Five hours (or 10.71% game completion, if you prefer) into Horizon: Zero Dawn I can tell you with a ninety-nine percent confidence rating; Zero Dawn is the most gorgeous game I’ve ever played, Guerrilla Games proved themselves a top-tier developer, backtracking isn’t required for open world games to remain vast and Horizon is a new intellectual property gamers will discuss for the next decade.

H:ZD is an exceptional game worth a playthrough.

Graphics aren’t everything, but they are the first aspect of Zero Dawn you’ll notice. And they will blow you away. The pre-rendered cut scenes are immaculate and could stand scrutiny next to any animated theatrical releases. The in-game environments, character models and texturing blend together smoothly and make any scene look spectacular – people are posting random screen grabs in photo-mode that rival carefully cultivated press release shots to promote the game.

The vast open world is able to maintain a design aesthetic and sense of purpose just like “corridor” games which keep the player on a specified path. Every herd of mechs, random strolling wildlife or NPC you encounter feels purposefully placed to ensure you are always admiring or interacting with the environment.

I have encountered a couple hiccups during in-game discussions. One time, the protagonist, Aloy’s hair cropped oddly through her chin making it look like she had a weird growth. In another instance, the lip-syncing for dialogue didn’t match the voice acting. These were minor errors which corrected themselves within 5 seconds but still took me out of the moment.

I can’t help but wonder if these technical issues wouldn’t occur if I had a PlayStation Pro instead of a launch PS4. Another lingering thought while playing my PS4-novice is that the fan runs noticeably louder with H:ZD than other games. These aren’t reasons to avoid H:ZD but do highlight one of the problems with the split marketplace Sony created – I wouldn’t worry that H:ZD was meant for more powerful hardware if Sony never released a PlayStation Pro to begin with.

Besides the occasional bug (which is standard, but not forgivable, for a game of this scope), the character interactions strengthen the world of H:ZD and Aloy’s journey. Every line of dialogue is well acted and animated to draw the viewer in. This is easily the type of game where Player 2 could watch and enjoy the experience without picking up a controller. The characters are [for the most part] likable or fall into their tropes with pitch-perfect accuracy. Everyone who you interact with feels important to the narrative and highlights a new part of the world or Aloy’s background.

At times the story might seem familiar but the mythology-building is unique. There are numerous stories of post-apocalyptic civilizations rummaging for survival but the mix of old-school aesthetics and sci-fi technology feels unique in H:ZD . The story does a good job of balancing development of Aloy as a character first and revealing the world in which she lives. There isn’t a dialogue dump of narration to catch the player up to the scenario, instead, everything is intertwined through gameplay and exploration.

Speaking of wandering, Aloy is able to move around the world at a surprisingly quick pace. Even quest markers 800+ steps away can be reached in a couple minutes, with collectible diversions along the way. And Aloy is probably the fastest climber in any video game – she dashes up ropes, mountains and structures like a hyperactive squirrel fueled by Red Bull. This feeling of movement, along with a quest structure that pushes the player forward with minimal backtracking, helps H:ZD avoid the pitfalls of other open world games (long travel sequences where the player does nothing, repetitive environments, fetch quests that send you in circles).

This is the open-world game for people who don’t like open-world games. The world is vast but never overwhelming and the quests push the story forward (or at least character moments) rather than being filler to arbitrarily increase playtime.

Intertwined through the well-crafted exploration are a plethora of opportunities for Aloy to show-off her combat prowess. The game goes through the standard tutorial sequence (in an interesting and narrative-driven approach) and after the initial encounter lets the player progress how they prefer. Each battle can be handled through a variety of stealth, melee combat or bow mastery. Foes do seem more susceptible to one or the other but each is a viable strategy to complete the mission.

After 1/10 of the voyage finished H:ZD is arguably the best exclusive available on the PS4. Guerrilla Games created a deep intriguing world, populated with characters that are charming and a fresh take on familiar combat/exploration mechanics.

If you enjoy games with character moments, deep mythology, robust RPG mechanics, a variety of enemy types and challenges then this is one horizon worth chasing. If you want an experience that is pure gameplay and doesn’t care about the attention to detail and high production values that make H:ZD  a masterpiece then there is zero chance you’ll like this game (or any AAA game really).


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Dawn of a New Franchise
Stunning VisualsCharismatic CharactersInteresting World-BuildingVaried Combat Options
5.0Overall Score
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