Horizon Zero Dawn was a launch day purchase because it featured robot dinosaurs. I tried to play it at that time on the “Normal” difficulty, and I didn’t make it terribly far. Recently, I managed to get around to giving it another shot, with Forbidden West coming soon. I am so incredibly glad I came back to it and started a new game.

Horizon Zero Dawn - Photo Mode

As usual, let’s start off this review with some mood-setting music from the game!

To say that I played this a lot or enjoyed this game is a bit of an understatement. Also, I enjoy games that give stats.

Flurpy's Horizon ZD statistics

I am not a completionist when it comes to games. I rarely care about getting ‘all the things!’ or ‘all the trophies!’ With Horizon Zero Dawn, however, they did such a great job of tying the lore to the collectibles! I absolutely had to get everything so I could learn as much as possible.

Horizon Zero Dawn - Collectibles
Frozen Wilds - Collectibles

Gameplay

Horizon Zero Dawn is an open world game. There are a few locations where you need to go in a linear direction, but it is largely up to you how you want to progress and in what order.

Aloy is amazingly well dressed! This is an impressive feature for a game that features a female main character. It’s so irritating to be stuck with protagonists like Lara Croft for so long. It is OKAY for women to wear practical clothing! I may have also purchased outfits just to play dress-up and change clothes based on the weather at times.

Aloy largely uses two main weapons – a bow and a spear. There are a number of other ones that you can get throughout the game that come in very handy. One of my favorites ended up being the Tripcaster! There are also a variety of traps that can be used. There are so many ways to take down the various machine or human enemies throughout the game.!

I feel no shame in sharing how often I actually used the traps and Tripcaster tools! I mean check out this Fireclaw:

You will start the game at level one, and as you progress you’ll earn skill points. The base game has a level cap of 50, and the Frozen Wilds increases it to 60.

Horizon Zero Dawn - Skill Tree Completed!

You’ll also see in the above screenshot, a list of all the available skills. The fourth set, under Traveler, are included with the expansion. I actually found that I liked those the best – I really loved using mounts throughout the game!

Just check out how awesome Gavin was! (I named every mount Gavin….) You’re able to Override and use Striders, Broadheads, or Chargers as mounts. I liked the Striders the best in the beginning, as they look like horses. Towards the end, however, I became really fond of the Chargers!

The machines – a sort of animal and robot hybrid – make up most of the enemies. They vary in difficulty greatly and have different functions in the world. The carousel below has all of the machines listed from the base game and the expansion.

The machines vary from each other, with different weaknesses and strengths. You will need to use a lot of different tactics to take them down. (And change them up, because they EVOLVE!)

Sometimes, you can just shoot of certain parts with elemental arrows. This can get you a really great explosion that lets you take out multiple:

In some situations, you may find it’s better to user the Override function. This allows you to take control of the machines. Using this function, you can obtain a new mount, or they will fight on your behalf.

Sometimes…. you just…. have to Leeroy Jenkins on in there and deal with it. These times I am glad Tearblast arrows exist, and you can shoot off some of the more dangerous weapons!

Starting a game also gives you difficult options – initially you can choose from Easy, Normal, Hard, and Very Hard. I played the first time on Normal, and I didn’t enjoy it too much. It was a bit of a grind and I honestly don’t always have the time to do that. (I also admit I am not very coordinated, and I am a TERRIBLE shot at the best of times!).

With the Expansion, you also now get ‘Story’, which is a notch below Easy. I played on Story. Once you finish the game, you can use the New Game + Option to try Ultra Hard. I also tried this. Feel free to laugh while I flail around.

The main difference between the modes is how much damage you deal and receive – outlined here:

StoryEasyNormalHardVery HardUltra Hard
Damage Taken10%50%100%125%150%200%
Damage Dealt400%150%100%90%80%70%
Elemental & Tear Damage200%100%100%100%100%50%
Healing Herb Value100%100%100%80%60%60%
Aim Assist?OptionalOptionalOptionalOptionalOffOff

Unless you’re playing on Ultra Hard – and of course it adds a few more things for you. You won’t be able to see the health bars anymore, vendor prices are 5x higher, and enemies can see you from quite a bit farther. (As if Glinthawks were not annoying enough!)

I really enjoyed the game on Story mode. I still found parts of it to be challenging, but not so much that I had to redo sections over and over. It took the game from being so frustrating that I just gave up, and turned it into something I played obsessively.

Story

The story for Horizon Zero Dawn was fantastic. Once I started the new game and worked through it, I found that I couldn’t stop. This was a result of the story itself, combined with the way it was being told.

You’ll start playing the game as a child-version of Aloy, learning a few lessons from Rost about hunting. Shortly after starting, Aloy falls into a “cave” that belonged to the Old Ones. Already, the game starts to hint at what has happened. Given Aloy and Rost, and what the game has shown you so far of the Nora, you can tell that they are a somewhat primitive tribe.

As you look around in the cave, however, you can also tell that the Old Ones were not so primitive! In fact, everything seems to be extremely advanced and technical – albeit old. Aloy will even come across a few dead bodies as she wanders, which is how she comes across her Focus.

Using the Focus becomes incredibly valuable throughout the game. You can scan the world around you to look for items that may be helpful, or find datapoints that you can review to see what happened. As you keep exploring, you’ll start to discover as Aloy does.

Additional story, with spoilers, behind here.

I placed this back here because I’m going to go into a lot more story detail, and it will include a large amount of spoilers – all the way through to the end of the game. Skip this if you have not finished the game!

Once you join back up with Rost, you’ll learn a bit more about Aloy’s status as an outcast – as some other children will mock her for not having a mother. Although Rost does not have the answer for her, he has a way for her to find out. He suggests The Proving – a rite of passage for the Nora. If she wins, she’ll be granted a boon. She’ll be able to ask the matriarchs about her mother and where she came from.

Determined to find out about her past, queue a fantastic montage of little Aloy working hard and training as she grows up. This gives us a great background for Aloy’s overall motivation, as well as her hunting and physical prowess. As the montage completes, she’s now an adult and ready to take on The Proving.

The day before The Proving, Rost tells her he has more training for her. Sort of a last mission he needs to teach her. He takes her outside of the village walls, and shows her the trail of destruction left behind from a dangerous new machine. Then he informs her that she will need to kill it, and need to do so on her own. This was the first introduction to the more dangerous machines in the game – the Sawtooth.

Once you take it down, Rost reappears and tells her how important it is to help look after the village. She tries to argue back about how she doesn’t need them – but he gives her a final lesson: “I never said the tribe wouldn’t need you.”

Up until this point, Aloy and Rost have lived outside of the village as outcasts. Rost’s reason is not yet known, but Aloy is because she apparently is an orphan. As outcasts, they are not allowed to live within the village, or even speak to anyone – or be spoken to.

Next day, she heads up to go to The Proving. On the way Rost tells her that he’ll be leaving as he can’t let her attachment to him get her into trouble. If she wins, she won’t be an outcast but he will, so talking to him will get her into trouble. Wanting to protect her, he mentions how he won’t be around anymore. Aloy is understandably upset, but but still needs to go on to The Proving.

As she heads up to the village, the guards at the gate still don’t want to let her in. The Nora really don’t like orphans. Before this can escalate, one of the kinder matriarchs, Teersa, arrives and welcomes her in.

As you wander around in the village for a bit, you’ll eventually make your way to the stage to hear some announcements – and are introduced to some other outlanders. At this point you’re hearing about the conflicts with other tribes, and this is a peacekeeping mission sent from the Sun-King to try and resolve some of the outstanding issues between them.

This is where you will meet Erend, who ends up being a really fantastic character! Even ifhe hits on her straight out of the gate. He invites her to Meridian, and offers to introduce her to his sister, who is the captain of the vanguard. You’ll also meet Olin, who is the only other person Aloy has ever seen who also has a Focus.

As she starts to speak to him, he turns away in what looks like pain, mutters about his focus malfunctioning, and leaves her pretty quickly. After the ceremony, Aloy confronts him again in an attempt to get more information about his focus or what he may know – but he remains elusive and dodges most of her questions.

She doesn’t have too much time to deal with him, as The Proving is soon. So she heads up to the lodge to rest before the event in the morning. When The Proving begins, she will be competing with several other Nora about the same age as her.

The first event of The Proving is to take down a Grazer and obtain a trophy. Although Aloy manages to take one down pretty quickly, once she holds her trophy up, one of the other contestants shoots it out of her hand and breaks it. Resh, administering the test, mocks her and tells her she’ll need to get another one in order to continue. Grazers are not difficult to take down, but it does set her back and put her in last place. As a result, she takes a dangerous path to catch back up to the rest of the group. She manages to catch back up and cross the finish line – in first place.

Although one of the other Nora tries to claim she cheated, the Nora at the finish line begins to congratulate her for her win and welcome her as a Nora. Begins to.

Before she is shot with an arrow. Then arrows rain from the sky, and a bunch of people wearing masks show up and start shooting at Aloy and the others who were running the proving. Everyone tries to get away, but it isn’t long before only Aloy remains.

Although she puts up a great fight (and even finds a Focus on one of the attackers, which she pockets!), at the end, a very large man catches up to her. He holds her up to a cliff with a knife to her throat – telling her to turn her face to the sun. Although he does cut her – he doesn’t quite slit her through entirely because Rost saves the day!

He also suffers a fatal wound for his trouble, and the unnamed man instructs the others to burn everything as they wheel out a large cart full of explosives. Aloy is unconscious after the man dropped her, so Rost grabs her, instructs her to survive, and throws her off the cliff right as it explodes.

The last thing she sees as she falls is Rost dying. It is a very sad moment – Rost was the only person who looked after her and was kind to her all her life. But as it is with all great stories, our hero has to cut ties and suffer a tragedy to get on with the real story.

When Aloy wakes up, she finds herself inside the mountain. The matriarchs have brought her inside to heal, as Teersa argued, “she needs to be near her mother.” When she reclaims her own items and puts on her Focus, she’s able to review the Focus she took off one of the other attackers.

This second Focus shows that she was the target, and she was seen from Olin’s perspective. It also shows her a holographic image of another woman. A woman who, although much older, looks an awful lot like her. It makes Aloy wonder if it might be her mother…

When she wanders further into the mountain, she catches up to Teersa and starts to ask questions. All Teersa can tell her is she was not born of a woman, and brings her to a giant door in the mountain. It scans Aloy and indicates she is not a perfect match due to an issue with the alpha registry.

Although upset, Aloy is more determined that ever to find out who she is. Teersa, who is the kindest of the matriarchs, has Aloy made into a Seeker so that she can leave the Nora lands without worrying about being outcast again, so she can find out more.

As she sets out, her first and only clue is the strange man she met – Olin. Remembering what Erend told her about Merdian, she sets out in that direction. When she does finally make it to Merdian, she meets back up with Erend and together they search Olin’s house. Here, she finds that while he was responsible – he was also being coerced.

She continues to search for him, finding him in an excavation site with more of the masked attackers – and reveals that he has been digging up Corruptors for them. Machines capable of corrupting other machines, and forcing them to work for them.

Just as she’s about to begin the fight, a voice comes over Aloy’s Focus, telling her she needs to take them down. Then the Focuses of everyone else have been disabled. Once Aloy clears out the attackers and the machines, she forces Olin to give her additional answers.

Olin tells her that these attackers are from a group called the Eclipse, and they serve an unknown entity called HADES. He has been working with them because they kidnapped his family. He also admits that he was at The Proving to provide additional information to them through his Focus. When HADES saw Aloy through the Focus, the priority changed and everyone was instructed to kill her.

Aloy tried to ask for more information regarding the other woman she saw. Olin did not have much more information to give her except another location – Maker’s End.

At Maker’s End, we get a tremendous amount of information about what happened to the world. Maker’s End is what is left of Faro Automated Solutions. While investigating the remains of the skyscraper, there are a large number of holograms, datapoints, and other items that reveal the past events, including the identity of the woman she is searching for.

Aloy discovers that a man named Ted Faro, the CEO of Faro Automated Systems, developed a line of robots. He called them Peacekeepers, but it’s obvious from looking at them that “peace” is not what they are designed for. He oversaw them to ensure they were heavily armed and would operate as a swarm.

And as if that wasn’t enough – he decided to build them so that they could self-replicate… and consume bio-matter as fuel. And purposely ordered his developers to ensure there was no backdoor or safety kill-switch. And they can slave other machines to their networks. Super smart, right?!

Robots that eat living organisms and reproduce on their own with no off-button. What could go wrong?

A lot. As Aloy would learn. A “glitch” occurred, and made them unresponsive to commands. So the reproductive kill-bot army is now on its own! In panic, Faro reaches out to the woman Aloy has been searching for all this time: Elisabet Sobek.

Elisabet looks into the data and finds incredibly bad news: these killer robots are not just unresponsive, they are independent. Not only that, they are already replicating, and beyond containment. She estimates 15 months to the end of the world.

These kill-bots were called the Faro Plague. Although Ted Faro came to Elisabet looking for a way to stop them, she knew there was no way to do so. Instead, she had an idea that could allow life to go on in the future – Project Zero Dawn. At this point, it’s unclear what Zero Dawn is just yet – but she ensures that Ted is going to pay for it and move forward in the project.

About this time, the voice the came over Aloy’s Focus before, comes back! And introduces himself as Sylens. He suggests visiting the Grave-Hoard for more information – and it is here we learn about Operation Enduring Victory.

In order to complete Project Zero Dawn, Operation Enduring Victory had to take place. A lot of people were going to die in a war against unstoppable kill-bots to buy time to finish Zero Dawn. A lot of people sacrificed themselves for a lie – they all thought Zero Dawn was going to save them. They were told it Zero Dawn was a super weapon. Instead, as she enters the Grave-Hoard, she finds a holograph in which the General explains that the Faro Plague is unstoppable and the world will end. There are datapoints of people trying to come to terms with this news, and the options they have (one of them was even euthanasia!). It was vital for the success of Zero Dawn, and it was a success, just sadly, not in the way they thought.

Soon, she finds a projection of Elisabet, in which she fully explains Zero Dawn: an intelligent A.I named GAIA, designed to terraform and repopulate the planet. She would be accompanied by additional functions – like APOLLO, which was designed to teach the new humans everything from their past (and where the Focuses come from!). You’ll also see the names of HADES, HEPHAESTUS, MINERVA, and several others coming up there – each with their own function as they play parts in the terraforming and rebuilding.

Zero Dawn was not going to save the current world, but rebuild a new one. Everyone currently alive was going to die.

As Aloy further explores – she finds Elisabet’s office, and the Alpha Registry which she hopes will allow her to enter the door within the mountain back home. She begins to copy it, and before she can make it out – who should arrive but the nice fellow from the beginning who tried to kill her.

She wakes up in the Sun-Ring, which looks a bit like a gladiator ring. The big guy, who goes by the name of Helis, taunts her a bit and breaks her Focus. Then drops her into the ring with a Behemoth to fight. Shortly after managing to take it down, he sends in two Corruptors for her to deal with. Sylens comes to her rescue with some overridden machines.

After escaping, Sylens gives her a new Focus with a copy of the Alpha Registry that he conveniently downloaded from her Focus. Aloy then heads back home to visit the mountain and see if she can open the door with the new Alpha Registry.

And it works! She manages to get in, and she learns that this is one of the cradles where new humans were to be born and raised. And here where she finds a message from GAIA. That HADES has somehow taken over, and must be stopped. And even more so, that GAIA created Aloy by making a clone of Elisabet Sobek so that she could stop him, relying on her intelligence and wit, knowing she would find a way to do it.

So off Aloy goes – to find the Master Override that GAIA told her about. As she looks for it, she finds even more information about what became of Faro and Sobeck, and the developers who worked on Zero Dawn.

The team had to seal themselves into a facility once the atmosphere was no longer livable, allowing them to finish developing GAIA. However, in sealing the doors, one of the latches malfunctioned. In order to seal this, Elisabet put on a power suit to manually close the door from the outside, even though she knew she wouldn’t be able to come back in.

Faro continued to go down the crazy train – seemingly obsessed with making sure that future humans didn’t find out what he had done. So he calls a meeting, and informs everyone that he DELETED APOLLO, and then he vents the air out of the room and suffocates them all.

On her way out, Aloy talks to Sylens again, and he tells her the truth about how he is responsible for HADES and the Eclipse, and how he is helping to redeem himself. He gives her his spear, and tells Aloy to confront HADES at the Spire.

As the Spire resides in Merdian, Aloy can figure that an army of the Eclipse is coming and gathers a small army herself to defend it, until she can deactivate HADES and prevent it from reactivating the Faro robots.

After the success, Aloy leaves to go west, looking for Elisabet. She does find her body, in a triangle of flowers. (If you’ve been collecting metal flowers, you’ll recognize it!)

Overall Review

If you couldn’t tell how I feel about Horizon Zero Dawn by now, what article have you been reading? Obviously, 10/10 Gavins. I loved the story, loved the gameplay, and loved that the difficulty gave me options to make it more accessible to me.

I love Aloy, and especially how strong and independent she is. More than anything, I love that this story is about her, not about a love interest.

I can not wait until we get to play Horizon Forbidden West. If you are impatient like me, there are a series of comics that take place between the games that you can get now!

There are a few things I hope are improved, such as melee fighting, and the climbing mechanic, but it was such a wonderful game that I can’t complain too much.

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