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Looking Back: Horizon: Zero Dawn

Photo courtesy of Sony
Looking back on 2017, the PlayStation 4 had one of the most prolific years in Sony's console history. The year filled Sony's library with titles like Resident Evil 7, Persona 5, and NieR: Automata. One particular standout from that year, a PS4 exclusive developed by Guerrilla Games, slipped past me and was only able to get my attention in the last year.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is an action/adventure title that takes place 1,000 years into the future. The world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland featuring several tribes, tons of machines, and an intricate plot that is woven together through a great narrative and numerous side-quests.
Photo courtesy of Sony
You start the game as a young Nora tribe outcast named Aloy. You'll begin the game learning to hunt from her adoptive father, Rost. After stumbling into a cave you discover relics of the past. One of these, a Focus, can read specific data such as machines "types".

 As Aloy grows older, she becomes skilled with a bow and learns combat strategy. This training culminates with Aloy entering a competition. The story then takes a dark turn and you'll be forced to hunt down those who have attempted to kill you while also uncovering the truth of the past along the way.

What makes Horizon special is its smart-mouthed, but well-natured main character. You can choose Aloy's reactions to other people at certain points and all choices make it clear she's no pushover. In fact, she isn't afraid to stand up for herself or others which is made clear from her responses through the various quests and interactions with others.
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The side-quests themselves are both numerous and rewarding. You'll see people die, but you'll also rescue those in need. You'll earn ammo, weapons, armor, and loot boxes while advancing other (side)quest lines in the process. The best rewards include knowing that your side-quests will be tied to the final battle and a Trophy, should you be interested in collecting those, for completing them all.

One more thing that Horizon excels at is its knowledge of worldly cultures. Much of the game's lore mentions geography in parts of the U.S. as well as the collaboration of people from various backgrounds. These people helped create the project that thrust Horizon's plot before the game's start.

In the game's present day world, The Carja, Nora, Banuk, and Osseram are all original cultures, or tribes, scattered around the game's world. Yet, each one has clear influences and nods to real world cultures.
Photo courtesy of Sony
Horizon boasts some of the most gorgeous visuals the PS4 has to offer. Facial animations become clear and easy to read during dialogue and the incredibly well animated cutscenes. The overworld boasts gorgeous landscapes of mountains, deserts, tundras, and various other locations. Each one distinct and visually stunning.

The combat in Horizon consists of close-combat spears, bows, slingshots, and traps. You can equip up to four weapons at a time, so you can use different strategies to take down various machines. This leads to a natural process of developing your own fighting strategy.

For any fans of Metroid Prime, you'll discover some notable similarities or potential influences. Horizon is heavily focused on exploration and you'll use your Focus to scan enemies' weaknesses. Around the game's world, you'll find scan points to uncover all sorts of lore relevant to the past. Plus, you can use it to uncover tracks and hunt down characters. Futhermore, if you're familiar with Batman: Arkham Asylum's "Detective Mode," which sees you search for clues before finding a criminal, then Horizon: Zero Dawn's version will instantly click.
Photo courtesy of Sony
What I love most about Horizon includes its level of narrative and exploration. Its combat options are solid and the enemies force you to rely on trap placement and strong aim. If you're seeking a challenge, you're welcome to boost the difficulty level at any part of the game. However, you're also welcome to attempt New Game+ on Ultra Hard difficulty, allowing you to snag two trophies at once.

My only grumblings include a bit of long-winded dialogue sections. During side-quests, you may get to ask more questions about the subject. This leads to a 50/50 chance that it's interesting dialogue but nothing relevant to getting you any close to your quest completed. You'll still have a marker and the dialogue is optional. For those hopelessly curious, you may be sitting down for an additional 2 minutes of dialogue, per quest, hearing what everyone has to say.
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I also feel Horizon could live up to its full potential in a sequel. Being able to fly on sky machines, like Glinthawks and Stormbirds, would be awesome. As you could only ride three mounts in this game I would love to see more use of mounts in a potential sequel.

Overall, my complaints are extremely minimal and based on some selective nitpicking. From visuals to audio to gameplay and side-quest content, Horizon: Zero Dawn easily became one of the best games I ever played. It stands up to games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in terms of sheer scope and amount of things to do. The level of exploration in Horizon comes with many surprises, such as lore or finding powerful armor. If you love strong narrative and dialogue with great combat and exploration, definitely pick up Horizon: Complete Edition. The Frozen Wilds DLC comes packed in for free and it is definitely worth your time to play it after the main game.

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