Dawn. The beginning of a new day. The first light after the dark terror of night. It is not uncommon to long for a fresh start. This new adventure may come with so much as a blank slate or merely a change in circumstances. For anyone, a new beginning means change. It means chaos must enter the equation at some level. In a metaphorical sense, Horizon: Zero Dawn is synonymous with the story of Guerrilla and their new beginning in a genre already breaching the levees of gamers’ wallets and attention.
Now observe the light of the sun as it dances across the water and peers through the trees. Take note of each reflection and refraction, and how the light glances off of the eyes of each man, woman, and child. Look at each person, their features and their flaws, and you will see the masterpiece that is humanity. But also escape the bounds of their civilizations, and you will encounter the monstrosities of their ancestors. These machinations of the “old ones” roam the wilds, from the forests to the plains, mountains, desert and more. These metal beasts take the shape of commonly recognized animals and monsters alike. And their light too, shines on this world.
It isn’t just artistic beauty that makes Horizon: Zero Dawn great because, after all, it is a video game. Exploration, combat, questing...you name it, and Horizon did it well. From the thrill of the hunt, to riding the open plains on the back of a Strider, I’ve never had more fun in an open world RPG. One of my favorite things about the game is learning how to approach different robotic monsters. I remember my first encounter with a Thunderjaw, one of the largest beasts in the game. At first I couldn’t fathom taking the beast on without using the ropecaster* to pull the thing down and disable it momentarily. After a few encounters, I learned that I can take out the giant disk launchers on the Thunderjaw’s back, and then use those launchers against it. Soon after learning that, I am taking down these metal T-Rexes in less than thirty seconds. Apply this learning process to Stormbirds and Rocksmashers, and after a while I am no longer running away from these fights, hovering over my health potions like a scared child clutching a stuffed animal.
As I became undaunted by the metal demons, I never lost regard for the human element of the game. From the nordic civilization of the Nora to the imperial Carja, each and every tribe had their own unique culture and values therein. Their fashion, social structures, government, economy, and their perspectives on this strange world are all incredibly unique. I only wish the game allowed me to learn more about individual people and their personal struggles. Many of the side quests and errands either built up the same handful of characters or ended up giving me a shallow understanding of some random quest giver. In a world so interesting and large in scale, it would be nice to have a more meaningful relationship with it outside of the main story arc.
Matching the technical excellence of the game were the voice actors’ performances. Each line delivered tactfully and matching the emotion and tone of the scenes. The way these performances are enhanced by the exquisite animation is jaw dropping. I wanted to talk to everyone. I wanted to see every cut-scene. In a time where I am trying to play everything very quickly, I wanted to savor every frame of Horizon. Seeing this level of care given to a new IP from the studio known for Killzone, is encouraging to say the least. You could say that I’m eager to see what is beyond the horizon for Guerrilla.