I purchased Horizon: Zero Dawn in August 2017 with the clear goal of finishing it by the end of that year. Well, it took me a whole year to actually get started on that by then already missed goal, but now I’ve finally finished that last main story quest 😄
While I absolutely loved my time in this game I completely failed to explain that to my partner after I had finished it. This is another attempt on that 😅 Please keep in mind that this will contain major spoilers! Stop reading here if you still plan to play this game and just get it!
The game starts off with you waking up as Aloy, an outcast teenage-hunter in a stone-age like setting. You fall down an old shaft and explore a cave where you find an earpiece (called a Focus) that allows you to perceive the world around you as if you could see through walls. These caves and everything related to technology found in them is deemed off-limit so you keep that discovery a secret from everyone around you.
While you grow up, your adoptive father, Rost, teaches you how to hunt and survive in this world and you set out to become an accepted member of the Nora society (the local clan-like matriarchy). The Nora believe in a goddess called the “All-Mother” from which all live (human and otherwise) originated. And you are somehow related to that deity or why would look so much like her?!
The Nora aren’t the only society in this world, though. Over the course of the next couple of gameplay-hours you get to know the Carja who have built immense cities like Meridian on top of old fundaments, the Oseram, who are master craftsmen and metalworkers, the Banuk, and many more. They all live in ruins left over by a former high-civilisation. All of them also have to fight off huge robots modelled after horses, tigers, and other animals.
Eventually, you learn that the humans of hour time (or at least of the near future) built robots as war machines and had the immensely stupid idea to fuel them using bio material. It was just a question of time until they discovered humans as fuel. When humans discovered this it was already too late and Dr. Elisabet Sobek came up with the only viable solution: Build a huge AI tasked with rebooting life on Earth after the robots had destroyed everything and ran out of fuel.
So, essentially, the world in which Aloy lives is actually the second version of humans created from bio-samples and DNA-scans of humans v1.0. They way in which Aloy discovers who she is (a clone of Dr. Elisabet Sobek) but also the immense tragedy that eventually destroyed the humans of our times was extremely well told! Sure, huge parts of the story are told through audio-clips, holo-recordings, and dozens and dozens of text files, but most of these tell everyday-stories of how people survived (and didn’t) the final days of humanity.
It was basically impossible to not get emotionally invested in this story as you discovered more and more details and also found some video clips displaying a world not much different from our own right next to the by now rusted ruins.
This atmosphere was supported by just gorgeous graphics. I have a weakness for anything related to snow and ice in games and Horizon: Zero Dawn exploited that every single minute. It’s hard not to enter photo mode when you sneak through high grass on the shores of a huge lake in order to hunt down a fox for his skin in order to unlock infinite fast-travel bags.
Only on rare occasions did it show that I was not playing the game on a non-pro Playstation 4. Sure, the loading times where quite long (I got a lot of reading done in that time) but the frame-rate didn’t take a dive even during the most intense battles… taking place during snow storms.
Gameplay-wise, the initial training by Rost accompanies you through the whole game as you hunt down animals and machines in order to either trade them for other materials or built better tools like bows, backpacks, and so on for your long journey. While you also collect experience points in order to gain more health and some skills, crafting your own tools is where you gain things like an increased arrow-stock and potions.
As you progress through tougher and tougher battles you also sometimes get your hands on some of the weapons carried by machines and adversaries. For me personally, the bow was still my favourite weapon of them all the way to the end of the game. As I was mostly interested in this story here, I opted to play this game on easy. Because of that I’m not sure if other weapons might not have been more suited for later battles. It still felt extremely satisfying to first scan enemies with your Focus, discover their weaknesses, and hit them with your most powerful bow and arrows.
As I already wrote in the beginning: I absolutely loved my time playing Aloy and exploring the world and its past with her. If you have a PS4 and haven’t played Horizon: Zero Dawn yet, you can probably find it somewhere for cheap. Just get it!
I hope I finally managed to summarise my feelings for this game and its world adequately. While I didn’t play the add-on yet, I would love to learn more of its stories in novels or audiobooks 😊