Recently, Sony announced that the sequel of Horizon Zero Dawn, Horizon Forbidden West, is coming to PC. We thought it’s the best time to review the first game.
More than 6 years ago, Sony released Horizon Zero Dawn for PlayStation 4. The game was made by a well known Dutch studio Guerrilla Games. The reviews for the game were very good. So good that Sony decided to release the game on PC three years ago.
Sony named it Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition. This is because it not only came with the base game but also came with the DLC and other additional things.
Recently, Sony announced that the sequel of Horizon Zero Dawn, Horizon Forbidden West, is coming to PC. We thought it’s the best time to try and review the first game. To understand the world and story behind it.
Before we start on the review, we would like everyone to read the official description of the game to get a better understanding of it:
In an era where Machines roam the land and mankind is no longer the dominant species, a young hunter named Aloy embarks on a journey to discover her destiny.
In a lush, post-apocalyptic world where nature has reclaimed the ruins of a forgotten civilization, pockets of humanity live on in primitive hunter-gatherer tribes. Their dominion over the new wilderness has been usurped by the Machines – fearsome mechanical creatures of unknown origin.
Simply put, Horizon Zero Dawn is an open world action RPG where the players have to battle against machines. But the question is, is it worth it. Let’s find out.
We have to warn, though. While we are trying our best to make sure the reviews don’t contain any spoilers. But some spoilers are expected.
The story of the Horizon Zero Dawn takes place a long time ahead in the future. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the world is filled with aggressive machines which look similar to wild animals we find in forests.
In that world, a new girl is born. She’s of unknown origins and immediately gets outcasted by her tribe – named Nora. The Noras think that the girl is a curse to the world. That girl is given to another outcast man named Rost, who becomes her caretaker and an important figure in the game.
Rost names that girl as Aloy. Aloy is the protagonist of the game and the central figure of it. As per Guerrilla Games, Aloy is one of the three main pillars of Horizon Zero Dawn and rightfully so.
By the age of 6 years, she stumbles upon a new AR device, which is called the Focus. A technology known only the humans of the 21st century, whom the tribes all over the world refer to as the Old Ones. Through this Focus device, she’s able to see what others cannot. A tech unknown to most people in various tribes.
The Focus device allows Aloy to see movement of machines, understand their strength and weaknesses. Not only that, it also allows her to unlock areas which are inaccessible to most others.
However, Aloy wants to know two things. What are the origins of her and what are the origins of the machines – why they have taken over the world and why they are hunting humans. For this, Rost trains Aloy to become a fighter. Aloy trains under him for years and years, into her adulthood, this is where the game completely starts.
Aloy in her adulthood travels in the world outside her Nora tribe. To find answers. To find reasons. Also, to understand the world around her. Why did the Old Ones and their tech disappear? What happened to them? What’s her origins? Why was she outcasted at birth? All her question is answered in the game.
The story of the base game has 22 main quests, 22 side quests and 14 additional errands. With additional side quests and errands in the DLC The Frozen Wilds.
Each main quest reveals new information in the story in a way that is nothing less than extraordinary. Completing every new quest slowly reveals answers to many questions of the game. One after another, it reveals Aloy’s origins, information about why she and before that even Rost were outcasted, why are machines hunting humans and what happened to the humans of the 21st century.
A lot of the story in the game is heard through by scanning voice recordings, holograms and documents with your Focus device inside many of the ruins left over by the Old Ones.
Another thing special about the story is the character development. Aloy’s development too is excellent. She’s slightly rebellious, but also curious, determined, likes technology and makes a good use of her environment.
Honestly speaking, for us, Aloy has turned out to be one of the greatest female video game characters of all time. She’s up there, right near the top, if not at the top. Her strength, her emotions, her humane approach. She’s designed in a simply outstanding way.
The other characters in the game are great too. Especially main characters. Each main character plays an important role in the game. Even some side characters which are found in side quests join Aloy in the climax of the game.
If one reads the above and thinks that we are revealing too much, let us tell you that what we have revealed is just the base and premise of the game, the actual story is way deeper and complex and turns out very nicely.
Simply put, the story of Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the best we have played. Revelations after revelations, twists after twists. It’s incredible what Guerrilla Games has been able to make.
If Horizon Zero Dawn was a film, it could have been nominated for the Academy Awards. Not won it, but good enough to be nominated for one.
Sure, the game does drag a bit in the middle – a complaint of many. But the massive improvement it makes in later parts of the story and missions of the game is incredible. It’s amazing and it’s written very well.
Overall, both the story and the climax of Horizon Zero Dawn is very emotional, wonderful and striking. We would give it top marks.
Weapons And Hunting
The gameplay of Horizon Zero Dawn consists mainly of Aloy hunting machines with bow and arrows and then looting the metal shards and other parts out of those machines. The metal shards are found when looting all the machines and are the main form of currency and ammo crafting in the game.
There are many weapons in the game, but most come in the form of bows mostly and slings. There’s also melee combat with the spear when machines come too close, but there’s hardly any different options in it.
The weapons come in different tiers and different specialities. All weapons, despite their similarities, offer a lot of variety. Some weapons can shoot fire based bows, some can shoot arrows which freeze machines temporarily, some shock the machines and some offer hunting from far (an enjoyable experience), some offer setting of traps and a lot more. Overall, it craters to many play styles.
At one movement, players can equip 4 different weapons and switch through them on the fly.
Interestingly, the weapons in the game aren’t found laying anywhere. They are to be bought from the merchants found everywhere in the game where humans exist. These weapons are bought by paying various amounts of metal shards and other machine parts, depending on the weapon specialty.
The ammo in the game is primarily made from sticks of ridge-wood (found laying in every nook and corner of the game) and metal shards and other machine parts. The more powerful the ammo, the more amount of ridge-wood, metal and parts are required to make them. Making new ammo is very quick and easy and can be done during the gameplay.
The game also has different outfits which one can by from merchants. Like weapons, all outfits have different specialities and can be changed on the go through the inventory screen. For example, some outfits have better stats for stealth – an important part of the gameplay, some have better stats against freeze, some have better stats against close combat and some better in long range and so on.
The weapons in the game can also be modified by adding modifications to them in the crafting screen. The higher tier the weapon, the more modification slots it has.
Modifications too come in a lot of varieties and found randomly by hunting and looting machines. The stronger the machines, the more powerful the modifications you can find on them.
Crafting in the game might look slightly complex, but that isn’t the case, it’s easy but requires resources.
The ammo carrying capacity too can be increased via crafting, but that usually requires the players to hunt some small sized real farm animals and use the resources found through them.
Machines in the game are among the top 3 main pillars of the game. They come in all shapes and sizes and are designed after the animals we find in the wild in the real world. Though there are some which are also designed after dinosaurs. Why are they designed such is answered very nicely in the latter part of the game.
All machines have their own strength and weaknesses and they need to be combated and defeated depending on them. Some are weak on their head, some on their back, some on their below parts. Some have armor protecting their weak parts, while some have it in the open.
How to know about strength and weaknesses of machines? Simple, your Focus device. Whenever your Focus device finds a new machine, all its details are shown in the special machine screen, which describes everything about them. Think of it like a Pokedex. Except, rather than Pokemon, you are hunting metal machines. The Focus device can be used on all machines also to tag them during the combat and to also highlight their weaknesses.
There are more than two dozen of machines in Horizon Zero Dawn. Some are heavy and powerful. Some are agile and quick. Then are also some which don’t fight you quickly and would rather prefer to run away.
In major part of the game, you will find that dodging these machines, either towards them or towards other direction, forms an important part of the gameplay.
As you progress in the game, you can also override these machines and stop them from being hostile towards you and others. You can even ride some of them. But there’s one thing for sure. Machines are everywhere.
But how to override them. For that, you need to go into Cauldrons – there are five of them in the game, that is, four in base game and one in DLC. Cauldrons are underground caves which are made of huge manufacturing facilities. It’s only when you clear individual Cauldrons – one after another, that you unlock the ability to override more and more machines.
However, overriding machines isn’t easy and requires one to sneak upon them and get near them. It isn’t much of a problem on easier machines, which one can use for riding across the map.
A huge issue in the game is how it handles inventory. There are dozens and dozens of machine parts which you can loot and carry. Unlike other games, Horizon Zero Dawn puts a hard limit on the number of items you can carry. Sure, you can sell those items to merchants or even drop them, but some of those items are required to buy new weapons and outfits – a difficult choice to make
So frustrated we were with the limited inventory that we had to use a mod to increase the carrying capacity of Aloy. Though other, more powerful mods exist, a lot of them don’t work in the latest version of the game.
Inventory isn’t about just resources. It’s also about weapons, ammo, modifications and others. The carrying capacity of these things can be upgraded till a limit is reached.
The map in the Horizon Zero Dawn is huge when one looks from the top. But when you are running, all the locations are reached relatively quickly.
Speaking about map, despite being a relatively smaller world, it takes a long time for one to actually reach places manually. One might ask why. This because the whole map is filled with specific machine sites where you will find specific type of machines spawning at specific locations. Hunting them makes no difference as they would re-spawn when you come back – it’s a hunting and scavenging game after all.
You can buy different maps inside the game from merchants, which allows you to see marked locations of particular machine sites, human settlements and other things. A large part of the map is hidden from you until you travel through it or unlock it during the gameplay.
Fast travel in the game is initially limited by the number of fast travel packs you can find or buy in the early part of the game. However, by the 1/4th part of the game, you reach merchants which sell unlimited travel packs, which makes it easy.
You can only fast travel to campfires you find while traveling. These campfires also act as save points – you cannot manually save in this game otherwise without being near one – a big frustration.
Another frustrating thing about the game is that it lacks a mini-map. While not a big issue – one can still open the big map quickly, but this can lead to wrong path sometimes.
Those who want to see the whole map in its full size (with spoilers), there’s a web page dedicated for it. Helps a lot to find various items.
Another thing the game offers is a day and night cycle. The game progresses nicely through it all the time. After some research, we found that the game provides 40 mins in real time of daytime and 40 mins in nighttime.
However, we found the nighttime frustrating. There’s a big visibility issues during the nighttime – despite the machines having headlamps on their faces and we had to increase the brightness inside the game to enjoy it. Thankfully most main quests happen in daytime and switch to it as required.
Tutorials And Hunting Grounds
One more interesting part of the game is that while it doesn’t provide enough immersive tutorials. The only way you understand how to use certain weapons is through short videos on how to use weapons during their purchase screen.
However, it has a whole section dedicated to tutorial missions for various weapons and ammo types, which one can play to get XP points and rewards.
But a lot of practice can be done through a few Hunting Grounds found throughout the map. Each hunting ground has its own specialities and each offer 3 different challenges and different types of machines to practice against on a timer. The faster you complete the hunting challenge, the bigger rewards you get. These hunting challenges, while largely optional (only need to clear 3 challenges for main missions), are required to complete if one wants 100% completion stats for the game.
Difficulty And Skill
An important part of any action game is the health bar. In Horizon Zero Dawn, you get a 10% increase in health every time you level up. In Horizon Zero Dawn, the machines hunt you and try to damage your health.
You can restore your health by easily consuming health plants anytime, which you can find scattered all over the world. You can carry about 3 layers of health plants in the game, allowing 3 layers of the health bar if considered that way.
The more machines you hunt and more missions you complete, the more experience points you earn. These XP points then add to your skill level. There are 60 skill levels in the game.
Just like other RPGs, there’s also a Skill tree in the game. As you level up and earn more skill points, you unlock the ability to increase the Aloy’s strengths.
The skill tree for example unlocks a lot of things, like allowing one to unlock the ability to concentrate more during aiming, running quietly among other things. There are 44 unlockable skills in Horizon Zero Dawn. Easier ones require 1 skill points, some require 2 and some advanced ones require 3 skill points of unlock.
Coming back to the difficulty of the game. The game isn’t that difficult, but hunting big machines isn’t easy. For this review, we wanted to enjoy the experience rather than the grind and that’s why we chose to play easier game modes. This allowed us to enjoy the game, not make it too grindy and review it quickly.
Mixed Gameplay Experience
Honestly speaking, we have mixed opinion about the combat in the game. While ranged combat in the game is unique – you are fighting metal dinosaurs with bows and arrows, the close range combat isn’t good. Also, you have to keep dodging against these machines to avoid them striking you.
The machines are quick to charge at you and that’s why close combat is very hard with bow and arrow. Sure, you can turn on aim assist which help you hit machines, but that mostly works at longer range, at close range it’s very hard to hit exact locations on machines.
That’s when melee fighting comes through your spear. There’s only one usable spear in the game and it offers no modifications in the base game. In addition to that, hitting enemies using your spear isn’t easy – it goes only towards where you are looking at, not always towards the machines.
One more issue we have is that there’s a lot of mountain climbing in the game. But you cannot climb anywhere. There are marked areas (which aren’t always easily visible) where you can climb, which limits the ability to reach the top of mountains – despite it being an open world game. Climbing during main missions isn’t a big issue, but if you are trying to do side quests – like finding metal flowers, reaching them is not easy.
Interestingly, Horizon Zero Dawn is the first RPG made by Guerrilla Games. They had to consult various experts in designing the game due to that. But we feel they could have done better.
The graphics form the third main pillar of the game and rightfully so. Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the most beautiful games we have ever played.
The game is spread across three major geographies. Snow clad plains and mountains, lush green areas like open forests and dry and rocky deserts. Each one of them designed beautifully.
To make people understand, when we played at the game, for the first few days we were not only in the awe of its graphics, but we found real photos from real locations to be lacking and not good-looking when compared to the game. That’s how beautiful the game is.
After some searching, we found that Horizon Zero Dawn was designed after real locations and all the mountains and places one sees and finds in the game do exist in the real world.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the facial features of Aloy are designed very nicely. However, we do feel that the animations could have been designed better – the emotions on her face is either hit or miss. Surprisingly, we found that during the story of the DLC Frozen Wilds, her facial expressions have been improved a lot.
The amount of efforts that Guerrilla Games has put into the graphics of the game is tremendous. If we were to recommend this game for its graphics alone, we would, without any doubts. Play it to see it yourself.
The only problem is that the PC port does seem to have its own issues with the graphics, which we will discuss in the performance part.
No PC game review is complete without the discussion about the PC performance. Something that some major PC gaming sites ignore or avoid completely – to many people’s disappointment.
The performance of Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition is, simply put, uninspiring. Now we must mention, we are testing this game on a budget PC with an ancient graphics card, so that does play an important role, but even then it’s worth discussing it. We played this game on 1080p.
When Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition was released on PC, many reviewers found issues with the PC port. First was, it kept crashing and second was it didn’t perform that nicely and third was that the visuals would randomly turn blurry.
There’s a reason behind why this happened. After some searching, we found that Guerrilla Games had hired a Singapore and China based company called Virtuos to port the game to PC. The problem with Virtuos is that, as per some, didn’t have prior experience in porting games to PC, at least not using latest technology.
However, Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition did receive a lot of performance improvement updates. It was later revealed that Nixxes Software – who are known for great PC ports, played an important part in it. For the record, the sequel of Horizon Zero Dawn, Horizon Forbidden West is going to be ported to PC by Nixxes Software, which is much welcomed.
Our Performance Tests And Issues
Coming back to Horizon Zero Dawn. When we played this game using latest patches, we don’t remember getting any crashes whatsoever. However, we did find performance issues.
The problem is, Horizon Zero Dawn’s PC version ships with only FSR 1 upscaler by AMD and DLSS 2 by Nvidia. This means it has no option to use FSR 2 to improve the performance while still keeping the graphics looking good.
To solve that, we had to again use a mod which replaces DLSS 2 with FSR 2 instead. However, the latest version of the mod crashes with the latest version of the game, so we downloaded the 2.1b version posted in the comments instead.
The FSR 2 mod does make the graphics look blurry when playing in performance mode, but for the PCs which do have performance issues, this is probably the only option.
Speaking of performance of the game itself, it varies a lot. The performance in the initial Sacred Lands area, which is the territory of the Nora tribes, is good. We got almost 60FPS in it. But as we move outside, where there’s more grass, the performance dips a bit by about 15FPS average.
A further dip is seen in the city areas, where there are a lot of humans and other objects around. However, the biggest dip we saw was in three different places.
First is the DLC Frozen Wilds, which takes places in the northern snowy mountains of the territory of the Banuk tribes. Now, usually many games perform better in snowy areas, however, the areas where the DLC takes place, has a lot of snow clad trees and vegetation. Not to forget, snowfall that occurs from time to time. We do however feel that that area of the game could be optimized further.
This unoptimized performance in the DLC is seen during the climax mission of the DLC. Where the FPS dips drastically. The same is for the climax mission for the base game, but that dip in performance doesn’t last that long.
The third performance dip we see is during the cinematic credits after the completion of the game which take place inside a cauldron, which don’t have any issues inside the game but somehow performs poorly in the credits.
I don’t know if it’s the fonts they used during the credits, or it’s something else, but the cinematic credits perform so abysmally poor that it’s not worth not mentioning. Thankfully, the cinematic credits are completely optional, can be skipped and is followed by normal rolling credits with same names.
Tell us about it. We went through 30 mins of badly performing credits only to be told that normal rolling credits with repeated names exist that performs completely fine. Are we nitpicking? Maybe. But try sitting through 30 mins of screen running at 5 to 7 FPS.
Overall, we also found that the game isn’t really CPU bound (at least on our CPU), which is a good thing. The CPU is hardly fully utilized – sometimes only half. But requires a good graphics card as a lot of heavy lifting is done by it.
The sound of the game can be divided in three different parts. Voice acting, sounds during the gameplay and music.
Aloy, the main character of the game, is voiced by Ashly Burch, who won many awards for her performance in the game. Rightfully so too. She has done a tremendous job in her dialogs and her voice acting. This also comes from a fact that she has almost become a legend in the voice acting in the gaming industry.
Speaking of dialogs, there are many dialogs in the game – both from Aloy and other side characters. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Each one of them are important and don’t seem boring (at least to us). The voice acting of all these dialogs seem fine to us.
The second part is the sounds you hear during the gameplay. Think about it. Except seeing through the Focus device, how else can you find machines near you? The game lets you know through the music.
As soon as you reach near machines, the game alerts you through various sounds. Whether it’s the music alert when the animals are nearby, or through the animals making sounds themselves.
The third part is the soundtrack. While used only like two times inside the game, we thoroughly enjoyed Aloy’s theme – sung by Julie Elven. It captures Aloy’s emotions and her journey in the game perfectly – without any words.
Aloy’s theme is usually heard in the menu. While tastes differ, some comments on the YouTube video speak about how they like launching the game for only hearing this theme. We feel this is enough to say how good the sound is of this game. The Whole OST of the game is available on Spotify and other places.
The only small problem we have in the game, a problem we have found in other Sony ports, is that the sound isn’t loud enough. We had to increase the speaker volume a lot to be able to enjoy the game sounds properly.
Verdict – A Masterpiece
What is it with Sony. No really. Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the greatest game we have ever played. It’s a masterpiece. If it wasn’t for some combat issues during the gameplay and performance issues of the PC port, it could have been right near to top games ever made.
We are very happy that we got a chance to play and review this game. We are very thankful to Sony and Guerrilla Games for making such a beautiful game.
- Incredible story.
- Great main character.
- Unique gameplay.
- Outstanding graphics.
- Good soundtrack.
- Excellent voice acting.
- RPG elements are good.
- Overall bug-free game after patches.
- Bad close / near range combat.
- Side quests aren’t bad, but can drag the game a bit.
- The game is filled with machines, which might be fun, but can become grindy.
- The day-night cycle can be fun sometimes, but can also be frustrating in others.
- Facial expressions are something which could have been improved in the base game.
- Performance on the PC port should have improved further.
- Saving feature could have been better.
- Climbing could have been better.
If one notices the cons, they would realize that most of these issues aren’t that big or game breaking. The cons are overshadowed massively by the pros, which are great.
In terms of bugs, we found just 2 bugs. Both the times we were able to fix by restarting from the previous save.
As for the game itself. Metacritic rates the Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition (PC version) at 84, which we find is just about right.
We would rate it 8.5 out of 10. The game is great, only some issues drag it down a bit.
Editors Message: We completed the whole game, including the Frozen Wilds DLC, excluding some hunting ground missions, in 76 hours spanning over more than a month. We took a lot of efforts in writing this review. We had to avoid writing some articles to concentrate on completing this game.
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