Gameplay Impressions of Horizon: Zero Dawn


Horizon: Zero Dawn has made a significant impact two years in a row at E3, and with good reason. Featuring amazing visuals, a great original concept and a compelling setting, the new PS4 exclusive from Guerilla Games has fans on the edge of their seats. Set in a world where machines have become the dominant species and humans have reverted back to primitive caveman-like tendencies, the concept itself has blown me away. Despite the primitive nature of humankind, advanced technology still exists in the form of hacking tools and advanced projectile weaponry. It’s a refreshing and original take on the common open-world action RPG. At this year’s E3, I was lucky enough to view an extended gameplay demo and get some hands-on time with the game.

At the beginning of the extended demo, Aloy is inside a hut in her village, surrounded by elders and other members of her tribe. Despite warnings from a village guard in a lookout tower, she grabs her bow and makes a break for the wild. There’s an important emphasis placed on the danger of the outside world. The reality of Horizon is that humans are not the dominant species, so a venture out into the wild means you’ll be surrounded by dangerous predators. This is especially demonstrated in the combat, which is quite difficult. The robotic wildlife is quick and smart, and sometimes massive in size.

horizon zero dawn environment
Environments look just as amazing in-game.

Aloy is armed with an arsenal of projectiles including her bow and a highly advanced slingshot. It may not exactly be a fair fight, but each of her weapons comes equipped with different types of projectiles. Explosive fire arrows are good against certain enemies, while shock arrows work well against others. Learning how and when to use the right weapon at the right time will help gain an advantage over the robotic behemoths. In addition to assault weapons, players can also craft traps to slow down and confuse enemies. Therefore Horizon’s combat is not only action-based, but also features a strategic element.

In my brief time actually playing Horizon, a number of things stood out to me. Right off the bat, I was amazed that the game looked as good as it did during the E3 press conference. It is so often that actual gameplay pales in comparison to how it is presented in trailers. If there was a visual difference in Horizon, I didn’t notice it at all. The beautiful mountainous environment appeared photorealistic in the background, while my immediate surroundings were full of intricate detail. Trees and tall grass swayed realistically in the wind, while the environment reacted to my presence.

The visual aspects looked amazing, but it also controlled extremely well. Horizon doesn’t feature anything particularly foreign to those experienced with open-world games, but everything feels so polished. Dashing and sprinting is quick, while combat is mechanically simplistic and an absolute blast. During my hands-on time, I utilized a number of Aloy’s resources in order to survive in the wild. I found a bull-like machine creature called a Broadhead grazing in the field (yes, the robotic animals appear to organically eat and drink), which seemed to be non-hostile. Using a trap gun, I shot a couple of securing bolts at the Broadhead, which instantly tethered him into the ground in a fantastic display of gadgetry. As it struggled to break free of the strong cords, I walked up and hacked into its mainframe which made him compliant to my demands. I was now able to mount and ride the creature and summon him later at will. Now that I was more mobile, I had a maneuverability advantage over my enemies, not to mention being able to get around quicker.

horizon zero dawn broadhead
Creatures such as the Broadhead can be hacked and mounted.

A group of raptor-like Watchers attacked me, which I dodged and rolled away from. Horizon’s combat system makes sure that players persistently maintain smart mobility, since the enemies are so much larger and more powerful. Watchers are some of the weaker enemies, and I defeated them by way of a direct arrow to their central glowing eye. Shots to the body would damage the armor, but appeared to be far less effective than hitting the vulnerable sweet spot. Combat is fast and active, but can be briefly slowed down by pressing R1. Not only does it look extremely cool to shoot precision arrows in slow motion, but it allows time to properly line up shots against the more aggressive enemies. It works on a cool-down system, so players will need to be strategic.

horizon zero dawn shell walker
Aloy attacks a shell walker and attempts to steal its cargo.

The robotic creatures are largely aggressive towards humans, but they are also intelligent. One of the most impressive things I saw was a group of crab-like Shell Walkers carrying cargo crates in a marching formation. Aloy can sneak up behind them, shoot the crates off their backs, and take the supplies for herself. These resources can be used to craft new weapons, armor, and tools. Should you fail to obtain the crates in time, the Shell Walker will pick it back up and begin defending its cargo.

Oddly enough, one of the most surprising things I saw in my demo was organic creatures out in the wild. Rabbits and birds coexist in the world along with the robots, which seemed particularly strange to me. It is unclear if there are any larger, hostile organic animals or if the robot creatures have completely wiped out any organic threats. Story-wise, there hasn’t been much revealed yet, but we do know that certain humans worship a Goddess of some sort as well as the machines themselves.

horizon zero dawn watcher
Watchers are a common enemy in the wild.

Overall, my time spent with Horizon was intriguing and exciting in a way that I haven’t felt in some time. It is great to see a game set in a new and wholly original world that also plays fantastically. Though hard to say at the present moment, it seems like this game will have an immense amount of depth and lasting value. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a PS4 exclusive and set for worldwide release on February 28th, 2017.