Review: Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn is an open world action role-playing game developed by Guerrilla Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment as an exclusive title for the PlayStation 4. Whilst the game was first shown at the Sony E3 Conference in 2016, It was released in February the following year. Horizon Zero Dawn represents a slight departure from the Killzone series that Guerilla Games usually develop in that it is a third-person action title rather than a sci-fi FPS.

At first glance players may think that Horizon Zero Dawn is a fantasy game. This can be forgiven as there is a general lack of technology in the societies that exist in the world. There is advanced technology roaming around in the form of the wildlife that comprise the majority of the enemies in the game. Any animal larger than a boar is a machine built from the technology of a people that no longer inhabit the planet. Places where the machines come from are deemed sacred, dangerous, or forbidden to the local tribe of the area, so very few questions about the machines have been answered. People choosing to investigate ruins of the past are usually exiled from the tribe.

And they are found everywhere protecting other species.
Watchers are the basic enemies encountered in Horizon Zero Dawn.

Players take control of the adoptive daughter of one such such exile, Aloy, who wants to take part in The Proving to become a brave and earn her way back into the tribe. Through a tutorial at start of the game, Aloy’s father has taught her everything she needs to know about stealth mechanics, using a bow, and healing. As well as using various bows for long ranged attacks, the adult Aloy also employs a variety of other weapons throughout the game. These range from the spear (the only melee weapon available) to slings and rattlers, a primitive version of a mini-gun. Obtaining any of these special weapons involves scavenging parts from various enemies in the game.

When the player kills any of the enemies in the world they have a chance to drop loot; mostly pieces of scrap that can be used to make arrows, but occasionally an enemy will drop something a little rarer. Lenses, cores, and hearts; these can be traded to acquire new weapons and armor from vendors around the world. The common machine pieces are used to craft additional ammo for all the new toys that the player will collect during their time in the game. Of course, the ‘live’ animals will also drop various items; bones, skin, and meat that are needed to increase Aloy’s inventory space and craft larger ammo pouches for each of the weapons.

When engaging a machine in combat, Aloy can use a special piece of tech to see the weak points of her enemy. Different machines are susceptible to various elemental attacks, and having the right weapon and ammo on hand is a must. A player can also shoot off pieces of armour and components that can be picked up if they are not destroyed. Many of the late game enemies require strategy to take down as players who go in guns blazing will find they do little damage or quickly die themselves.

I wanted my own machine army that I could summon during combat.
Aloy engaging a shell walker with a bow whilst mounted.

Killing enemies and completing quests will earn the player experience points to level up Aloy and award her skill points that can be spent in skill trees to develop the character. There are four trees to work on that correspond to the different skills Aloy employs. The Prowler skill tree consists of stealth-based maneuvers and combat improvements. Brave is a skill tree that focuses on direct combat improvements for Aloy. Abilities in this tree include damage and accuracy improvements on a variety of weapons. The Forager skill tree is a support-focused tree that includes passive skills, health improvements, and abilities that help Aloy find resources from enemies and the environment. The Traveler skill tree is available through the Frozen Wilds add-on. These skills improve the usefulness of resources and mounts.

Horizon Zero Dawn is an open world game and that means that there is a large map to explore with many points of interest. Discovering these points records them on the map permanently, this way players can find a herd of machines and come back to them later should they need a specific drop from them. With the cauldrons, collectibles, ruins, towns, herds, and bandit camps, there are many things out there for players who wish to take a break from the story to explore the world.

There are loot boxes to be found in Horizon Zero Dawn, but thankfully they are all earned through play. No microtransactions to be found here. Boxes can contain most of the loot in the game including some of the rarer items; mods. Mods allow the player to add stats to a piece of gear. A bow that shoots ice arrows can have plus ice damage added to it. Similarly, a piece of armour could be given a resistance to a damage type or a boost to stealth. Mods allow a player enhance a particular style of play and can be freely swapped out once the appropriate skill has been purchased.

They are tearing them apart!
Glinthawks are attracted to the bodies of dead machines.

To say too much about the world of Horizon Zero Dawn would be to give away part of the story. Not all the people in the game shun technology like Aloy’s tribe, and likewise they are not quite so friendly either. Human opponents are fairly common during the players travels, but most drop fairly quickly to a mixture of stealth and arrows to the head. Humans also drop items that cannot be found on other enemy types, including healing potions that the player would otherwise have to craft.

Horizon Zero Dawn excels in the graphical department, as one would expect from a first party title for the PlayStation 4. Animal-like machines look and behave like their real counterparts would. As the map is filled with places to explore, so to is the world filled with sights to see. Seeking out some of the sights in the game will also reward players with a peek into how the area looked in the past. Updates to the game added a photo mode where the UI can be turned off and Aloy can be made to pose for the picture.

Horizon Zero Dawn is by no means a perfect game. The leveling system feels tacked on at times. It should not be necessary for Aloy to learn that she can attack an enemy by jumping on them from a higher elevation. Many skills could have been part of the crafting system or learnt by tackling objectives around the world. Upgrading bags requires hunting many (sometimes small) animals for a chance to get the item a player needs. Up to four weapons can be equipped at once, which may seem plenty, but players wanting different elemental damage types and/or support weapons may find themselves swapping weapons in and out of equipment slots fairly often. These are all relatively minor gripes, but add up over the course of the game. Possibly the most frustrating thing is discovering an area that looks like it should be explorable only to find that it is not unlocked until the story progresses forward.

Horizon Zero Dawn does not revolutionise the action genre, but it does have an interesting story to tell. It has RPG mechanics, but may not appeal to RPG enthusiasts. It is a solid title that could take anywhere from twenty to forty hours to complete depending on how much effort the player wishes to spend on hunting collectibles and completing side quests.

Horizon Zero Dawn North America Box Art
Box Art
Review Grade B
Review Grade

Game Information

Title: Horizon Zero Dawn

Genre: Action Role-playing

Developer: Guerrilla Games

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4

Release Date: 28 February 2017


  1. My wife picked up this game at launch, which was around the same time that Breath of the Wild was released. I played BotW, and she played this. One of us played a lot longer than the other.

    That said, this game has always looked interesting to me, and maybe one day I’ll have the time to go back and see what it has to offer.

    (As if I’ll ever have the time.)

  2. I quite liked this game! It’s Assassin’s Creed with robutts and hunting

  3. Customizable stats and armor that can be swapped out for different gameplay approaches as you develop your skills? Rich world to explore? If this ever comes to the PC I will definitely investigate it.

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