After nearly 25 hours with Horizon Zero Dawn, I’m still on the fence about whether or not I actually like this game. For all the moments of awe and amazing action it’s able to create, Horizon is not without its fair share of frustrating wild-goose-chase quests, monotonous collecting and a number of questionable design choices.
Whether or not you should play Horizon depends on your level of tolerance for that kind of imbalance. Horizon is brimming with potential and presents a lot of really great ideas, but the whole package isn’t as compelling as the sum of its parts.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a PS4 exclusive from developer Guerrilla Games, the studio known primarily for Killzone, a mostly well-regarded first-person-shooter series.
Horizon is a significant departure from the standard shooter mold, instead playing as an open-world action RPG with a third-person view. It takes place in what appears to be thousands of years after the fall of modern civilization where nature has taken back the world, save for a few skeletal ruins left behind by “the old ones.” Life is now made up of several primitive human tribes, some scarce wildlife and, oh, the giant killer robot machines that run the place. (Did I forget to mention them?)
Horizon puts you in control of Aloy, a young tribeless warrior who quickly discovers there’s something special about her mysterious lineage. Along her path she uncovers more about the fate of the old ones and how the rise of the machines came to be. Armed with a staff, bow and a variety of tripwires, traps and other weapons, she finds herself smack in the middle of an inter-tribe conspiracy that — you guessed it — also involves the race of machines.
Few games have a more promising start than Horizon. The entire first hour or so is a really compelling setup, but it rarely ever matches that level of intrigue thereafter. Horizon nails it in so many categories. It features jaw-dropping scenery, gorgeous costumes, satisfying combat and brilliant enemy design. But at the same time, the game drops the ball in a number of departments. It’s tough to discern a feeling of satisfying progression in terms of growing more powerful, and a lot of the game’s side missions feel repetitive and trite.
Horizon attempts to wear so many hats that it struggles to keep things flowing. After the first couple of hours, the story also starts to teeter. You’re offered so many different side quests and errands to explore that it’s easy to lose your focus. On one hand you’re encouraged to level up to match that of the next main quest, but the grind required to hit that can be a mindless affair.
Like Mass Effect, Horizon gives the player the choice of speech through a dialogue wheel, but it feels way less important in execution. Before I knew it, I found myself skipping chunks of exposition that I just didn’t care about.
Then there are the looting and crafting mechanics in Horizon. You have to worry about crafting for nearly everything you need: ammo, pouches, carry capacity — even the ability to fast-travel requires a number of items. The problem is that there are so many resources and items to collect that it’s tough to develop a tangible appreciation for one item over another. It’s not long before it all starts to blur together. I spent countless hours navigating menus, trying to understand what I needed to keep an eye out for, but I just was never able to fully wrap my head around it all. And no matter where you are, it seems that every 5 feet there’s something you can gather off the ground. It’s looting fatigue.
Plenty of open-world games offer a seemingly endless amount of stuff to do, but where Horizon falls short is in the substance of each of these nonvital sidetracks. Many of the quests you’ll undertake consist of following trails, examining evidence or having to trek great distances just to find out you need to return to where you came from.