Dutch studio Guerrilla Games made a name for itself as the developer of the Killzone series, an iconic PlayStation franchise that spanned five installments over four PlayStation generations.
So, it was somewhat of a surprise when the developer announced at E3 2015 that its new IP wasn't an FPS at all, but rather Horizon Zero Dawn - a singleplayer, narrative, character-focused open-world RPG… with robot dinosaurs.
It may seem like an odd premise, but Horizon Zero Dawn released in 2017 to critical acclaim and cemented Aloy's place as a PlayStation icon - and Horizon Zero Dawn’s place as one of the greatest games of this generation.
An epic journey
Horizon Zero Dawn starts by introducing the player to Rost and a young Aloy, as they journey across the hostile world of Horizon to perform a ritual with the Nora Tribe, who have declared the pair outcasts - but we won’t spoil why.
As we journey, Rost explains the mysterious world of Horizon, from the Old Ones who betrayed the Goddess to the gigantic machines that roam the wilderness. The awe that this opening cinematic inspires is captivating and immediately you’re drawn into the rich lore of the world - which only gets more intriguing as you progress.
A large part of what makes Horizon Zero Dawn so captivating lies in its intricacies. If Guerrilla Games had released a simple game, with an intriguing protagonist and robot dinosaurs, that would have been enough to spark interest. But instead, the developer goes above and beyond to immerse the player through the game’s mechanics.
One example of this is in the dialogue options, which allow you to further question aspects of the narrative, helping you understand Aloy’s anger towards the Nora Tribe and her curiosity about the world around her - and therefore, understand Aloy more as a character in her own right.
Horizon Zero Dawn’s world also has incredibly detailed lore attached to it, including several tribes all with their own unique beliefs, styles and political systems that can be investigated through conversations and side quests. This helps to flesh out the world, with all its moving parts, and encourages you to continue unearthing its secrets even after the credits have rolled.
Truly fun gameplay
A game about uncovering the mystery of a long-forgotten civilization and the social laws of primitive tribes could be forgiven for dipping into the bleak and depressing. But Horizon Zero Dawn always has fun at its core. Through its bevy of weapons to its in-depth skill tree, there is always something new and entertaining to be testing when it comes to Horizon’s combat.
And that’s not even covering the incredible variety and detailed enemy design. The mechanical dinosaurs that rule the expansive open-world really are the star of the show and each poses a unique and exciting challenge to Aloy. From the mountable Striders to the terrifying Thunderjaws each type of creature you encounter will require a different strategy to take down. Luckily, they all also have big glowing weak points for you to target, but that doesn’t mean surviving a Bellowback encounter will be easy.
Combat in Horizon is complemented by the crafting and economic systems. Collecting plants and resources on the roadsides will allow you to craft ammo for your various weapons or sell resources to buy new items for your arsenal. It’s all simple enough and in no way groundbreaking but it effectively discourages fast travel in the early game. Instead, you’ll reap better rewards by exploring on foot and always considering the risk in navigating a new area.
The opening of the Horizon Zero Dawn has you playing as Aloy as she grows up, raised by her adoptive father Rost, living as an outcast of the Nora Tribe. Allowing the player to experience Aloy’s vulnerability in her youth helps us to empathize with her struggles, confusion and anger toward the tribe that cast her out as an infant.
It’s this opening section of the game that sets Aloy apart from other typical game protagonists. Horizon Zero Dawn’s story is one of a young woman’s strive to discover who she is and where she is from. This relatable struggle leads to the player also finding out about the world and its people, but it is all secondary to Aloy. It’s refreshing to have a game protagonist that isn’t just a bloodthirsty killer on a mission, but instead an young woman unraveling a personal mystery.
From the beautiful landscapes to the engaging combat Horizon Zero Dawn has a little something for everyone. It’s not perfect, sometimes the open world can feel a little empty, the side quests aren’t up to the quality of something like the Witcher series, and conversations can sometimes feel a little lifeless; but Horizon Zero Dawn still manages to tell a unique story that we can’t wait to explore more in Horizon Forbidden West.