A Misguided Journey

HIGH The first four or five hours are amazing.

LOW Getting mobbed by three different kinds of enemies in the desert.

WTF A lot of this game feels directly lifted from Far Cry: Primal


 

I hate to say it, but Horizon: Zero Dawn is the best title Guerrilla Games has ever produced, and yet only manages to be a middling open-worlder that fails to capitalize on its strengths. I’m glad to see this refreshing change of pace from a studio that’s been mired in Killzone hell for far too long, but I wish the final product didn’t feel so tired and familiar.

The premise of Horizon is that an unexplained apocalypse has happened, but instead of turning everything into a burned-out wasteland, nature has reclaimed the world. Things are green and lush, and it seems like a paradise restored until it’s revealed that animal-like robots roam freely, dominating the landscape and forcing the remaining humans to take shelter in walled-off enclaves.

As the story begins, the player takes on the role of Aloy, an outcast girl being raised by a man who’s not her father. He brings her up in the wilderness, teaching her how to fight and survive.

Horizon takes quite a bit of time setting this scenario up, starting her off as a small child and carrying through until she comes of age. We see where she comes from, why she is who she is, and when Aloy interacts with people who shun her, it’s an effective way of illustrating her life and environment. Her character is immediately relatable, and the worldbuilding that happens organically drew me right in.

Unfortunately, Horizon drops that ball hard once Aloy sets out past the village walls. Instead of maintaining the same focus that made the opening so strong, the developers make a hard left and proceed full steam ahead into open-world tropeville.

While Horizon’s world is stunningly beautiful, it quickly becomes yet another vast, open space to traverse filled with menial tasks and quests that exist only to give Aloy something to do. The NPCs she meets are so intensely generic and forgettable they might be randomly generated, and the quests they offer are just as bland — nearly everyone wants Aloy to find a missing person or a missing item, and when they’re found, it’s just a bump in EXP before forgetting it ever occurred. When someone wants her to cleanse an area of ‘corrupted’ machines, it’s not clear what makes them worse than regular machines, and when the area is made safe, nothing happens. There’s no effect on the world, or the people… it was just A Thing To Do.

As one would expect from any generic open-worlder, there are also towers (of a sort) to climb that reveal a chunk of the map, enemy strongholds to wipe out, training grounds to get high scores on, special items to find, and a wealth of other busywork objectives to eat up a player’s time while delivering little of significance. This same feeling of not-mattering extends into Horizon’s systems, most notably the crafting.

My inventory was constantly full from picking up items scattered throughout the land and dropped from enemies. Some made arrows and bombs, but the bulk felt like arbitrary doodads to collect because Collecting Is A Thing. Aloy has more than a dozen different bags that can all be upgraded to hold even more stuff, her weapons can be modified, the game offers a slew of different outfits, and barely any of it feels important. There was no appreciable difference when equipping a suit meant for stealth compared to one that had poison resistance, and I question why the devs felt it necessary to offer a clutch of how-are-they-different-from-each-other bows instead of paring it all back and making each step up feel good.

As someone who’d been watching Horizon since it was first announced, one of the biggest things for me was always going to be the combat. Seeing trailers featuring Aloy taking on a huge robo-rex, knocking off one of its hip-mounted guns and blasting it with the fallen weapon lit me right up, and to give the game credit, going one-on-one with a hulking mech does deliver thrills. These are satisfying, exciting encounters, and using various tools to chip away at a monster before bringing it down is great.

Unfortunately, these quality encounters are few and far between because more often than not, nearby enemies will swarm in and turn what should be majestic, strategic struggles into messy gangbangs with Aloy getting battered and bruised from all sides. There’s no chance for strategy in these instances, just the pure survival of running and dodging, and taking shots whenever possible – I often died from being unable to deal with more than a couple of robots at a time, and I soon learned that running away was a better idea than trying to engage.

This leads me to another issue – Horizon only lets players equip four weapons at a time, ostensibly to make the player choose their loadout before taking on a situation, but situations change rapidly thanks to the gangbangs I just mentioned. Having such a limit is arbitrary and annoying since it’s possible to pause and re-equip at any time. Why not simply have all the weapons available at once and let the player save a few steps?

I also have issues with the game’s take on stealth. Initially, Horizon implies that the player can approach situations however they like, but this is far from the truth. Aloy can only be hidden in specific patches of grass, so even if she’s tucked behind a tree or in a bush, she’s still fully visible. Stealth then becomes about running from grass patch to grass patch, and before long, it’s not even possible to do that since the grass is rare in certain areas and some encounters are simply unavoidable. In retrospect, I’d skip kitting myself out for stealth and go for the heaviest combat gear instead.

After putting in my time with Horizon: Zero Dawn, the immense goodwill generated by the opening hours had melted away and been replaced by rote boredom. I started skipping side quests and began mainlining to see more of the central story, yet that story wasn’t interesting enough to keep my attention. Rather than tackling enemies I came across in the world, I simply ran past them to get to my next objective because the thought of getting overwhelmed and killed wasn’t worth the reward of another dozen generic pickups.

The sad fact for Horizon, and every other open-world game like it, is that we now live in a post-Witcher 3 world. CD Projekt Red has raised the bar for this genre in nearly every conceivable way, and it is absolutely not enough to simply be another open-world game. The sidequests have to be interesting, the writing has to be engaging, the characters have to be memorable – just putting a good premise and great graphics on top of boilerplate content isn’t enough. At least, it’s not enough for this reviewer.

Horizon: Zero Dawn checks all the open-world boxes and will have no problem eating up a number of hours for people who aren’t tired of this formula yet, but with more focus on its strengths and a willingness to break away from what every other open-world game does, Aloy’s journey could’ve easily been one of the year’s best. Rating: 6.5 out of 10


 

Disclosures: This game is developed by Guerrilla Games and published by Sony. It is currently available on PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 18 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Alcohol Reference, Blood, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Themes, Tobacco Reference, and Violence. Despite all the warnings, I found this game to be pretty inoffensive. The majority of violence is Aloy stabbing or shooting robots, and when fighting other humans, it’s not very graphic. As for the rest, none of it stands out in my mind as notable. I let my young son watch me play for a few hours and had no concerns at all.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: No audio cues are necessary for successful play. All dialogue is subtitled, although ambient dialogue and noises are not.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
Brad Gallaway

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61 Comments on "Horizon: Zero Dawn Review"

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bullet force
Guest

I dont see any cars in this game, why?

Ben Holland
Guest
THANK YOU!!!!! Yes! The game was great right up until side quests became important and 1 on 1 fights became 3:1 and then 7:1 and then 10:1. By the time I got to 12:1, I ran away. It was such a giant shame having a massive world with awesome bots and fantastic fighting only to turn around and run from the fun because I know I would die about 10 times. I am reminded of games like Dark Souls 2 where the mechanic was so good at 1:1 combat and the game screamed that 1:1 was the way to go… Read more »
Chi Kong Lui
Admin

Its funny that you brought up on the climbing should be banned from game because Breath of the Wild may have the best climbing mechanic ever. You can climb onto almost anything out in the open-world (not so in Shrines) and the stamina mechanic makes every climb a strategic puzzle of sorts. If you haven’t had the chance, i’d highly recommend you give it a try before declaring climbing is dead in RPGs. 😉

spitfire
Guest

i havent play zelda and probabaly never will but the mechanic for climbing is not really a new things, if i remeber correctly there’s game called i am alive that i think has similar stamina system for climbing things. and if that is the case with zelda botw then i agree with him, climbing thing is not really for RPG.

Benedict Holland
Guest
I am really glad it does but I don’t think I will get a switch. Mirrors Edge for me was probably the best but that was literally the game. I guess I view climbing like jumping in RPGs. Does it make the game better or if the mechanic was removed, would that affect the game at all? In my experience, a few games that can do it really well make it a focus and a priority and in almost all cases, it is secondary to another puzzle. This slavishly copied it from Uncharted and Uncharted implemented a climbing QTE system… Read more »
Nautilus
Guest
Pretty spot on review, feel the same way about it. It’s entertaining for the novelty of fighting the robots and the world vistas, but beyond that it feels very much like a mediocre open world game. I’ve been chugging through the side-quests just for the experience points, but I’ve been fast-forwarding through a lot of the dialog because it’s all just…really boring and bland…and they all boil down to running errands…hell, even in the quest menu they have a group called “Errands.” I feel like the setting and story would have been better served in a more linear type of… Read more »
Warwick
Guest

Yeah definitely. Though I’m still looking forward to playing it, there’s a definite sense that I need to rent it as a try-before-buy (plus I don’t have a decent sized screen to enjoy the vistas on). I want a game that either gives you the open world after half-way allowing the linear story to develop the characters and mechanics upfront, or the opposite so the story gains strength from linearity the further through the game you go.

Jules
Guest

Just want to point out for some of the more upset commenters that even if someone has a different experience of the game it’s not a personal indictment of your enjoyment of it. I have been reading this site for years and have had many opinions that differ from the authors of this site (heck they sometimes disagree with each other) but that doesn’t invalidate your experience of the game and it’s ok for someone to not like something you do.

BlueSkyClouds
Guest

From John Carpenter, director of Escape From New York, The Thing, Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, and etc e etc:

“HORIZON ZERO DAWN is a stunning visual game with highly addictive gameplay. Its small flaws pale against the epic vision of the future”.

From CD Projekt RED:

“We’re loving #HorizonZeroDawn, congratz to the @Guerrilla team and a high five from Geralt”!

Nphyx
Guest
Regarding the “gangbang” issue, that’s the game telling you to scout a location and approach carefully rather than just rushing the first thing you see. If you play it the way it tries to teach you to play (and maybe fails in your case?), you find challenge and interest in every encounter instead of frustration. Every group is composed differently and you’re supposed to figure out how to deal with that. When you do it right, it’s incredibly rewarding seeing your plan executed flawlessly; when you go full-Rambo, you get your ass kicked. Try the game on a higher difficulty… Read more »
Ben Holland
Guest
3 rock breakers and 2 long legs with 3 or 5 glitterwings say otherwise. Once or twice, I would say you were spot on. The games difficulty depends on getting gang ganked. This is every single fight I encountered that was somewhat optional. Also, they would come out of nowhere. The stealth worked until enemies were alerted. Once alerted, 3 more would just randomly appear. Then another 6 and then another 12. Your stealth idea and planning works great when you can 1shot enemies. It fails spectacularly when you can’t and leaves you wide open. Before long, no matter how… Read more »
Kim
Guest

”The sad fact for Horizon, and every other open-world game like it, is that we now live in a post-Witcher 3 world. CD Projekt Red has raised the bar for this genre”

You do realize the side-quests of this game were done by ex-CDPR employees?

evan johnson
Guest

Doesn’t change the fact that Brad’s right… they’re pretty bland and boring.

Nightdreamer
Guest

C’mon guys. Brad gave the game a 6.5. Meaning it’s a mostly good game that has flaws that can’t be ignored, all of which he mentioned in his review. It’s not like he gave it a 3 or a 0.

Flakes
Guest

So you hid the score now? Wtf is going on?

Richard Naik
Admin

We have always hidden the score in order to emphasize the content of the text rather than the score. Our philosophy is that words are more expressive and important than the score, but we still assign a score because that’s just the way of things in the review game.

Richard Naik
Admin

A couple quick notes to all prospective commenters:

Our comment policy is at the bottom of every page on the site, and we review every comment before it is published to make sure it follows this policy. Either the author of the piece in question or an editor has to approve the comment, so it may not go up right away. Please be patient.

In addition, we do see your IP address when you submit a comment, so submitting 20+ comments with different names on some of them will not get you past the review process.

Thank you and enjoy your day.

Hicken
Guest

So it’s alright for perfectly inane comments like “why are there no cars?” to be allowed through. And it’s fine if “All the 10/10 reviews are lying” comments get posted.

But not only will criticism hardly make it through, but the author himself won’t respond very often, if at all?

This doesn’t just sound like filtering the garbage out. It’s more like filtering the message and image the article delivers. And that’s sad.

Nphyx
Guest

Hey Brad,

Hope my initial comment doesn’t come off as merely “writer doesn’t know how to play the game”. If you’re interested in discussing it I’d be happy to go deeper into the mechanics you missed. Stealth and preparation in particular, which is kind of key to everything else. The game elaborates on this stuff through flavor text entries and Aloy’s dialog, but if you’re not paying attention (and if you skip the hunting grounds side missions) you might not have picked up on them. I just didn’t want to throw down a wall of text.

Pepijn Ritzema
Guest

Hicken has a fair point. And I, for one, agree with him 100 percent.

John
Guest

It’s kinda only one truthful review. All this “10/10” bullshit make me mad.

Vincent
Guest

what’s wrong with a game being good? I thought it would be all the better of this was the case. But some people seem to disagree

Stacks
Guest

So bassicaly its not The Witcher 3..thats way.
I would like to see your review on Zelda…cause you know…it’s not TW3!

Maknius
Guest

This is the best review. Real review.

Vincent
Guest

What makes a review real to you? Is it only when it agrees with your point of view that you consider it “true”?

Chi Kong Lui
Admin
For first-time visitors of our site and for younger readers who have never read a review that disagreed with their world-view, please note the following before commenting that this is a pure-clickbait review: GameCritics.com is a site that has been around for 18 years and Brad has been reviewing games for nearly just as long. Based on the unoriginal feedback we’re are getting on this review, I’m assuming that it’s older than most of the people criticizing Brad’s review. For people wondering whether or not we score games for clickbait or whether or not its necessary to finish games to… Read more »
Hicken
Guest
That’s not condescending at all. Plenty of people disagree with the review, not because it doesn’t mesh with their “world-view,” but because there’s usually something wrong when a review so deviates from the norm. Your assumption is baseless, meant solely to insult dissenters, not to encourage more intellectual, more genuine discourse. On that note, it’s hard to take your “I’m better than you” stance seriously with “we’re are” and “for nearly just as long” in your dismissal of those who don’t agree with the review. Frankly, this comment of yours comes off as slightly less mature than the people you’re… Read more »
Leon Eames
Guest
For somebody who talks about ‘intellectual discourse’, you’re not contributing to it at all. You use faulty logic and seem proud of it. ”Plenty of people disagree with the review, not because it doesn’t mesh with their “world-view,” but because there’s usually something wrong when a review so deviates from the norm.” They never said anything about any world view (without the hyphen). Secondly, why would a review need to agree with ”the norm” (by which it seems you mean majority opinion, not ‘norm’)? Reviews are by their very definition opinions, not assessments of quality. People can assess quality on… Read more »
Hicken
Guest

I honestly don’t feel like reading and responding to all your comment- at least not right now- but you start off in the hole when you claim something that’s totally false.

” for younger readers who have never read a review that disagreed with their world-view,”

That’s a direct quote from the comment I responded to. Kinda hard for that to have never been said when it’s.. right there in the comment.

If your beginning is so bad, just how much worse will the rest of it be?

Mike Suskie
Member
I want to butt in here and note that the comments you’re seeing on this page are the ones deemed mature and legible enough by the site’s staff. I can tell you from experience that FAR more comments have been submitted in response to this review and never made it public because, let’s be honest, a lot of people saw the score on Metacritic and came here to insult Brad without even reading or considering the review. Those comments get deleted. So it may seem like Chi is addressing the more reasonable commenters seen here, when in fact he’s talking… Read more »
Andreas Tang (aHei)
Guest

I just wanted to like Mike’s comment but could not find one so…erm… here you are!

Michael Aronson
Guest

“there’s usually something wrong when a review so deviates from the norm.”

I’m not sure how a reviewer having a unique opinion is “wrong.” Are there correct and incorrect opinions now?

Hicken
Guest

An opinion is “wrong” when it’s based on wrong information. Excusing it away as an opinion doesn’t correct the falsehoods it’s based upon.

hdefined
Guest

“An opinion is “wrong” when it’s based on wrong information”

What “wrong information”? He played the same game. He had a different opinion. Stop whining about it.

Chi Kong Lui
Admin
Hey Hicken, I referenced a nearly 10 year old podcast to highlight that these issues have been discussed for many years (even before 2009) and the arguments haven’t really changed. I don’t know how much of the discussion you actually listened to, but the notion that a review’s sole purpose is to inform prospective buyers is actually the issue we tried to address from different angles. Reviews serve different functions, one of which could be to help inform a prospective buyers, but its also a fallacy that a review can universally address all audiences because everyone has different tastes and… Read more »
Hicken
Guest
“Sole” purpose has never been stated. Primary, however, is hard to argue against. It’s not a fallacy. It’s just more trouble than many think it’s worth, apparently. Even a good reviewer can separate his own personal feelings from what others might be looking for. It’s not at all difficult to, say, preface articles with some variation of, “This title is an open-world, action RPG that aims to blah, blah, blah.” That’s enough to set anybody up to know what the game is about. “For fans of X, this will be Y,” is another phrase that helps. Letting readers know what… Read more »
Nightdreamer
Guest
‘“This title is an open-world, action RPG that aims to blah, blah, blah.” That’s enough to set anybody up to know what the game is about. “For fans of X, this will be Y,” is another phrase that helps.’ Those aren’t reviews, those are what marketers write to advertise their products. By your logic, a John Wick review should be ‘this movie is action that aims to portray what happens when an assassin comes out of retirement’ and ‘for fans of John Woo, this will be like a US version starring Keanu Reeves’. A Spider-man comic review should be ‘this… Read more »
upselo
Guest

Seems I was inspired to get Far Cry Primal off my backlog instead of getting this one 🙂
I was curious if you could elaborate on their differences, Brad?
Stealth seems to be working better in Primal from what you write, but I did find Primal also suffered from manic overwhelming chases when I was discovered while attacking an outpost (and it soon devolved into spear-poking, not the most elaborate or fun strategy).

Hicken
Guest

You got hit by mobs of enemies? So, in other words, you didn’t stealth and use traps correctly?

Hicken
Guest

Did you try setting traps in advance before attacking, luring them to your location or another by throwing rocks, and then detonating one enemy to take out the crowds?

That was a strategy I came up with after about two hours, before I’d even attempted the Proving.

Hicken
Guest

For the purposes of this game: “correct” would be in a fashion that didn’t get you swamped and overrun. Surely, with all the stuff you picked up, that wouldn’t too difficult?

And if they were ineffective, why not mention that? After all, that’s important to know: if the combination of weakness-targeting weapons, traps and stealth don’t give you a tactical advantage as intended, that’s something you should be telling us. But who can tell that’s the case from what you wrote?

Mat
Guest

At the bottom of your review you make note that the game was not completed & only 18 hours were put in. Is is fair to review a game you haven’t completed especially considering other reviewers are saying the main story alone can take around 30 hours.

Randy
Guest

Button remapping is not a big deal simply because you can remap any button in any game by going to settings > accessibility > button assignments > customize button controls > then choose which button you want to remap. This has been a feature for almost 2 years now.

Warwick
Guest

Actually, Randy, I disagree. Being able to remap buttons in-game is important. I am currently playing Shadow of Mordor and the run button is my RSI-inducing and most hated button X (Ps4). When I use the Ps4 settings to re-map, I can transfer run to R3. Great! You say. But now every X function is mapped to R3 – this sucks. So through the Ps4 controller settings you can only swap buttons around, but some games allow you to swap actual functions around – not just buttons.

Hugo
Guest
I didn´t come here to hate or anything but man this review is kind of harsh, i´m playing the game and it is amazing, at least a 9. I just saw your Uc4 and Bloodborne reviews and i the scores are not what they should´ve been, you seem to be very harsh on Sony games these days, i wonder why, not trying to say you are a fanboy or anything but man you know those scores aren´t what those games deserve. Not trying to hate on you, you seem a nice guy i just don´t agree with your opinion at… Read more »
sleeve
Guest

My impression based on your review is that the game is mushy. I barely knew anything about this game till I saw the positive reviews come in today. But I was hoping for more of a Monster Hunter gameplay loop. It doesn’t really even seem like there are any melee weapons, or any individualized monsters to take on. Brad, your take?

Mike
Guest

There’s 24 unique robots

Jim
Guest

Oof, so sad that it drops the ball in the open world aspect. But hopefully the story will be enough to keep me engaged.

Forza
Guest

I dont see any cars in this game, why?

Deckard_89
Guest
My years of perusing mainstream-game sites’ reviews has led me to develop wide-eyed-shock-face when I see a number below 7 at the end of review of a “big hitter” game like this. When I first discovered Game Critics I didn’t know there was a score system, and I kinda like it that way. This is a good review, totally honest and well-written. Open-world tropeville is delicious phrase, although “messy gangbang” had me opening another tab (don’t worry, that’s a joke)… Bland characters, a strong opening that takes an almost immediate detour into less affecting, generic side-quests… It sounds a hell… Read more »
Senpie
Guest

yeah good review…

Bill Stevens
Guest
6.5/10 seems a little harsh especially since your biggest criticisms seem to be that the game doesn’t do anything new, most games don’t, I don’t understand why tropes are used to bash open-world games more than any other genre. Saying The Witcher 3 has raised the bar for the genre in nearly every conceivable way is a bit much as well, the combat was bad, large parts of the soundtrack were an annoying little jingle on a loop, the world was pretty empty compared to some of Bethesda’s most dense worlds and I’d say in the visuals department it has… Read more »
Kenny
Guest
“Saying The Witcher 3 has raised the bar for the genre in nearly every conceivable way is a bit much as well, the combat was bad, large parts of the soundtrack were an annoying little jingle on a loop, the world was pretty empty compared to some of Bethesda’s most dense worlds” is completely false… I am a huge Bethesda fan boy (spent over 450 hours on morrowind, 300 on oblivion and well over 500 on skyrim) and I would have to disagree entirely… combat was bad- witcher was leaps and bounds better than scrolls outdated system soundtrack- again, witcher… Read more »
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