You’ve probably heard the phrase “better than the sum of its parts” at least once, never before has a video game encompassed that idiom better than Horizion Zero Dawn. By and large, all of the elements in the game aren’t very original. It’s an open world sandbox game with multiple approaches to tasks that suits different play-styles and features crafting, hunting, leveling up, and climbing some towers. Sound familiar? It should, because you’ve played “that game” at least a dozen times by now. What makes HZD so special is in what it borrows from which games, and how it implements them.
THE WITCHER 3 – You travel along a vast open landscape fighting all sorts of monsters along the way. Just like Geralt, protagonist Aloy must use skills and tactics if she wants to win the battle against the beasts within. Mashing buttons won’t get you anywhere in either game, even on easy mode. What is done better here is the streamlined crafting system used to upgrade your gear. Witcher will have you quest all across the fields to find one particular flower for a potion you need to make, whereas the requirements for potions in HZD are more generalized. You also get a sort of “Witcher-Vision” to track down objectives, but unlike Geralt, Aloy’s “Focus-Vision” is a lot easier to follow.
TOMB RAIDER – And collecting the goods to perform crafting is pretty straightforward and easy to perform. Like Tomb Raider (the new ones), you will find all the materials you need to make things all around you. In both entries, you can craft ammo for your ranged weapons in the middle of a battle using the weapon wheel. That’s a handy skill when you’re in a bind and run out of arrows. That said, Tomb Raider keeps the types of things you can grab in the wilderness minimal while HZD has a whole a bigger assortment of odds and ends you can find. It’s also notable that the targeting reticle for the bow in both games are nearly identical.
FAR CRY – The hunting aspects of this game also found their way here. The crafting at higher levels includes the need to hunt for specific animals in order to get better upgrades for your gear and outfits. Both have the perplexing tendency to be arbitrary with what animal is required for what upgrade, forcing you to hunt down a specific animal when you just need one more pelt for that potion bag you really want. Why do you need a rabbit skin for the bag? Who knows, go get it now.
ASSASSINS CREED – It’s not really like AssCreed at all, but we have only this series along with Ubisoft in general to blame for the parts where you climb some tower to unlock the map. Hell, even the latest Zelda is doing it now. Besides that, hiding in the tall grass to stalk enemies was a big part of this game and was used extensively in Assassins Creed: Black Flag.
METAL GEAR – Tell me the corruptor enemies don’t remind you of the Gekko from Metal Gear Solid. Besides the puzzling choice of having these machines moo, the big scary spider-like enemies can be rather terrifying in how quick they move. That first encounter with a corruptor was probably the first major boss fight of the game and still sends chills down my spine every time I have to face them in the game. They aren’t even the biggest boss fight characters either, just wait until you get further into it.
TUROK – Dude, remember Turok? Because I vaguely remember Turok.
MAD MAX, WATCH_DOGS 2, HOMEFRONT: THE REVOLUTION, ETC ETC – The most important lesson HZD learned about games that others failed on is that you can’t just make an open world and then simply pepper it with stuff to do. That’s not game design, that’s just stuff to do. This goes double for games that have a large open sandbox but don’t utilize much of the space for anything. The map needs to be memorable by having locations and areas that are more than just your commute from point A to point B. HZD gives you various locations and biomes all contained in one large cohesive land mass that just makes you itch to explore.
Horizon Zero Dawn has giant robot dinosaurs. That’s never been done before and that’s very unique. The rest of the game? You’ve definitely seen it before. What makes it so great is what it achieves with the design factors it borrows from other great titles. “Derivative” doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It can’t be. If doing things similar to another popular game make it bad, the reviews for Dishonored would have been terrible.
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Horizon Zero Dawn is an open world action/survival game developed by Guerilla Games and published by Sony Entertainment. It features Aloy, a redheaded tribal fighting in a post-apocalytpic landscape ruled by giant robot dinosaurs. The plot follows her discovering her heritage, but that’s not important because you fight giant robot dinosaurs, and that’s really the only reason you need to pick up this title. In hindsight, it’s surprising that giant robot dinosaurs haven’t been done before in video games, but here we are now. The game had a lot of hype to live up to, but did it deliver?
Every once in a while you say to yourself, “Hey, these graphics are pretty good”. Even less rare is a game where you have to stop doing what you are doing and just look at the scenery. HZDs graphics are an exemplar of modern graphical quality. Featuring many various biomes across its massive map, this game is absolutely astounding in the level of detail and finesse put into ever square foot of landmass available to explore. If anything, the water looks a little bit “off” compared to the rest of the artwork, but by it’s own standard is still an absolute stunner.
This is the only part where there’s a major flaw. The main quest actually feels like a waste as it manages to take a unique idea and make it less and less interesting as you delve further and further into the secrets of world. There’s a point during the campaign where you are in an old building and exposition gets dumped on you in the form of holograms and audio logs. It begins interesting enough, but as you go from one recording to the next, these tombs of secrets feel less like an intriguing adventure and more like a slow Disney ride. In the end, what happened to the world doesn’t matter because it’s happened and nothing can be done about it, and you’re left with a protagonist who has fulfilled what she set off to do. As with a lot of open world games, you will find that the side missions frequently offer more intrigue that the main story.
The robots of the game sound as threatening as they look. With unearthly sounds screeching as you get spotted, the threat of the dinosaurs is made all the more real by some excellent audio design. You can hear the wind in the trees, the rushing of water in the river, the bitter cold rustling of snow in great detail. Voice acting was adequate, but Ashly Burch, who played the series protagonist Aloy, really made the mostly lonely adventure stick to you. The score of the game, while not spectacular, was a fitting mix of tribal percussion and woodwinds and some electronic pad tones that added to the already rich atmosphere of the game.
GIANT. ROBOT. DINOSAURS. It’s unfortunate that the game has you fight human enemies, because that’s not as fun as fighting the dinos. In fact, every second you spend on story could always be better spent just fighting the dinos. The gameplay is the core of the experience. What’s interesting is, the actual mechanics of the game aren’t that original, but the design of the game makes it feel original. HZD borrows elements from many games that have changed the scope of gaming over the past few years, but feels like a really sturdy, well-made package.
I thought I was done with this game when I beat the campaign, but then I went back to it to complete some of the unfinished side quests. After tracking down some of the optional boss fights, I was glad I did because it really highlights how good the game is that fight after fight is a proper thrill ride. The exhilarating feel of downing a robo-saur with a spear and some arrows is one hell of a feeling. Even if there aren’t missions to complete, there’s plenty of real estate in the world to just go hunting for the fun of it, and that’s what really makes the game great. The gameplay is just that good and just that much fun.
The only thing that prevents Horizon Zero Dawn from absolute perfection is the less-than-great plot that doesn’t really do a whole lot. But it’s important to note this: if you were wondering whether or not this game is worth the purchase of a PS4, it is. Everything that makes the game great is worth experiencing on that powerhouse of a console. So if you were waiting to pull the trigger, now is the time to pick one up. This game has raised the bar to a new height.
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