‘Horizon Zero Dawn’ Review — The Most Enjoyable Post-Apocalypse in Some Time

Henry Gilbert
Games
Games
4.0
of 5
Review Essentials
  • A brand new world full of smart enemy designs
  • One of the best looking games on PlayStation 4
  • Engaging mystery taking you through a lengthy campaign
  • Fantastic monster hunting combat
  • Mostly avoids open-world cliches
  • Some occasional moments of "uncanny valley" during dialogue

This is a far-off future that looks like the stone age, and a young woman named Aloy is just trying to survive in it. Horizon Zero Dawn follows her quest for survival, vengeance, and to unlock the mysteries of humanity’s past. Her path will lead players to destroy tons of robot creatures throughout a massive, beautifully rendered open world. And even though its gameplay follows a lot of the patterns of franchises as wide-ranging as Monster Hunter and Assassin’s Creed, Horizon Zero Dawn finds its own way with a compelling mix of action and crafting.

 

Eating The (Robot) Dinosaur

Society as we know it is gone and most of humanity have returned to their hunter-gatherer roots. However, now the Stone Age people have to hunt giant robotic beasts with their bows and arrows across the game’s naturalistic landscapes. Horizon‘s red-headed heroine also lives this dangerous existence as part of the primitive Nora tribe, but she has an advantage over most of the scavengers. In her childhood, she discovers a futuristic AR technology/smartphone that she calls a “focus,” which basically gives her a similar type of gameplay HUD and specialized vision to the Detective Mode in the Batman Arkham games. It’s a smart way to throw players immediately into the familiar gameplay of other open world adventures, but with Horizon’s own twist on it.

After the loss of someone close to her, Aloy sets out into this dangerous world in search of answers. That’s a perfect excuse to dive into what Horizon does best: hunting big robot monsters. Battling against the many technological beasts of the world leads to some incredible moments, especially against some of the bigger creatures out there, like Tallneck and Glinthawk. Defeating those creatures takes time, skill, and planning. Aloy’s “focus” helps in identifying weak points on the creatures, but it’s up to you how to best exploit those weaknesses in the wild and with what tools.

Putting the Power in Your Hands

Fighting the massive beasts is also key to the cycle of fun that Horizon Zero Dawn excels at. You destroy enemies to collect more materials to build better weapons to do better at destroying to enemies to collect more materials, etc. Aloy's surprisingly deep skill tree and many unlockables make you coming back again and again, even if the combat wasn't already an intense joy.

Horizon Zero Dawn is also great at giving you multiple attack options. Beyond the simple distinctions of ranged, melee, or stealth attacks, you've got a healthy mix of traps and diversions at your disposal. You'll need to keep all of those in mind when facing the toughest foes, which makes it all the more satisfying to finally take them down. Sadly, your human enemies aren't as fun to fight as the machines, but there are thankfully far fewer flesh and blood enemies to worry about in this robot-dominated land.

You'll get the most out of the monster hunting in the main quest, but it's still rewarding in the many side quests dotting Horizon Zero Dawn's massive map. Those additions aren't as fun as the deeper bits you'll find in the campaign, but the action grabs you enough to want to find every extra resource you can. And these side missions will bombard you at times, making things feel a little overwhelming or just like The Witcher 3. But that's more down to the intense freedom you'll feel in the game. You can pick up and continue quests whenever you feel like from the options menu, even just setting yourself the task of collecting the necessary ingredients to craft bigger ammo pouches or new traps.

A Strangely Familiar Future

Horizon Zero Dawn is also clearly the start of an exclusive new franchise for the PS4. It's very much a new territory for developer Guerrilla Games, which is best known for the FPS series, Killzone. Although it's still full of the usual open-world adventure facets, Horizon Zero Dawn is very much Guerrilla's best work to date.

You've got the expected "climb to the top of something to reveal new map markers" gameplay. You've got the "specialized vision to see your objective" abilities. And you've even got a few moments of the expected weird facial animation that falls into the uncanny valley. Horizon Zero Dawn is a mix of things you've likely played in other popular games, so don't expect it to be something genre-defining.

But Guerrilla does a fantastic job of refining those elements and making them unique to the world of Horizon. You can see it in every element of the surprisingly diverse world that the developers painstakingly built. All the usual tropes of the open world genre are harmoniously pulled together into a single package. It makes for a very special experience, the kind many similar games fail to capture.

And part of that is down to the game's awesome storyline. Aloy herself is a powerful heroine, full of passion and drive, but also compassion. Although this is a fairly linear story that we won't spoil for you here, there are moments where you decide how Aloy will react in certain situations. It gives you the sense that she's your very own hero, as you have some input on the smaller occurrences in the game. Don't expect any ripple effects like Mass Effect, but expect her to feel like a very human hero.

It's a fantastic story that keeps you gripped, full of mysteries, twists and turns that push you from one epic mission to the next, all with very human and relatable drivers.

Is Horizon Zero Dawn Good?

Hell yes. Guerrilla Games' approach to monster hunting action and open world exploration is uniquely fun. This is one of the prettiest games on the PS4, and one of the most enjoyable too. Horizon Zero Dawn is an absolute must play for anyone in search of a new adventure.

Fandom reviewed Horizon Zero Dawn on a copy provided by PlayStation.

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Henry Gilbert
Henry Gilbert is Senior Games Editor at Fandom. He's worked in the gaming press since 2008, writing for sites as diverse as GamesRadar, IGN, and Paste Magazine. He's also been known to record a podcast or two with Laser Time. Follow him on Twitter @henereyg.
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