What I'm Playing - No. 174
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4)
Abandoned at birth and taken in by an outcast of the Nora tribe named Rost, Aloy grows into a curious and determined young woman under his care. Her curiosity takes her into the ruins of the Old Ones, whose technology far surpasses that of the Nora and the other tribes. What happened to them? And where did the machines that roam the world come from? Aloy’s journey will reveal the answers to all these questions and more, if she can survive in this hostile world.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a 2017 open world action RPG developed by Guerilla Games. It’s been on my backlog for a while, and after watching parts of my wife’s playthrough of it earlier this year I had to play it for myself. It originally released for PS4, but we both played it on PS5 where the latest patch allows it to run at up to 4K 60 FPS, and it looks and plays fantastic. It also released on PC in 2020. The version I played is the Complete Edition that includes both the base game and The Frozen Wilds DLC, and I played through it all!
Something in Horizon Zero Dawn that stands out as soon as you see the box art is the setting: tribal culture meets high-tech robots. It’s set 1,000 years in the future, in a post-apocalyptic Earth where humanity has regressed to primitive, tribal existence. But there was clearly a technologically advanced civilization that lived before them, and of course, there are the highly advanced, animal-like robots roaming the world, like the T-Rex-looking one on the original box art. That premise is really interesting, and had me curious about the game before I knew anything else about it based on that alone. The story is excellent too, and answers all the big questions you’ll have about the world by the end. It has a lot of lore in it too if you’re into that, in the form of both text documents and audio, and these too shed more light on how Earth got this way, adding to the world-building nicely. The cast of characters further rounds out the world, with a whole slew of NPCs to meet and talk to. Aloy herself is also a really strong character, and a joy to play as and listen to during conversations. In the English voice cast, she’s voiced by Ashley Burch, who has an impressive vocal range, because I’ve actually heard some characters she’s voiced in other video games and I never would have guessed they had the same voice actress. For example, she also voices Millium Orion in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, who sounds way different than Aloy.
Combat is fun, and can be quite challenging. It’s mostly a third-person shooter where you fight with a bow and arrows, but you can also use your spear for light or heavy melee attacks and set several kinds of traps for your enemies. It really pushes you to use all your available weapons and tools, and to use the right ones to exploit the enemies’ weak points. Some machines are weak to fire, so you’d want to use fire arrows against them, while others have components like guns that can be knocked off entirely to make them less of a threat. Precise aiming is also very important for damaging enemies efficiently. The machines all have specific weak points, and if you’re not hitting those you’ll deal much less damage. I was really inconsistent at hitting these weak points, even when using the Concentration ability to slow time and zoom in. But even if you miss a lot of your shots at weak points like I did, the enemy will go down sooner or later, it’s just much faster if you can actually hit their weak points, and it’s super satisfying when you do!
Stealth was also an essential tool in combat, at least early on. I was playing on normal difficulty, and trying to take on enemies in open combat often lead to Aloy’s death, sometimes several times in a row during a few quests. So, I found myself sneaking through bushes and executing Silent Strikes whenever possible. Silent Strike is a skill from one of the three skill trees, and after you’ve leveled up at least once, I recommend using your skill points to unlock it as soon as possible because of how useful it is. Weaker enemies can be taken down in one shot with a single Silent Strike! There are other stealth skills you can unlock, like Strike from Above or Strike from Below, but Silent Strike was by far the one I used the most.
Aloy also has the ability to override machines. Unlike Silent Strike and Concentration which are unlocked by spending skill points, overriding machines is unlocked automatically at a certain point in the main story. When you first unlock it, you can only override a few types of machines, but you can unlock more overrides by completing the Cauldron side quests. You can only override a machine when it hasn’t detected you, so you’ll do most overrides when hiding in tall grass, but you can also sneak up behind machines to override them. Once you’ve overriden a machine, it will become friendly for a short time and help you fight. You can ride on the backs of certain machines, and this is probably what you’ll use overriding for most of the time. Unlike other enemies, mountable machines will stay friendly forever once overriden, giving you a way to travel around the world more quickly.
Exploration in the open world is excellent, helped in part by how good it looks. There are plenty of things to do all around the map, from collectibles to find, bandit camps to clear out, and of course side quests. Part of all this exploring is a climbing system that’s similar to the Uncharted series. Aloy can only climb certain surfaces that are brought to the player’s attention by either yellow or white. It’s a fun and well polished system. Aloy will only move or jump when she can reach the next handhold, so you usually won’t accidentally jump in the wrong direction and fall to your death.
I haven’t gotten pulled into a western, open world RPG like this for a long time. There are plenty of side quests and objectives to do aside from the main story, and I ended up doing quite a few of them. It was a very comfortable gameplay loop: find an NPC that needs help, talk to them, go through the dialogue wheel to get backstory about them and their side quest, then go out and do the side quest. It reminds me a bit of Skyrim or Mass Effect in some ways, especially because of the dialogue wheel. There was plenty of other stuff to do in the world whenever I wanted a break from quests, so the experience never got stale either. If you’re a fan of open world games, then I definitely recommend Horizon Zero Dawn if you haven’t checked it out yet! My final time was 47 hours 19 minutes.