There’s less than two weeks left before Horizon Zero Dawn finally drops and we got invited to a preview event in Manila, Philippines, where I got to play the first three chapters of the game’s retail build, as well as speak to the game’s Lead Concept Artist, Roland Ijzermans, which will be hitting the site soon.
Horizon Zero Dawn is the first new IP from Guerrilla Games since it announced Killzone way back in 2003. The game has been in development at the studio since 2011 and was initially supposed to release in 2016 but was then delayed to this year to give the development team more time to polish the game further.
At the preview event, I was able to try out the first few portions of the game which included the game’s prologue as well as the first of the game’s main chapters. The opening cinematic and prologue gave me a glimpse of the background of the game’s female protagonist, Aloy, as well as the world she resides in. The prologue also introduces some of the game’s elements and partially acts as a tutorial for a few of its mechanics. The prologue then ends and transitions into the game’s first main chapter by introducing one of its initial main story quests and motivations.
A Whole New World
First off, the game’s visuals were all very impressive even if I only managed to play it on a standard PS4 (not PS4 Pro). From the environments and designs to the animations and visual effects, the game is definitely one of the best looking PlayStation 4 games to date. The contrast of dilapidated advanced technology and nature make for an awe-inducing backdrop that is then brought to life with amazing robot designs that’s again contrasted with the game’s myriad of tribal people. The game’s bright color tone and mood are also welcome changes to the darker themes Guerrilla Games is known for from the Killzone franchise.
During my time with the game, I encountered only a few of the many robots you’ll eventually come across, and sometimes fight in the game many of which are inspired by real animals. I say sometimes, because at least one types of the “enemies” I encountered wasn’t even hostile and even fled instead of fought whenever I engaged them. Might it be safe to assume that some that there are probably other robots that act similarly farther into the game? I can’t say for sure just now. Of note, I wasn’t able to encounter any hostile humans during my playtime though.
By the end of my time with the brief hands-on demo, I was able to use three of the currently unknown number of possible weapons in the game with each serving a different purpose. One was for ranged combat, one was for setting up traps from a distance, and the last one was for melee. I was able to craft ammunition for my ranged weapons, including two different types for one of them, by collecting resources from around the environment as well as from fallen robots. Unfortunately, due to my limited time with the final build, and the fact that I was only allowed to progress until the third chapter, I wasn’t able to experience the game’s other forms of crafting.
While the game does feature a lot of combat, stealth looks like it will be an important part of going through the game’s encounters based on what I saw during my time with the game. Horizon, at least in the portion I got to experience, put an emphasis on sneaking your way either through or into an encounter. The game quickly teaches you that being clever about your approach to engagements will be important which include planting traps, learning your target’s movements and weaknesses, and optimally positioning yourself before initiating and engaging combat.
In spite of this, Guerrilla’s first third-person action title’s combat is incredibly enjoyable. Landing hits either with your ranged or melee weapons as well as having enemies trip your traps are all very satisfying. Although, I quickly learned that getting hit by enemy robots, regardless of the amount of damage I took, was not something Aloy could always easily take as she was, at times, thrown back when she got hit with an attack. I found myself alternating between dodging and attacking with either my ranged or melee weapon, sometimes even waiting to dodge an enemy attack before attempting to strike.
Your encounters and exploration will eventually grow more complex as you unlock abilities in the game’s three skill trees where you can upgrade your stealth, direct combat, and survival abilities. Gaining levels, through combat or quest completion, will garner you points which you can spend on upgrades. During my time, I was able to upgrade my ranged weapon capability allowing me to slow down time for a short period when I aimed. Other skill upgrades include the ability to launch high damage attacks as well as the ability to perform quiet attacks from stealth.
Focus Is Key
Aloy also has a sort of Detective Mode (like in Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham franchise), which the game calls “Focus,” that allows her to see and analyze mechanical and electronic objects (including robots), as well as see the movement or patrol path of robots. The Focus mode may have other capabilities further into the game beyond the portion I was able to play. Additionally, the way the Focus ability was introduced was done very well as it fit both the story and the world nicely, and didn’t feel at forced while enhancing gameplay at the same time.
Getting to play the first three chapters of Horizon Zero Dawn was definitely enough to get me hooked and excited to play the rest of it. The opening experience was enough for me to get invested into not only Aloy’s story but the story of the game’s world as well. And, this can’t be stressed enough, not only has Guerrilla crafted a fantastic looking game, but the mixture of familiar open-world gameplay elements as well as the game’s new and unique world and story make it feel both exciting and refreshing.
As its first new IP in over a decade and its first foray into the open-world genre, Guerrilla Games has undeniably created something special here. Stay tuned for our full review hitting the site very soon.