Reading: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Playing: Horizon: Zero Dawn
Drinking: Hot chocolate
Hello I have been resurrected to bring you this random review of a game I love to bits!
First and foremost, if you have not played the game and don't want any details (even though I will try not to give anything away), then feel free to skip this.
I got this game as a late Christmas present last year, but due to life and school I wasn't able to get very far and as a result had to start over from scratch this Christmas. Now that my life is situated and I'm out of school, I've spent the last two weeks of my break finally grinding through this game. And my opinion of it is overwhelmingly positive. The moment I saw the gameplay trailer almost two years ago, I was hooked and invested and begged my parents for the pre-order. For god's sake, it has robotic animals and dinosaurs, it's practically packaged for me with a blue ribbon and everything!
Horizon: Zero Dawn is a PS4 exclusive game about a girl named Aloy, who lives over 900 years in a post-apocalyptic future, dominated by animal-machines instead of living animals; her tribe, the Nora, are hunter-gatherers who consider the "ancients" (aka us in the 21st century) cursed, and shun away the relics of the old past. Aloy herself lives as an outcast from the Nora tribe with her adoptive father, Rost, who trains her to compete for the Nora's acceptance. However the conflicts arise among other human civilizations, and a new threat of machines brings Aloy out of the Nora homeland as she discovers who she is, why she was cast out at birth, and why the machines came to be there in the first place. At least that's the footnoted synopsis lol
The story is complicated and has many details, but based on what I've come to understand, the story itself is shrouded in mystery and extremely entertaining. I could not guess anything that was about to happen, other than a few minor details about Aloy's origins. I really enjoyed the lore, and the amount of detail used to flesh out this environment. The care involved in the creature design, as well as the graphics and character design is simply stunning. It has to be some of the best looking games I have ever seen. The technology we have these days really shines here, and I can believe that all of what happens in this game is tangible and real with just the amount of effort given in the artwork.
The machines themselves are incredible to look at; you have an option to go in photo mode for the PS4 and I highly recommend anyone to do it. You can move the camera around these machines to get a great look at them, and how closely they resemble animals or dinosaurs you recognize. It was a treat for me as someone passionate about animals and dinosaurs to see these robots in this light, and I applaud the creativity. The soundtrack, too, is a must-have.
Overall the gameplay is very smooth, and while not hard to comprehend and simple for newbies, it doesn't spoonfeed you at all. You learn about each individual machine weakness with the help of a device Aloy has (a Focus device), and the variety of weapons you choose from determine your playthrough. There isn't a huge batch of weapons to grab, but they make up for it in variety and usability. What I loved was that there was a high likelihood to die from a machine that wasn't as dangerous, like a Watcher, because of a mistake or careless decision on your part. You dodge the wrong way and suddenly half your health is gone, and I love that. It makes you reconsider your choices, and makes you stop and think about your actions.
What's also great is that you have to constantly gather resources to make your arrows, and if you don't stock up it can cost you your life. You also learn about what each material does for specific arrows, so you have a specific resource that you use and gather from machines in order to enhance your combat. The amount of save points given indicate that you have to constantly save, and the game only autosaves when you're in the middle of a mission. At any other time in the open world you need to save every couple of minutes or you lose all that you gathered. This system is incredibly fluid and I love that it makes me jumpy and cautious. All too often games just give it to you without any work, and I can feel like I accomplished a lot; all the machines I fight feel like a boss battle, because they each have a system that needs to be done to take them down. You can die from a single Watcher, or you can get bitch-slapped with a Thunderjaw's tail because you didn't heal fast enough. It makes the encounters meaningful and memorable.
That being said, that kind of gameplay might not be for everyone. If you like a more guns-blazing approach, rather than Aloy's bow-and-arrow wielding and stealth-based decision making, then the combat will not be for the impatient. All too often when watching Let's Players, they power through this game and avoid being stealthy because they want the resources or end result NOW NOW NOW, or don't gather resources as often as they need to. As a result of this they make a ton of mistakes, run out of arrows and deplete their health too fast, and opt for a brutish approach of hitting the machines with their spear over and over again. Using the spear is meant as a final blow or last resort, like when a machine's health is low, since most of your attacks will be from a bow-and-arrow. So I find it infuriating when a Let's Player has a ton of resources, doesn't bother to learn about them individually, and acts surprised when the game doesn't respond. The game isn't hard, but it challenges you to think about what to do with your materials. I have also taken a ton of time to understand the game compared to the time allotted for a Let's Player to push out material, so this is just a personal annoyance.
If I had one critique overall, it has to do with Aloy as a character on her own. She grew up practically alone, so she often talks to herself when you're roaming about the wilderness. However, I feel like the game could have given just a little bit more time into her head. The only times that I see a lot of emotion and rawness from her it's when she's discovering who she is as well as learning about the past, and even then the other characters tell her to stop feeling overwhelmed and get moving with the mission. I wish I could have gotten to know her a lot better, instead of feeling rushed to understand the story. She is witty and says a lot of blunt, dry jokes and that's entertaining, but there isn't a ton of personality being expressed. The game doesn't focus on this, of course, but I feel I could be attached to Aloy in more ways then just "oh yeah she's got to figure shit out and save the day".
Overall, a very solid game, and a definite recommend. I've enjoyed every minute of it, and it's very addicting! Even if the story isn't for you or you're not a fan of the combat, the world you get sucked into is worth the price. Expect me to draw something of it soon!