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HORIZON ZERO DAWN Has Already Completely Won Us Over (Preview)

After having spent over four hours in a dim room at a local L.A. gallery, the lights came on and I looked around; I was the last one with a controller in my hand. Despite the serious chunk of time I’d spent sitting in front of the screen playing Guerrilla Games’ highly anticipated PS4 exclusive, Horizon Zero Dawn, it felt like I had only just walked in and found my seat. It was as if the time had melted away. And I think most would agree with me in saying that’s a good sign for a game.

Horizon Zero Dawn Grazers

It was easy to lose track of time while wandering through the gorgeous post-post-apocalyptic playground our protagonist Aloy calls home. As I walked through the painted valley, and ducked under tall patches of grass to await my mechanical prey, I was mesmerized by the realistic 4K textures, and how intriguing the robotic creatures looked against the snow-capped mountains in the background. It’s that juxtaposition of machine and natural beauty that shapes Horizon‘s world, and makes me want to live in it forever.

Amidst the mountains, streams, and forests are ruins of the old world (one much like our own), peppered with clues about why this planet saw such a drastic change, where the machines came from, and how they became so dominant. As we learned during our hands-on session during E3, Aloy is determined to find out why some of the machines are becoming corrupted and how she can stop this. But that’s only one interesting aspect of the game’s plot.

Horizon Zero Dawn Img

During my session last weekend, I learned a bit more about Aloy’s place as an outcast. From the time she was born, she was shunned from the tribe alongside her guardian Rost. As I walked through the Nora lands (both as a child, and as an adult), children were forbidden to talk to me, and adults continued to remind me of my status. One thing was for sure, I clearly wasn’t welcome there. It wasn’t until the developer skipped ahead in the game that people started to slightly lighten up. Using her hunting skills, unique weapons, and the mysterious device she discovered as a child, Aloy will learn more about her own identity and how it ties to the over-arching plot in Horizon Zero Dawn.

Speaking of her special skills, Aloy has quite a few up her fur-lined gauntlets—and I got to play with a lot of them. The mysterious device we mentioned above, for instance, allows her to gather intel on creatures in the area, to learn how to weaken them, which path they take when they patrol, and what items they’ll drop. The tiny piece of tech falls into the first category of Guerrilla’s three-pronged approach to combat. As Managing Director Hermen Hulst explained, “We set out to make a RPG game that actually plays as an action game. It’s got that intense fluid combat that we developed as an approach in the Killzone series, but now there is a bit more depth to it. We’ve got this approach of prepare, engage, and escape,” which enables you to spend more time planning your battle strategy.

Horizon Zero Dawn Hunt

Once the area has been assessed, Aloy has a number of upgradeable tools at her disposal. My favorite was the Tripcaster. After purchasing one of these from a merchant (who wasn’t supposed to deal with outcasts), I tried it out on a formidable foe. After using the vision device to mark the beast’s patrol path, I used the Tripcaster weapon to set electric traps along said path. Paying attention to where it traveled, I was able to quietly sneak around the map and wait for one of the traps to stun him. I then took advantage of the downtime to kill him with a barrage of fire arrows (his weakness).

Alternatively, instead of stealthily lying in wait, there were times when I either attacked right away, or had to escape because I blew my cover and a herd of overpowered machines was on the verge of trampling me. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it came to interacting with the machines. Aloy is also able to override machines and use them as a mount, or tie them down with the Ropecaster to make dealing with them a lot easier. The sheer number of ways you can attack a situation with a combination of unique items in the game is astounding.

Horizon Zero Dawn Small

But beyond tools, Aloy has three different areas in which to place skill points and gain new abilities. Just as a taste of the variety, one of my favorites was (and still is) the lure skill. After this has been obtained, Aloy is able to lure enemies to her location by whistling. Once they’ve gotten near enough, I would quickly and quietly perform a stealth takedown (another skill). If I missed and/or needed to start over, I would take advantage of another ability that slows time long enough for get a few good hits in or kill the target.

Of course, combat is only part of the gameplay. During her journey, Aloy will have a chance to interact with members of her own tribe, and those from other lands—all of which feel like authentic cultures thanks to the developer’s in depth six months of research per tribe. While many serve as merchants, there are other NPCs who will be affected by the way you decide to speak. Some conversations will offer you the option of  responding with a loving, intelligent, or strong response. See a child in the distance with a rock they’re about to flow? You can choose to either knock the rock of their hand, ask them to find it in their hearts to put it down, or pick a fight. According to lead writer John Gonzalez, these decisions won’t really have drastic results; rather, they enhance and further shape your experience as Aloy.

Horizon Zero Dawn Fence

The Verdict

After playing several hours of Horizon Zero Dawn, I was already hooked. Whether I was doing something as mundane as farming for parts to upgrade my items, or completing a mission, there wasn’t a moment where I felt like the experience was dragging. The post-post-apocalyptic setting, as well as the journey Aloy will set out on to find her identity is something i can’t wait to experience once the game comes out on February 28.

Are you planning on picking up Horizon Zero Dawn when it hits PS4? Let us know in the comments, join the conversation on Facebook, or start one with me on Twitter: @Samantha_Sofka.

Images: Sony/Guerrilla Games

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