HORIZON: ZERO DAWN
By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on March 7, 2017
The general consensus is that world as we know it will be destroyed someday. Furthermore, it is said that it will most likely be destroyed by the greed and sheer stupidity of mankind itself. Now, I don't know if this is at all true, but the idea itself has given rise to a number of awesome looking post-apocalyptic movies and games. In the latter category, there is a new contender to the throne. Its name? Horizon: Zero Dawn...
In Horizon: Zero Dawn, a distant future-version of Earth has fallen into disarray. For all its discoveries and knowledge, mankind couldn't ensure its own survival and has collapsed into a much more primal state. Survivors have formed tribes and are still bickering about who owns which portion of land. Apart from that, other groups of people have taken it upon themselves to just steal everything they need and have set up bandit groups that raid villages and are generally considered to be a nasty bunch. But neither tribes nor bandits are the most dangerous group on the planet; no sir, that title goes to the machines. You see, before its collapse, mankind perfected robotics to such an extent that the machines became aware and took control. Now, after the fall of humanity, they prowl the lands and kill everyone who gets in their way.
Amidst all this turmoil, we meet Aloy; a little girl who lives as an outcast together with a man named Rost, who is essentially her guardian. Rost has raised Aloy from when she was just a baby and has kept her safe from all the dangers that lurk these lands. Aloy was given to him by the Matriarchs of the Nora tribe, of who Rost used to be a member. Now both Rost and Aloy are outcasts and are shunned by the rest of the tribe. During the introductory levels, we see Aloy grow from a baby to a young girl and Rost teaches her how to move silent and how to hunt.
After this, we see Aloy grow up to be a young woman that is a proficient hunter and gatherer. One day, she announces that she is going to participate in something called "The Proving". This is essentially a race in which anyone is allowed to participate. If you finish the race, you will become a Nora brave and take your rightful place amongst the tribe. If you win, however, there's another price; you get to ask the Matriarchs one question that they, in turn, will have to answer truthfully. Aloy's main reason for participating in the Proving is to finally find out who her mother is and where she came from, so she is dead-set on winning!
I will cut the story-part of this review short right here, because I don't want to spoil the rest of this thrilling tale for any of you. Let's just say that Horizon: Zero Dawn's story is extremely well-written and provides a solid backbone for the many adventures that Aloy is going to have. Developer Guerilla has managed to portray a cast of characters that are instantly relatable. Aloy is a strong female protagonist of which even Lara Croft would be jealous. During the early part of the game, there are quite a few touching and even sad moments as we see Aloy grow up, but all these moments help form the strong-willed young woman she will eventually become.
The world you journey through looks nothing less than stunning. At times it looks tranquil and serene, while at other times it looks harrowing and thoroughly dangerous. It is such an integral part of the game that it is almost a character in itself. Of course, a land is only as dangerous as the creatures that inhabit it. This is no problem whatsoever in Horizon: Zero Dawn; it is filled with dangerous and mighty machines, ranging from a Velociraptor-looking contraption called a Watcher to mammoth, fire-spewing machines called Corruptors and everything in between. Every machine is shaped like some kind of animal and together they make up a force to be reckoned with. Deer, tigers, spiders, crocodiles; each of these mechanical animals can seriously maim you, or even kill you, if you're not careful!
Luckily, Aloy is skilled with a bow and spear, so she is well-equipped when it comes to fighting these mechanical beasts. As a child, she found a piece of ancient technology, called a Focus. This tiny device lets her see the weak points on all of the machines and exploit them accordingly. For instance, there is a beast called a "Strider", which looks like a mechanical horse. These machines have a container on their backs which contains a combustible fuel called "Blaze". Now, hitting these containers will set of an explosion that seriously damaged the machine and makes it susceptible to follow-up attack. After hitting the container on a Striders back, on well-aimed shot at its eye should be enough to finish them off. Every type of machine on the planet has its own weak spots, so exploit them as best you can!
After defeating your mechanical foe, it is time to harvest some of its parts, which can be used for crafting gear, ammo and other items you'll need to survive in this harsh world. Metal shards, wire, Blaze containers, lenses; you name, we've got it! Some items are, as I've said, used for crafting, other items can be sold at merchants for a large amount of Earth's current currency: metal shards. At these merchants, you can also buy other resources, ammo and even new weapons like a rope caster with which you can tie enemies down, or a Tripcaster; a device which lets you set electronioc traps that can immobilize machines for a certain amount of time. Apart from gathering resources form dead enemies, the world is filled with a great diversity of flora and fauna which can also help you on your way. Because Aloy is a proficient gatherer, she knows which plants do what, so she can make use of them for a variety of purposes. Medicinal herbs go straight into her medicine pouch, which she should always keep fully stocked in case she gets hurt in a fight. The rest of the natural resources go into het resource pouch and can be used to craft all kinds of handy items.
As you progress through the game, you will level up. With each new level, you gain a number of Experience points. These points can be spent in the 'skills' section of your main menu. Would you like to land silently from greater heights, so you can sneak up on an enemy more easily? Done! Would you like time to slow down when you aim your bow during a jump or slide? Done as well! The game's fairly simple skill tree menu gives the players the opportunity to distribute their hard-earned points exactly as they see fit. Because the menu isn't over-complicated in any way, it can even be used properly by RPG-illiterates like yours truly. This simplicity, by the way, is AWESOME! I always had a love-hate relationship with RPG's, mainly because they tend to over-complicate things. I would fall in love with the beautiful environments and gripping stories, but I always got bummed out when I had to wrestle my way through a skill tree so big that you couldn't even fit on the side a damned house... a really big house at that!
You can imagine my relief when I saw the leveling system that Guerilla Games incorporated into Horizon: Zero Dawn. No vague terms, no never-ending set of branching possibilities; just the stuff we really need and want; BRILLIANT! Same goes for the crafting menu; ok, so what would you like to build? That? Ok, but your short on wire... go out and get some more before crafting a bigger pouch! See? It's as simple as that. The resources in your pouch even state on which machine they can be found, so you're never guessing where you got a specific part from. No sir, Horizon: Zero Dawn lets you really focus on its story, its beautifully crafted environments, machines and characters, its world that is filled to the brim with missions, side-missions and errands and its more than awesome gameplay!
So, do I like Horizon: Zero Dawn? You bet your mechanical ass I do! I mean, what's not to like? Sure, there are those among you that would state that other RPG games have a much more expansive universe, more crafting possibilities, a whole library of lore and... BORING!!! To those people I say: stuff it! I couldn't care less about that; I just want to play a good game that looks and sounds awesome and handles accordingly. You go sit in your corner and summon a dark wizard or whatever the hell it is you normally do and let me enjoy the thrill of a real hunt. Now, if you'd excuse me, I've got a few sawtooths to take care of!