Horizon: Zero Dawn Eyes-On

Horizon: Zero Dawn Eyes-On

Sony had a lot of big announcements during the PlayStation E3 conference, but the game that stood out the most to me was Horizon Zero Dawn. Sure, the Final Fantasy VII remake was something I don’t think anyone saw coming, and Dreams looks fascinating, but it was Horizon that really stuck with me. A closer look in a preview session with a couple of the developers only ratcheted up my excitement for the game further.

The preview covered more or less the same content as what was shown during the press conference - sneaking through the grass and taking out a few small machines before bringing down the big one. But having someone there, playing it live, and talking about what he was doing, served to answer a lot of questions I had about the game, before I’d even had a chance to ask them.

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To start with, the world is, like so many other games, an open world that’s yours to explore. But it’s the beauty of the world that sets it apart. From the way the flowers move as Aloy (the main character) sneaks through them to the vast, distant, cloud-covered mountains on the horizons, everything has a very natural splendour that just made me want to rip the controller out of senior producer Lambert Wolterbeek Muller’s hands and go exploring.

“This is just a very tiny part of the world,” the art director Jan-Bart van Beek explained, as Muller panned the camera across the machine-populated grassland shown in the press conference. “All of this is freely explorable. You can go anywhere, you can go up the mountains, you can follow the rivers, you can explore all the fields. And it’s not just the natural world. There are tribes as well, even cities.”

But before she can go find any such cities, Aloy has a more pressing task - collecting resources from the machines. In this is the game’s core hook, a Monster Hunter-like cycle of taking out foes and using dropped parts to upgrade your gear.

There’s a real sense of immediacy here in Horizon. You don’t actually need to kill machines to get resources from them; if you’re good enough, you can shoot what you want off them. Muller demonstrated this by placing a well-aimed arrow in one of the green tanks on the back of the small raptor-like machines, sending it fleeing for safety but leaving a handy item in its wake. More impressively, weaponry shot off machines can be utilised immediately, like a large minigun-type thing that Muller took off the big Thunder Jaw.

Beyond such scraps, Aloy is armed with a bow and a few utility items (with more to be unlocked later on). I was shown three different types of ammunition for the bow: electric arrows don’t do a huge amount of damage, but can paralyze enemies; armour-piercing arrows likewise don’t do massive damage, but are good at shredding armour to expose weak points; and the rarer explosive arrows that do big damage.

The game is designed with synergy between arrow types in mind; success will depend on using things together. The scarcity of explosive arrows means that you need to make the most of each one. You don’t want to waste them by missing or shooting at armour, which is where the other arrows (and the Ropecaster gadget) come in. Expose a weak point, stun and/or tie the enemy down to limit its movement, then place an explosive arrow for maximum impact.

“That’s just one of the many ways of taking this down,” van Beek said, after Muller had slain the Thunder Jaw. “It’s really about using the right tools for the job, about using your weapons smartly in combinations with the environment.”

“And of course, learning all this as you progress through the game,” Muller added. “Because you won’t know all this at the start, you have to learn and discover this. That is actually one of the key things about Horizon; it’s not only a beautiful world, but one filled with mysteries. Mysteries for the player to discover.”

Perhaps most of all, I was struck by different this game was to Killzone, the series the developer, Guerrilla Games, is best known for and a franchise that, to be blunt, has never really interested me.

“We’ve always loved making science fiction, especially the dark science fiction of Killzone,” van Beek told me. “But we’ve been making Killzone for almost fifteen years. We have this amazing technology and a very talented art team, so [we thought] ‘let’s just maybe do something completely out of left field, something that people aren’t expecting. Something beautiful.”

Beautiful: that’s exactly what Horizon Zero Dawn is shaping up to be.

Horizon Zero Dawn
+ Absolutely gorgeous world, combat looks deep and exciting
- Can it live up to its ambition?
"One of the best surprises from E3"
- Horizon Zero Dawn
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Comments Comments (14)

Posted by LukeB
On Wednesday 17 Jun 2015 10:00 PM
This is literally the only new announcement from Playstation's E3 Press Conference that I care about right now. Can not wait to play :)
Posted by drunk_monk
On Wednesday 17 Jun 2015 10:20 PM
17 June 2015, 10:00 PM Reply to LukeB
This is literally the only new announcement from Playstation's E3 Press Conference that I care about right now. Can not wait to play :)
It's the announcement that has me most hyped from the whole show.

It just looked awesome and I love something new that catches me off guard.
.I hope we don't have to wait too long for release.
Posted by twisterjamz
On Wednesday 17 Jun 2015 10:27 PM
Definitely would have to agree with the quote, it definitely was "One of the best surprises from E3", wasn't expecting it to be open world but I'm even more excited that it is
Posted by toner
On Thursday 18 Jun 2015 5:05 AM
The game looks and sounds amazing
Posted by tom_nz
On Thursday 18 Jun 2015 10:55 AM
This was the only awesome part about the PS4 conference in my opinion. Something new and amazing looking. Yea, remakes are cool but I'm kinda sick of remakes. This was the star of the show.
Posted by birdman
On Thursday 18 Jun 2015 12:22 PM
10 out of 10, would bang.
Posted by CoffeeAddict
On Thursday 18 Jun 2015 2:27 PM
Please give me this game right now, well maybe in a few weeks to give Batman a chance.
Posted by Goonertron
On Thursday 18 Jun 2015 3:41 PM
Looks really good. Will get it for sure.
Posted by lax1
On Thursday 18 Jun 2015 10:41 PM
Keen to learn more about the story - looks great but i really want to know why there are herds of robot animals strolling around..
Posted by Wertbag
On Friday 19 Jun 2015 3:19 PM
So rare to see such originality.
Posted by kiwibadboy
On Friday 19 Jun 2015 3:52 PM
"One of the best surprises from E3" sums it up well lol really looking forward to this one
Posted by codicus
On Saturday 20 Jun 2015 6:49 PM
god i want this game!!! looking good guerrilla games!
Posted by Outlaw213
On Saturday 20 Jun 2015 10:45 PM
Big fan of Guerrilla Games and Killzone - really looking forward to this, would've been good if it some coop component though.
Posted by robmacd1
On Friday 7 Aug 2015 7:48 PM
18 June 2015, 05:05 AM Reply to toner
The game looks and sounds amazing
You took the words right out of my mouth, can't wait to get this one