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Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition review
Exceptional
by NafaryusDestiny

Horizon Zero Dawn blew away my expectations. Beneath the surface level generic open-world gameplay lies a gripping sci-fi narrative, complex monster hunting, and next-level visuals.

GAMEPLAY

The flow of combat is difficult to capture, but Horizon captures it very well. On top of the bow and arrow, there are loads of tools to use, including ropes to tie down your prey, tripwires, and slingshot bombs. Monsters are aggressive, with weakpoints you can target to remove parts and disable abilities. The timeslowing mechanics are leaned into just enough to allow impressive feats and satisfying moments. Sound design, from monsters to explosions to your own weapons, compliments combat. At times, I felt like I was playing a fast-paced Monster Hunter title, which is high praise. On "Very Hard" difficulty, some encounters still felt too easy, but most of them felt appropriately challenging and pushed me to use every tool at my disposal. Some aspects of combat were a bit grating, such as the 4-weapon limitation on the weapon wheel, or the unnatural mid-air tracking some machines exhibited, leading to some moments that felt unfair.

Climbing makes up a good portion of the gameplay, but felt like it could have been more interactive. You only had to push your joystick in the vague direction you wanted to climb, and the game would handle everything else for you. Horizon also has a habit of wresting control away from the player at the most intense story moments, instead having you watch a cutscene. Some Quality of Life features are locked away behind skillpoints, but you unlock these pretty early anyways. I appreciated the light crafting elements, forcing you to save ammunition for the really tough fights, balancing power with the difficulty to acquire the resources to make ammo.

 STORY

The main quest line is VERY well written, featuring an immersive world of mystery to dig into and explore. Both the technology and themes were well put together. I appreciated the pacing of the story such that it felt in-character to explore the nooks and cannies of the world for clues about humanity's past. Digging into audio logs and text logs felt rewarding, and gave insight into the story and foreshadowed twists. Conversation had some options, but they had no impact on the story and were for roleplaying purposes only. I actually enjoyed playing Aloy as a brutish warrior who pushes away her emotions and is easy to anger, even if some of the later cutscenes didn't agree with me.

I also very much appreciated the main story's restraint when it came to Aloy's gender. Very few characters EVER mentioned it, and it was not integral to the story. The side-quests lean heavier into this theme, but in the base game it never felt egregious.

The story is told well enough, with some shockingly realistic facial animations. Along with the solid voicework, the characters came to life in a way that I haven't seen in games before. Aloy's facial expressions betrayed her subtle emotional state that made each conversation carry more weight. However, there were a couple characters with awful voicework (Vanasha) and where the facial animation system pushed things into the uncanny valley (Vanasha again). Body animations were noticeably lacking in conversation. Side-quests were all pretty boring and overplayed, but I was surprised how often all quests would reference Aloy's exploits from other, unrelated questlines.

VISUALS

I can get a mostly stable 60fps at 1080p and custom settings with a GTX 970 and i5-4670k. The game still looks great even without all graphics settings at max. The camera adjusts itself for best viewing, but sometimes it takes this a bit too far and pushes Aloy over to the far edges of your screen, which feels really awkward to control. The menu UI's are clunky to navigate with a Keyboard and Mouse, especially the text and audio logs. There's a photo mode that I made full use of, but confusingly it was disabled in cities. Animations in combat, both for Aloy and machines, are stellar. Machine design is great monster-design, I only wish there were more varieties. Aloys outfits are all really well designed, which is a shame because you'll never see them again once you unlock the most powerful outfit. A cosmetic-only outfit slot would have been very welcome.

THE CUT (DLC)

The writing is worse, especially so for sidequests. Lots of unrealistic, cringeworthy, and juvenile characters. One traveling hunting trio told me of their dream of setting up a communist paradise. The themes get really repetitive, leaning way too heavily into social justice, feminism, and "fight the power." Characters I don't know and don't care about get too much screentime, and text/audio logs are markedly worse. However, the main quest-line is MOSTLY fine, and ties into the main campaign surprisingly well in the end with some sci-fi goodies.

On the bright side, it's mechanically a step-up from the base game. Conversations now include fullbody animations as well as stellar facial animations. There are only three new monsters, but there are 3 new weapons as well. New outfits, even with the Unique Weave Mods, can't compete with the Shield-Weaver armour. The difficulty is tuned well to go into this DLC immediately after completing the base game, and it kept things fresh enough for the extra ~10 hours it took.

VERDICT

Horizon is a solid buy, especially at a discount. Spend some time tweaking controls, graphics settings, and difficulty options before you dig into it. If you're a fan of sci-fi works and monster movies, you'll feel right at home.

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Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition PC - Finished on 10/28/2021