The ‘dawn’ of a new epic

Sarah Goulet, Contributing Writer

     Many mainstream video games center around the premise that once you’ve leveled up enough, you’re golden in any encounter. “Horizon Zero Dawn” offers a contradiction to that view.

     Released one year ago from Guerrilla Games and somewhat undervalued in the wake of “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” “Horizon Zero Dawn” is a breath of fresh air compared to many others in its genre. An apocalypse occurred, but the game picks up a thousand years after the fact in a world where the primary megafauna are giant machines of unknown purpose, left by a long-forgotten civilization.

     The player picks up the game as Aloy, a young huntress thrown out of her tribe at birth and left with burning questions about her origins, questions that quickly reveal themselves to be personal quandaries in a massive revelation about the truth of this machine-stalked world.

    The premise of “hunter versus machine” seems like it would require some heavy plot elements to pull off, but “HZD” accomplishes it with an interface where stealth and strategy are paramount. Armed with a bow, spear and eventually the ability to override the machines, you’ll quickly realize that running right into the melee is by far the worst option.

    Prefer the sneaky tactics? Lure machines close with a whistle and take them down one by one. Facing one of the biggest baddies in the game? Litter its path with traps. Need a (literal) one-shot solution? Aloy’s “concentration” skill slows time to allow for careful precision.

     With over twenty kinds of machines (from avian patrollers and horse-like transport machines to the giant T-rex-like Thunderjaw), human bandit encounters, and plenty of collectables, the engaging battle system keeps you on your toes.

     Not only can you override some machines to fight for you, but you can also ride other ones, a quick option for speeding past unnecessary battles!
The graphics of “Horizon Zero Dawn” are stunning. The shifting passage of time lets the player see the sun rise over beautiful green forests and traverse disintegrating roads under a clear starry sky.

     As you progress deeper into the storyline, you’ll discover hidden snippets of data and audio recordings that render a devastating picture of the those who came long before. As Aloy, you creep past the ruined husks of car frames, long-rusted streetlights and the tilting structures of crumbling skyscrapers.

     As a game deeply invested in environmental concerns and a commentary on what humanity might do when the worst is upon us, “Horizon Zero Dawn” offers a plotline well worth the fifty-plus hours of playing. Aloy is an immensely powerful character in a game that favors smarts and strategy over brawn.

     Featuring a diverse cast, functional (not fanservicey) armor, and emotional and heart-pounding cutscenes, “HZD” is certainly a game to add to the classics.