By Kundai Murapa, Gamer News Daily Contributing Author
Horizon Zero Dawn burst out the gates screaming and blasting its disk launchers with a mechanical fervour so well polished it left a permanent sheen in living rooms across the world. The PS4 finally gets put through its paces by a game that rides the redline in terms of graphical output and does it so near flawlessly it should be called Horizon Zero Bugs. But besides team Guerrilla being a kick ass studio. There’s one defining reason why HZD runs so smooth, so fresh, so clean. A lot you’d typically find in a modern open world classic has been left at the wayside in favour of next level mechanics and pure graphical fidelity, however, we still miss some of the creature comforts we’ve grown accustomed to while open world RPGing.
One source of dissatisfaction that struck me was the weapons catalog. With only 27 possible weapons to choose from it did feel a bit empty, moreso was the lack of cosmetic diversity across the different weapons, I could only truly distinguish which bow I was using by the ammunition load out. HZD also falls short when it comes to ammo procurement options. You can’t gather ammunition from fallen enemies or loot it from a downed foe’s inventory. You either make it or buy it or in some rare cases, you’ll find it lying around somewhere. To the game’s credit, the diverse ammunition stock and weapons functions from traps and trip wires to automatic projectile weapons maybe, probably, kind of makes up for it. There’s nothing more insanely fun than spending hours with a respawning Thunderjaw and finding within the trove of weapon types and ammo, new and creative ways of destroying the robo T-rex.
Fast travel is the sliced bread of open world RPG mechanics, but Horizon Zero Dawn puts you on a steady gluten-free regimen, you have to earn your carbs. Starting off with single use “Fast Travel Packs that can be purchased from merchants or looted from human corpses, you’ll soon have the option to purchase a permanent fast travel pack. Once you have this bad boy, you’re back sitting at the table with all the rest, until then, or at least until you’ve killed enough foxes that you’ve finally learned how to skin one, you’ll need to trudge through the vast expanse of HZD’s game world, often bumbling into unwarranted peril on your way to that quest marker. The lack of fast travel off the bat is one of the features that gives Horizon it’s notoriously slow start.
Leveling in the game is all over the place. The level system is unrewarding to say the least. Firstly, it is ridiculously easy to mine xp in the game, just visit a spawning site for any mid to top tier enemy, rinse and repeat. This, coupled with the underwhelming level 50 cap means you’ll have reached max in no time. The skills tree is also a bit of a tease with all the most essential skills only attainable near the end of skills progression, bear in mind I’m not referring to the best skills like being able to fire three arrows at a time, just the essential ones like being able to change your weapons mods, another example of bringing early game essentials too late in the game.
Lastly, let’s look at the story. HZD’s overarching premise is a solid foundation for a great, captivating narrative, albeit a cliched one in this day and age. A post apocalyptic future where machines and artificial intelligence have brought about the collapse of human civilisation and now one person, a seeker of peace and knowledge must reclaim our right to the planet or something like that. It’s a sort of like “Cadillacs and Dinosaurs” if I’m to use a dated but personal 90’s reference, in this case however, the Cadillacs are the dinosaurs, or vice versa. Where HZDs story falls short, despite a brilliant backstory that sets up the events in the game and a vivid world build, is the character development. Aloy, the playable protagonist, is a 19 year old heroine, but despite being 19, she is more stoic than Keanu Reeves in a poker game. Even after having been rejected and mocked by society her entire life, having her father figure and only human contact brutally murdered before her eyes, being the prime target for a bunch of killer robots lead by a satanic A.I., finding out that some creepy dude has been spying on her through her smart watch and learning that she doesn’t have parents, but was cloned in a metal vat although she technically has a mom who died 1000 years ago, Aloy seems to be keeping it a little too well together as an unwavering bastion of good, hope and salvation. As admirable as her character tropes are, they are not realistic for a marked-for-death 19 year old outcast with mommy and daddy issues. I’d have expected a deep psychological journey to ensue where she battled with the internal conflict of her past, angst and vendettas, spilling out into how she handles real world affairs. The only moments where we see Aloy reacting to her circumstances are brief and contrived or peppered with stinging sarcasm. This is where the game could have really taken off story-wise, where we see an internal battle between light and dark, where decisions have actual weight and the hero’s journey isn’t so predetermined.
Having mulled over the few and forgivable shortcomings of Horizon Zero Dawn, we can only but hope that the upcoming DLC expansion will address these drawbacks and add more to be enjoyed.
We want more weapons. different weapons, weapons that are so iconic they’ll ring synonymous with the game itself on forums and in discussion, Elder Scrolls does weapons well, but I can’t expect, nor do I wish for such an overwhelming trove to select from, just enough to offer variety and diversity. It would also be nice if weapons were upgradable. For now you can modify them to add onto their base stats, but improving those base stats themselves would be tremendously welcome. Looting enemy corpses should allow Aloy to retrieve the very tools that were aimed at dispatching her, be it weapons or ammunition. It would also be nice if Aloy’s “Focus” device was customizable in some way, perhaps upgrading to the point of remote override of any machine in its Focus Field.
Levelling in the game needs to match the pace of events, events themselves need to be level driven, forcing players to earn the right to a quest and have quests, items and events themselves levelled to your current stats so as to preserve the challenge and thus the reward. I’m sure there will be more machines in the coming expansion with a likelihood of the Horus Class “Metal Devil” making an entry as a boss battle.
The story will obviously develop, but with it we hope to see Aloy develop and for her trials to extend beyond the physical and go in depth. A great way to play into existing themes would be to explore the concept of corruption. Just as enemies can be corrupted in-game, transforming them into vicious killing…er…machines, Aloy’s lifelong struggle can form a platform of instability which has the very real potential of corrupting her. We want to see how this plays into the story because it really makes sense for that to happen.
This is not a review, the game is great, I know it, Metacritic knows it, but with great games, comes great nitpicking.