Holy crap! That’s what I thought to myself countless times while playing Horizon Zero Dawn this year. This game is from Guerrilla Games, who’s previous work entails mostly the Killzone series, which are good games at best, and underwhelming shooters at worst. This is their first attempt at an open world adventure game and I was apprehensive about their ability to deliver a high quality game in a brand new genre. My concerns were completely unfounded.
As with all other games on this list, the gameplay loop in this game is excellent, and encourages you to keep pushing forward because something really cool is almost always over the horizon (er, no pun intended). The upgrade system on display here has enough going on to make it feel worthwhile, but it’s not as complex as many RPG systems that make people like me just tune out and lose interest. I always felt like I was getting stronger and I felt like I had the freedom to improve my ability to do the things I enjoyed doing most in the game.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is also sublime. At it’s core, Horizon Zero Dawn is a stealth game. Yo are trained early on to stick to the tall grass, to stay quiet, and to only engage with the enemy when you have a strategic advantage. You’re routinely overpowered by your enemies and you need to be clever when fighting them. You can use stealth to sneak attack them or you can set traps with the numerous devices and tools you get throughout the game. It’s almost never a good idea to run into an enemy encounter and attack your foes head on. You’ll likely die, and you’ll likely earn less loot than you would if you were a little more strategic. As you power up, you start to be able to run into a pack of robots that use to kill you in one hit and cut them down in no time, and that’s a powerful feeling, but as you explore new areas, that’s almost never the best idea.
There’s a moment near the end of this game that involves no cutscenes, no other characters, no dialogue, and no combat, and that several minute stretch is one of the most emotional moments of any game I’ve ever played. You’re simply riding on a robot across the entire map and this beautiful music plays underneath the scene. Simply riding past some of the sights you’d explored earlier in the game and meditating on what you had done (and what is left to do) just got to me. It’s a feeling very few games evoke, and even fewer that achieve this in such a subtle way.
I adore Horizon Zero Dawn and hope that there are many more games in this new series. Main character Aloy deserves to have more stories told about her, and this world Guerrilla Games has created is ripe for more adventures.
P.S. I didn’t even mention the visuals in this game, but they look absolutely gorgeous! The game would still be this high on my list even if it looked mediocre, but the look of this game makes you drop your jaw basically constantly.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a PS4 exclusive and can be downloaded here.