[This review contains spoilers]
This game is beautiful. I feel the need to emphasise that after the old console vs. pc war rages on. It’s an exclusive for the PS4, and that makes it an easy suggestion for any owner of that console. It’s a good game.
However I, in some ways, felt disappointed by it. Not because it isn’t great, but because I was expecting a fantasy, or fantasy-like game, to be more specific. When this game came out, many outlets sang it’s praises. It was compared very favourably to Witcher 3. To me, that’s misleading. It’s a Sci-Fi game, and a great one at that. The story has twists and turns. It has some sequel bait, which is fine by me, I’d like to play one.
The villain feels generic, taking a sort-of ‘skynet’ approach. However the main character, Aloy, despite a funny name, is a great character. It’s refreshing to me to have a great female character in a leading role in a AAA game.
I’m not sure if that’s controversial or not to say. But after playing The Last of Us and Witcher 3; both games where a playable female character get only a brief appearance, it’s nice to have it consistent throughout a game. A game that doesn’t have a ‘pick your adventure’ vibe like Mass Effect or Skyrim.
I should make it clear that I am aware of Tomb Raider, I’ve yet to play it, but that is another good example of a female-lead franchise.
I liked the overall story. I like the mystery that surrounded everything, it drew you in. I even found myself reading notes left behind by the dead civilisation, listening to audio logs. I was also surprised by the inclusion of a lesbian couple earlier in the game; when listening to the last words of a dead woman. It was sad, and poignant. I felt for that couple, just based on one audio log. That’s difficult to do, but I found the inclusions of that, by interacting with the world and coming with your own conclusions, to be one of the strongest aspects of this games storytelling.
I also find it interesting that Aloy had no interest in romance, something that’s normally a staple of games like this. When you can make choices in a game, normally it also leads to ‘love’.
The choices that are in this game are limited, but when they’re there, they feel important. It should also be noted that all your actions, for the most part, feel significant. Especially for the main plot. I felt like I was making a difference, that I was saving the world as we knew it. That I had something to prove and everything to lose.
The story does however have some faults, some key characters introduced at the beginning were wasted potential, they died too early. They could’ve made a larger impact later on, like Rost for example.
I also found the side missions to have a repetitive structure ‘track something down, kill a robot dinosaur, return thing back to person’. This felt weaker overall and like ‘busy work’. However the main plot lines, as stated before, are strong and avoided these issues.
Another problem I had, was that there were impressive cities, yet unlike games like Skyrim, I couldn’t just randomly walk into people’s houses. That felt immersion breaking to me.
The game play is fun, but I found the ‘stealth’ parts to be the weakest part. Especially with the over emphasis on the red bushes, this is something Shadow of Mordor did far better. The attacks via bow and arrow are, however, fun and satisfying. The spear feels closer to a last ditch effort weapon, but is competent enough to be a main weapon for those that prefer it.
The health system, I thought, was unique and easy to use, far better than Shadow of Mordor in that regard. It actually allows you to keep your herbs on hand.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a fine game, that I think, is mainstream enough for mass appeal. It’s good, with a strong story, I’d recommend it to almost anyone.