E3 2016: Horizon: Zero Dawn Preview
Horizon: Zero Dawn impressed me last year, showcasing the post-apocalypse in a beautiful way, in an interesting move from the developers of the Killzone series. Now a year later, we’ve been treated to a closer look at how Horizon actually plays, and in many ways, it’s the Zelda-ish Action RPG that the PlayStation 4 has needed for a long time. At E3, I was part of a hands-off gameplay demo run by Guerrilla devs, which focused a bit more on these RPG elements than other previews of the game I’d seen.
The game’s main character is Aloy from the Nora tribe, a more primitive tribe than some of the others in the world of Horizon, where machines have inherited the earth from humans, who themselves have regressed into a tribal nature. The Nora tribe themselves are described as more traditional hunter-gatherer types, yet Aloy is different, not so ready to believe in superstition and with a more curious nature.
Everything is open world, and you can explore as much as you like. Snowy mountain areas are only the tip of the iceberg, even though it’s mostly what we’ve seen so far, as there are also jungles, deserts, etc. Certain areas have animals that can only be found there (animals, of course, referring to the machines who now graze the lands). These animal-like machines have suddenly started becoming ‘corrupted’, with a black-like infection that’s reminiscent of Princess Mononoke, becoming much more aggressive. These machines are openly attacking humans, and it’s what sets off the story of Horizon: Zero Dawn, as Aloy learns more about the corruption, the machines and the world she lives in.
In the demo, the developers entered the Nora village to start a quest and also buy some equipment from a shop – specifically, some new weapons and a new outfit. One weapon is a shadow sling – to trade for it you can give the seller metal shards, but these are also used for ammo, creating an interesting push/pull with ammo vs. money. The sling has three different grenade types as well as ’empty sockets’, which allow it to be modified to subtly change how it works. Maybe you can modify it to give it more range, or increase the effectiveness of its grenades. Another weapon is the Carja Sharpshot Bow, which has a concussion arrow type that you can use to obliterate armor. The outfit the developers buy is the Nora Tracker, which comes with some resistance buffs, but a weakness to ‘Freeze’. It has some modification sockets open, so this weakness could be mitigated later on. Helpfully, merchants can auto create quests to help you find and collect what you need for a certain item you want to craft and buy. You can also craft traps, triggered by shooting arrows at them – shock traps and explosive traps among them.
When starting a quest, you’re often given several dialogue options. Dialogue is primarily meant to give more exposition, but there are a few times when they might reveal a new side quest as well. You can track one quest at a time, but several can be stacked inside your journal too, the journal also allowing you to see updated objectives across all of them and organically switch from one to another.
While I have likened the machines to animals, the Guerrilla devs were keen to make a distinction. Rather than preying one act other, they’re all part of one ecosystem. Each type of machine has a specific purpose, and they all help each other towards a common goal. Some robots are built to gather resources (the spider types with big containers on their backs from the press conference demo), while others have other specific functions (I’m not sure what the giraffe-types are for, yet). The spider-like enemies’ function as collectors make them good targets for collecting loot, but this is balanced by being hard to take down.
Broadheads, which appear to be kind of like cows or horses, are a type of robot which Aloy can manipulate and even ride. First she has to take them down non lethally, for instance by tying them down then ‘hacking’ them with her techno stick. The developers made it clear the the hacking is an ability gained thoughout the game, tied with the storyline as Aloy learns more about her world.
Using Aloy’s special ability, ‘Focus’, you can enter a Detective Mode-like overlay screen, which highlights information on a machine, such as weak spots, a container for parts or a particular type-weakness, like fire attacks. You may also be able to identify the whether its loot is rare or not.
Using Focus and the various ammo types and weapons at Aloy’s disposal means combat is about thinking tactically – based in identifying weakness and acting on it. The actual combat on a Broadhead looks a lot like Zelda, running away to gain distance, firing arrows as you move, and moving around a target swiftly.
The developers have been on Horizon: Zero Dawn since 2010, with influences stemming from all kinds of things, especially Studio Ghibli films like Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa. Aloy is intended to be a strong female lead in the vein of Ripley from Alien. However, Horizon: Zero Dawn has its own unique style, and every preview of the game so far has made me just that much more excited for it. Check it out for yourself on 28 February, 2017 on PS4.