I want to start this off by saying that all of the hype surrounding this game is completely warranted. From a narrative perspective, this game has such a strong start. Without spoiling too much, you start out as this little girl named Aloy. She’s been outcasted by her tribe at birth because she doesn’t have a mother. The tribe takes it a step further and has made it illegal to speak to outcasts so here is this young 6 year old that just doesn’t understand why. It ends up being this great motivator because personally I want to see her succeed just because I feel this empathy for her (I’ll be honest, I teared up a little bit in the opening sequences).
I personally find Aloy to be one of the most likable protagonists that I have seen in video games. Her being shunned as an outcast from birth has made her mentally strong but not bitter towards people. It not only made her mentally strong but it kept her from being “brain washed” into thinking the outside world is a scary place. In contrast it has taught her to question the norms and push past tribal restrictions.
Now getting into the game itself, its hard not to compare the game to other video games out there. It certainly seems like Guerilla Games (the game developer), looked at what made other games successful and pulled from them. I personally look at the towers, outposts, crafting and cant help but compare that to the Far Cry series. In Far Cry you climb a tower and it opens up some of the world map which by itself its not bad concept. The problem is, in Far Cry 4 there are seventeen towers to climb. In Horizon Zero Dawn, there are five. Its the same with the outposts as well, in Far Cry 4 there were twenty four outposts but in Horizon Zero Dawn there are only about five (it may have been six).
The crafting system is similar to Far Cry or even the new Tomb Raider series. To upgrade weapon satchels so you can carry more arrows, bombs or any other weapon you have to go hunting. You end up hunting raccoons, foxes, boars, turkeys and it some cases small rats. It does start to feel a little unnecessarily “grindy”with that though because some times you will need an very specific item like a fox bone or a fox skin. So you end up running around killing foxes and most of the time, you are not going to get what you’re looking for. I would say a vast majority of the time, you end up with meat which is primarily used for crafting fast travel packs. Its possible to spend hours killing foxes just looking for that specific item so you can carry 10 more arrows in your quiver. So my recommendation is, right at the start of the game, kill and loot everything. It could save you some time later on.
Now I do want to talk about something that was unique to this game and that was fast travel packs. Early on, in order to fast travel around the world you have to craft specific packs that allow you to fast travel around the map. It doesn’t cost too much craft these packs but I do want to make it clear that it isn’t completely free. Now there is a Golden Pass that you purchase from a merchant and that does allow you freely fast travel around. Also the good news is, its relatively cheap to purchase, I think it was something around 50 in game currency dollars.
The game also has an Uncharted feel with the climbing and traversing. You can clearly the markings on cliffs where there is white on the side a cliff (or platform) which clearly indicates that you can climb up it. There are also ropes that you can climb and those are bright yellow and if you’ve ever played Uncharted then you know to look for White or yellow which this game follows that general rule. Even though the climbing does have an Uncharted feel, the climbing ends up feeling better than Uncharted in my opinion. I think a big reason for that is, she seems to move a lot quicker and her movement is more fluid. Also the game doesn’t have nearly as much climbing as Uncharted does so you don’t end up getting burnt out by that.
Another Uncharted influence is the story.Now don’t take this as, it’s an Uncharted like story. What I mean is how the story is presented, I would describe the story as a cinematic experience. There are a lot of twists and turns in this SciFi mystery and the game presents all of these questions throughout the game. But you don’t have to worry because the game answers all of the questions and leaves you satisfied with those answers. So you don’t have to worry about them pulling a Deus Ex where they cut out half the story to create another sequel. The game does wrap up.
Unlike Naughty Dog, Guerilla Games is clearly not as skilled at facial animations. It can be jarring going from one scene that looks incredible to the next scene where the lip sync is off by a couple seconds. So that is one thing to keep in mind if you’re looking to pick this game up, there are inconsistencies in the facial animations.
Now that I’ve taken the time to talk about all similarities to other games, now its time to get into the meat and potatoes of the game. Its time to talk about what is truly unique about this game and thats the combat. The machines are refreshing and new to video games, the only way I can explain is to say that in this open-world there these random encounters with basically mini-bosses. You could just be running to the next check point and then “bam”, you’re in a fight for your life against one of these machines. Yes, you can run away and likely get away but in my opinion thats not the spirit of this game. Personally, I wanted to prefect my skills and learn how fight each of the machines so I didn’t run from battles.
With all that being said, I do have a confession to make. Probably for the first 10 hours of the game, I hated the machines. I thought they were hands down the worst part of the game and I found my self getting frustrated with it. A big reason for this is because you rarely have encounters where you fight one machine at a time, you usually end up having to fight anywhere between 3 and 6 at once. Trust me, when you’re fighting 3 or 4 Sawtooths at once, its tough.
That’s the beauty of this game though, the game does not coddle you and hold your hand. It throws you into this world and you need to figure out how to fight each every machine. The first time you encounter a machine is also the first time, the main character Aloy encounters a machine so she wouldn’t necessarily know how to take on it either. There is a lot of trial and error with this game and what’s cool about the depth of this game is, everyone is going to develop their own strategy with fighting these machines. There really isn’t a “right” way to do it, its just develop your own way to do it.
Finally, I do want to talk about my biggest complain about this game and thats the leveling up system. At its core, its a fine system but it caps off way too low and too early. Level 50 is the highest your character can get and thats disappointing because you will likely do that before you finish doing everything in the game. For me personally, I have some side missions that I can still do but there is very little reason to do them because I’m going to get any more experience and for me, that means there is very little reason to continue with the game. This is more of a personal preference but I’m the type of person who likes to do side missions for the experience and leveling up rather than trying to 100% a game. Don’t take this as a situation where I don’t want to play this game any more, its the exact opposite. I want to continue playing this game and keep leveling up but the game wont let me so part of me wants to say, “forget it” and start a new game.
All in all, look at the good components and the bad, I do think the good heavily out way the bad. This may sound like a bold statement but this may end up being my favorite open world game of all time. With that being said, I don’t believe this game is perfect and I could absolutely see people not enjoying this game. It has a likable main character, an interesting story and a combat that is fun but also provides a layer of depth.