PlatformOVERALL
PlayStation 49.40
Overall 9.40
Guerrilla Games has had success with the Killzone franchise but I think it's safe to say they were never viewed as a top class studio. So when it was announced they would be making a gigantic open world action RPG it was met with some trepidation, would they have the chops to pull it off. The answer is a resounding yes, so much so that I question why they ever wasted their time making FPSs in the first place, Horizon is their masterpiece. With the hiring of key writers from some of gamings best told stories, the team at Guerrilla have crafted one of the most exciting and thrilling open world games ever made with a story that can hang with the best gaming has to offer.

Horizon excels in all the main pillars that make a compelling open world RPG; combat, exploration, and story. What sets it apart from others is how visceral and unpredictable the combat is. The core concept that got so many excited when it was first revealed is that you hunt robot dinosaurs with primitive like weapons. Aloy doesn't have giant guns, instead she sets trip wires, lays mines, can wrangle a giant beast with rope. These weapons all serve a purpose, they are all useful in different situations and they create a sense of creativity as figuring out how to approach a battle is almost as fun as executing that plan. The battles turn into a spectacle of explorations, fire, lasers, all of them thrilling and filled with unexpected moments because of the emergent AI present. Many times my well thought out plan was thrown out the window because an entire pack of scrapers decides to jump into the fray and all hell breaks loose. Those moments of the unexpected is what makes every encounter have the potential to be a memorable gaming moment. In fact my favorite moments from the game didn't come from a scripted mission but from a chance encounter in the random world that turned into a unique battle to me and my game.

The combat being fast, fluid and dangerous is just one half of the equation; there still needs to be something compelling to battle and Horizon gives us quite possibly the most interesting collection of in game enemies ever put into an open world. They range from your smaller grunt like enemies to gigantic T-Rex sized beasts that would be a set boss battle in any respectable game, but for Horizon it's just something you fight along the way. The reason these enemies work is how deep their movesets and weaknesses are. Each enemy can be scanned to reveal individual components which can systematically be ripped apart to alter the available attacks and powers the beast has. There is almost nothing in gaming as awesome as shooting a giant laser off the back of a robo T-Rex then using that gun on it. There are about 25 robot variations and while that doesn't sound like a lot they are all so unique in their own way, make use of so many different strategies that it never got old fighting them.

The AI system helps tremendously in keeping the world exciting. Unlike Witcher 3 where every battle is static and sort of it's own mini arena; Horizon has emergent gameplay. NPCs will battle robots on their own and you can jump in to help out. Aloy gets the ability to override robots to turn them into allies which creates moments that look like something out of a Godzilla movie. This game invites the player to battle everything they find not just because it gives valuable resources but because it's so much fun.

I love the loot system loop they have going on in this game. In many RPGs the quest for loot simply serves the purpose to become overpowered and kill everything. In Horizon loot is needed to fight, to heal and to upgrade weapons. All ammo takes components to create, those components are found on the robots, therefore you need to fight to get what you need to fight some more; a great loop that encourages hunting. All the crafting is well handled with a simple push of a button which can be accessed on the fly real time. The RPG elements aren't as pronounced as in most RPGs but weapons and gear do have stats and mods which can be customized to create some powerful buffs. For instance my best stealth armor combined with rare level stealth mods makes me almost invisible to enemies. I love this approach to building your character, nothing is unbalanced where you feel that you overleveled too much, instead the game gives you the tools to adapt better to different situations.

Exploration and the design of the open world is another aspect Horizon excels at. No hyperbole here, Horizon has the most beautiful open world ever put in a game, period. The terrain covers so many different styles of geography with breathtaking landscapes that are filled with meaningful stuff to do. Yes you can say Horizon still follows the map filled with icons of so many Ubisoft games but it's not to the extent of the worst offenders. The stuff you find is usually tied to something interesting to do whether it's using the uncharted like climbing system to do all kinds of platforming or discovering another piece of the compelling story. There are activities and side quests that respect the player and have good content, not a total waste of a fetch quest. Don't expect a super populated world with hundreds of NPCs to talk to like an Elder Scrolls game, instead populated areas have a few key NPCs, each with a good story to tell.

Witcher 3 was clearly an influence with the mission design of this game. They took the best parts, how every side quest has some detailed story, but unlike witcher 3 this one has awesome combat so it makes the quests more rewarding. Many quests do fall into the follow the glowy path of light to your objective, a minor inconvenience and one where hopefully they find ways to involve the player more in allowing us to discover things on our own. While the side quests aren't as numerous as witcher, every one seemed to serve a purpose not just for good gameplay but they influence the story in small ways. What I loved most about the side quests is that they tended to focus more on the robots, for instance one side quest lead me to a battle against something that could be a final boss in most games.

Frankly the main missions might be one of the weaker aspects. There are some amazing moments in them but there is a large chunk of it where the story wants to pit Aloy against humans rather than robots. The human enemies represent the worst part of the combat; they are stupid, have very few attacks or variety, and are not compelling enemies in any way. I'm glad that it's super easy to simply stealth kill them because open combat with them is just a mess. The juxtaposition between human battles and robot battles is immense and it further highlights why the human battles are so mundane by comparison. So why do so many main missions make the humans the main enemy, it's weird.

I wouldn't fret though because the main purpose of the main campaign is to propel you through this amazing story that is filled with incredible lore. The way this game presents the story is through massive dumps of exposition told through audio files or holograms. Granted this is not the best way to tell a story but it fits in the context of what Aloy is going through, the player and Aloy are both uncovering the secrets of the past together. Man what a story it is; as a sci-fi fan I was totally enthralled with every new morsel of information and want this new world expanded upon. The writing is exceptional, especially in some of the journals you find around the world, they don't just explain what occurred in the past, they also always tie it with human drama. There is a totally optional side quest involving one man's journal entries and this one side story is so well told and emotional that it's like a great small novel all on its own.

I cannot say enough about the main character Aloy, she is instantly one of the gamings greatest characters. She is smart, funny, sarcastic, doesn't take shit, but always has a heart and cares for others in a way that's inspiring. To say something like she is a role model for women is too limited, she is a role model for anyone. The game is filled with great NPCs, a good villain and touches on themes like religion and the dangers of unchecked human advancements. I knew fighting robot monsters would be awesome, what I never expected was a story this great from the studio that gave us Killzone.

The artists at GG are technical wizards, this looks stunning for a linear 5 hour game, but somehow it's open world. The models are generally great but their animation is a step down from Uncharted, hopefully next game they get to use the motion capture studio ND uses.  All the voice acting is great, the music a perfect blend of tribal and sci-fi beats. This game is a technical marvel, it runs perfectly, basically no issues, short load times; why aren't games like this. It's magic, it's absurd.

Horizon Zero Dawn is a landmark game for not only Guerrilla Games but for Sony. Each generation PlayStation gets a new franchise that becomes the de facto mascot, well PS4 now has its franchise. Horizon may borrow many elements from other open world games, it may not be reinventing the open world formula but I can say with certainty that no game has the enemy design and combat that this game allows in an open world. Horizon shows what happens when stellar storytelling and compelling combat comes together in a beautiful open world, it's gaming magic.



Posted by Dvader Thu, 02 Mar 2017 22:50:58
 
Fri, 03 Mar 2017 10:51:43
Great review my friend, I can tell you really got into this one.
I give them credit for doing something like this instead of another fucking FPS like most studios in their position would do. And itvseems like they just found out that they're actually BETTER at this sort of game than they are at shooters....so maybe a new direction for the company.

I totally want to play this but it's going to be awhile, just like Zelda I'm holding off for now. My backlog is too much...it's actually bothering me now. And there's a game coming out in 3 weeks that I pretty much have to play...Mass Effect 4 is my Zelda. But its good to know games like this are waiting for me.
 
Sat, 04 Mar 2017 22:18:23
Not going to read this review yet for fear of spoilers, but if I had to choose between this or Nioh for my GOTY right at this moment, it would actually go to Nioh. Maybe I'm just not far enough in yet. Also a testament to how good Nioh is. Where's your review of it or why aren't you playing it?
 
Sat, 04 Mar 2017 22:21:15
Zelda, man.
 
Sat, 04 Mar 2017 22:23:50
Maybe Zelda will be my GOTY when/if I get a Switch, but for now, I have incredible enough games to play.

Or are you just giving a reason for Vader's and everyone else's ignoring of Nioh?
 
Sat, 04 Mar 2017 22:29:52
You asked why he wasn't playing and where was his review, so yeah, I'm responding to both.
 
Mon, 06 Mar 2017 15:47:44
I didn't like the nioh beta but I heard they changed it a bunch.
 
Mon, 06 Mar 2017 18:10:27
Make sure you give it a chance. It's probably the best, most fun Souls style game yet. Souls with quirk and fighting styles somewhat similar to what you'd see in a modern Ninja Gaiden... It's incredible! I've played about 80 hours of it already and haven't gotten tired of it yet!
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