that I was pleasantly surprised to see. You’re discovering this world as Aloy grows up and see its for herself.
Although it’s not all show and tell, as it isn’t long before you’re stumbling through caves with Aloy, learning more about the lore of the world and seeing Aloy begin to learn to craft and hunt.
In these early stages, we’re introduced to Rost, who is a fellow member of the Nora tribe and Aloy’s only protector in the entire game. At least initially, Aloy has been branded an outcast by the rest of her tribe, and it’s not immediately clear. It is clear however, that Aloy is different. Interestingly enough, she’s the only red-head in the entire game, which immediately suggests she may be from a different place.
As a stubborn and independent female figure, it isn’t long before Aloy spreads her wings and begins to defy Rost. Their relationship is one of the story-arcs that interests me most about the Horizon: Zero Dawn plot.
In these initial stages, it becomes clear just how well Guerrilla Games have done with motion capture. The performances by these characters are believable and probably the most true-to-life forms that I’ve seen in a video game. Every single strand on Rost’s hair seem to have a life of their own. Similarly, Aloy’s hair is a fine piece of technology, as it floats in the wind.
I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but Guerrilla might have outdone Naughty Dog in creating the most beautiful PlayStation 4 game. Considering this game is completely open world and features an extensive amount of different locations, weather variations and day/night cycles. Guerrilla deserve to be applauded for these stunning visuals alone.
Whilst most post-apocalyptic games go for a more dull, grey colour palette, Horizon: Zero Dawn constantly changes it up. The world of Horizon is lush, vibrant, majestic and absolutely loved by nature.
Although this world is as equally dangerous, as it is beautiful. Initially, you’re faced with killing robots such as the Watcher and the Broadhead. These two robots couldn’t be more different in both your approach to kill them and in the way they react towards you. The Watcher with its keen eye, acts as almost a protector to the Broadhead and other animals. And as you as you get in its sight, a flock of 2-3 will come for you. The broad head on the other hand is incredibly timid and will flee as soon as you make your attack.
Each enemy has different weak points and different levels of armour. They are also susceptible to different weapon types (poison, fire, ice etc). What surprised me most with Horizon: Zero Dawn though, was the fact that there is over 25 different robots which react differently, based on what other robots they’re in close proximity to. For instance, when Watchers are placed with Broadheads, they’re a piece of cake, but when you place them with a Shell-Walker (Crab-like robot) or a more aggressive robot, it becomes a whole different fight.
The combat in Horizon: Zero Dawn is satisfying. Starting out with the bow, which I always felt like I had great control of, you will gain other weapons such as the Tie Rope and Shock Wire, which will allow you to stabilise the robots and make them easier targets.
THE WORLD OPENING UP
The second section (set around Chapter 7) allowed me to explore the whole map freely, which allowed me to toy with more of Aloy’s arsenal and the wide variety of mission types.
I’m not the biggest Action-RPG fan in all honesty, but Guerrilla Games seems to have found a really good balance between action and customisation. The skill tree as well as weapon customisation is reminiscent of Far Cry Primal or Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Skills are divided into three sections:
Prowler, which is based around stealth. An example of a skill is being able to strike silently or slow down time whilst aiming.
Brave, focuses on combat. Skills are simple as increasing melee attacks or getting an extra arrow for every shot.
Forager, allows Aloy to be at her resourceful best. This includes skills such as foraging an extra resource or healing quicker.
All of your weapons can be modded with coils that can be discovered within the world and foraged from enemies. They can be used once and allow you improve the attack of a weapon, or add special elemental damage to your weapons.
You can also modify your outfit, traps, potions as well as upgrade your ammo capacity to truly turn Aloy into the hunting machine or stealth warrior that you desire.
Upon entering this section in the game, I realised just how huge this world actually was. You’ll often need to scale a giraffe-like robot called the Tallneck, in order to get better visibility over the map and find other robots, objectives and points of interest in the local area.
Completionists will either be happy or sad to know that there’s quite a lot of different missions to discover and complete in Horizon: Zero Dawn. You’ve got your main missions, side quests and errands which you’ll discover whilst exploring the open world.
There’s also hunting trials, which essentially will have you defeat a number of beasts in a certain amount of time. You can also take over other settlements. I found these incredibly tough as you’re essentially taking on entire tribes who are complete with flaming arrows. It requires a completely different mindset to when you’re taking on robots.
It wasn’t before long that I discovered the Cauldrons. These are essentially dungeons placed through the world of Horizon. They obviously serve a great purpose in the overall story and were easily the most intriguing and exciting part of the game. It’s not clear how many are placed within the world, but they were incredibly challenging. A mix of puzzle solving, intense platforming and incredibly challenging battles with robots, these areas are unforgiving. They were also incredibly intriguing visually. Think of them as lairs that look like they have a robotic life of their own.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is shaping up to be the best and most exciting PlayStation 4 exclusive. Guerrilla Games has really stepped up from their linear FPS days to create an open-world full of life, mystery and intrigue. The robotic animals provide a reason to explore this vast world and the story looks set to delight. Horizon: Zero Dawn definitely borrows some ideas from other open-world games, but it combines them to create something special.
Horizon: Zero Dawn releases exclusively on PlayStation 4 on March 1st. Press Start visited Guerrilla Games in Amsterdam as a guest of PlayStation to go hands-on with Horizon: Zero Dawn.
You can find more of our impressions HERE.