Review: Horizon Zero Dawn

About this Game

Horizon Zero Dawn

Publisher

Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc. (SCEI)

Developer

Guerrilla Games

Release Date

February 28, 2017

Console

PlayStation 4

Time to Plat

~40h

Platinum Difficulty

Easy

Online Trophies?

No

Difficulty Trophies?

No

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Another Jewel in Sony’s Crown, Which More Than Deserves Its Praise

Horizon Zero Dawn (HZD) is easily one of the best games to come from this generation of gaming and serves as one of the biggest building blocks for securing Sony’s PlayStation 4 as the better console choice this gen. As we head into the new “next-gen” with PS5 right around the corner and an exciting Horizon sequel already queued up for the console, I decided to make an alt account (PlatGet_DblTap if you want to fact-check me) so that I’d be able to earn the platinum trophy in HZD all over again!

By platting HZD a second time, I’m able to give a renewed and fresh opinion on what I already think is one of the best games of all time and certainly one of the top 5 PlayStation exclusive titles, which are already the cream of the crop in my mind.

Horizon Zero Dawn Review

Horizon Zero Dawn is set in a world far in the future. Humanity has grown technologically – as you might imagine – and this advancement led to the creation of incredibly intricate machines – visually inspired by dinosaurs and animals – which were designed to maintain and preserve the Earth. However… Somewhere, somehow, something went horribly wrong.

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These machine beasts can be tamed… If you know how.

Humanity has now been reverted back to the early stages of civilisation, living in primitive tribes and medieval strongholds, these communities live each day as survivors, hunting animals for food and machines for resources.

The fantastical blend of primitive life and futuristic technology leads to some of the coolest aesthetics I’ve ever seen. From the architecture to the fashion and even the naturally resulting landscapes all come together to create a very unique and intriguing world of wonder.

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Full of Character

Nearly 1,000 years after the fall of humanity, we follow the life of Aloy, a red-headed and curious woman fully equipped with endless bravery, survival skills and charm. Voiced by the fantastic Ashly Burch who helps to bring plenty of that charm to life with a lovable level of wit and smarm, Aloy leaves an impression on everyone she meets.

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Exiled from the very day she was born for things out of her control, Aloy grows up in the wilderness with her father-figure, Rost. Unable to prevent her curiosity from getting the better of her, as a young girl she enters into an abandoned ruin. To us, it is a run-down and nature-reclaimed futuristic office space, but to Aloy it is a metal cave left by the old ones.

In here she finds a “Focus” – an AR device with the ability to show the user information about their surroundings. With this she is able to gain the upper hand on life and get more in touch with the sci-fi half of this world’s unique dynamic, something which the local Nora tribes would never consider. Believing the tech of the past to be evil and against their ways, they live of the land with very little help from the long-lost civilisations of the past.

With this, she continues to prove herself as a good person with enough talent for the whole valley, but she continues to be shunned for reasons she can’t understand. And in trying to answer the questions she’s had her whole life, she begins to uncover the mysteries of humanity’s original demise, with the help of other very likeable characters such as Erend, Talanah, Nil, and many more.

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Meeting Talanah

Aloy, as it turns out, is the perfect protagonist for the environment the developers at Guerilla have carefully crafted. Her curiosity and personality bring the world to life more than any typically stoic and gruff character ever could and she really sells what she is doing, whether it’s trying to help those in need or preparing to take down a huge metal T-Rex, she’s right there with you, leading the story with emotion and passion which is not too easily found in most video-game protagonists.

Uncovering the history of the world, the story behind the machines and the reasoning behind a lot of the characters’ motives in the game are all some of my favourite moments in gaming, the world Guerilla have crafted here is right up my street and I found myself ever-curious and ever-motivated to discover more. For that reason I won’t go into too much detail about the story and risk ruining it for anyone else, just know that there is a lot going on behind the scenes which is all pretty awe-inspiring.

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Such a vast world to uncover.

The Thrill of the Hunt

On paper, Horizon is almost just another Assassin’s Creed clone. Stealth opportunities pepper the gameplay, tall tower-like structures await for you to survey the surrounding area, ledges and handholds create vertical paths for you to climb and much more. While they do spice this up with handfuls of variety and a solid RPG system, what really set Horizon Zero Dawn apart as a stand-out game of a generation is the combat.

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Guerilla’s take on an “ASsassin’s Creed Tower”: The Tallneck machine.

The many machine beasts inhabiting the landscape in Horizon serve as the game’s best source of resources and challenge. With monumental speed, elemental abilities and a hard armoured exterior, it would take a very brave hunter to even consider taking one on. But, with the right equipment and information it’s more than possible.

Using Aloy’s focus with a convenient click of blank, you can view the many weak-points of a machine and use those to your advantage. You’ll not only be told what will do the most damage to each component but also which weapons types to avoid using. Equipped with multiple ranged weapons from a standard bow to a bomb-launching slingshot there are many ways to play. Let me give you some examples;

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The focus offers detailed analysis of a machines weaknesses.

The Snapmaw is a terrifying metal crocodile with solar panels adorning its wide back and the ability to spit freezing bombardments of icy “Chillwater”. By the Snapmaw’s head there are two canisters of “Blaze”, a highly combustible substance used as fuel for the creature. A quick scan will tell you that these canisters are extremely weak to fire but are slightly armoured.

Aloy can knock this armour off with a well-placed “Tearblast” arrow. Tearblast arrows will send out a very audible shockwave wherever they land, this powerful shockwave technology is more than enough to send pieces of armour and valuable components flying off of any machine they come into contact with.

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Take that, Snapmaw!

The armoured canisters now bare, a carefully-aimed fire arrow is all Aloy needs to cause an explosion so large it will kill nearby wildlife and burn any machines that get too close.

Another powerful adversary comes in the form of a “Ravager”. These strong canine-like machines are stupidly fast, carry heavy machine guns on their backs and can give you a very hard time. Before fighting a Ravager, you might like to prepare a strategy to give you the upper hand.

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Dodging a Ravager’s heavy weapon fire.

Scanning a machine with the focus can show you its patrol route. With this information, you can use the “Tripcaster” to shoot two points of contact into the ground for a tripwire which can either shock, burn or explode the enemy once they trigger it. The same can be done with craftable proximity traps placed in the beast’s path.

Let’s say you decide to go with fire damage to panic the beast. You know it is weak to fire from scanning it, and so it sets aflame with ease, allowing you the time to plan your next move. A scan will show you two main weaknesses; a “Freeze Canister” which when shot with a Freeze arrow will cause a sub-zero explosion freezing anything nearby, or the Power Cell on its back which when shot with a shock arrow will stun the beast.

Your scan tells you that the Ravager is resistant to shock damage so you will have a hard time stunning it with shock weaponry, but that Power Cell can do the trick with ease. Overloading the Power Cell stuns the Ravager in place, allowing you to hit the heavy machine gun on its back with some Tearblast munitions, sending it flying off the machine’s body.

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The trophy list will encourage you to tear off these heavy weapons, too.

Now, you can actually pick up that Ravager Cannon and use it against the now-sparking machine before it even has a chance to recover from your last two attacks.

Those examples are just a couple of ways to approach a couple of hunts, but there are near-infinite possibilities when it comes to the best way you want to use Aloy’s skills, weapons, equipment, and environment to exploit the weaknesses of each individual machine. Learning these weaknesses and adapting yourself to them is one of the most fun things about Horizon Zero Dawn.

The fact that you can go from being absolutely terrified of the incredibly powerful Stormbird machines, to tying them down and tearing the very metal from their chassis without breaking a sweat is very a fulfilling and exhilarating experience.

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A mighty Stormbird.

Just Over the Horizon

HZD has a plethora of activities to immerse yourself in when you’re not finding yourself gripped by the mysteries and action of the main campaign. As you’d expect there are myriad side-quests to immerse yourself in, allowing you to meet even more interesting characters and get to know more about the other ongoing conflicts, factions and survivors fighting back for a chance at civilisation.

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One of the cooler side-characters. A once-respected but exiled Carja soldier.

Interestingly, there’s even a third type of quest. Errands are smaller side-quests, usually a lot shorter and often nothing to do with the main overarching storylines, these errands will see you immersed in the lore of Horizon and the everday goings on of the inhabitants.

There are many different cultures in Horizon, based around different beliefs and cultural specialisations which lead to some very intricate off-shoots of the main aesthetic, such as the Banuk tribes who cover themselves in paint and embed bright blue cables in their skin, or the sun-worshipping Carja who use magnificent gold, red and white colours paired with complex computer-chip-inspired designs which are reflected in not just their textiles but even their make-up.

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The Carja aesthetic is awesome.

Partaking in errands allows you to experience more of this and understand more of how each culture has taken shape, led by some creative and well-thought-out art direction on Guerilla’s part.

Breaking off from active quests, perhaps you’d like to do some exploring? Or help out in different ways? Maybe just test yourself? There are many collectables to look for, Hunting challenges to take on, corrupt machines to purge from the land, and Bandit Camps to take down all for the betterment of the people but also because they’re damn fun!

The Hunting Challenges in particular are a great way to learn more about just how intricate the combat system can be and help you really get the most out of your time with it.

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Throughout my time with Horizon – both times I played it – I found it really difficult to not get swept up in everything which is happening in its living, breathing world. Often I’d open the map to try and decide what I wanted to do next but be spoilt for choice, ending up just going for whatever is closer to take the burden of choice off my shoulders.

My Horizon Zero Dawn Platinum Trophy Experience

A Little Bit of Everything

Having completed Horizon once already, I had a good idea of what I wanted to do and when, smoothly transitioning from Story Mission to Side Quest to collectable farming as I slowly made my way through the game.

The main priority for me around this first portion of my journey, however, was collectables and side content. I would always put off a main quest as long as I could, ensuring I was getting all the optional stuff out of the way. I’d start by overriding the nearby Tallneck and then move on to completing a few side-quests to re-introduce myself to the lay of the land, earn some decent exp and have an excuse to fight machines.

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Overriding the first Tallneck and starting the cycle.

Then, with more of an idea of the world and what places I’d be likely not to return to, I’d create a mental segmentation of the map and then decide “I’ll do everything in this area”.

I started with the local Hunting Grounds and stayed until the blazing suns were mine, then I moved on to Bandit Camps before finally – using the maps I purchased from a merchant – making my way throughout the area, collecting all Vessels, Vantage points, Metal Flowers, and Banuk Figures.

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What a view!

This approach meant that I never spent too long doing the same thing, which worked out quite well. The beauty of Horizon is its inherent openness which means you can really approach the game in any way you want and that’s exactly what I did, playing the way I found most comfortable, rather than what was quickest or most convenient because at the end of the day, in this game, they’re practically the same thing.

During this time I also earned a lot of the miscellaneous combat trophies naturally, without any particular effort, and I was careful to scan each and every machine beast I faced for the “All Machines Catalogued” trophy. While I remember that latter trophy being a pain in my original playthrough, it was actually no big deal at all so lord only knows what was up with me three and a half years ago.

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As I got further in the game and found myself in the areas surrounding Meridian, I stopped partitioning the map and just approached this whole western half of the map as one section. I got all the Tallnecks, then completed all of the Cauldrons, then capped off the Hunting Grounds. I then took on a very extensive journey across the map in search of collectables which actually didn’t take all that long. In the end I just had a single Bandit Camp to worry about and then I was done with optional content (except Power Cells, I’ll come back to that), leaving me free to focus on my side-quests and errands!

Completing Necessary Side-Quests

Given that my priority while playing the game this second time was to write a trophy guide, I only focused on the few errands and Side-Quests needed for the Platinum trophy. I’ll be going back at a later date to finish up the others, just because I enjoy the game that much, but for now I only completed those needed for the “All Allies Joined” trophy as well as a few others which I couldn’t help but get caught up in.

The best side-quests by far – in my opinion – were those that I did for the Hunting Lodge. Tasked with going out and retrieving trophies from all manner of machine beast, I had a lot of fun preparing for each hunt and systematically taking them out. In particular, the hunt for “Redmaw”, a special optional Thunderjaw boss fight is one of my favourite moments in the game and I was overjoyed to be fighting it again.

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All in all, given the small number of side-quests I actually needed and the number I’d already done whilst freely exploring, I didn’t spend very long on this phase of the journey before it was time to go all-out on the main campaign missions.

Main Quests, Power Cells, and Plat!

With pretty much everything but the Power Cells out of the way, I got myself stuck into the great story that comes with Horizon’s main campaign missions. These quests took me to just about every far-off corner of the map, spelunking through abandoned sci-fi facilities, picking up clues here and there about the past and how things came to be they are.

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The campaign takes you to some exciting locations!

Of course, I already knew all this, but it was like watching a beloved film for the second time, gripping the controller in excitement as the neurons in my brain fire ecstatic “Oh yeah! I remember this!” exclamations around my dome.

Several of the locations which I visited as part of this were also the hiding spots for the 3 remaining Power Cells I needed and so just after the second-to-last mission, I had all the Power Cells I needed to go and equip myself with the slightly over-powered reward they unlock and the trophy that comes with it. Good timing, too, as this gave me an edge in the final stretch of the campaign – which can be quite difficult – and allowed me to grab the last two trophies I needed and the platinum along with them!

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Next stop, the Frozen Wilds DLC! Expect a Review and a Guide for that in the coming days.

Time Breakdown

Gathering Collectables

Mainline Quests

Tallnecks, Cauldrons, Hunting Grounds & Bandit Camps

Required Side-Quests

Horizon Zero Dawn Trophy Guide

Before I wrap this up, if you somehow haven’t platted Horizon yet, or even more surprisingly haven’t yet played it, then you can find a full Horizon Zero Dawn Trophy Guide and Road Map right here.

Or maybe you are looking for a Horizon Frozen Wilds Guide? You can find out Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds DLC Trophy Guide right here!

We also have a Frozen Wilds Review you can take a peek at too!

That concludes my Horizon Zero Dawn Review. If you enjoyed reading this review, please do let us know, it means the world to us when we hear feedback and we love engaging with people over the game we just platted. It’s basically the only thing motivating us at the moment!

You can follow us on Twitter @GetPlat and Instagram @platget where we’ll be sharing updates, upcoming reviews and general gripes about the games we’re working on so feel free to follow us or use it as another channel for feedback!

Verdict

Plat

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An incredible game with a unique and constantly exciting world to explore filled with challenging and fulfilling enemies to take down, what more could you want? With a fairly straight-forward trophy list that lets you play how you want, why wouldn't you plat Horizon Zero Dawn?

Pros

  • Unique Aesthetic filled with charm
  • Excitingly technical combat
  • Great characters with even better voice-work
  • Very obvious love and care from the developers

Cons

  • For once I don't have anything bad to say
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Platinum Trophy

It shouldn't come as a surprise that I'd award this a Platinum Trophy given how I've just banged on about how much I love it. It really is one of the best games ever made, and even one of the best exclusives Sony has in their ever-growing list of epics.

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About the Author

More fond of single-player experiences and story-driven games than anything else, TheDblTap has a keen eye for secrets and collectables, a skill which serves him well as a Trophy Hunter. However, with little patience and poor timing, he can struggle where MrZhangetsu would succeed.

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