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Gaming: Horizon Zero Dawn

Sandbox games have been a thing for a few years now, and it’s pretty great. The freedom to do all sorts of things in a fantasy/sci-fi/realist fiction world opens so many doors, and so many opportunities to show the title off. Horizon Zero Dawn is one such title. Gorgeous, expansive, and involving, this title is one we’ve been waiting for for a while. We got our eager little hands on it, and here’s what we think.

The game is set in a post-post-apocalypse, far, far into our future. Human society has risen to great technological heights, and due to some yet unknown event, fallen back into primitive times. It’s not all rabbit meat and wild boar sinigang though. Also for reasons not revealed at the start of the game, wild robotic beasts roam the land, serving both as a source of resources, and constant peril.

The title follows Aloy, an outcast of her tribe. She learns to survive with her guardian Rost, and because of story reasons, comes into possession of an artifact from the old age. On a quest to find out more about her past, the world, and the reason she exists, it takes you up mountains, through forests, rivers and streams, and across the paths of dangerous humans, wild machines, and other environmental perils. It’s a heck of a ride.

 Graphics are, in a word, superb. The sprawling landscapes, weather effects and day-night cycles are terrifyingly realistic, even without the additional power of the PS4 Pro. It’s so close to the real thing, you’re going to think you’re in the middle of a film rather than a game. Motion is smooth, and, if you’ve any experience with any current third-person title, you shouldn’t have any problem with the control scheme. There are a lot of things going on though, so you’ll want to spend a little while getting used to switching weapons, using items, and crafting, the critical portions of which can be done right from the game screen, sans  pausing, extra menus, or complicated interfaces.

Overall, two thumbs up on the controls and interface. Climbing might not be as smooth as, say Uncharted, but it’s not the chore some people make it out to be. Combat with a bow, is about as easy as one might expect with a controller, which is to say, totally manageable, but tedious. Or maybe my thumbs are just slow. We may never know,

Aloy is helped along on her quest by a levelling system, RPG style. Each action nets you XP towards a new level, and skill points. These skill points can be spent on individual tiered skills that allow you to slow time when aiming with a bow, or increased damage on knocked-down enemies, or maybe stealth kills, better healing, or scavenging. There’s a lot in there, and each skill is helpful towards the completion of quests.

Speaking of quests, roaming the world gives you a lot of those. From the main story quest that pushes you forward, to simple side quests that boost XP and let you score items, there’s a lot to do. Thankfully, the quests are tied in well with the map, so you won’t have a problem finding out where to go and what to do.

In-game, you will pick up a Focus–a device that looks like a Bluetooth headset, but way more useful. With the focus, you can keep track of creatures and their patrol paths, items, and other game-critical information. It’s very natural, smoothly incorporated into the story, and a key story point to boot.

There are titles out there that have great individual elements, but fall flat when put together. I’m pleased to say that just isn’t the case here. Collecting items, scraps, and resources, crafting them into useful items, trading the rest, and harvesting XP, all come together organically. The level of immersion, thanks to the engaging story and great graphics are way up there, and the same level of fun, I would say, as The Last of Us, another one of my favorite titles. The skill tree might seem to some a sneaky way to get you to grind, allowing you to choose skills based on your particular play style make it even more fun.

The game even includes a sort of morality system, that changes the feel of the game subtly, based on dialogue choices you make. Be a hothead, calculating, or a goody-two-shoes type (perhaps based on how you are in real life?) and feel even more connected to our red-headed heroine even more. This is a great thing, as you’ll be spending a lot of time with each other; there’s a reported 40 hours of play time to completion for this game.

Overall, it’s got all the right things: A great story, a likeable character, actually useful crafting, and great graphics. Combat, which is a huge part of the experience, is more skewed towards being smart, than jumping into the thick of it, though that’s not out of the question either. It caters to a lot of players and interests, and we honestly can’t wait to play even more of it. This is a title you can’t afford to miss.

Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE April 2017 Issue
Words by Ren Alcantara

Developer: Guerilla Games | Platform: Playstation 4 | Pubisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment