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Story Driven Game Held Back By Story? *END GAME SPOILERS*

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    Horizon Zero Dawn

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    Story Driven Game Held Back By Story? *END GAME SPOILERS*


    Horizon Zero Dawn revolves around the adventures of a primitive huntress, Aloy, surviving in the post-apocalyptic world run by machines. Humanity has been reduced to a mix of the Stone Age and Iron Age; using the parts they retrieve from hunting machines to rebuild society. Humanity seems to be at the brink of extinction, or maybe, they were already there?

    The game is a nice blend between stealth and ¡°hack and slash¡± gameplay. I personally found this game to be quiet interesting as I was able to empathize to our protagonist, and especially when you play on the higher difficulties you can really feel the hardships of fighting against gigantic mechanized monstrosities. The one problem of this game is its story. For being a story based game you would think this would be Horizon Zero Dawn’s greatest strength, but instead it drags what would be an otherwise perfect game to an essentially near-perfect game.

    Gameplay: 8/10

    Gameplay is a mix of stealth and ¡°hack and slash,¡± and you can combine these two together. It’s the ¡°usual fair¡± for this genre: if you’ve ever played Assassin’s Creed, Dishonored, Enslaved, Skyrim, or Metal Gear Solid. It’s the same basic formula, you essentially want to practice stealth until you’re caught, and then settle things with just bashing their robo-heads in. That’s the basic gist of this game, now to the smaller details.

    The game has a skill tree system to customize your character to your play style. Essentially upgrading to things like crowd control for melee users, loading more arrows to fire at once, luring enemies, harvesting more resources, and of course stealth kills with the most un-stealthy animations.

    The game has a crafting and loot system, every slain enemy be they machine or human; drops something, this can be something as simple as this game’s currency, metal shard, or upgrades to your weapon(s) and Armor(s). On top of that, you also always gathering resources while on the run and can craft ammunition on the spot such as: arrows, bombs, and traps.

    There’s a bountiful amount of side quests with interesting stories and every NPC is fully voice acted, and there’s even a recommend level indicator to act as a warning. The gameplay is certainly fun, but there’s one main problem I have with it. Melee becomes stale after a few hours

    There are light and heavy attacks for your melee weapon and both have the same repetitive animation and timing. There’s no way to speed up the animation or even get a new weapon, your main weapon is a stick. You’re stuck with the same melee weapon until the story deems you worthy to get a new one, which essentially ends up being a blue LED stick. Melee felt more effective on smaller units just mashing R1 for the light attacks, and for bigger beasts you would use the R2 heavy attack to knock them down and hammer away R2 on them. Essentially if you wanted to do a berserker style run just hitting things, with a stick, it’s an easy thing to remember, R1 for small, R2 for big. A combo system, different animations, different melee weapons with effects, holding down R2 for stronger attacks, any of these suggestions would have made melee combat so much better. It’s the same type of fight every time, and you’re are going to R1 smaller enemies because they don’t take much, and R2 for bigger enemies because locking them down is just more efficient.

    Graphics/Sound: 10/10

    I don’t think I need to tell you that this game looks amazing for a modern day game, right? Perhaps in about 5 years these graphics will end up somewhere in the uncanny valley and to some people it’s already there. Personally I felt that every character model was very well constructed, the environments are beautiful, and the robots have this very ¡°realistic feel¡± to them. They are designed in such a way that you wouldn’t consider them a war machine, and how they move and act like normal animals it’s a nice spectacle. It’s a shame you’re gonna want to kill them for those experience points.

    When it comes to reviewing soundtracks most tracks end up being ambience, it’s really up to the ADR director to pick a track that just fit the scene and that’s really what I look for in a game. I’m not seeking a hit song to catch my ears, I just want audio that fits a scene and for every scene the audio fit well.

    The other aspect for sound is voice acting, which I feel like every prominent character gave a modest to decent performance. Only a few voice talents made me feel any actual emotion from them. Crispin Freeman, who voices one of the main antagonist’s, Helis, did a very good job portraying a sociopathic war monger. JB Blanc, who voiced Aloy’s father figure, Rost, also did a good job portraying a man who is living a broken life, you can feel a very strong connection between him and Aloy and it’s genuine.

    The one with a very modest performance is Aloy, and I’m not referring to her child actress who simply can’t act. Adult Aloy, voiced by Ashly Burch, is simply ¡°just there.¡± It works, it sounds like someone you’d talk to at work or could be one of your friends. Since she’s the main character, we get to know her and hear her speak the most, but the performance never comes off as anything more than, ¡°well I guess I gotta go kill some more robots.¡± She’s meant to come off as down to Earth and quick witted like Nathan Drake from Uncharted, but she really lacks the consistency of the dialogue. I feel like that’s why Lance Reddick’s character, Sylens, exists. The two have this polar opposite personality, where Aloy believes in feelings and being funny, Sylens is about reason and is stoic. Sylens is meant to be a foil for Aloy and the two build off one another but their conversations never feel, real, like characters speaking from a script. Now Alex Lanipekun’s character Nil, now that’s a voice talent. Nil is this sociopathic bandit killer who is completely remorseless and his performance feels genuine and a bit hammy, but Aloy brings attention to it and playing the straight-man gives them a nice dynamic.

    Story: 4/10

    As you can see I’ve been talking about the other elements of the game instead of the story. I personally feel like this game didn’t need answers or a concrete story to be good. The bedrock knowledge that we’re given was enough, we know that humanity is trying to rebuild in this world infested with robots, we as a humans are fighting, but as a species we are divided. The story wants the audience to understand the importance of unity as a race, this is fully shown at the final battle, all the people you helped along the way will assist you in this final show down against this ultimate evil. So where’s the problem?

    The problem is in the lore, and this game has a lot of it. It’s got pages upon pages of data entries, voice recordings, and cut scenes expanding up the whole explanation of the old world, our world. To put it simply, in 2050 this Elon Musk looking character creates giant war machines that can self-replicate and sustain themselves off of ¡°bio-mass.¡± A convenient computer ¡°glitch,¡± and yes they use the word glitch to describe it, messes with the computer’s programming so bad, that they can’t be turned off. Now the robots are on the loose replicating so fast that they engulf the Earth, devouring all the bio-mass on Earth. U.S military can’t stop them; they replicate too fast to be stopped. It’s gotten so bad that average every day civilians are given government mandated weapons to keep the robot army at bay. Earth will die in 15 months unless our hero’s mother can come up with a way to stop it.

    Instead of fixing the ¡°glitch¡± which if you’ve taken a single class in computer science you would know that a glitch like this would never happen, our hero’s mother creates an AI to recreate Earth and shut down the machines. Humanity will become extinct, but secluded in underground bunkers are storages of frozen sperm/egg to help recreate humanity.

    This was already a dumb plot concept, as there should have been multiple points as to when this could have been stopped with the machine creator. However, let’s say these events were unpreventable, that there was no way to not create these machines, machines that have military grade weaponry and can self-replicate, let’s say all this occurs and Earth is actually doomed. Let’s even say that this computer glitch was actually completely unable to be hacked even by the best software engineers on Earth, which according to this game is only one person, your mother. So we’ve accepted all this nonsense. What you and I as an audience member should never have to accept is this, the man who created the war machines was allowed to be on the council for the new generation of humanity. You gave the man who killed 7 billion people on Earth access to a computer? The first thing he does is DELETE the entire history of human kind from their computer database. Now when the test tube babies are born; remember, you are a test tube baby, everyone essentially has a kindergarten education, and has to fend for themselves in a world of ADVANCED WAR MACHINES.

    The story wants to sell you on this deep immersive and possibly ¡°believable¡± chain of events, but one cannot suspend their disbelief enough because it’s all ridiculous. Not only did you allow one man to create death machines that led to the destruction of humanity but you also allowed this man into your ranks, you allowed him to do even more damage beyond the worst crime imaginable, genocide. He couldn’t simply be done with killing humanity, but you let this guy kill the HISTORY of humanity. Now everyone is doomed, a truly clean slate, and it’s horrible.

    On top of allowing some idiot who destroyed Earth the right to make decisions ,there’s also just the fact that these scientists and engineers are awful at their job. One indication of this was with our own mother, who spent the first 15 months trying to create GOD to fix the planet. I’m sure she’s smart but she didn’t even try to attempt to fix the code that made the robots go genocidal, so she went and created a GOD AI to fix Earth instead after every human has died. What happens after she uses it, well the HUMAN TERMINATION subroutine HADES, ¡°malfunctions¡± and wants to destroy Earth AGAIN. How are you all so bad at programming? Why are these programmers making programs inside their programs to destroy their programs, just make something to fix Earth, why is there a genocide button in your LIFE BRINGING AI PROGRAM?

    Another incident but a much smaller one, was apparently these engineers made is so their doors to their bunkers would seal tight, but one didn’t seal correctly, so the only way to fix the issue was to engage a manual override to seal the door, WHICH IS ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE DOOR, OUTSIDE THE FACILITY WHERE THE MACHINES ARE. Why did you build a manual override for a door on the outside? If you need to stay on the inside for protection why go out in the wilderness where you can die to just close a door? Now who was the person to go outside and close the door? Well it was our mother, the ¡°smartest¡± person on Earth. The most valuable mind on Earth died closing a door.

    What makes this all sad is that the story could have stayed simple, it could have remained a story about humanity vs machines, but by revealing the series of events that transpired to get us here it makes you realize that everyone held the idiot ball and caused the world to implode. There’s so many voice clips from the time the world was becoming extinct, soldiers telling their loved ones about wanting to see them, people wishing they could have gone on vacation, newlyweds and new parents having to accept the fact they are all going to die with their newborn child. This happened because you allowed one rich dude to call all the shots, I was looking for a real world counterpart to the machine creator hence the reference to Elon Musk from earlier. I wish there was more care put into the story, but sadly this was the best the writers could come up with.

    Final Score 22/30= 7/10

    My Final Score 9/10

    My score is derived not as an average of all the previous points; I grade my overall experience with a game after it’s completed. While the story is a huge part of the game and it received a score of below average there’s simply no way I can rate this game below a 9. In my eyes the game had the potential to be perfect, the combat was fun albeit a bit repetitive, but seeing that I’ve played other open world games that’s par for the course. I loved the interactions with characters, actually really enjoyed the side quests quite a bit since they had meaningful character development for Aloy and the participants. The game was a true beauty and I felt like I was really there, like I was beginning to understand the landscape I was on and the means to how the different tribes came to be. There’s a lot of good lore and a myriad of good stories inside this game, it just so happens that the main story is a mess.

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