I still cannot decide if I would have chosen Horizon Zero Dawn as the Cruncher game of the year had I played in last year instead of come to the party late and played this year. Horizon Zero Dawn is a beautiful open world full of wonder and the best story of any game I played last year. From the moment I saw gameplay from this game pre-release I knew I had to play it. At the time I didn’t have a PS4 and decided I wanted one, if for no other reason, to play this game. I actually picked up the game Black Friday and elected to wait to play it after some other games with the intent of saving the best for last. It did not disappoint.
Gamers get to take on the role of Aloy, a free spirited 18 year old girl who has been an outcast her entire life and is just now being allowed into society. Her outcast upbringing shape her view of the world and personality to great effect. The writers at Guerrilla Games did a fabulous job bringing such a fun and strong character to fruition. If I had to pick my favorite female characters in gaming it would be close between Aloy and Lara Croft but I think Aloy would win out in the end. Her charm is infectious and makes it a delight to play.
The supporting cast is rather small when it gets down to it but they add the Aloy’s character well. There are many characters that she meets throughout the game but the cast of regulars is limited to a hand full, one of which is the fun loving Erend. Always ready to take up a pint, Erend is one of my favorite characters in the game. Another strong character, I prefer not to ruin, is far less fun but adds great depth to the story. Aloy generally goes about the massive world on her own but her interactions with these character flesh out the experience and add dynamic and drama that expertly enhances the story.
Combat is extremely strategic and may not be for everyone. It’s all about knowing your enemy and preparing for combat before an encounter. A small group of the dinosaur like enemies can be devastating if you are not using the correct weapons or tactics. The scan ability became my best friend for understanding enemy weaknesses so that I could exploit them by equipping the right gear. Boss battles became a dance once you understood the patterns and knew how best to tick away at them. I enjoy boss battles like many gamers but Horizon Zero Dawn took it to another level with the combat and made me feel extremely vulnerable while feeling like an action hero all at the same time. One misstep and I could find myself extremely low on health.
The health system was two fold where you could heal yourself with herbs that you gather or use potions. I had more fun than can be expected just gathering herbs for healing or other crafting materials. I don’t enjoy complex crafting systems in games as I don’t enjoy learning all the ins and outs of the system. Horizon Zero Dawn made crafting fun and simple without making gathering materials feel like a chore. It is rare to find that balance in a game and Guerrilla Games found it on their first triple A outing.
The open world was extremely beautiful and felt quite large however it was not as fleshed out as some of these other large open world games in recent history. It may have been on purpose to add to the post apocalyptic nature of the game, due to resource restrictions, or any number of reasons but it was an area that I was slight let down by. The side quests were still fun but there were occasions that I found myself travelling from point A to point B and wishing the world were a bit more populated. I personally believe this is due to this being Guerrilla’s first triple A game and the inevitable sequel will be a far more populated world similar to Skyrim and The Witcher 3 where there is a new quest every 100 feet it feels like.
Despite a slightly less populated open world than I wanted, Horizon Zero Dawn was a nearly perfect game. I came to the game nearly a year after release and didn’t experience any bugs or poor performance issues. The game ran great on my original PS4 and amazed me with its visuals, story-telling, character development, combat, crafting system and respect to culture. The game was heavily influenced by tribal culture and I felt it greatly. It was fun to see the world that Guerrilla created and I cannot wait to see what the sequel holds.
5 out of 5 Couch Cushions!!!