Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition Review

September 4, 2020
Also on: PS4
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Also on:
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At the start of the year there were rumours, no, more hushed whispers, that Horizon Zero Dawn was coming to PC. As one of Sony’s flagship exclusives for its Playstation platform it seemed strange to think they’d allow such a lucrative lure to its console jump to anything other than its next-generation PS5. In March this year, however, another previously Sony exclusive, Death Stranding, got a PC launch date and all of a sudden this seemed less like a flight of fancy and something that could happen. Then in early July everything was confirmed and earlier this month those on PC jumped into something that was more than just a port. This version would support ultra-wide resolutions, unlocked framerates and graphical boosts beyond even the PS4 Pro’s version. So as someone who does not own a PS4 how would our reviewer find the world of Horizon Zero Dawn and its protagonist, Aloy?

As I made my way through the intro sequence and into Aloy’s formative years, used as a way to teach you the basics, it’s clear that a lot of love and care has been put into the world set out before me. In a reality where our Earth has suffered an as yet unknown fate, it is a world where nature has been able to claim back its planet. Pockets of ruins, the buildings and machines of the “old ones”, are wrapped with creeping vines and flora. As I made my way out of the opening area and into the world beyond, I was exploring a world that feels real despite the wandering machines that, should they see me, will do their best to shuffle me off this mortal coil. So stunning are the views and realism of the day/night cycle that I found myself frequently pausing to enter the game’s photo mode to take a quick snap of that stunning sunrise or the moonlight amongst the trees.

Sometimes you just need to stop and take in the views

Thankfully the beauty here is not skin deep and the adventure I join Aloy on is a captivating one that tackles some strong issues and themes. This is quite surprising given that, before Horizon Zero Dawn, developers Guerilla Games were only known for the Killzone series, first-person shooters which weren’t exactly renowned for their storytelling prowess. But as I ventured through the trials that Aloy endures and the stories told by NPCs I met along the way, I got a sense for the wider world at play. Born an outcast of the Nora tribe, Aloy was shunned throughout her childhood until events took a turn for the worse as she came of age, forcing Nora to seek her help. Thanks to Rhost, Aloy’s guardian, she is more than prepared for this undertaking however and it’s interesting to note just how the attitudes towards her change as I ploughed through the forty-plus hour main campaign.

To begin with, especially if you listen in to the excellent incidental audio between nearby NPCs, Aloy is dismissed to the point of almost total exclusion. The Nora tribe are deeply spiritual and believe in the mythical deity known as the All-Mother. Their laws and rules are strict and if you break them you are cast out for varying amounts of time. Whilst an outcast, no member of the Nora tribe is meant to speak to you and you must fend for yourself. Compared to the other tribes that rose up from the ashes of the old ones, they are also the most insular. Venture beyond an area known as The Embrace, where I spent a fair chunk of time at the start, the same distrust is there of outsiders though most other tribes such as the Carja are far more welcoming.

I moust-ache you a question...

Social exclusion isn’t the only tough theme tackled, with the story touching on themes such as mass murder, abandonment issues and coming to terms with one's reason for existing. They’re not just alluded to either with some considerable time and plot points spent exploring them all if you take the time to tumble down each rabbit hole as they appear. Credit must be given here as they are tackled with such maturity that it adds weight to an already intriguing and engaging story. Aloy is even given the chance to respond at various points with either love, indifference or logic. Whilst my responses didn’t seem to affect the overarching storyline, each had their own responses and helped me invest even more in Aloy’s journey to its ultimate conclusion.

Whilst the story is impactful and the voice acting at times impeccable, especially by Ashly Burch as Aloy and John Wick alum Lance Reddick as Sylens, some of the scripting and interactions let the rest down. My time spent with the rather creepy bandit hunter Nil chief among them. The script and voice acting isn’t bad here, but things do get a little cringeworthy when compared against some of the writing elsewhere. He’s a fun character for sure but his interactions with Aloy are borderline inappropriate; thankfully he gives her the chance to show just how strong of a female lead she is.

Easy does it, you don't want to raise their awareness

It’s unfortunate then that, at times, the lip-syncing drops out so horrendously during cutscenes. They do seem to fix themselves, but only after it’s cut away to another character such as Aloy and back. It’s hard not to notice and it can take my concentration away from what’s being spoken. Hopefully this will be fixed up in a future patch, such is their prevalence. There are also reported issues when trying to run things at ultra settings at 4K. Whilst I didn’t have any issues myself, I was only running at 1080p and noticed no performances issues, even on Ultra settings. Outside of graphical woes, melee combat is another frustration whether you’re using a gamepad or keyboard and mouse. I tried both and neither were any better than the other for close-quarters battle. It’s clunky and inaccurate, with my direction of attack seemingly haphazard at best. 

Overall combat is rather fun in spite of the melee issues. Ranged weapons fair better, with mouse aiming reigning supreme over the gamepad which came in handy when tackling some of the more difficult metal foes I encountered on my journey. Helping me take on these metal beasts is Aloy’s futuristic focus device. With it I could identify types of enemies, their patrol paths and, in the case of the machines, points of weakness. Used wisely with the various weapons and traps at my disposal all the while concealing myself in the tall grass, I could make light work of some very tough foes. By the time I’d made my way through the main story and into the included DLC, The Frozen Wilds, I was a dab hand at taking out almost all of my mechanical foes. The focus is a neat tool and it’s also the way I interacted with the many relics of the old world, building up my knowledge of what existed before the fall, built upon even more in The Frozen Wilds

What are you looking at?!?

It’s a shame that to really get the most out of everything that Horizon Zero Dawn has to offer I had to grind through some pretty average side missions, including scaling tallnecks to unlock map visibility, or clearing out bandit camps just to unlock an extra quick-save location in the form of a bonfire. Moreover they exist to give me XP that lets me unlock some of Aloy’s stronger abilities such as being able to nock three arrows at a time and thereby giving me more stopping power. I’d much prefer to explore story or world building-driven side missions over these, and hopefully the upcoming sequel will follow the path of more recent open world games in dropping these mechanics. 

Overall though it’s the story that elevates Horizon Zero Dawn beyond some of its more basic mechanics and in Aloy, Guerilla Games has crafted a strong female lead. This is done primarily through the often snarky, yet humourous responses to many characters who seek to put her down. The little things I experienced along with her, such as revisiting places from her past or incidental moments as I navigated the world, flesh her out even more. Whilst it’s unknown as to whether Horizon 2: Forbidden West will end up on PC, after making my way through Horizon Zero Dawn I’m more than a little tempted to purchase a PS5 to find out more about what lies beyond. Maybe that’s what Sony is hoping for as it gears up for launch later this year. Either way, PC gamers can now enjoy what is a wonderfully crafted journey through one of the more intriguing interpretations of a post-apocalyptic Earth.

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Post-apocalyptic games rarely stray from the formula of making the Earth some barren dust bowl. By doing something a little different, Horizon Zero Dawn affords itself the opportunity to craft a truly unique tale and with it a complex and strong female lead. If you haven’t already played it on PS4 and enjoy well-crafted stories, you owe yourself the opportunity of playing your way through the game and its expansion.
Pete Taylor

A long time gamer since the days of the mighty ZX Spectrum +2. The bug really bit when I got a Sega Mega Drive 2 and it hasn’t let up since. Huge racing fan but I also enjoy losing myself in a well-told RPG and management sims. It doesn’t have to be good-looking to win my heart, it’s what’s deep down inside that matters.