A lot of people are looking forward to Horizon Zero Dawn – and rightly so. It’s a gorgeous game from a developer with a deep well of experience to draw from. In my limited time with it, I had a chance to poke at its many systems, so as to get a better idea of what players will be spending the majority of their time doing.
The demo took place in a small slice of the open-world. To keep pesky journalists like myself from wandering off and trying to dig up some unseen footage, the zone had an artificial wall surrounding it – stray too far from it, and the demo would reset. Littered throughout the demo’s grassy planes were a collection of metallic monsters – from the more passive grazing type, to other aggressive quadrupeds.
If you watched Sony’s stream, or kept up with any other information from the game, then you’ll know that your core tools are a bow, sling, and traps. Main character Aloy and her tribe are scavengers, using the cast off chrome detritus of their kills to modify their weapons. This is represented in game with different types of ammo or traps you can craft.
Making sure you have the right tool for the right job is key, as some creatures will have immunities and vulnerabilities. To help you figure them out, you can use your Focus – basically Detective Vision from Batman that lets you identify creatures, as well as tag them. Once you know a weakness, you can exploit it to better punch through an enemy’s armour, and hit their weak spots.
Your ranged options include a bow with three ammo types (normal, piercing, and explosive), and a slingshot (with three elemental options, including frost, fire and lightning. Complementing that is your crossbow, which can pin enemies to the ground, or set up electrical tripwires. The amount of options sounds overwhelming, but swapping between your options is intuitive and becomes second nature.
Melee options are a bit more limited, as taking on your robo-dinosaur overlords in a close-quarters context is dangerous. There’s light and heavy attacks with your spear, which are nice to make some space, but the lack of a lock-on means the majority of your swings will hit nothing but air. There are stealth attacks too, but they don’t instantly kill – instead inflicting a large chunk of damage.
In some hands-off time with the game, I watched a preview that focused on the more narrative-based elements of the game, as well trading.
The game features a dialogue wheel, siimiliar to what’s seen in Mass Effect or Dragon Age. While I asked whether Aloy would be entering in to deep discussions with characters the influence the story in significant ways, the developers told me that that really wasn’t there intent with the system. Mostly it exists to interact with merchants, start side quests, and explore the lore of the world in a more organic way than reading screeds of text.
Trade mostly gives Aloy access to new outfits (which provide stat bonuses, like elemental damage immunity) and gear with slots – that is, gear you can shove mods in to increase a range of parameters: from arrow distance, to armour piercing. Buying all of these is handled through Shards – a resource with two uses. The first is obviously for trade, the other is ammo for your bow. It creates a nice push-pull between wanting to survive, and wanting some fresh new kit.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a beautiful game, with some mechanical hooks that on the surface seem overly complex, but are in fact tightly honed and paced. While we won’t know how it all comes together until early next year, the game looks to have a solid foundation in place.