Anticipating the release of Horizon: Zero Dawn on February 28, 2017 was nearly as bad as anticipating the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on November 11, 2011. At least it was for me.
The game looked fantastic is videos of the presentation at E3 and I can only imagine what it was like actually being at E3 and seeing it on the big screen in person.
Anyway, let me get into what I’ve experienced in the game so far. At the time of this post, I’ve played about 5 hours in the couple days since the game’s release date.
First of all, the game is gorgeous. The character design is lifelike without trying to be realistic and yet achieves a storybook-like aesthetic. The scenery is painterly in such a beautiful way and it all blends together really well. The Uncanny Valley toward human characters being too human-like in this game is not an issue, but it is pretty close. A couple things that I’ve noticed and would say throws it off is the jittery movement of the character due to what seems is very fast responding controls and the slightly awkward and, at times, funny mouth movements to, what is otherwise, really well voice acted dialogue.
Upon the game’s start, you are presented with a rollback in time of Rost and Aloy. Outcasts and certainly not forgotten. Aloy is a baby and Rost tells her of the ritual of the blessing of a name. This backstory is wonderfully told as you are learning the controls and mechanics of the overall game itself. A perfect blend of gameplay and cut-scenes that smoothly moves into the current story-line and quests to keep you busy.
I’m going to venture a guess that I’m not the first or will be the only person to compare HZD to games like Rise of the Tomb Raider, FarCry Primal or Assassin’s Creed, but there are some similarities and that is not a bad thing at all.
Then, add to that a sci-fi aspect of what once was in this post-apocalyptic world with metal-and-wire, yet animal-like robots roaming the world and the intrigue of discovering what is there to discover is really exciting.
Leveling up via XP for completing main story, side quests, errands, etc. and you apply skill points to leveling up your abilities. There is plenty of armor and weapons to trade with merchants as your progress along. Everything is pretty intuitive and easy-to-understand. I also really like the Merchants menus for buying and selling. You can easily navigate through your inventory and decide what to sell and what to keep when future crafting needs come up.
Saving your game is quickly accessible at campfires. Walk up to the campfire and you’re presented with a choice of a Quick Save or a Manual Save. Saving every time you get to a campfire is a great idea too… the game does make you work to stay alive in some situations.
Gathering items to keep your ammo stocked and satchel full of medicinal things to eat to regain health when you take damage is reminiscent of Rise of the Tomb Raider while crouching and sneaking along tall grass patches and calling an enemy over with a whistle to take them down one-by-one is reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed games.
I have to mention the “Photo Mode”. I’m a photographer of sorts. I like taking photos with a fairly decent Digital SLR and love messing around with depth of field differences with aperture and focal length… so I get caught up with the photo mode in HZD. Its features are fairly in-depth and you can create some really great looking wallpapers and even get a hi-rez image suitable for a print to hang on the wall. You can then change the time of day and get it just-right for the capture you want. Scrolling the time-of-day slider from one end to the other is pretty amazing while watch the sun go down and the moon move across the sky during the evening hours.
Getting Aloy in a scene and then using the depth of field setting to adjust the backdrop and creating that unique capture all your own is quite a bit of fun. Aloy is really cooperative and stands still while your move the camera around to get the final screen shot all set up. I have yet to hear her complain. 🙂
Getting a photo of Aloy in the midst of an epic battle with a machine is a matter of pushing trigger buttons to hold a particular position while getting back out to the menu to select photo mode, but it can be done. I’m confident I will get caught up in finding that moment in a battle that will create a really amazing photo-op. The images captured for this review were all capture while in-game using photo mode.
Only really one complaint so far. With all these really cool features, it would have been nice to see more controller configuration settings. The only adjustment is inverting the Y-axis and there should just be more. Legacy and Legacy Southpaw are still legit settings and are necessary for those who aren’t able to play the game because of the frustration of the controller not having more flexibility. Let alone making a game like this one far more accessible by people who are used to other configurations as well as people with disabilities having a set up that allows them to play too.
This game scratches an itch of this style of game and is quickly becoming my go-to as I get more into it. It’s the same thing that sucked me into Skyrim for hundreds of hours and I’m not sure to be excited or afraid that Horizon: Zero Dawn will do the same. The only thing going for me is that I understand HZD is about 42-45 hours to complete. Again, not sure if this makes me happy or sad. Do I want it to have more to do to have it take longer to play completely? Yes… no… yes… damn it!
I’d not be surprised if this game gets some Game of the Year awards. It’s already one of my top favorites for 2017 and the bar is set high with this one. If it had more controller configurations, it would be flawless.