Once in a while, throughout the gaming industry, there are games that are made and distributed for our consumption and fail right out of the gate. There are others that do well and go down as wonderfully made games. Then there are the few that come out that take our hearts, minds, and souls and change the gaming industry forever. While Horizon Zero Dawn isn’t the completely latter of the three, it really isn’t the two former either. It is an amazing spectacle of gaming ingenuity with a dense and mysterious story and yet seems familiar with every step. It can sometimes lull into monotonous actions but somehow always brings us back to greatness. Let’s break Horizon Zero Dawn down together and I can explain myself.

The Story – You Grow Into It

In Horizon Zero Dawn you play as Aloy (Pronounced: Ā-loy), a girl who lives in the primitive future after the machines have overrun the world. When our story starts off, however, you are only just a baby making her way, with her, what seems to be, ‘adoptive’ father named Rost. They travel up beautiful snowy landscapes while he explains the ritual to a tiny infant (and us, the audience). After about a five-minute opening cut-scene showing off the kind of people and landscape the game takes place in they show a bit more with a hurried blessing-baby naming-ritual, again establishing the primitive take on how religion and beliefs run a society, the story skips a few years and you start the game off as a six-year-old Aloy.

This was actually a very clever way to sneak in the normal ‘training’ you get in the beginning of a story. Rost trains you in hunting, shooting your bow, foraging, sneaking in the long grass, running, and all that stuff that normally is text on a screen (which is still there) while clearly giving the opening motivation and story to the game. It’s established multiple times throughout this part that Aloy and Rost are outcasts and the rest of the tribe look down upon it. makes way for the next montage and change over for Aloy.

The rest of the story takes place after Aloy is all grown up and adventuring for herself.  Without spoiling too much for you, she is made (by the matriarchs of the Nora clan) a “Seeker” and travels a huge, vast, gorgeous landscape. There is a big mystery of who Aloy is, where she comes from, who her mother was, and why all these machines are becoming huge and dangerous that the story progresses as you play though. Most of the story is incredibly intriguing, and obviously, some parts can lull a bit, but overall it is a compelling mystery.

There are some wonderful little side quests that distract you from time to time as well. Usually, these are just for the level growth and experience but once in a while the tracking and hunting are so exciting you lose yourself in the quest.

However, when it comes down to it, the best part of the entire story is Aloy herself. Aloy’s personality was what made me care about her journey. Her struggle to face any opposition was more prevalent to me because of her emotional rollercoaster. If you didn’t know, Aloy is voiced by Ashly Burch (known for her performance as Borderlands 2’s Tiny Tina) which definitely adds to the charm. She’s a fun character to play as because of the wit that tempers her big-hearted, strong, independent heroinism. Many of her interaction feel like a Bioware Dragon Age or Mass Effect set up. You are given information through a word wheel and you lead the conversation. Though you will have some say in the way she responds to certain situations, as either an angsty outcast, hopeful full-hearted person, or an intellectual, witty character. This comes usually in the interests of dialogue flavor. However, no matter how you react, she remains, largely, a well-intentioned character, which continues with Horizon’s broader story.

Gameplay – Wide World of Adventure

This is really where Horizon Zero Dawn gets to shine. Once Aloy is out in the big dangerous world, the gameplay takes a huge step. The game can be labeled as an Action RPG, much like Witcher 3 or Skyrim. So, there will be part of the gameplay that just feels like you are grinding by killing dino-animal-robots of all shapes and sizes. I promise you that if you grind it out and stick with it the game really pays off.

As ‘grindy’ as it may feel to some, Horizon Zero Dawn‘s combat is really its most compelling feature. This is in thanks to the variety found within 26 distinct species of animal-like machines that roam its great far-future expanse. These beasts have several weak points that can be scanned using Aloy’s Focus (a futuristic piece of tech that gives you heightened senses), and hitting different points can have different effects that change the way the battle for survival plays out.

There are a number of fun weapons in this game, well, I should say the two or three weapons you get are a lot of fun to play with. The weapons have a few different types of ammunition for them. Aloy can actually create/craft new ammo on the fly, from all the scraps that she had looted off their cold dead corpses. So, sending a ‘piercing’  arrow flying into the bulging ‘cargo sac’ of a Bellowback, for example, and you’ll get a Micheal Bay-ish explosion. Take your ‘Tripcaster’ and set an electrical trap in the walkway of a Razortooth and watch it fall to its knees as you take your spear to it. It’s a hold-your-breath, hide-and-attack kind of stuff, and there are no hand-holding tutorials (besides the training I told you about earlier) telling you how to best approach some of the later beasts, such as the giant T-Rex-esque Thunderjaw, which makes for more rewarding wins. Although I will mention once in a blue moon you will be able to walk around with some amazingly destructive heavy weapons, but those aren’t part of your normal arsenal. This game isn’t going to destroy your life like DarkSouls or Bloodborne but it still gives you its own challenges. I felt myself having to do some challenges more than once and Odin help you if you don’t at least quick-save at campfires. I went 45 minutes at some point without saving ( I know, that’s my fault) and died and lost all that progress. So let that be a lesson to you.

Environment/People – I see Skies of Blue

The creatures and characters are not the only things to love about this game. The huge and overwhelming map is absolutely gorgeous in this game. You could spend hours just in the snow covered mountains and believe you were there, but then remember that the lonely deserts, and wide open, green fields are just as glorious.  I don’t own a PlayStation Pro (which runs in 4K) and the graphics are just as impressive on the regular system. In maps that rival Bethesda or Projekt CD Red, Developer Guerrilla Games has done an amazing job at making all the world they created in Horizon Zero Dawn feel truly different. Not to mention that Aloy’s base movements; such as climbing, rolling, rappelling down cliff faces are completely fluid and responsive. Horizon’s visuals keep up with her, and impressively, I didn’t notice any significant glitches in its massive open world, besides one or two hiccups here and there.

Elsewhere, since the game can’t just always have you fighting against robots, because that would clearly be boring, I guess, there are both enemy bases/camps, and other settlements and camps from the Nora that form a rag-tag civilization. Since this game takes place post-post-apocalypse, the people have reformed back to a tribal sense, and in a wonderful twist (that I’m truly glad Guerilla did), all of the Nora are a Matriarch driven society. It shows the importance of a woman being able to give birth and lead and men have no say in what happens. Good for them! That is, of course, until you meet the Carja, who worship the sun, who is apparently a dude.

Guerrilla has done an enormous amount of irresistible content-building in Horizon Zero Dawn, and I found myself spending a great amount of time just wandering around settlements, listening to elders tell elaborate tales of gods to children, or seeking stories of misplaced vengeance in the crowds. It’s at these settlements that you’ll be given your missions, both the urgent, high-stakes main quests and the side quests that pop up as little exclamation marks on your map.

One of the best parts of the Main missions, and why I bring it up here, is because they cleverly weave current-day politics into a quest to solve the mysteries of the old world, our world that was destroyed so many years ago. I found myself exploring the old world and diving into caves just to see what happened to us. Between chasing the ghosts of the past in the deep, lonely bunkers of lost technology and finding odd puzzles left behind to figure out it was an amazing part of the game. As lush, green, and pleasing to the senses that the outside world was, the old world and destroyed ruins were just as gorgeous.

Overall – My Heart Will Go On

No spoilers, but the heart-hammering finale of the game is smart, challenging, and has a great payoff to the entire journey that you will take in Horizon Zero Dawn. The graphics are incredible, the story is wonderful, and the characters are extremely memorable. While it does have its slow, dull moments, it always picks right back up. Horizon Zero Dawn is an absolutely must play, especially if you love open-world games. I truly believe it will be on the Game-of-the-Year award lists this year. Only time will tell if it will win or not but if you own a PlayStation 4 you owe it to yourself to pick up Horizon Zero Dawn and play.

Horizon Zero Dawn Review
The Good
  • Smooth Gameplay
  • Excellent Main/Side Stories
  • Lose yourself for hours playing
The Bad
  • A Bit Monotonous
  • Some Dull In-Game Convos
9.5Overall Score
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About The Author

John D
Chief Operating Officer

An Action-Adventurer, RPGer, and FPS kind of gamer. Quick to play any game that has magic, swordplay, and/or stealthy elements. If you can customize a character I'm in it for the long haul. Or just give me your 2D platform and I'm a happy camper. What else do you expect from a gamer with a beard and a bow tie tattoo? seriously.