Horizon Zero Dawn: First Impressions

If you know anything about action-RPG gaming, then you’ll know that one of the most highly anticipated games of early 2017 is Horizon Zero Dawn, the latest offering from Guerrilla Games. Released on the PS4 on the 1st March, it has so far proved to be an unexpectedly remarkable game, taking inspiration from some of the biggest gaming blockbusters of the past couple of years whilst still having an incredibly unique and intriguing plotline. Here, I’ll look at some of the key elements of the game, and examine the origins of those features.

“The characters’ eyes sparkle with a life I’ve never seen before”

One of the first notable features of the game are the amazing graphics – even on a non-Pro PS4 the draw distance is exceptional, and the amount of detail put into the setting is astounding. The landscape is wonderfully lush and seems to have taken a lot of inspiration from the more recent Far Cry and Uncharted games. This is not to mention the amazing amount of attention paid to the characters themselves. I’ve only ever seen human expressions and emotions portrayed so accurately in games like The Last of Us, where the characters’ eyes sparkle with a life I’ve never seen before.

Other than a few (minuscule) instances of motion-blur and clipping (which at this point are part and parcel of AAA titles), the graphics hardly ever falter. Also, a small tidbit of information for you: the lead character is voiced by Ashly Burch, who voiced Chloe in Life is Strange!

An interesting element of the gameplay is the conversational element, which seems similar to mechanics in games such as Dragon Age Inquisition, and to some extent the Telltale franchise. Conversations and relationships can be controlled and changed depending on the emotional choices you make; for example, you can choose between confrontational, emotional, or logical responses. How much of an influence these choices will have on the character’s progression through the game is yet to be seen, but even if it doesn’t affect the plot, it’s a nice inclusion and means players can role-play their characters to a certain extent as well.

“There is plenty of bow action, which will be good news for those who are fans of games like Lara Croft

There is plenty more that is seemingly inspired by the Far Cry franchise: the huge (no exaggeration) map, crafting and hunting mechanics, and mount mechanic all feel very Far Cry Primal. This is no surprise, given the similar environments of the two games. Crafting relies on plenty of foraging, so expect some Far Cry Primal-esque grinding to collect all the materials you need for certain recipes. Hunting is a big part of the game (one of the first missions is based around it) and there is plenty of bow action, which will be good news for those who are fans of games like Lara Croft.

“There have been comments that the combat feels a lot like Assassins Creed, however, I’m yet to see that; it feels very fluid and dynamic”

The combat in Horizon Zero Dawn is interesting; there is a lot of emphasis on work with the bow and arrow, although this is hardly surprising given the size of some of the foes you will have to face. There is a spear available for hand-to-hand combat, but how much use this will be in hunting missions remains to be seen. There have been comments that the combat feels a lot like Assassins Creed, however, I’m yet to see that; it feels very fluid and dynamic.

The skill tree feels very Far Cry as well, with three distinct skill trees to develop: prowler, brave and forager. You can specialise in stealth/stalking, or up-close-and-personal brawling, with the option to improve your pickup rates for foraging/scavenging. The skills to choose from are the standard for any wilderness-based RPG but again allow for each player to develop a character suited more to their own individual playstyles.

Perhaps my favourite feature, though, is the in-game compass. Most famous from the Bethesda games, it allows for an unobtrusive map to sit quietly at the top of the screen, rather than a larger mini-map, or markers floating on the periphery of the screen. It was one of my favourite features of Skyrim and remains a firm favourite in Horizon Zero Dawn.

Horizon Zero Dawn is surprisingly good. It had little press leading up to its release, and yet doesn’t disappoint, taking the best from a whole host of other franchises and integrating them into a plot and setting that is remarkably unique. So far, I’m incredibly impressed, and I can’t wait to see more of what this game has to offer up!

Ellen Smithies

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Image courtesy of Guerrilla Games/Sony 

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