Sunday, March 26, 2017

Horizon Zero Dawn Review

WARNING SPOILERS

 PS4 Pro on Ben-Q 2560x1440 monitor.

 Much has been written about Horizon Zero Dawn’s jaw dropping graphics and attention to details--the ants on the trees, Aloy’s eyes reflecting images, and puddles evaporating real time--and its nearly perfect locked 30 FPS with barely any glitches.  Indeed after over 95 hours in completing and platinuming the game, I ran into 1 glitch where the killed machine was floating in the air.  That was only one instance.  This technological achievement was so impressive that Digital Foundry recommended the game, even though they are to comment only on the technical aspects of the game, and not review the game. 

 However, impressive though the graphical and technical accomplishments are, the other elements such as character development, story, gameplay, the lore, all the narrative elements tying into a coherent explanation, are even more impressive.  The story lines of the individual (Aloy), regional (other cultures) and the general world all end up connecting to one another.  Guerrilla Games didn’t just slap things together and call it a day, which they could have, especially as dinosaur/animal robots are universally appealing.  

 The other impressive thing about this game is the pacing.  I often got sidetracked into finding the collectibles, but then once tired of collecting, I can then turn to doing side quests, and once tired of side quests, to continue onto the main quest, and so on and so forth, so I was never bored playing the game.  In fact, I was sad when I got the Platinum trophy, but there is the good excuse of playing the game again once I can afford a 4k OLED HDR television that this game screams out to play on.  

 In terms of gameplay (to me the most important element of a video game), the combat is very tight, fluid and precise, and you have to use tactics to take down the more fearsome machines.  Obviously, I do the R2 heavy attack on the low level Watchers, but the higher level ones, you need strategy, knowledge of their weaknesses, their attack patterns, and have reflexes to dodge.  The negative aspect of gameplay is that melee is a bit limited, and I hope in their sequel, they can add more machines that lend themselves to melee combat as in the Dark Souls and Monster Hunter series.  However, in terms of fluidity of combat, precision and complexity, the ranged attacks are the best I have ever encountered in any game.

 The most awe-inspiring and fun gameplay experience I’ve had in a long time are the Cauldrons, especially the very first one due to the surprise element.  I feel that there are too few in this game, and hoping that in the most likely sequel, that Guerrilla Games will include more Cauldrons that are longer and more complex.  

 Also appreciated is that it is very rewarding to get trophies organically while playing the game.  You can platinum the game without even trying if you’re thorough enough.  If you somehow do not reach Platinum, and even pass the point of no return and finish the game, it dumps you back before that point of no return so you can pick up any remaining trophies, with all of your stats, gears and items intact.  

 The recommendation, then, is to NOT look up anything while playing the game the first time through, so that you can be totally immersed in the world.  If you’re stuck with one of the enemy machines or the hunting trials, I do recommend figuring out the strategy unless it gets frustrating.  I admit that I had to Youtube the hunting trials, as I’m awful with timed trial missions.  

For fear of sounding like a shill, there can be improvements to be made.  More cauldrons, more enemies where it's better to use melee attacks, more cultures and improved water effects are advised--however, I believe this can be expanded upon in Horizon 2.  I would also like to see side quests that are a bit more complex, though I appreciate how all the side quests add to the lore and character building, and that they did not add side quests just to add side quests.  Instead of having too many quests that become overwhelming and boring at the end, I was actually wishing there were more.

There is a lot of quality of life aspects--HUD customizability, intuitive weapon swapping and crafting, creating a job to find an item you need to upgrade so you don't have to break immersion and look the item up; but the item use during battle is quite bad.  Could they not have us assign our own items to the d-pad like Dark Souls or Nioh?  Instead, in mid-battle, one has to toggle the D-Pad down button through ALL the potions that you have on inventory, and then press up button to use.  However, since Guerrilla Games actually listens to its fans and corrects bugs and glitches immediately (though I didn't really see any), I think they will have better item toggles the next sequel.

In fact, I was impressed that GG already improved the bandits' AI as they are now responsive if one of their members are killed near them.  Whereas, before, they had no clue, which is rather ridiculous.  I predict that Horizon 2 will be even more spectacular given the ambitious nature of GG and their passion and commitment to creating the best video game possible.  

 In conclusion, this is the first open world game that I have played where all elements of the genre are superb.  Often, open world games might lack in one area such as combat mechanics, story, character development, world/lore building, and/or have frame-rate issues and glitches and so forth.  Reportedly, the game cost 45 million euro to develop, but in actuality, Horizon Zero Dawn feels like a $200 million game.  The respect and love that Guerrilla Games have in developing this game, and for their fans, are evident throughout.  Because of this game, GG is now one of the top developers along with CDPR, From Software, Naughty Dog, Rockstar Games, and Sony Santa Monica.

 If you have a PS4, you owe it to yourself to play the game.

 Rating:  A+.  Masterpiece. 

-Alice

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