It is such a rare feat for anything (let alone a video game) to come out with a pile of hype and exceed my expectations, but that is exactly what happened with Guerilla Games spectacular PS4 exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn.
In other words, get ready for a whole lot of gushing:
Horizon: Zero Dawn is an open-world, action RPG set in the distant future where we (as the player) take control of Aloy (Eh-Loy...might as well roll Canadian in my phonetics), a young hunter who has been an outcast from tribal society, and sets off on a journey to try and discover where she comes from, and what it going on in the world/what happened to "us".
Over the course of the game, Aloy uncovers a lot of the secrets as to what happened to our society, while also being engaged in stories of the tribes in the land around her home...I'm trying to be cagey about plot details as I know, for a fact, that I am way happier with the fact that I was able to just experience Horizon without it getting spoiled for me in any way. I honestly feel that a giant part of what makes this game as great as it is is that it was able to instill such a sense of wonder in me on more than one occasion just by taking part in playing it.
There are so few games that wow me the way that Horizon did, especially in the sense that, the dynamism of the world itself was fascinating, and absolutely gorgeous. I have never spent a lot of time within a "photo mode" when it comes to video games, but Horizon is so bloody beautiful I had to; I almost cannot believe what Guerilla was able to do graphically with this game, particularly considering it is an open-world game. Now were there the occasional weird facial animations? Sure, but nothing game-breakingly weird (looking at you, Mass Effect Andromeda), and more often than not, everything just clipped along beautifully. That featured image? It's from my game. The lighting, the world...everything was just spectacular.
I'm not even a real "graphics are everything" guy (if I was, I'm sure I'd be a 4000$ PC gamer), but it should be telling to you that it is essentially the first thing I mention--there were several moments where I just felt the need to stand in one place, and watch this game world move past.
The best thing about Horizon is, all of that said, the game itself. The gameplay is fluid, and excellently balanced--I put in about 60 hours in order to get the Platinum Trophy (give or take a few when I'd leave it paused while jumping into work, and the 2 hours of taking photos) and there was only one occasion where I felt a bit tired of what I had been doing in game (and the game itself hit me with a change of pace right then, and it reinvigorated my playthrough). I found the main story, and unraveling what happened to our civilization absolutely fascinating--this is, for me, a Top 5 setting of all-time. While the writing would occasionally get hit with a little inconsistency, I was drawn to the major characters, adore Aloy, loved the story... I even cried (not The Last of Us giraffe cried, but...), I laughed, and I was fascinated by the created world.
The gameplay & combat were fluid and engaging, and what I particularly loved (even making sure to mention it on the next episode of The Guys From Podcast), was that the game allowed you to try things, and learn how to combat enemies. Typically, Aloy was always using a bow, or a spear, and while different elemental possibilities were added to combat (fire arrows for example), it was always the same weapon set, and it became about you modding your weapons with scavenged materials, and (for lack of a better word) getting good.
I was not able to fight the massive, at first they were hard robots, better because I got a new fancy weapon (as so many games often do), but rather I learned, with the help of some past tech, and practice, how to better utilize what Aloy was capable of. Early in the game, as made sense in the story, Aloy was untried, and raw, but by the end of the game, was a great hunter, still using the same skills she had before, but just being better at them...and that was incredibly satisfying.
As I have been talking about Aloy a bit more, I do want to circle back and just re-emphasize how good, and how diverse the characters are. It's so nice to have a spectacular AAA game where it has a diverse and interesting cast, with an awesome, young female protagonist. The fact that that stands out is a bit sad, but the fact that it is handled so well, and so intricately put together without every calling attention to it, is really quite wonderful. Characters felt fleshed out and interesting from top to bottom, even on side quests, or just that weird guy who wanted me to find coffee mugs.
Aside from the few small issues I mentioned above...aside from a selfish desire to see more robot types, there is very few flaws from top to bottom, if you are in for an open-world action RPG. My clocking in at 60+ hours is long for this game, but I did everything, and I feel like if you wanted to skip collectibles (of which there was just the right amount, not the ubisoft style blanket), or not do all the hunting challenges (which are worth it for thinking of fighting other ways...plus sweet loot) you could maybe even cut my time in half...
Understand that Horizon: Zero Dawn checks off a pile of boxes for me (post-apocalyptic, caveman, sci-fi, robot dinosaurs, third person action-RPG), so this almost felt tailor made for me, and honestly, when I update my Top 100 Video Games of All-Time, this is going to be on the list (and near the top).
If you are at all interested in this game, or frankly, own a PS4, Horizon: Zero Dawn is a must play, and worth every penny as it is, in my opinion, the best game on the console thus far.