A New, Yet Old World – A Horizon: Zero Dawn Review
Oh boy, oh boy. The next big RPG since Witcher 3 finally hit shelves and I can’t even contain my excitement. Getting straight to the nitty gritty! Horizon: Zero Dawn!
As many are aware, Horizon: Zero Dawn was masterfully developed by Killzone series team, Guerrilla Games. What some aren’t aware of however, is the lead writer also worked on Bethesda and CD Projekt Red series’, Fallout and The Witcher, respectively. If that doesn’t set the bar on how incredible HZD is going to be, I don’t know what does.
Everything about this game is extremely well done. The sweat and blood Guerrilla injected into this project is most evident, and I hope they continue their RPG game (no pun intended). It’s difficult to tear myself away. World building, score, dialogue, art design, graphics…every single aspect has been painstakingly detailed. It is the best RPG I have had the pleasure of immersing myself into since The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
There are a plethora of reasons to my comparison (the obvious influences will remain unmentioned), but the only one truly worth discussing is substance. Guerrilla has created something profound with its new IP only a few echelon developers have mastered: a place to belong within a world faintly familiar, yet seemingly uncharted. Obviously, the world itself is our own, a millennium into the future, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
What makes HZD so groundbreaking is how it handles its character development. A bildungsroman of sorts, the narrative begins as players find their footing with young Aloy: a girl cast out of her tribe for lack of any direct parentage. For reasons shrouded in mystery, this girl was abandoned by her blood, left to fend the wilds on her own. She is taken under the wing of another outcast (again, we do not yet know why), Rost, and raised as a hunter. Aloy fast becomes an expert, utilizing bow and spear and eventually finds herself on the trail of answers to the two largest questions we have as a species: “how did I get here?” and “what is my purpose?”
So far, this all sounds fairly average as far as coming of age tales go, but that is where the monotony is discarded.
It is a narrative about belief. About science. About how to choose between what you have been raised to believe and the truth.
In the midst of a whirlwind childhood–where most would falter–Aloy finds her strength and against all odds, finds a place to belong. She has a strong, yet nurturing personality and is ever-curious about her world. She is sweet, yet sarcastic and never lets anyone use her, or others as a doormat. She serves as an allegory for those who have suffered a similar fate in their real lives, and shines a glimmer of hope that whatever demons plague the mind, can be overcome. It is a narrative of strength.
All this occurs naturally within the narrative and even the open world; nothing feels forced or disconnected. As Aloy grows in mental acuity and physical strength, so does her curiosity, and we players along with her. We learn who she is through her morality and beliefs. She is perhaps one of the most genuine characters to grace Sony’s main stage since Uncharted.
Aloy’s development track would be impossible without a believable world, and Horizon: Zero Dawn gives us exactly that. It is an extremely well-built world, with beautiful vistas, crumbling ruins, and dark secrets. Graphical rendering is off the charts. It’s perhaps the most detailed and beautifully realized worlds [again] since Uncharted: A Thief’s End.
Lighting and its infamous effect, shadow, play a melodious tune in this world, along with real time day/night cycles and weather systems. Torrential rain, cloudy skies, fog, even sandstorms make this world feel truly alive and coupled with the deep stories each region tells, it is as much a character as Aloy herself.
It is rife with deeply developed NPCs who have their own motivations, morals, attitudes, belief systems, and tribes to which they belong. Each tribe has their own religions by which they are informed and live. It is these same religious shackles from which Aloy seeks to find truth, a truth that would shake the foundations of her world. For obvious spoilery reasons, we won’t discuss much further than this: be prepared to feel many emotions.
That being said, it’s time to move to gameplay. And honestly, there isn’t much to discuss. It works, and it works very well. My only gripe is the lack of target tracking, but it really isn’t necessary. Bow and arrow are visceral in combat, and nothing feels much better than removing a disc launcher from a thunderjaw and using it against its previous owner. There is a plethora of ammo types, from the staple elemental types, to sonic blast arrows and proximity sling rounds, and let me tell you–you will need to utilize every type throughout your time in this gorgeous, yet lethal land.
All of this occurs amidst an equally beautiful score, vamping during combat, solemn during touching moments, and ambient in times of rest. The score has as much a hand in this game’s propensity for amazement as its world design and character development brethren.
I could talk so much more about this game, but I will only say this: Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game that enters what I call the “soul level.” The soul level is a place in the human consciousness where truly remarkable events are kept safe, reflected upon, and adored in awe and amazement. This is a place games like The Last of Us, and The Witcher series, or books such as Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, even music like one of my favorites, Erra’s newest album Drift reside. A place held close to my heart.
That being said HZD is a narrative that must be experienced through play, rather than recanted. It is a narrative which I hope will affect you as much as it did myself. Guerrilla and their mastery of science fiction outdid themselves and I already eagerly await a sequel.
See you soon, readers. Like seriously, soon. Two more reviews coming from me this month!