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Horizon Zero Dawn – Fantastic Game that Lacks Some Polish

Content of the article: "Horizon Zero Dawn – Fantastic Game that Lacks Some Polish"

Horizon Zero Dawn, developed by Guerilla Games, a company that has exclusively developed Killzone games for 16 years, takes a stab at developing a new 3rd person IP game. Given Guerilla Games' zero experience in anything outside of a 1st person game, this can't end well, right?

tl;dr: It's a fantastic game, but far from perfect. PC port is no longer a disaster as it was on launch.

I'll try to avoid spoilers when I can in this.


  • Story: Aloy, an outcast from her tribe is on a personal mission to find her heritage. However, ravaging, robotic dinosaurs are threatening the world and it's up to you to figure out what's going on. As a player, you are unsure whether this is an alternate timeline where machines roamed the world or if this is a post apocalyptic world. The history of the world is very intriguing and even explains more via initially seemingly random datalogs if you wish to read and listen to them. You meet a variety of characters, but Sylens in particular is mysterious and developed more than any other side character. He's interesting in that he is self-serving and helping you is only a byproduct of helping himself first. Exploring the cauldrons and learning more about the world was the best part of the game and I only wished there were more of them.
  • Ranged combat: It's a lot of fun! You are given a variety of unique ranged combat for all varieties of ranges. You can have a close, medium, or far ranged bow, a bow to blow stuff up, a bow to tie things up, etc. The game expects you to make use of multiple bows in nearly every combat too, and it's up to you on how you want to best approach a situation. Although enemies have weaknesses to certain bows, you can easily tackle them on through a combination of other bows too. Every machine fight feels intense, especially when multiple types are involved.
  • Graphics: I don't think this needs to be explained. The game is absolutely stunning, especially if you play in HDR. Scenery during gameplay can look like prerendered cutscenes at times, and all character models are full of details. Even on the PS4 and especially on the Pro, this looked beautiful, but you get the option to dial the graphics up further on the PC.
  • Frozen Wilds DLC: Maybe it's just me but this DLC feels really polished in every aspect. Everybody during the DLC looks much more animated and alive. This area is huge and is integrated into the main game. The environment is a major change from the desert wasteland in the main world, and you will encounter new and stronger enemies here. The main quests are very fleshed out and definitely does not feel like a cheap cash in. The main quest feels like a continuation of the main game's main quest, rather than a spinoff. Even more creative, the game dialogue changes, depending on whether you beat the DLC before or after the main endgame. A nice touch and there's no right or wrong order.
  • Side Quests: Every side quest, big or small are full of unique, voiced dialogue and conversations. It adds to the immersion, especially when I think of the shallowness of games like FFXV, which are full of stock one-liners and generic fetch quests.
  • Waypoints: It's an odd inclusion to note, but the fact that the game is riddled with waypoints makes it so you are not needlessly trekking long distances to get to a quest or a resource. Majority of the world is easily at your fingertips and while exploring is fun, sometimes I just want to get from point A to point B, and the game definitely makes it easy for you to do that.
  • PC version: I briefly played this on the PS4 and dropped it for two reason, the framerate and FOV. Although the 30fps lock is understandable, the PS4 version ran at at very low FOV, which I could not overlook on the console, since it was so narrow, it was making me nauseous. However, playing it in 60fps is a game changer, especially in the heat of the battle and having a FOV slider allows you to see more and in my case, not feel sick. It's insane that the FOV was initially announced as unchangeable by the devs, until outcry from the fans encouraged them to implement a FOV slider. I recently bought this after update 1.09 was released. Supposedly, this game had a disaster of a launch, with numerous stuttering, crashes, missing textures/graphics, broken HDR, physics issues above 30fps, the list goes on. However, with all the updates they released, many of these issues were resolved. From my experience, i encountered very few bugs. One bug, had Aloy skating on ice, preventing her from interacting and another where key NPCs were missing, both gone after reloading from the checkpoint. I encountered a single crash in 33 hours. The only reoccuring issue I saw were the facial animations not being anywhere close to being sync with the voices at times. Overall, the devs put a lot more time into this than I expected with all the updates. I really thought the game would have been abandoned after launch. Glad I was wrong.
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  • Melee Combat: Outside of stealth kills and critical hits on downed machines, there is no reason to use your melee attack. It is horribly slow, lack any damage, and does not have any combo system whatsoever. It is only at the end of the game where you even get an upgraded spear that does more damage and only in the DLC where you can mod your spear after completing an early quest. Unlike the rest of your arsenal, where you will find new utility uses for your bow and arrow, your spear will always be used the same way the entire game. You'll be much better off switching to a close ranged bow than to use this clunker.
  • Parkouring: The obvious comparison is Assassin's Creed, in particular Origins (it came out the same year as HZD). Navigating around the world on foot is decent but when ledges are involved, it starts to feel very clunky and linear. You typically only have one path up, all conveniently highlighted as yellow ledges. If you attempt to climb the ledge beside that, you will just slide right back down, despite looking like a ledge. It really discourages adventuring off the beaten path to find a shortcut, because the game forces you to go one way only. Compare this to AC Origins, where nearly everything is climbable. If you can see it, you can climb it. It's aggravating to fall to my death or to go the wrong path, because the game wanted me to climb the other way. At one point, what I thought was a shortcut to what the map clearly marked as waypoint, ended up being an invisible wall, to the point where the game tells you to turn around.
  • Human fights: They suck. Fighting machines, especially in hordes is hectic and rewarding. Machines come at you from different angle and all have a variety of attacks to keep you on edge. Humans however, are either archers or predictable melee warriors with a lunge attack. It also doesn't help that they can be dispatched with 1 or 2 headshots. From time to time, you might fight the miniboss human with a cannon of sorts, but they do not provide much more of a threat than other humans.
  • Side Character development: Outside of Sylens, and in the DLC, Aratek and Ourea, all other side characters are pretty shallow. Nearly all the characters you encounter at the beginning have no impact on the rest of the game, outside of cameos, like Teb or Resh. In the endgame when the Eclipse attacks and killing many of your Nora peers, you have to run past their bodies and Aloy will comment on it, but I struggled to even remember who they were. Even with Sylens and Rost, you are only given their history through a single, optional expositional dialogue. Given the importance of Rost in your life, it's weird he's a mere afterthought later in the game.
  • Dialogue choices: Throughout the game, you will be forced to make dialogue choices, either intellectual, emotional, or aggressive. While it seems important at first, none of the choices matter in the grand scheme of things. The only time I can recall the smallest impact in gameplay was letting Nil live, as he shows up in the endgame to help. Don't expect any Mass Effect level choices here.
  • Lack of QoL features: The game lacks many small features, which leads to a lot of unnecessary annoyances. I'll list off the ones I remember. None of these issues alone make for a bad game but the fact that there are so many of these annoyances, and frequency rate, that it has to be mentioned.
  • Lack of weapons progression: The game does a very poor job at exposing you to the many fun weapons it has to offer. Outside of your spear and basic bow and arrow, the only other weapon that's given to you is a weapon to tie down machines, and this is given much later in the game. Everything else has to be purchased. The problem is, you don't exactly know how the weapons work before you buy, and you'd likely be low on currency when they become available to you. The game should have given you the cheapest form of each weapon throughout the game to show you the mechanics. There are even hunting grounds that offer challenges that utilizes these weapons. Except, you HAVE to own the weapons before they allow you to attempt them. This would've been the perfect opportunity to lend you the weapons to practice with.
  • Lack of ability to quick sell junk: You will encounter many items throughout the game, where their sole purpose is to sell for currency. However, the inventory system's sorting system is terrible, requiring you to go through each item 1 by 1, seeing if it is a junk item or if it has another purpose, before selling. On top of this, you will come across many mods that will be clearly obsolete. The ability to upgrade them, based on your level (like AC Origins), or to have some craft system i.e. (3x of similar mods = upgraded mod) would've been great but instead, they will just be sold for a handful of currency in a cumbersome system.
  • Can only purchase 1 item at a time: Let's say you want to buy 50 blaze, a component to build fire arrows. You cannot specify you want to buy 50. You have to individually buy them 1 by 1. Luckily, due to how generous the game is with resources in general, buying resources is not common.
  • Lack of running while using the Focus: The Focus is used to help find resources, lore points, and identifying weak spots on enemies. However, the moment you run, you will cancel your Focus. This is annoying during fights when you want to verify a weakness but you are forced to walk, while a machine is lunging at you. It's a headgear, why can't I run with it?
  • Lack of things to buy at merchants: There are A LOT of merchants in this game, and yet nearly all of them sell the exact same goods. Unless you need to buy resources on the fly (as mentioned before, this is not often), they serve no unique purpose from any other merchant.
  • Cannot compare impact of mods at a glance: If you want to see whether 1 mod is better than the other, you have to unequip one and equip the other and rinse and repeat to see the stats impact. You cannot highlight one and see if it's an improvement or not over your current mod.
  • Save points not healing (immediately): When you save at a savepoint, your health is not restored. However, when you save, and immediately reload from savepoint, you will load in with full health. What a weird oversight.
  • Can only hold 4 weapons in quick wheel: You come across many weapons that offer a lot of unique utility, including roping down machines, slingshotting bombs, setting booby traps, etc. You can technically go to your inventory menu, and swap out the weapon anyways, so there's no restriction. Having all your weapons on a larger weapon wheel would add a lot more combat options on the fly.
  • Tutorial quests: The game gives you a challenge that you can attempt anytime after buying a new weapon i.e. kill more than 1 enemy with a single explosive, or one shot kill an enemy with x weapon. These challenges gives you XP, which help out early game and can guide you on what the weapon is capable of. The stupid thing is, the quest HAS to be active before you can attempt it. Given that only one quest can be active at a time, typically your main/side quest is usually the one marked. Accomplish the challenge but forgot to make the quest active? You will get nothing.
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The foundations of an amazing game is here, with a lot of rough edges. Given that this is Guerilla Games' first new IP since 2004, in a completely new genre, I can chalk up a lot of these issues due to inexperience, compared to games like Assassin's Creed and Fallout, which had dozens of games to refine itself. I personally enjoyed AC Origins more overall, but HZD does have a unique story and world, and the combat is much better. I look forward to the sequel, since I feel many of these issues can be eliminated. It would be great to even see a prequel from Guerilla Games.


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