Horizon Zero Dawn Review- Spoiler Free and Spoiler Explanation
Horizon Zero Dawn was released almost two years ago in Feb 2017 and is still exclusive to the PS4. Its produced by Guerrilla Games, a first party studio and published by Sony. Before playing the game the general consensus was that the game was one of the best games of 2017 and definitely the one of the best for the ps4. In this video, I’ll combine both non-spoiler review before going into spoilers discussion.
As a quick synopsis, you play as Aloy a hunter in a world a thousand years in the future where machines dominate the land and humans are more primitive, existing mostly in smaller nomadic groups. Guerilla Games is known for the Killzone series, and its sci-fi and action roots are definitely strong points that carry over to this new universe. The transition to a third person, open world, action RPG is seamless and the game is a polished, entertaining adventure that delivers a unique and satisfying story. From a gameplay perspective, horizon zero dawn is like a cross between the new Tomb Raider games and Mass Effect.
My favorite aspect of the game was definitely the story. From the first scene, the game introduces questions, such as what happened to the human race, our advanced civilization, the presence of the machines, and Aloys role in all this. While I avoided any spoilers before playing the game, I had the impression that the ending would be more shocking or controversial than it was. I liked the direction they went with and if you love sci-fi and suspense, the story alone will be able to keep you playing to the end of the game, which took me about 50 hours.
Sometimes it felt like a carrot dangling from a stick in front of me, as the game does a great job of leading you on with small nuggets until close to the end of the game. Many, like 80%, of the audio and text files that reveal the game’s story is probably discovered during the last 20% of the game. This info dump caused the story and build up to drag at the end as I had to stop and listen or read for several minutes, even though I wanted to keep exploring and finally getting to the big reveal.
With that said, one of the biggest weak points for me where the side quests and missions not related to the main quest-line. During the course of the game, Aloy is made a Seeker, who is allowed to venture beyond the borders of her village on her quest for the truth. At the same time, the Seeker is someone who helps others. While optional, this leads to boring side quests ranging from tracking down missing people to getting mixed up in political conflicts. I started the game trying to learn as much as I could about the different factions you meet, by listening to all optional dialogue, but toward the second half of my journey lost interest as they never really added anything interesting about the main story, so I ended up skipping more of the optional dialogue and just completing them for the experience, items, or skill points granted if completed.
There are many other aspects of the game that I had mixed feelings about. For example, the voice acting for the main characters were great, giving these characters a lot of personality and emotion, but other side characters and NPCs were not given the same treatment by comparison and added to an uneven experience. The game reminded me a lot of Mass Effect, especially the original series. While speaking to other characters you have the choice of a dialogue option that includes many choices for those that want more backstory and add more variety. While facial animations are done well sometimes the character models and animations look stiff. Especially entering and exiting a conversation, there was always that awkward second that made the characters feel robotic. While the characters look great, and I generally don’t care about graphics, something about the texture and the clean look of most characters made me feel like they were all manikins or dolls, not actually living in the gritty and dangerous world they are part of.
The combat was also something that I was on the fence about. I played the game on the very hard settings, so this may not apply to most players, but it highlighted many flaws that I probably would not encounter on easier settings. The biggest issue for me was due to the sheer number of enemies and close range attacks not feeling effective in most situations. The best way to take down enemies especially later on in the game was to continuously run away from the enemy until you are out of their range. While enemies pursue you if you are seen, your soon notice that there appears to be an invisible range that enemies will not venture out from. Taking advantage of this, and often being the only solution, I would fire some shots retreat a few steps outside of their range until they retreat, then repeat over and over. This was also true for larger boss battles, and especially on the hardest difficulty, the only feasible way to beat some of these enemies was to employ this cheap trick or find a hiding place that you can attack from, where the enemy could not hit you. I like playing on the hardest difficulty not only for the challenge but also because it highlights strengths or weaknesses in game design. While I appreciated the challenging combat and very hard does live up to its name, the AI can be both smart and very dumb. They can spot you from really far distances, and dodge many of your arrows, but at the same time can’t find you the second you go behind cover. Also, it was awesome to fight airborne enemies, but unless you're in the desert, the trees/plant/foliage will block your view when you turn the camera to look upward. Again this leads me to use cheap tactics like running away and shooting from a distance, where my view was not hindered.
Another aspect of the game that could have been better were the villains. I felt that the villains in the game were weak, and the evil mercenary group called the Eclipse were not memorable, didn’t play a significant role in the story, and actually felt annoying as they were always getting in your way when I just wanted to reveal more parts of the story. They didn't have any depth and had no motivation other than to be evil and destroy all life on Earth. I know I’ve already made the comparison, but this game is really similar to the Rise of the Tomb Raider that came out a couple years before it. Not only that the Eclipse members are just like the Trinity mercenaries, and the main weapon is the bow and arrows, but also the zip lines. I’ll tell you what, I’ve been on a zip line out near Big Bear, and it's not as exciting as it looks. Ultimately, if you really enjoyed the new Tomb Raider games, I’m sure you’ll really like this game too. I, on the other hand, thought the Rise of the Tomb Raider was fine but overrated.
Looking into the RPG aspect of the game, I thought the progression system was good and I was always looked forward to investing that next skill point in the talent tree, or saving up currency from salvaging/hunting robots for the next weapon or gear upgrade. Another than the story, what I enjoyed most about the game was the weapons and the unique aspect of removing components or hitting specific enemy parts with elemental damage. Each weapon has a different purpose, such as tying down enemies, freezing them to deal more damage, fire to deal damage over time, or laying out trip wires for the enemy to set off. Each weapon and armor piece was also customizable with modifications, that provided more damage to or resistance to different elements. This added an element of strategy and complexity most other games don’t have. This game also had loot system similar to action RPGs like Diablo, where enemy drops can be common, uncommon, rare or very rare. With the added difficulty playing on very hard mode, I had to utilize different weapons, stealth and plan my strategy before tackling a group of machines. And it was satisfying when I finally got the part I needed to trade for an upgrade. Also removing components of enemies can drastically affect how you take down an enemy. For example, I was having trouble with an enemy that burrows underground. Taking out its hands first prevents it from digging underground allowing you to see where it is and take it down much easier.
There were a couple of questions I had initially but after going back to the main scenes everything makes sense logically. I dislike when games have plot holes, or unrealistic scenarios play out for convenience sake. Other than getting over the initial skepticism that bows and arrows or spears would be effective weapons against the machines, and not loving the opening act. The overall the story was very satisfying and definitely a memorable one.
As an overall experience, I would give this game a B+, definitely something everything should play for the story and gameplay, but I wouldn’t recommend playing it on very hard difficulty. As it just adds unnecessary frustration and seemingly impossible encounters, you can’t beat without cheap tricks, by increasing the damage you take while decreasing the damage you deal. From now I’ll go into spoilers, so if you’re not ready to read/watch this section, thanks sticking with me for the first part and be sure to comment, share, like or sub to my Youtube channel if you enjoyed the review.
So going into spoilers, one of the main questions brought up in the game is what happened to humans and civilization if the game is set 1000 years in the future. Why is the most advanced civilization shown in Meridian, still worshiping a sun king, like in an ancient Egyptian culture? The game refers to the old civilization of humans, who were technologically advanced as the Old Ones, and Aloy stumbles into one of their labs as a child, where she finds her focus. Ultimately, we learned that it all happened as a result of a robotics company, with its leader behind it Ted Faro. They initially design and create robots for every day convinces but eventually create war machines for military purposes. As a result, Ted Faro becomes the richest and most influential person alive. Everything goes wrong when a virus, called the Faro virus, infects the war robots, called deathbringers, which were designed to convert biomass into fuel and are able to self-replicate. It’s clear that the virus will spread quickly, causing the deathbringers to indiscriminately consuming all biomass, and eventually eradicate all life on the planet.
The biggest question is how humans survived this catastrophe at all. It’s revealed that there was a secret weapon called project Zero Dawn. People were led to believe that project Zero Dawn was the last remaining option and society was convinced to sacrifice themselves to buy time for the project to be successful. However, the twist is that it there was no way to prevent the human race, as well as all life, from being eradicated. A scientist named Dr. Elisabet Sobeck, the one that Aloy resembles, is leading project Zero Dawn to create a super-powered AI called Gaia that is going to be responsible for bringing humans back after all life ends on the planet. Project Zero Dawn is also responsible for creating more subsystems that Gaia can use to make sure that humans and life can eventually be brought back on Earth. Minerva is the first system that is responsible for cracking the code that can deactivate the Ferro robots using broadcast towers. Unfortunately, it will take more than fifty years past the point where the machines will consume all life on the planet. Hephestus is another one of these systems that is responsible for the underground cauldrons found in the game, which are used to create all the machines necessary to make the earth inhabitable again. Eleuthia and Apollo is responsible for creating and educating the new generation of humans initially born, educated, and released from underground cradle facilities, like the one you encounter in the game.
So what makes Aloy so special? It wasn’t until recently that the machines became aggressive and starting attacking humans on sight. A little before the start of the game, and before Aloy is born, HADES another subsystem of the GAIA AI, responsible for destroying life or hitting the reset button on all life on earth, is awakened and is trying to gain control over GAIA. After the end credits, the character Slyens, that helps you on your journey and a seeker of knowledge, says that someone/something was responsible for awakening HADES specifically at that time, setting off the chain of events. I was wondering why the Alphas, the engineers responsible for creating each component of the GAIA, created HADES in the first place if its sole purpose is to end life. There were failsafes built in to prevent HADES from going crazy as it did, but how its explained in the game was that if there was a problem while trying to make the planet an inhabitable place, HADES could act to start the whole process over again. Similar to the process of apoptosis in cells, programmed cell death is necessary when cells are no longer needed or a threat to the organism. It’s shown in the game during conversations with Dr. Sobeck, that GAIA is developing feeling and feelings of sympathy which may prevent it from doing something necessary such as exterminating all life to restart the process over again. However, because HADES starts malfunctioning and starts corrupting the other subsystems in place, GAIA then needs to self-destruct in order to stop HADES from taking over its entire system, right before it does this though, GAIA creates Aloy a clone of Dr. Sobeck to be raised by the Nora tribe to ultimately reboot GAIA and find a master override device that will end HADES for good.
What I thought was an underwhelming part of the story that could have been made into a more impactful scene was the reveal of why Rost and Aloy are outcasts in the first place. You can speak to the priestess Terresa after you learn about Gaia’s plan, who explains that Rost became a death-seeker to get vengeance on a group of outsiders that killed his wife and daughter before the events of the game took place. Teressa explains that once someone becomes a death-seeker they cannot return to the tribe and both expected Roth to die in this quest anyway. When Rost is found barely alive and brought back to the Nora tribe, the priestesses make a deal with him that he can live as an outcast if he raises Aloy for them. Which is one aspect of the story that doesn’t make sense to me still. Aloy who is born from the machine they worship like a god. But the first thing they do is cast out the baby because they are afraid of her and don’t understand her purpose. But by the end of the game, once Aloy comes out of the Facility and learns about Gaia's plan, the whole village and the priestesses included start worshipping Aloy as a god.
There was also another element I found really interesting which was the character of Ted Faro, he was responsible for creating the robots that lead to the extinction of human-kind, and all life. You are lead to believe that he is regretful and does what he can with the Zero Dawn project to rectify his wrongs. But there is also a powerful moment in the game where he erases Apollo and kills all the alphas responsible for creating the subsystems of project Zero Dawn. While obviously a dick move, you can understand where he is coming from. Apollo was meant to be all the accumulated knowledge of mankind, from ancient civilizations, languages, to their more modern discoveries. Ted Faro knows that this knowledge and pursuit of machines and AI lead to dooming of mankind in the first place, so he thinks that the new civilizations of humans will repeat the same mistake if this knowledge is handed down. I was thinking about this and we as a society appreciate and value history because of the lessons we can learn from it. By erasing all the knowledge, he not only set back human advancement thousands of years but also made it more likely the new civilizations will repeat the same mistake eventually.
With the success of the game, can we anticipate a sequel being announced soon? Guerilla games already seem to be working on the sequel after releasing the planned DLC, and you can check out videos from channels such as JorRaptor, which I’ll link below, for information regarding that.
I just want to speculate a bit on where I can see the sequel going. The post-credits scene shows Sylens capturing, reviving, or trapping Hades’s trying to get more information out of him. This probably indicates a direct sequel immediately taking place right after the events of the first game going deeper into who activated or triggered HADES to corrupt and try to take over GAIA in the first place. It seems like there is a bigger villain in the story and HADES was ultimately being used to achieve a bigger plan.
If there wasn’t a post-credits scene, I would have said the game concluded wrapping up all loose ends. I would actually prefer to see a new game go into events that took place before the beginning of this game. For example, seeing and being able to experience Rost’s backstory would be like what RDR2 did for its sequel. Even though we know the main events that took place and how things might end, I would love to see a game go in that direction. Since Rost is a hunter like Aloy you can still use a lot of the mechanics from the original. What would make a good story is seeing Rost track down the killers to the different regions as a death-seeker.
I hope you guys enjoyed this post, either the spoiler-free or spoiler section. Let me know of your thoughts of the game in the comments below. Leave a like, comment, or sub to my YouTube channel if you made it this far. Thanks as always for reading or watching, and see you all again next time.