A Mixed Bag of Robot Parts- Horizon Zero Dawn Review


Brian Wu, Staff Writer

Guerrilla Games, a video game developer known for its prestigious storytelling, has once again released another smashing masterpiece. The PlayStation-exclusive RPG game is known as Horizon Zero Dawn or HZD for short. After the release of Killzone 3 in 2011, Guerrilla began development of HZD. Simply known as Horizon during the development, the full game was released early 2017, and the DLC The Frozen Wilds was released on November of the same year. Considered a major success by the general public, the game scored well on most review sites. Picking up the game a few months after the initial release, I was pleasantly surprised by the very immersive world, though disappointed by several other aspects.

[The Sight and the Sound]

Running on the PlayStation 4, the game looks superb. Guerrilla Games has always been known to craft extremely eye-pleasing environments, and HZD might be their best work so far. By removing any assets not in the cone of view for the player, the game is able to run very long draw distances without any drops in the frame rate. The special effects are also well-made, with explosions and lightning looking extremely lifelike. However, when I did manage to trigger multiple processing-heavy effects, such as multiple explosions, I have experienced some heavy frame rate crashes. Often, the frame rate doesn’t return to normal until I restart the game, which has resulted in a loss of progress more than once. This broke my immersion harshly each time, and it is disappointing that this happened more than once throughout each level.

The world design of Horizon still sits as one of my favorites up till today. The world of Horizon is filled with machines that imitate real life animals, extinct or otherwise. Guerrilla really made the world feel alive and not like a constant machine that revolves around your actions. The game isn’t a series of inputs and outputs solely controlled by the player. Instead, the multitude of characters and environments change on a cycle even if you do nothing to continue the story. If you tried, you could even track the migration patterns of specific herds of robots. Even though they were made of ones and zeros, the robots made me feel as if they were truly alive and sentient. Your interactions with said robots also contribute to making the world feel more fluid. Herds move when you get close, and different robots will attack each other without your influence. The world itself is also well-made. The design team ensured that each area had its own climate and geography to make each leg of the game special and unique—from the frozen wilds of The Cut to the sparse forests and sheer cliffs of the Nora tribe’s land (which is extremely reminiscent of Zion National Park). All in all, Guerrilla Games has created a visual and auditory masterpiece deserving to be put alongside other classics.

[Gameplay and Mechanics]

HZD is a third-person real-time RPG, with gameplay and crafting reminiscent of a Far Cry game. Aloy’s best friend is her bow, and over the course of the game, you will both modify your existing bow and acquire new bows. Alongside an array of other innovative and fun-to-use weapons, fighting enemies never get stale. Using your Focus, a device that scans nearby objects and providing information, you can see enemy weak-points, patrol paths, and interesting lore. Whether you enjoy stealthily walking around enemies, nimbly hitting weak points with your bow, or chucking grenades, with practice no enemy is too much for Aloy to take on. The character design is fantastic, showing the depths of Guerrilla Game’s expertise at crafting immersive worlds and interesting characters. This includes both the humans and machines present in the game. You can tell the difference between tribes by looking at their model alone, and no dialogue is needed. But the real draw of this game, mechanics-wise, are the giant machines. From the small raptor-like scouts to the giant mechanized crocodiles, there are over twenty different “species” of machines to fight and take down. Each machine possesses different strengths, functions, and weaknesses, and the bigger ones require a hefty amount of preparation. Never in my life have I been more on the edge of my seat than when I was fighting a herd of robot Bison.

One major gripe I have with the game is definitely the difficulty. Horizon gives the players too much power while not having any stakes to give the sense of pressure. In my first playthrough, I played the game on normal difficulty. Immediately, I saw problems. The enemy health was laughable, and even the largest demons of the land were taken down by two to five shots from my bow. Enemy attacks were too weak to offer any challenge, and I finished my first playthrough pleased with the view, but nothing more. On my second playthrough, I beat the entire game on Hardcore. The depths of Dark Souls and Death’s Gambit have nothing on the screen shattering rage I felt at the game, dying to the same enemy for the twentieth time in a row. On Hardcore, the only difficulty after Normal, enemies decimate your health bar. Effectively sneaking past enemies is ridiculously difficult, and my roll button was practically worn out by the time I saw the credits. The difficulty is either too easy or borderline impossible, and I never found an equilibrium to fit my playstyle. Needless to say, I was unsatisfied with the difficulty levels presented to me.


By far, Guerrilla Games is known for their innovative storytelling, and HZD is no exception. The main story is a top-notch tale of self-discovery and emotional stability, not to mention blowing up robot dinosaurs. Though I found Aloy a tad bit of a Mary Sue, I could not ignore the colorful cast of side characters that added so much depth to the story as a whole. But the part of the game that made it all worth it, the part of the game that ensured that each playthrough took me over 70 hours, was the collectibles. Using Aloy’s Focus, you could find pieces of the “Old World” all over the map. These would provide a box of text, or a voice recording, or an augmented VR view of the way the world use to look. The world-building provided through these small additions is greatly appreciated, and though I never managed to find all 400+, I managed to get quite far. This only further supplements the main story, which is one of the best I have had the privilege to play through. The story takes you through the entire map and more without feeling forced. The story was intense, but also found the time to slow down and let me take in the magnificent view. However, for a world that feels so vibrantly alive, the story really doesn’t affect the world too much. The actual plot paints the main story as world-changing, but after beating the game, nothing changed. No new robots to fight, no new weapons to find, no new lore. The world didn’t revolve around me, but it wasn’t changed by me either. I was seriously let down but enjoyed the story nonetheless.

Guerrilla Games really outdid their last game, Killzone: Shadowfall, with Horizon. The graphical view is beautiful, and the gameplay is fun and replayable, but, by far, the story is what makes me return to the game, a year after release. Aloy and Co. never cease to make me laugh, cry, and be immersed. Still, the frame drops, inconsistent difficulty, and unchanged world (which was well built, just not changing) made me more than a little skeptical of Guerilla’s next release. I rate this game a 7.5/10.