2018.01.07

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot Aloy sneak Thunderjaw

Santa brought me Horizon: Zero Dawn. Here's some media and discussion, nothing in the story beyond an hour of play is spoiled.
Premise

Sit-rep: you are Aloy, member of a hunter tribe in the distant future where modern man has disappeared and left only giant robotic dinosaurs.

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot focus

As a child, you stumble on a wearable computer called a focus.

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot focus highlighting lokovision

The device gives you something of a third eye, though plenty of other people have them.
Environments

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot snowy mountains high desert cactus

It's become common since Skyrim to ooh and aww at the visuals presented to you when wandering open world games. Vistas, lighting, quadruple lens flares - it tends to get kind of cheesy. Horizon isn't much different, but doesn't this just make you go ooh and ahh?

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot river crossing mounted

The world of Horizon does seem to have more mood to it - if I can risk a qualitative. It's kind of like Fallout in that way, but with a wider, coarser spectrum compared to Fallouts dialed-in grim postapocalypse.

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot tallneck depth of field

It's also remarkable how they can draw high-polygon-looking stuff really far away while still rendering nearby terrain and, well, not dropping frames. And NPCs that are moving and doing stuff.


So combining all the elements of environment - day/night, weather, terrain, lighting - you get an extremely diverse audiovisual experience as you traverse the Horizon map. It's a feast for the eyes, though sometimes you feel forcefed.

Locales


Relatedly, there are a number of small, medium, and large population centers sprinkled across the map. They're all detailed, unique, and striking. But you don't spend much time in them. There'll be a save point, a merchant, and a bunch of NPCs that don't do anything. You can scour for a loot chest, but they're pretty unrewarding. Some have sidequests, and that at least gives you an excuse to roam around, but it's kind of sad that such great designs go to waste. Compare that to a PvP-type game where you end up knowing every map like second nature.

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot Meridian Aloy bow

The main city, Meridian, is basically all you need since the vendors have the same gear (convenient but unexciting).

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot face painted npc person

And so the NPCs tend to either be a main character, window dressing, or a quest-giver/target. I guess this isn't abnormal for this genre.
The armory

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot Aloy snapmaws

As a postapocalyptic barbarian, you get a bow and a spear.

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot weapon wheel

It does get a little better, you get:

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot armor Carja Blazon Heavy

There are some clothing options that emphasize element resistances, stealth, midriff, etc. Each can be modified to boost certain properties.
Combat/tactics

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot heavy weapons glinthawk

This is probably the most interesting and surprising part of the game. Most of the game revolves around hunting dinos - sometimes its a quest, sometimes you need their loot drops, and sometimes you just can't avoid it. But how you go about this business felt like Monster Hunter or Shadow of the Colossus.

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot exploding dino

They aren't easy. Best I know, there's only one machine that can be one-shotted (with a critical hit) where most machines take dozens of hits to down. And the moment a second dino is in play, things get considerably more difficult.


Stealth killing the preferred method since you can land a critical and, later, override (hack them to your side). You need tall grass or an approach angle that you can be confident in. Most times this approach is implausible due to terrain or overlapping fields of vision.


Alternatively you can go mounted, send in a hacked dino, stay at long range, or melee.

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot snapmaw

Your general combat tactics may dictate what you target on the machines. Each dino consists of:
Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot Aloy bow shock arrow

The depth of the combat system and reliance on inventory, intelligence, and skill makes fighting machines frightening but interesting and rewarding.
Multisided


Dinos hunt humans, humans hunt dinos. Some humans hunt humans, some dinos hunt dinos. And it plays out like this without particular concern for the player. You can stumble into ongoing combat and just be a fly on the wall. You can override machines and get a helping hand. Sometimes friendly NPCs will happen upon on your battle and help out.
Things to do

In terms of quests, HZD isn't too different from its peers like Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, Witcher, and Skyrim. It really only sets itself apart by the lack of unique rewards for doing things - it's all just xp and generic resources. E.g. here's an extraordinary reward box containing two common part drops and meager resources:

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot extraordinary reward box lens

The upside is there aren't a trillion of each activity and the breadth keeps things fresh, so here goes...

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot Aloy city ruins the ancients

Obviously there's a main quest where you, presumably, uncover the mysteries of yourself and the ancients. No spoilers.

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot bow hunting

Run errands for people. Usual stuff here: hunt someone/something; track using your spidey sense; agree to do something that's obviously a trap, walk into the trap, spray the walls with 'em. There's always a premise that ranges from thin to not-as-thin.

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot Aloy bow Stormbird fire arrow

Hunt stuff. The Hunter's Lodge rewards you for taking down the biggest baddies, but you also can bag components that are prereqs for traders to give you the high end equipment.

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot bandit camp Aloy depth of field wall

Clear bandit camps, by stealth or by Leroy Jenkins.


Climb up so-called Tallnecks, unlock points of interest in a map region.


Climb cliffs, get a pretty view, learn history by linking vantage points to your focus.


Clear cauldrons (the places where the robots are made) and gain the ability to override them - so here's an example of a cool game-changing reward. Of course, it means you have to defeat a tough enemy in an enclosed space:

Leveling

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot skill tree prowler brave forager

Levels give you hp and access to a modest set of combat skills. It's nice to not be buried under 3% fire damage boosts, but it also means you don't really end up with a character build. The really useful ones:

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot Ravager Aloy bow

Multishot. Reduces accuracy, increases damage.

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot mount resting

Call a mount. It really beats having to find a herd, sneak up on it, and override one.

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot patrol paths stealth hunting

Enable sneak kills on elite-level humans.
Photo mode!?!?!?!1?!

Horizon Zero Dawn screenshot photo mode

Notice all these amazing screencaps with no HUD or regard for the protagonist's wellbeing? That's because you can hit pause and do all the things you might with a real camera.
A few more shots