Dialogue in a video game has never been this authentic. It would be very easy to start praising all the awesomeness Horizon Zero Dawn has to offer, but inevitably, it will be matched by some conflicting observations and video footage – shortcomings that demand an explanation.
Horizon Zero Dawn Complete falls under the umbrella of Amsterdam-based Guerrilla Games, a project that involves dozens of studios across various continents, covering countries like India and Singapore, with all the post-release technical inquiries getting routed to the United States.
The final credits roll for 35 minutes. Join me now as we watch all of it. When you boot up the game for the first time, an unusual auto-optimization landing screen makes you wait for 20 minutes. You guys are all good if we watch the uncut footage now, right?
Already seen in other ex-exclusives like Detroit: Become Human, this process is a technical operation that has drawn more attention recently due to other exclusive ports – though, it’s often cleverly hidden away with no player the wiser. This avoids the need for shaders to compile on the fly as you play, which is what causes stuttering in games like Death Stranding.
In Horizon, optimization is supposed to be a one- time only operation, but the user needs to patient again after a driver or Windows update, or simply whenever the game feels like it. Unfortunately, this is not the only occasion when the game will test your patience.
Make no mistake, this PC port is a bad one. When buying the game, you have to prepare yourself and cross your fingers against the dozens of crashes you’ll potentially face. At times, it’s so bad that you’ll triple check your in-game settings just in case they’ve been reset. And that’s not the only major problem you’ll encounter, as you’re soon to see. This game’s story is articulated by the same pen as Fallout: New Vegas.
It’s appealingly packaged, but there’s not much substance – definitely a prologue designed to introduce a second game. The number of holograms you’ll have to assist you, from a coherence point of view, feels credible in terms of the way you learn and receive information in this world.
Even still, there are important moments where a cutscene would have worked better than allowing the player to move around without a care, triggering other speeches that overrun what’s playing.
Aloy’s adventure is a standard personal investigation narrative, which will lead her to uncover the truth about her own lineage as she seeks to discover the origins of the life inhabiting her native lands. That said, she’s not your typical AAA-game cover girl.
She looks more like the new-comer in the HR department, with a tendency to comment on insignificant activities like collecting medicinal herbs. Your medical pouch is often full, as the resources scattered across the world map are generous, although you can take advantage of health potions, too. This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as how well conceptualized and designed some of the game’s mechanics are.
There are three types of bows, none of which distinguish themselves through raw attack stats. Instead, the functionality of these models relies on having more slots and acquiring attachments to improve the characteristics you prefer, like handling or other buffs.
Arrows are the variables you’re looking for. Once you start checking the requirements to hone Aloy’s build, the progression system emerges, and it’s a major motivation to explore the world – even more so than the quests, regardless of whether they’re mains or sides.
For weapons and armor, you’ll need the local currency: shards and certain drops from hunting animals. Machines spawn in groups, sometimes by using predetermined scripts and other times by following procedural logic.
Especially in the second case, Horizon is prone to placing you in embarrassing situations where, after quick saving (an action that moves time forward) or respawning, you find yourself within an enemy’s alarm range. These shortcomings wouldn’t be considered detrimental to an average-quality production. Then again, Horizon is anything but average.
It’s the first time this studio has left its first-person-shooter comfort zone, and you can see it. The rule sets that make use of environmental factors to define spawn don’t work properly. Campfires are now standard save points in video games, and it’s highly recommended that you save as soon as you see one, especially if you’ve made any significant progress.
Guerrilla Games doesn’t just build a big world teeming with monsters to take down. They try to give players an incomparable experience amid a living, breathing world, one which has a distinct pulse. Horizon Zero Dawn is an attempt at creating an ecosystem. Watchers are really sentinels escorting groups of Grazers or Shell-Walkers. It’s incorrect to describe them as side characters – they are probably even more iconic than the advertised protagonist.
And the Dutch developers succeed in giving you the impression that they’re not just making noise but communicating with a proper language: seeing them individually or as a herd is actually a fundamental detail within the context of the plot.
The occasional human is not all you’ll find out there battling for survival. After dispatching your opponent, you won’t have much time to reach and loot the carcass before Stormbirds lurking nearby anticipate you, leaving you with the choice to let the kill go to mother nature or to reinstate your supremacy.
The task of filling your inventory won’t last long, as you’ll soon discover your carry limits. There are separate pouches for weapons, resources, and ammo that need to be upgraded to increase your max inventory space. If you can’t buy what you need in the shop interface, you can use the map to get an indication of where to find it.
As you trace your way backward through the branching inventory upgrade system, you get a sense of just how sprawling and complex it is. It’s not the most user-friendly in terms of presenting all the junk you have to sell.
Hunting down machines is not just an activity for component collectors. It provides experience points for your character. The only significant benefits, though, are skill points and an increase in your maximum health. Beyond these, there are no other scalable attributes. Different kinds of abilities are split into categories, but some requirements in your chosen skill tree have no reason to exist and cause you to waste points and delay your desired progression.
Aloy can advance through most of the game by just using Lure Call and Silent Strike on low-level machines. You don’t need to be that close to your target to perform this special move, and other moves are not really necessary as long as you’re comfortable with the combat system. Scanning enemies shows you their predetermined levels. This doesn’t mean that 20 hours in you’ll meet the same Striders from earlier in the game (since they adapt as you play), but it does give you a general indication of how many risks you can take in approaching an enemy.
To be honest, it’s not that useful given that it doesn’t provide a reference or scale to give the readout meaning. Horizon lacks all the touchstone characteristics of a typical role-playing game. Those it does attempt, in fact, add clutter and confusion in a world that already has a lot of problems to deal with. Unexplained inconsistencies in gameplay make everything feel unconvincing.
Why, for instance, can you headshot and kill one random guy – poorly programmed and added in late-stage development as he generally may be – but the same move fails on his comrade? Hitboxes seem as if they’re concealing something you’re not supposed to catch on to, and they are not persuasive, no matter how much you want to use auto-aim to justify the result. For a combat-oriented game, the implementation of close combat moves is very poor. It’s not just the broken application of collisions and interpenetrations. Aloy’s animations are quite average.
Aiming with a gamepad is almost certainly more precise compared to the last game you played through. It may even be enough to tempt you away from using a keyboard and mouse. Though, with mouse and keyboard, headshots are indeed more consistent, and you’ll have a higher chance of applying your strategy by aiming at specific parts and performing critical hits: such benefits are inherent to this control method.
And it works surprisingly well with two unfortunate exceptions. If you decide to switch weapons with the mouse wheel, the action won’t always occur with a partial scroll; you’ll need to ensure the proper rotation. That and you might need to release and re-click the right mouse button to activate the aim mode, as other moves might prevent the game from recognizing overlapping commands (it can’t detect when you apply pressure). Small details, but they impact your chances of surviving a Thunderjaw that’s had a bad day.
Enemies are beautifully designed with different and distinct parts. Each component hides a weak point and can be dropped, collected or destroyed. When skirmishes seem to be going sideways, and even when they’re not, the game wants you to tear your opponent apart, not kill it.
Powering through to the end of the game via the usual mix of stealth attacks and frontal assaults is doable, but there will be instances where it teaches you the system by introducing beasts with HP bars that don’t decrease with your classic tactics. Setting a beast on fire and maximizing damage as it cries out is a normal routine in this game. Elemental traps, sling shots, and other wood toys provide diversions during sneak attacks.
You can inflict an elemental status, freezing an enemy in few seconds with a rapid fire rate, and then tie him down. Additional weapons expand the strategic approaches available and provide general satisfaction throughout gameplay, which shines when it allows players to go with the flow by simply reading the game’s different visual and auditory cues.
In comparison with another open-world game like The Phantom Pain (which provides a much richer experience), Horizon Zero Dawn feels too mono-dimensional, regardless of its sublime artistic design: a simple element like the map screen will get your approval.
Climbing sessions are so simplified that, more often than not, you don’t even have to push the jump button. At the same time, you’ll find yourself wondering why Aloy won’t grab an edge that is clearly within her ability to climb. The list of problems goes on, with lighting effects activated according to the camera’s rotation and details dropping left and right in its absence – Aloy becomes a character from the first Mass Effect in the dark.
Snow deformation is another broken feature. And other environmental effects don’t make it difficult to notice problems – it’s as if they’re hiding clumsily behind the curtains. A tree disappears within a frame, and then is apparently substituted with another one that renders in its place. This is perhaps the result of the aforementioned procedural algorithms. And foliage textures are all over the place.
Tomb Raider isn’t an open world of the same scale, but Lara’s model is susceptible to mud, dirt and bad weather. Here, Aloy’s outfit doesn’t have a similar integration at all. Time is accelerated, as is made evident through dynamic weather. It’s so accelerated, in fact, that a sunny day can turn into heavy rain or sandstorms literally in the blink of an eye.
Crossing the world is a pleasant experience when you get used to different plant animations being locked at 30 FPS, which is also a problem for characters’ facial expressions or hair. Major conversations are captured by alternating between just two camera angles. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that in the meantime enemies can creep up and lurk right behind your back.
Sprinting through the grass and hills is accompanied by a delicate ambient soundtrack that not only fails to switch properly on occasion but also dumbly forgets to play while respawning into playable narrative sequences.
The melodies are accentuated during your walks, with environmental tones mixed to electronic bass drops that, rather than disturb the atmosphere, combine with other percussive elements and flutes to properly evoke a post-societal yet primeval tribalism and sense of danger.
It’s unquestionably the best part of the game, without any consideration for Horizon’s demerits elsewhere. But having the game turn all the sounds off after you’ve left it on pause for a little while, forcing you to close the application and reopen it, adds it to the “lack of QA” list.
Jumping on various surfaces gives you different auditory feedback, and even the iron linings of your outfit add to the immersion. But the sound mixing slips with the voices of background characters: if they are so quiet that they’re imperceptible regardless of the distance of other sound sources, they just become useless and annoying. It makes you want to avoid even trying to interact with anybody.
If you’ve never had the chance to get your hands on a debug version of a video game, this one gives you a sense of that experience. It’s like a very advanced prototype version. The console version came out in 2017 after 7 years of development, where the last 3 months were critical in packaging the game properly.
With more than 2 years to port it to PC, the time to release a properly working build has always been there. This version doesn’t just need a common patch fix requiring days or weeks; it’s trailing by months of work.
Following a topical bout of combat in a closed arena where you blast a big dangerous robot being assisted by a group of grim warriors, you’ll be left wondering what you’re missing – how to trigger the next event since ending the fight hasn’t concluded the objective. What’s missing is this guy, who has taken to pretending he didn’t assist in the attempted massacre that occurred right under his nose.
It’s not just about game crashes: it is inconceivable that all these problems are happening to only one person because of a formidable combination of hardware and software. Regardless of all the weaknesses described, Guerrilla Games’ first attempt with an open-world Western RPG is appreciated.
Their hypothetical planet Earth with no loading screens is the clear result of a confluence of talent, passion and artistry focused on producing something different and inspired. Already, it’s not difficult to imagine an expansion of this franchise into other genres like strategy or board games given how good the bare-bones material is.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a cursed port, though, a typical second iteration in which the gameplay is a refinement of the previous unripened experience. Without diving too far into technical analysis, the original graphics settings that put you on par with console let you go over 70 FPS; with High Quality you can expect closer to 60 FPS.
Maximizing the Field of View visibly eats 3 to 5 frames. Going for ultra – without debating what is working and what isn’t – you can measure an average frame rate that sits at best at 45 FPS in a session. But the area you visit makes an impact: closed areas are much lighter than the open world.
The 1.3 patch released on August 31st starts fixing majors game’s stability problems. And in Into the Frozen Wild, snow deformation appears even for wild animals. But the game was released on the 7th – those who bought it like that, played it like that – and many of its other glitches and issues are still there.
The final score is not something undeserving of the amount of work put into booting up this IP, but in all honesty, you won’t recommend that your BFFs spend their money on a product released in this state.
If the purpose is to induce you to buy the PS5 so you can play Forbidden West sooner, well, why should you after experiencing this? Is it supposed to be a good advertisement? It wouldn’t be fair to other games that, while far less ambitious with less eye candy, are much more enjoyable and work properly.