Title: Horizon Zero Dawn
Developer: Guerilla Games
Genre: Action role playing
Playtime: 80 hours
My rating: 10/10
It’s been quite a few months since I finished Horizon Zero Dawn, but the new DLC, The Frozen Wilds, has inspired me to play again and finally write a review (I’ll write a separate one for The Frozen Wilds).
The truth is I’ve been a little bit daunted by the prospect of writing this review because I’m pretty certain I will not be able to do this game justice. I’m not exaggerating here when I say I have finally found it. I have finally found the perfect game for me. HZD embodies everything I want and need in a game for it to be a truly fulfilling experience.
It probably helps that post-apocalypse is my favourite setting for anything (books, games, films, the lot). I like to explore the human condition under adverse parameters, and HZD is a sublime mixture of the mesolithic and near future with a dash of jurassic thrown in for good measure. But it’s the way it all unfolds that is so sublime. You genuinely start off with no idea what is going on, and your awareness builds and builds with each carefully portioned nugget of story you play through. It really is like playing through a really well-written book. I know there are many different types of gamers, but I am both a strategist and a story-lover when it comes to gaming, and I find that often my story-loving side ends up less than fulfilled. I like to be fully submerged in a world with a robust story and a complex mythology, which is exactly what HZD provides. And more than that, it blends possibly the most engaging story I have ever played with some of the best gameplay I have ever played.
That’s really at the crux of why I am giving this game 10/10 and calling it perfect. Every aspect of this game has been done to the highest standard. Beyond the story is the gameplay itself. I’m quite a cautious player, lacking in confidence in life generally, but HZD is all about presenting you with challenges and building your confidence through them. It builds your anticipation with the mention of a thunderjaw, then you get to try and take one out with a helpful NPC, using an array of available combat strategies until you find the one that suits you, then you take one out on your own, and then they throw you in a pit with three of them to see if you sink or swim. That kind of thing anyway. The point is, you start off a bit wary of everything, and by the end you feel like a champion of all things, ready to take on any challenge because you have come to realise that perseverance and the dodge button really do pay off.
The RPG aspects of the game do not fail to live by this same building philosophy. The gameplay is not prescriptive, but you can choose a style that suits you as an individual player. An array of weapons offers you an array of combat tactics that you can experiment with until you find your style. You can build your skills according to your style, and chop and change outfits according to your needs. It’s a game that very much places you, the player, at the heart of the experience, and that’s the best kind of game in my opinion, the most fulfilling and rewarding.
And then there’s the world itself. I’m a huge fan of massive open worlds (as my friend puts it, I like to “tootle around” quite a lot in games, just exploring and adventuring to my own rhythm), and although this isn’t the biggest of worlds I’ve played in, it’s certainly one of the most beautiful and diverse. From snowy mountain sides to rocky deserts to steamy jungles and river glades, this land has it all. The graphics are dynamic and wholly believable and the animation is some of the best I’ve seen, with some of the most expressive faces and realistic movements. I actually found myself getting attached to NPCs, and I never get attached to those people. Normally, I just see NPCs as the facilitators of missions, but not so with HZD. I was genuinely caring about my allies and thrilled at changing their opinions of the red-headed Nora savage who was taking action to change their world for the better.
I think probably one of the best features of this world is the quality of the light. That might sound odd, but it turns a beautiful world into a truly breathtaking world. The same place can take on a range of characters depending on whether you see it by dawn, midday, dusk or night. The intensity of each phase of the day just makes the whole place sparkle. I am frequently to be found (in all my tootlings) just standing still on a cliff overlooking a river valley and watching it all in the changing light. Or taking my time surfing on the top of a tallneck because it affords the best views of the world (and a cheeky safe vantage point for picking off machines on the ground!).
The missions have a balance that few games manage to achieve, and that it the balance between challenge and frustration. It’s tricky enough that it’s never boring, but you also never reach the point where you’re throwing the controller at the screen. They are just pushing you to enable you to explore your own skills and limits. Really I feel like through playing this game, I have become a better player. It has actually upgraded my abilities as a gamer. And I’m not sure there’s many other games I can say that for.
Honestly, I could go on and on and on about how much I love this game. There are no flaws but one, and that is that it is far too short. I finished it in about 80 hours, but I could have just gone on and on for a 1000 hours and not gotten weary of it. I still get a thrill after all this time thinking about following Alloy’s red hair and clinking armour on the road to adventure through a breathtaking world. This is not a one-play wonder for me. I will be restarting this beauty again and again and again, until they make a follow-up.
And please, please, Guerilla Games, make a follow-up.