A Brave New World on the Horizon
It's not every year that a game comes along as fresh and as inviting as Horizon Zero Dawn, but Guerilla Games, made famous by their Killzone franchise, avoids treading familiar ground on the road to success, and steps out from their own shadow to create the first entry in what is certain to be an exciting new series.
The player assumes the role of Aloy, one of many outcasts from the Nora tribe; Aloy is special in that she committed no crime to deserve banishment. An attempt to join the tribe by a trial of skill sets off the story, and soon after, the world opens for Aloy to explore. From the moment you pick up your first bow, until you let that last arrow fly, Horizon Zero Dawn is non-stop fun, danger, and excitement. Players will find themselves dropped into a post-apocalyptic earth, but instead of roaming a completely ravaged wasteland, you'll explore a world that's truly begun to rebuild. This distinction sets the mood of the game in an appropriately hopeful light, and instead of feeling like a scavenger, the player feels like a hunter training to gain mastery over the land and the creatures within.
Taking note from other open-world games, like Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series, Aloy will complete many side-quests and missions, some of which will feel familiar to the seasoned player, but very rarely do these quests overstay their welcome; in the one case I grew weary of a mission type, I was already done with the last of its kind. The variety of missions also helps to keep the player entertained - tracking, hunting, and piecing together a missing persons case based on strewn-about detritus are just a few examples, and they all tease the player away from the story. Thankfully, the story is strong and the promise of answers will keep the player coming back for more, and Guerilla Games masterfully weaves a tapestry of stories. Some are important to the areas you can explore, others to the world at large, and each is appealing enough to keep me interested to the very end.
While a fascinating story can make a game good, the gameplay is just as important, if not moreso, in determining the greatness of a title. Horizon Zero Dawn does not disappoint, making a fluid and diverse combat system that keeps any encounter from feeling dull or boring. With the variety of weapon types - and individual weapons within each type - players are given countless tools with which to dispatch their prey. Whether you want to rip a creature's armor off with a Tearblast arrow, target explosive canisters with elemental arrows, or simply lure your mark into a nest of explosive tripwires, you are given free reign to approach every fight as you see fit. Especially of note is the fact that many of these weapons are technically obtainable very early in the game, a player only needs to obtain shards - Horizon Zero Dawn's version of currency - and one or two specific parts, and they expand their options and strategies immensely, and while all these choices are fascinating and worth experimenting with, the game truly shines in how easily it teaches you how to use them all. Each new weapon comes with a tutorial quest to show you the basic applications for them, but completing these quests will typically reveal how to utilize your tools in conjunction with one another. Freezing arrows will slow a machine down, but when you switch to a high damage precision arrow afterward, the multiplied damage will show you how useful it is to switch back and forth between weapon or even ammo types. Players also rarely have to worry about running out of their precious arrows, since crafting is very simple - simply bring up the weapon/ammo wheel with L1, and hold X on the ammo you need. Additionally, most crafting supplies is abundant, to the point that I was dumping large amounts of materials to make room for others.
All in all, Horizon Zero Dawn is a complete package; a strong and engaging protagonist, solid and tight gameplay, and a story to tie it all together, all make the title a must have for anybody that enjoys video games.