So let’s talk about Horizon Zero Dawn for a minute, all right? All right.

Posted by Justin258 (15579 posts) -

I think that Horizon does some things right. The most obvious and most striking thing about it is that it’s downright gorgeous, and that’s coming from a guy who spends a lot of time playing PC games. Guerilla games have implemented some insane technical wizardry before, to make games like Killzone 2 and 3 look miles better than anything the competition could dream of, but this is something else. Breathtaking vistas are never more than a hike away, vegetation is plentiful and active and blows in the wind and moves whenever someone or something runs into it. Mechanical beasts with many moving, individual parts of their own populate these lands, providing both awe and fear to any player who hasn’t become an expert yet. And there’s no shortage of organic wildlife, either, though the biggest living animal you’ll ever shoot is a boar. All of this runs at a smooth, generally stable 30FPS on a slim PS4. I don’t know what resolution the base version of the game runs at, but every bit of this beautiful game is clear, largely unmuddied by aliasing or fog or texture pop-in. If you’re looking for a treat for your eyes, this is certainly a great candidate.

Looks aren’t the only thing Horizon: Zero Dawn does right. It’s also a lot of fun to just play. Aloy is a very responsive character – she can sprint, jump, roll out of the way, and slide with the best of them, and I have never felt like there was a noticeable delay in any of my actions. This smooth movement translates to combat really well – I never felt like I died because I couldn’t control things well enough. I was initially concerned that shooting only a bow-and-arrow for the entire game would be grating. Analog sticks, after all, aren’t generally so hot for aiming. Horizon is one of those games that proves that aiming can be good in console games, with just the right amount of auto-aiming and aim-assist to make your mechanical monster-slaying feel precise and accurate. If you ever feel like something’s too small or fast for you to hit, the game gives you some bullet-time to play with. It’s only a bit, but if you need a fast adjustment, it’s there and extremely easy to access. This all results in some gameplay that generally feels really good and often enough feels pretty great.

There are several ways in which the game falls apart to me. Most significantly, the story just doesn’t have any punch to it. When thinking about the story’s moving parts from a purely mechanical perspective, it all fits together well enough, and there are some elements that I’m generally interested in seeing through. For instance, I’ve only been through one ruin, but it was one of the highlights of the game for me so far, and it served to reinforce how much I’m interested in finding out what happened to the world. But it’s been difficult to maintain that level of interest when I have to put up with the Nora. The beginning of the game introduce the Nora as a representative of what civilization has become in this post-apocalypse. Aloy, the game’s protagonist, has lived her entire life as a Nora outcast alongside Rost, another Nora outcast. Nobody from the tribe will talk to a shunned outcast and Aloy has no idea why she’s an outcast. It seems like the Nora will outcast anyone for any crime, from violent murder (no problem with that) to even so much as visiting somewhere outside of the Nora’s sacred lands (you shun anyone who dares to have an interest in other groups? That sucks). The Nora Matriarchs see you talking to an outcast? You’re now outcast yourself. They catch wind that you went to an area called Devil’s Thirst? Say goodbye to the tribe! You were captured and dragged away from your homeland? Don’t even attempt to go back, the Matriarchs won’t accept an outcast. It’s annoying, and the Nora’s blind and superstitious fear of anything mechanical made them almost unbearable for me by the time I left their sacred land.

Fortunately, Aloy gets away from the Nora within the first ten hours of the game and you then start interacting with the Carja. In an attempt to make this succinct – the Carja used to be total dicks to everyone but they have a new king and are all really sorry and they just want to help everyone. It’s saying something that I find the Carja much more acceptable as people when they were bloodthirsty slavers and war-mongers just a few years before the game begins. Unfortunately, this doesn’t result in more interesting characters, only more bearable ones. I haven’t made it much further into the story than this, but thus far Horizon is a clockwork story. It’s ticking along with perfect time, but it’s not really doing anything more memorable than that so far. I really would like at least one character to show up that I’m interested in, but no one really has any charisma thus far. Erend is OK, I guess, but I also had to look up his name just to type in this sentence if that tells you anything.

Let’s go back to gameplay mechanics, all right? The moment-to-moment gameplay feels good, sometimes great, as mentioned above. But the larger character progression doesn’t. And this is more a problem with the “all-game” that every AAA game is becoming. You know, how every single player game released by a major publisher these days is a psuedo-RPG, with leveling and gear and crafting and none of it really feels like it comes together well. The same holds true for Horizon, though to its credit it comes together better than most. You fight, you do quests, you level up, every level gets you some more health, and every level gets you another skill point to dump into another ability. I would like to see this game take the extra leap and become an RPG-proper, where I can dump points into Strength and Dexterity and Vitality and stuff like that. As it stands, I don’t feel like leveling up itself is a good measure of how strong Aloy has gotten. Level 19 Aloy doesn’t feel that much more powerful than Level 3 Aloy, aside from having more health. Instead, all improvements have come from crafting new packs for new items (for the love of God, either let me hold everything or give me a carry weight, I hate going “I can hold three potions and three traps and thirty “resources” and five modifications and three outfits and so on and so forth) and from buying new weapons.

One of the reasons a studio might decide to go with a “psuedo-RPG” approach to developing a character might be to simplify things a bit while still having some form of character growth. Part of a proper RPG, after all, is examining and developing stats so that you can grow a character in a specific direction. But Horizon throws a lot of stats at you anyway and they’re all in the gear you’re using. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but these stats are mostly represented by symbols that the game flat-out doesn’t explain. Seriously, where the fuck am I supposed to find a list of these symbols, and what do they mean? I can guess fire, ice, and electricity, that’s easy enough, but there’s one that looks like a hand and one that looks kinda like a broken heart. What do those mean and why should I care? Can I please, please just get a flat damage stat? And maybe also a range and fire rate stat? Those things would be extremely helpful in determining that this merchant is selling a better bow than the one I currently have. Yes, “damage – range – fire rate” are all extremely boilerplate stats to put on a weapon, but they are so damn common and so conventional because they’re so easy to understand and require virtually no explanation. If you want weapons that do different things then you can definitely add other stats. You could, for instance, have elemental weapons that don’t do as much damage but are more likely to catch guys on fire. These same complaints apply to armor, too, here called “outfits” which is probably a more accurate term. Every stats needs a more clear explanation and it’s nowhere to be found, outside of loading screen hints and looking them up on the internet.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game I’ve been enjoying. I don’t doubt that and neither should anyone who might read this. At the same time, nothing about it is really “clicking” with me. I want to like this game, and nothing about it is pushing me away enough for me to really stop playing. There’s a promise of something I might love somewhere in here, but if it’s there, it’s elusive, and I’m not a hundred percent sure it’s worth it. I plan on playing more of it. If I ever find the special something I’m looking for in this game and it pushes me to finish it, then I’ll post another blog or a review of it. Otherwise, these thoughts might wind up being my final thoughts on the game.

What about you guys? Did anyone else feel this way about the game and later find something that made it way better?

#1 Edited by ArbitraryWater (15664 posts) -

Your thoughts certainly resemble how I felt about the game when I played it last year, though a lot of that comes down to me being utterly exhausted with the format of most modern AAA open-world action games, something that Horizon follows to a T. Like most modern AAA open world games, you don't need to care about stats or skills all that much. On a systems level, I don't find it super interesting, but shooting parts off robots or setting up a million tripwires is still a lot of fun. It's telling that I'm willing to say I enjoyed it in spite of how it runs counter to a lot of my tastes.

The thing I will give Horizon's story is that the ultimate explanation for that world's state has some really fascinating payoff. It's... kind of unfortunate that in real terms, it involves a lot of you spinning Aloy around in circles while you wait for the audio log to finish. The "present day" story wasn't quite as interesting to me, but I still found it solid enough to power through to the end.

#2 Posted by mems1224 (2494 posts) -

I thought it was good, not great. It was basically an ok Ubisoft styled open world game but not as well made as one of those. Of the 3 big open world games from last year (AC Origins, BOTW and Horizon) I felt it was easily the weakest.

The Aloy storyline I found fairly uninteresting but it wasn't bad, just predictable and kind of there. The storyline involving all the stuff that happened in the past was a lot better and pretty much kept me hooked until the end.

The gameplay was a mixed bag for me. The progression and inventory system were horrible. Fighting humans was also not good and it was way too easy to just cheese the stealth. Navigating the world was also a chore because the game didn't have good climbing mechanics. Fighting robots was definitely the highlight and just when I would start to get bored it would throw something new at me which was cool.

Overall though I enjoyed my time with it but not enough to ever want to play it again or play the dlc. It stuck a little too close to the Ubisoft open world formula which even Ubisoft has started to get away from. I would definitely play a sequel but if I'm being honest I'd much prefer some kind of shooter set in the past during the fall of humanity.

#3 Posted by doctordonkey (1797 posts) -

If it wasn't for how interesting uncovering the mystery of what happened to cause the fallout was, I can't say I would've stuck with the game. Traversing the world wasn't as fun as it should've been, and the only thing to find out there were uninteresting side quests. The only interesting parts were the things that had to do with the past, all the modern tribe stuff was really uninteresting.

I found the combat pretty easy if you actually used the tools at your disposal and didn't just rush in bow blazing, I played on the highest difficulty setting and almost never died. With how easy it was, there wasn't any tension, so the machines weren't as threatening as they should've been. The upgrade tree was pretty lame as well, not a lot of options, and most of them were literally "increase value by x%". I mean holy shit, how boring is that?

Absolutely gorgeous game, super intriguing premise and finding out about the nature of the world and what happened is really well done. I think it wrapped up really well (aside from the obvious sequel bait at the end kinda ruining the moment). It's a shame everything outside of that is simply slightly above average open world gameplay. I feel like some of my feelings on the gameplay loops were influenced by the fact that I played BotW months before I played Horizon. BotW did a thousand more interesting things with its emphasis on exploration and discovery. Horizon just seemed so by-the-numbers in comparison. Maybe that's not fair and their both their own things, but BotW made a point that these types of games don't need to be so formulaic.

#4 Edited by Redhotchilimist (2946 posts) -

Nah, I definitely agree with your assessment so far. I wrote a ton about Horizon last year as a part of my GOTY list, and your thoughts here mirror mine in a lot of ways, though your blog is admirably more concise and reasonable. What pulled me through Horizon was the mystery of Aloy's birth/the secrets of the world, how beautiful the environments and robots looked and the combat gameplay(I wouldn't say it's my favorite combat, but it can get pretty fun). Everything else was mostly stuff I thought was bad - flat characters, dull and serious writing about something as fun as robot dinosaurs, human combat was pretty limited and limp, the main storytelling device a lot of the time was just listening to audio logs while walking around, modern light RPG/crafting/open world/The Everygame fatigue, and uninteresting traversal options for the open world. I don't think your opinion is going to change much as you're playing.

#5 Edited by Casepb (593 posts) -

I think my biggest complaints are the camera and combat. They both annoyed me greatly. The world was fine, and the controls felt fine. I just got so bored of fighting the same robots over and over and for what it felt like 5 mins a bot I ended up putting the game on super easy just so I could get it over with. I really wanted to get to the end of the story. I will admit I thought the last boss fight was a bit underwhelming.

#6 Posted by bmccann42 (393 posts) -

I loved it, though I will preface that with the fact I played on Story Mode and just blazed through.

Story was strong, combat was enjoyable, and the game is beautiful (minus the weird child Aloi from the beginning, that was kind of off).

This was a game that just clicked for me, but can easily see where others might not have as much enjoyment with it, and this really should have been higher on the Top 10 lists. Controversially, I would definitely put this higher than Breath of the Wild - I see why BOTW was more popular, but constantly wonder how much of that was the name Zelda and Nintendo. Just my 2 cents.

#7 Posted by armaan8014 (6306 posts) -

Your thoughts certainly resemble how I felt about the game when I played it last year, though a lot of that comes down to me being utterly exhausted with the format of most modern AAA open-world action games, something that Horizon follows to a T.

Yep, agreed. Also I felt the open world was terrible - the only thing to do there was combat, and the only thing to see were machines (and, admittedly, gorgeous landscape - but only for running through and clicking screenshots) There was nothing to explore in that world. It was space to run through from quest to quest, while fighting machines on the way. I also felt annoyed at how long it took towards the end to wrap up the story. I liked the story towards the end, but the quests it was wrapped up in dragged on for too long.

#8 Posted by Marcsman (3823 posts) -

Everything clicked with me. The story, graphics and gameplay were all enjoyable to me.

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