Horizon Zero Dawn Review: A Beautiful Post-Apocalyptic Playground

Written by Chad

March 1, 2017

We take a look at the newest open world game to brace us this year.

Open world games have become a trend with the recently released games, it give players a world to explore with many discoveries and it gives them freedom to pick how they approach their pacing in the game. However not all open world games are created perfectly as most of them are haunted with issues like uninspiring designs and uneven pacing of the game progression. Now Guerrilla Games; the team behind the Killzone franchise, has launched a new game that strays away from their usual military shooter and into a post-apocalyptic open world game. But can Horizon Zero Dawn stand out as one of the best games of 2017? We’ll soon find out in our game review.

Production (5/5)

  • Vibrant environment
  • You wish you can live in this game
  • An interesting lore that will keep you invested
  • Some pop in issues when traveling
  • NPCs with their creepy blank stare

Horizon Zero Dawn puts you in the shoes of Aloy, a young woman who was deemed an outcast by her tribe as she was branded motherless when she was a baby. Taken care by her father figure Rost and was trained in preparations of the Proving in hopes of becoming a Brave and to help her find more answers about her past. But the plot becomes thicker as her discovery has unfolded more about the Machines that ruled the planet after the fall of the Old World and the reason behind its demise.

Guerrilla Games did a fine job in creating an incredible world in Horizon Zero Dawn. Though the setting took place after a deadly catastrophe that desecrated the old civilization, the game managed to feature a living world with Mother Nature taking offer the concrete jungle and gracing its true beauty, it also include a day/night cycle with dynamic weather effects that changes anytime to keep that sense of realism to the already dangerous world. The characters designs have influences from the Norse clans that was mixed with machine relics as their armor or war trophies, and other tribes from different regions shows a different culture that makes them distinguishable from other tribes.

The Decima engine helps produce a vivid world that is filled with vibrant colors that makes it really pop out in your screens. All the foliage and mountains are detailed well along with the shiny or rusty metals from machines that match with their glaring lens flares, and you don’t see any spots that look identical when you explore the regions, it makes you wish that you can live in this world. The special effects on the Machines provide that feel of superior technology against your primitive gear that gives the feel of intimidation and challenge. There are some cases of graphical pop-ins when roaming around the field, though this only happens in rare occasions and does not affect the overall performance of the gameplay. Another noticeable case are the facial reaction of certain NPCs, though their facial expression shows some emotions, their way of interacting with Aloy gives a rather odd blank stare that makes them less real.

Ashly Burch has done a great performance as Aloy, breaking the stereotypes of female protagonists by showing a strong-willed personality and someone with a sense of discovery, and players will invest on Aloy more as they will experience her struggles and triumphs during her journey. There will be instances where Aloy will talk to herself as a response to any action you made, which can be good as a sense of audio queue during crucial situations or can be annoying as she continues to mutter on herself. The other voice actors have great voice acting as well though some tribes lacked any distinguishable traits aside from having different tribal gears, having different accents would have added some uniqueness to the tribes. The compositions by Joris de Man (Killzone 1 & 2), The Flight (Alien Isolation, Little Big Planet 3) and Niels van der Leest (Pac-Man Run, Dwarf Quest) provides an incredible range of soundtracks that set a mood in the game when hunting down Machines or just traveling around the region, you will be hearing orchestral scores with a mix of tribal instruments and electronic music.

Mechanics (4.8/5)

  • Many ways to take down an enemy
  • A lot of features borrowed from other games
  • Can overwhelm an enemy with your current level when grinding harder
  • Auto-save function would have been a better option

The gameplay combines a lot of elements from RPG, stealth and action games to provide a new gameplay experience that requires wits and reflexes. Hunting the Machines requires some familiarization on these mechanical creatures as hacking your way against a horde will prove to be a death wish than an effective approach. Each of the Machines has their own behavior and weak points that you can scan with the Focus Vision, this gives you the option to decide on how you will deal with them through brute force or sneak attacks as there are no penalties on picking which style you would perform. Landing stealth attacks can decapitate any targets in an instant along with some bonus experience points, while taking them on head-to-head may provide you with additional materials as loot for your inventory. Saving can be done by approaching campfires around the map, as the game does not feature any auto save function so it can be a hassle for getting yourself killed during hunt and have to respawn at your last save point and forgetting to save the hours of hunting that you have done. Campfires also works as a fast travel waypoint when traversing to farther areas, but fast travel packs are required when using this feature and can be crafted or purchased.

There are a ton of weapons and traps that are at your bay to take on the Machines head-to-head, lay down shock traps to cripple them momentarily then aim a fire arrow with your short bow or use the Ropecaster to pin them and take them down with your melee spear. There are many ways to taken them down as all it takes is your creativity and good observation when in battle. You can even do a momentary slow motion effect that also zooms you into a target, giving you a short amount of time to place a critical shot to a target and this can be done while stationary, jumping and even sliding. The health features a very unique style where you can stash medicinal herbs to fill up a reserved meter that you can use to replenish your health at any time when taking heavy damage, it adds an urgency to stack up before venturing encouraged you to gather items in your surroundings. The Focus Vision allows you to scan the area for any possible items or life forms that you can interact. This is also your method of identifying the Machines for possible weak points and revealing their track patterns which is perfect for sneaking enemies, this also needed to navigate around ruins from the metal world and scanning audio files and text logs to supplement your thirst for information.

Controls on the Horizon Zero Dawn are easy to handle, as it still maintain a very familiar layout from other shooter games. Changing weapons or crafting ammunition puts you into slow motion, giving you more time to change strategy while in mid-battle, a very familiar mechanic found on most action RPGs and shooters which is a very effective addition. In terms of customization, it lacks any adjustment to the camera sensitivity but it takes a take while for you to get used with the aiming as it you will easily adapt to it.

And yes, this is still an RPG, where you can gain levels from completing quests and defeating enemies. Aside from increased health, you can distribute points on your skill tree from three specialties to unlock abilities and improved performance that will give you an edge on your journey. You can loot from fallen enemies or scavenged around the ruins for additional items that you can use for crafting your gear or as a currency to trade for better equipment from merchants. There is a dialogue wheel where you can give a different response to a NPC or a way to gather additional information helps flesh out the story and lore in the game. Though it may not have a heavy impact in the story, it helps provide a different approach when interacting to different characters and a novelty to see their different reactions. The drawback in any open world RPG is that with long periods of grinding, players can gain the upper hand early on that will make most parts of the game an easy journey as you can take down enemies in an instant and can acquire powerful gear.

Content (4.5/5)

  • Good amount of quests to tackle
  • Infiltrating Bandit Camps can be fun
  • Some quests can be redundant

Having an open world does not just rely on having a great visualization of the area, it also needs a lot of things a player can accomplish, and side quests are some of the ways that can keep them busy. Horizon Zero Dawn has an abundant of them, these side quests come in different forms, and it can be as simple as defeating X amount of machines or taking challenge mission-like Hunting Grounds or collecting ancient relics that are scattered around the map up to the more complex ones like investigating a murder scene by tracking their footprints or infiltrating Bandit Camps without being detected. However some of these quests can be very redundant as some quests follows the same method of objective; a known dilemma to any open world games as the repeated objectives can be tiring to complete over and over.

The game has done a great work in keeping the pace on the story quests to prevent players from being overwhelmed with a lot of content. They can proceed with the story quests and continue with the side quests if they feel under leveled in the main quest and most of the side quests have an interesting back story that can provide additional background to the story.

Crafting is also an essential part, as this is where you can restock on your ammunition or upgrading your inventory storage to add more space and adding mods to your equipment for additional boost, plus there is no need to look for any NPC to craft your gear as Aloy can do all the crafting by herself at any time.

There are collectibles that you can find throughout the region and these can provide additional background to the lore, you can replay audio logs and holograms that you found from ruins as it retells you the chilling end of a high-tech civilization.

Feature (4.3/5)

  • No multiplayer feature, and that’s a good thing
  • No New Game + content

The game lacks any multiplayer features, a feat that has become mandatory in most games these days, but lacking this feature is more of a good news as it lets the developers focus more on refining the core single player experience and it was all worth it.

In terms of DLCs, the game only has special pre-order bonuses that are mainly additional equipment. There are no news for additional story content such as expansions, but surely the full game has enough content to keep players hooked.

There is also no New Game + feature where you can restart the game from the beginning with new unlocks, as there will be no rewards when completing the game, though this can be a mixed feedback as the game has enough content to keep everyone busy.

Overall (4.7/5)

  • A great storyline and well developed lore
  • One of the best visuals on the PS4
  • Gameplay is very engaging
  • Mechanics are inspired from different games

Horizon Zero Dawn may be the best PlayStation 4 exclusive game to arrive this year, it provided a vibrant world that feels so alive along with an interesting story filled with twists and surprises, a world that is beautiful yet has a shadow from the terrible past that still lurks beyond. Though it may not have an original gameplay feature, combining the different elements inspired from different game genres managed to create a very engaging gameplay experience. It still has a learning curve that teaches you from trial and error, but not enough to punish you with cheap tricks from your mistakes and still give a fulfilling experience in your accomplishment.

It may not be a perfection as there are still minor flaws from rare crashing issues to graphical pop ins. And the game can still run very well on the standard PlayStation 4 console, being able to run smoothly on 30 frames per second, so there is no need to invest on the PlayStation 4 Pro if you wish to see a large difference on performance.

Fans of any open world game should try this game as it is chuck full of content and a large playground to tackle on. It is also has a refreshing theme away from the usual post-apocalyptic wasteland, Guerrilla Games has definitely made a masterpiece both gameplay and story-wise.


We are giving Horizon Zero Dawn an impressive 4.7 out of 5. The game is now available exclusively for the PlayStation 4.


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