Game Review: Horizon Zero Dawn Complete ed. – PS4

Title Horizon Zero Dawn Complete ed.
Platform: PS4
Genre:action RPG, open words, science fiction, action, stealth
Date completed: August 2022
Game number:n/a
Metadata

Summary review: A better than average, open world game that can easily take 100+ hours. The story is compelling enough and somehow taking down giant robotic creatures never quite gets old.
Graphics: It could be I have low standards, but I really like the graphics of this game. Maybe some of the textures are starting show the age of the hardware (2012?).
Music: I kind of wish there was some kind of iconic soundtrack to be associated with this franchise. Or different theme music to match each new faction or civilization encountered. But this does not seem to be the case. Good enough contextual audible cues for “in danger” and “something significant just happened” but no memorable war chant like Skyrim or iconic theme like Breath of the Wild.
Controls: I have not had any issues with the controls, myself. Sometimes I push button intending a different context. The “light strike” spear attack is L1 which is also used for a contextual “silent strike”, for instances. So I end up giving myself away rather than doing a silent strike.
Replayability: In my case at least I chose “easy” difficulty. And since I don’t hate the game I could see myself playing it again on a higher difficulty level. So I’m going to go with high.
Total score: 85 / 100 – For fans of open world games this is not any words than any other you could name. It also doesn’t stand out from any of them. The mechanics all work perfectly and there are no game breaking bugs that I encountered. I’m not sure what it could have done to get a higher score exactly, it just came off as a middling to me.


Introduction

An open world game in the vein of Skyrim or Breath of the Wild. But this time with robotic creatures in what is clearly a far future time. Civilizations have reverted to something resembling Native American traditions with priests, rituals and head dresses made from fiber optic cabling. The different tribes have also embraced the metal creatures as part of the culture as different metal parts will be hanging in assorted ways off of head dresses.

The Premise

The protagonist is a woman named Aloy, raised as an outcast by an outcast of a local tribe. As a young girl Aloy is told she can learn something about her mother by winning “the proving” to become a brave (and no longer an outcast). She then spends the next 10 or so years training to win this “the proving”.

The basic story is to find out what is causing the change in behavior in the machines which indirectly leads to finding out how the machines came to be the way they are to start with (where do new ones come from, do they have a purpose, how can they be weaponized, etc).

The machines vary from Gazelle-like “herbivores” which can easily be provoked into attacking but also break off attacks and don’t do a lot of damage to enormous dinosaur-like robots that are extremely aggressive and do a lot of damage.

Can’t help but compare

This game happened to have come out pretty much the same week as Breath of the Wild in 2017. And there are more than a few similarities (emphasis on archery, slow motion/bullet time while in archery, rolling out of the way of charging creatures, the list goes on).

But this may not be entirely fair as there are some distinctions as well. For instance there is no cooking mini-game. No hunger to worry about at all, actually. There’s also no stamina stat so that is just one less thing to worry about. And the wall climbing is much different. That’s one thing I miss from Breath of the Wild: the wall climbing. Turned into something of a meta game figuring out where the hand holds are.

To be fair there’s also a compass that seems virtually indistinguishable from the Elder Scrolls games: along the top of the screen is the direction along with different icons of nearby items of interest like camp fires (quick save points), tall walkers that reveal the nearby region (like tower in BotW), bandit camps and so on.

The other thing I miss from BotW is the ability to lock on to a specific targeted creature. Unless there is a way to do that and I played the entire game without using it. That would be annoying to find out.

Lots of collectibles

There are few different things to collect over the course the game: coffee mugs, vantage points, metal flowers…I waited too long so the rewards for them were not really worth the time to bother. The rewards being “loot boxes” – by which I mean literal boxes with loot in them not pay-to-win EA/FIFA crap – which in theory have randomly provided worth while rewards but really very little of use.

The collectibles show up on the map after unlocking a “tall neck” robotic creature/tower, but only the radius where it is, not he exact pin point location. So there was still something of a metagame exploring the area trying to find the collectible. Not to mention dealing with the creatures in the area.

Lite crafting

There is a little bit of crafting: ammo, potions, traps, increased storage compacity for a few categories and modding weapons and armor with modification slots.

The first thing related to this is collecting medicinal plants in the wild. For a good chunk of the game that is the only way to heal yourself, in fact.

There are also other things to collect, such as parts from the real wild life that still exists (rabbits, boar, goats, turkeys) and combining that with certain plants. I’m not sure how the different elements really relate to each logically or maybe they’re not supposed to.

There’s also arrow crafting, of course. In fact Aloy can craft 60 arrows in the middle of a battle, no problem. Assuming she has the right random part from a machine and tree branches. Thousands upon thousands of tree branches. Earlier in the game I started bothering to get collect tree branches when I found them because how could I ever possibly use 1000+ branches (apparently there’s no capacity limit on tree branches Aloy can carry). Then I upgraded my arrow carry capacity to 60 and all of a sudden I’m out of try branches.

For health potions I didn’t need them for large part of the game but eventually I would run out constantly. And since I hadn’t been constantly harvesting woodland creatures I didn’t have the material to craft my own potions so I actually ended up buying as many potions as brewing them.

Currency system

The world uses this chips as a currency but the currency is also a crafting material. I turned out to be glad for this because I ran out of things to buy. So it’s better to still have a reason to get them when there’s nothing left to buy then to just have them sit there useless. At least I think so.

Focus / second sight

One of the main narrative points and features of the game is the ability of Aloy to pick things up and analyze things with her “focus” device. Other games have abilities like tracking or hearing people walk around on the other side of a wall is unlocked as part of a skill tree, but here it’s just a feature of the device Aloy starts using as a child: the focus.

In some ways this gives here seemingly super powers and in some ways it make it feel like she might be able to do things she should be able to do without the device. Actually a quest without the Focus might have been interesting (I missed some quests so this could be a thing for all I know).

The narrative devices (no spoilers)

I sometimes feel like I do the narratives of these open world games “wrong”. For instance when I played Skyrim I had pretty much reached the level cap before I had made far enough in the story I had learned dragon yells and started fighting dragons. I think that game was intended to have the player dealing with dragon attacks and using lots of dragon screams for pretty much the whole game.

I mention this only because I’m not sure if I really followed the narrative “right”. It feels like perhaps the rewards I got along the way should have been of some significance instead of 20 or 30 levels too low for me.

That’s one thing I kind of like about this game: all the enemies and quests (and quest rewards) stay the same no matter what level the player is. That level 35 creatures is at a level 35 difficulty rating whether the player is level 10 or level 55. And the same for quests.

I noticed this about the time I finished what was obviously a major plot point and reward was a piece of armor suitable for a level 20 (me having done the quest at level 50 or so).

That would have changed a lot of aspects of the game had I received it earlier.

This kind of works into the issue with the Frozen Wilds being “stapled on” later after the game’s release – here’s a whole level 30+ area to gain a bunch of new experience points and level up way past where you should be in the main story. Then back in the main story you’re over leveled. Maybe if you went through the whole game up to the “final fight” and then went to Frozen Wilds it wouldn’t be nearly so bad.

More on topic, I actually did like the story line. Too much story line a time makes it feel like entirely too much of an exposition dump. The story itself is told through a series of holograms, audio clips and and text files found through the world. There are some points of interest required to progress the story while others merely “fill out” the world as a whole.

In Frozen Wilds for instance there’s a this whole story arc told through a series of audio clips about the last two woman in charge of operating a hydro electric dam as it switches over to automation. It’s entirely optional but I thought it was entertaining. There’s a reference to that arc later on, which I’m not sure is dependent on listening to the files or just referenced regardless.

New Game+

I didn’t bother trying to do a new game+ this time. But at the end of the game there’s some information on how it works: go into the final save before the big end battle and create a “load out” which can then be used in a new game+. I’m glad they at least put some work into making replaying the game worth while. Not all games seem to do that now.

The soundtrack

I couldn’t help but notice there was no icon theme song for this game. Some contextual urgent sound tracks for danger, some dramatic emphasis for dramatic moments during the holographic skits, but no real stand out theme music like a Skyrim or BotW. Which is kind of disappointing as it seems like Aloy and the game itself deserves one.

Also, Frozen Wilds

At some point since release this game had the Frozen Wilds expansion added to it for free (as I certainly didn’t buy it). I didn’t see any information on an ideal time to consume this additional content, but what little I did gather from the game’s subreddit something like half way through the game is as good a time as any (the game conveniently provides a “percentage game complete” statistic). I entered “the cut” as the game calls the entrance to the frozen wilds at around level 40 and well past 50% through the story line.

I thought it was a nice change of pace to the deserts and jungles I had been exploring up to that point in the game. The Banuk tribe have a unique perspective and I think the storyline added something indirectly to the main story line even if it was apparently optional. That must be hard to do: trying to add a narrative that seems vital to the story yet some how not required for the story.

The Frozen Wilds have a unique currency system involving “blue gleam” and this the only way to get what is truly the best of all armors and weapons. Except that hard to get legendary armor I didn’t bother trying to find. But other than that the best armor options of the game.

I didn’t pay attention to play time at start versus end of the Frozen Wilds story line but I would estimate it to be about 20 hours. I base this on “typical” open world games taking around 80 hours and my play through clocking in at around 100 hours. Very scientific, yes.

Conclusion

Over all I did not hate this game at all and despite what above may imply this game is not a clone of BotW or any other game.

At this point, since they’ve had since 2017 to work on it, there no real bugs to speak of and the mechanics are actually really great.

There are still issues like being over powered for the part of the story line you’re in, running out of inventory space with no way to expand, and long isolated climbs up the ruins of skyscraper that start to get incredibly boring with nothing to break up the monotony. But the game itself has a compelling enough story line and play mechanics.

My only real complaints are the lack of a sound track and the lack of personality it seems to have. I mean there’s no real comic relief or stand out characters that are memorable. At least BotW had that weird vendor who was always jumping about and saying weird things. But this game? I don’t remember anything like that.

Having said that I’ve already purchased the sequel to this game, Forbidden West, as I thought perhaps the best time to start playing it was right after having practiced the mechanics for 100 hours.


Metadata

Method of control used PS4 gamepad
Controllable via both one analog
stick or digital four-way (“HAT”)
n/a
Hardware requirements: N/a
Supports 21:9 aspect ratio screens?n/a
TV 2020-era 55″ 4k TV with HDR specialness
Initial setup requiredNo options
Sound setup5.1 surround system/receiver
Time to complete~100 hours
Difficulty levelEasy mode
Random Meta data

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