Horizon Zero Dawn Retrospective: How Guerrilla Games' Surprise Hit Took the Gaming World by Storm

Here’s a look back at how Horizon Zero Dawn, the 2017 action RPG, shaped the trajectory of open-world games by becoming one of Sony’s crown jewels.

E3 2015 just seems like a while ago. Getting a sleuth of announcements from the gaming world, and especially Sony, the early days of the PlayStation 4 were quite something. Horizon Zero Dawn was, at the time, one of the most unique games that caught everyone’s eyes. A relatively new IP by Killzone’s scribe Guerrilla, Horizon Zero Dawn debuted with a trailer showcasing the fall of society and humans going back to more primitive methods of living, while the world is overrun by machines.

The short teaser itself was quite exciting, but everything kicked into gear when we got our first look at gameplay. The best way to describe Horizon would be Monster Hunter with machines. That’s the premise that eventually sold me onto the game, also the fact that the gameplay teaser had you fighting a mechanized dinosaur. From there on out, we would have to wait for around two years before Horizon Zero Dawn would finally release.

On release, Horizon would take the world by storm by showing just how polished and amazing it looked. Not just from a visual standpoint, which the team at Guerrilla Games are masters at, but even from gameplay. Me being a student in the second year of his college, of course, would just look at the reviews and be amazed at what I was seeing. It wasn’t until a year or two later I finally got my hands on the game.

Going into Horizon Zero Dawn, I of course had big expectations considering the reviews from a few years back. Starting out, I got immediately hooked to Aloy’s story and its presentation. A girl being treated as an outcast from her tribe, going on a journey of self-discovery, and eventually saving the world. This immediately makes for an amazing premise where the character is relatable from the get-go.

The game world is one of the best parts of it. Not only from a presentation standpoint but also lore. There are tribes with their own sets of rules, different species of machines roam around in the world, the reason behind the fall of society. Its top-notch writing had me hooked from beginning to end.

Horizon’s world was also a view to behold. Filled with lush forests and well-realized deserts, they provided for a great sense of grandiose that you don’t get often from open-world videogames. But, while HZD did perfect the look of its open world, I was still left a bit disappointed by its mechanics.

RPG elements in video games can be quite hit and miss, for Horizon’s case there are a lot of hits, but the misses stick out like a sore thumb. While the main quests are great in helping to drive the story forward, the game stumbled in its side quests. Side-quests while at the beginning felt great, eventually devolved into basic fetch quests that ultimately started feeling like a chore.

While the rewards can be enticing enough, I would have much preferred for more streamlined quests that naturally rolled into the story as well. That was something that felt missing.

Zero Dawn also had a great sense of uncanny valley in its character expressions. While the traditional cutscenes did have good facial animations, the RPG dialogue segments featured characters looking like dead robots while the voices provided for a more ambitious delivery of the dialogue.

The game also suffered from the usual tropes of open-world fluff. Climbing towers to reveal a section of the map was one of them, but that’s one thing that I thought was done charmingly. One of my favourite things to do in the game was climbing onto a Tallneck. Just making your way to the top of the machine, revealing the world map and rappelling down never got old for me, and that brings me to my next point.

While it does have many of the tedious open-world tropes, it executes those with such charm that you end up having fun with it. That’s one of the best compliments I can give to the game. Everything that it does, it does in a great way.

Horizon Zero Dawn is definitely one of Sony’s crown jewels with just how big it has become. Ashly Burch’s performance as Aloy is the heart of this game. The journey of her travelling to this world with a promise of hope to herself brings a great sense of catharsis to this story and is what keeps the player going forward. There is no denying that it’s flawed in so many ways, but it still packs in a great punch.

With that being said, this week we will be treated to something new, Horizon Forbidden West. Coming in at a time when the PlayStation 5’s catalogue of games is finally about to kick into new gear, I can’t wait to see the adventure Guerrilla has crafted here. Here is to exploring new Horizons.

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