Horizon Zero Dawn Review – Woman Vs Machine

Guerilla Games makes a bold entry into the open world genre.

Horizon Zero Dawn Review
  • Story And Setting
  • Gameplay
  • Visuals And Performance


Despite suffering from a fair number of issues, Horizon Zero Dawn is a great open world game that largely delivers on its fantasy.


  • Strong Narrative
  • Aloy Is A Lovable Protagonist
  • Difficult, Satisfying Combat
  • Superb Bosses
  • Gorgeous Visuals


  • Formulaic Design
  • Narrative Hurts The Setting
  • Uninteresting Characters
  • Repetitive Side Quests
  • Human Combat Is Tedious

Taking Guerilla Games’ history into account, Horizon Zero Dawn feels like a triumph, one whose review is sort of a mixed bag for me to do after all these years. It’s a far cry from the sci-fi warzones of the Killzone franchise and a bold step into a new direction for the company: A third-person open-world game. Not only that, but it is an open-world game where you can take on giant robotic animals with a bow and arrow.

As far as first impressions go, the premise instantly grabs you. It’s striking and bold, inviting you into a mystical world that promises unwilling matrimony between dirt and steel. Does the game live up to it? Mostly.

Key Takeaways
  • Developer: Guerilla Games
  • Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Release Date: February 28, 2017
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.
  • Game Length: 25 hours.
  • Time Played: 60 hours

Story And Setting

Horizon Zero Dawn Story
The Story.

Horizon Zero Dawn puts you in the shoes of Aloy, a woman shunned by her tribe, the “Nora.” It starts with Aloy as a young girl learning how to survive against the machines under the tutelage of her mentor/foster father, Rost.

Things happen, and you very quickly realize that the world is under the threat of an AI machine called “Hades,” and it’s up to our heroine to put a stop to that. It’s a classic hero’s journey that slowly unfolds over the game’s 30+ hour runtime, but the setting sets it apart from the rest. 

Horizon Zero Dawn is set in a future that has been reclaimed by nature. Monuments to man’s once towering achievements are buried deep into the earth, a testament to humanity’s ever-growing ego and the humbling indifference of nature itself. This gave me a very melancholic feeling, which I believe I have only felt during the best moments of the Fallout games. 

Fear What You Don’t Know

Horizon Zero Dawn Setting
A giant machine imposingly lies at the top of the mountains.

I found the world intimidating in the initial hours because of its mystery. The machines are threatening and lethal and you really imagine yourself in the shoes of Aloy herself as you see all these new and imposing sights.

As the story goes on, you learn more and more about the world and how things became the way they did. While the storytelling during these moments is a particular highlight of the experience, I feel that it robs the world of its mystique that you feel in the initial hours. 

Horizon Zero Dawn is set in a future that has been reclaimed by nature.”

Same can be said about the other elements of the game. The more time I spent playing Horizon, its world became less interesting. Its immersion started to shatter under the weight of its formulaic design.

Nearly every conversation is framed in boring shot-reverse-shot with dialogue that feels stilted and unnatural in its delivery. The writing doesn’t help either, with most characters aside from Aloy coming off as boring and uninteresting. 

Aloy herself is a great character. I love how she talks to herself, giving the player helpful info but also making her feel more realistic—an outcast who relies on herself alone for any kind of company. Sometimes, you also get the option to pick a dialogue option from 3 different responses, which I particularly loved as it allowed me to personalize Aloy’s character in a way that felt unique to my playthrough.


Horizon Zero Dawn Gameplay
The Gameplay.

Being an open world game, Horizon Zero Dawn is filled with content. Whether you want to rush the main story, do side quests or just explore and take on the many unique machines, there’s plenty of stuff to do here. Structurally the game feels very much like Guerilla’s own take on a Far Cry-style open world.

It’s less checklist-y than the Far Cry games, with some interesting twists on conventional ideas. Coolest of which, to me, are the Tallnecks, which function as the towers you climb to fill out a portion of the map.

Each skill in the skill tree unlocks a meaningful upgrade, whether it’s increased slow-mo or the ability to stealth kill heavy enemies. 

The catch is that getting to the top of the Tallneck is always an involved puzzle that requires paying attention to your surroundings. One example is a Tellneck that circles around a giant field, forcing me to look for an overlooking ledge and jump on the Tallneck once it gets closer. 

Similarly, there are the Cauldrons, which are my favorite activity in the game. Cauldrons are elaborate dungeons that test your platforming and puzzle-solving skills, with a tough enemy gauntlet at the end. Doing each Cauldron allows players to “override” certain machines, letting them fight for you in combat.

Horizon Zero Dawn Structure
The open world of Horizon Zero Dawn is filled with breathtaking vistas.

You will also spend your time hunting animals for resources that can then be used to increase the storage capacity of your potions, various ammo types, etc.

Speaking of combat, it’s a major part of what makes Horizon Zero Dawn such an immersive experience for me—ducking and weaving through machines trying to maul you to death while you devise a strategy on the fly.

It’s a game that actually put me in the boots of a skilled huntress as I had to carefully set up traps before one of the game’s many super-tough boss machines. Even normal fights are difficult and frantic, testing both your reflexes and preparation against enemies that hit hard and fast. 

Structurally the game feels very much like Guerilla’s own take on a Far Cry-style open world.

It also helps that, contrary to Geralt in The Witcher 3, controlling Aloy feels effortlessly responsive. Rarely did I have a moment where I felt frustrated at something Aloy did that was not my responsibility.

The combat also opens up more and more as you level up. Each skill in the skill tree unlocks a meaningful upgrade, whether it’s increased slow-mo or the ability to stealth kill heavy enemies. 

Lurking Predator

Horizon Zero Dawn Combat
Riding a machine in Horizon Zero Dawn.

It didn’t take much time for me to fall in love with Horizon’s combat; it’s a combat system that makes you feel like the coolest person in the world as you slide and strike a machine’s weak spot in slow motion. Even dozens of hours into the game, I think the combat remains the strongest aspect—as long as you’re fighting the machines.

Horizon Zero Dawn has you facing two different enemy factions: the machines and the human cultists. While the machines exemplify all of Horizon’s combat system’s strengths, the humans do the exact opposite.

Repetition is the major problem with Horizon’s side quests.

I found that the game quickly became a frustrating third-person shooter with inconsistent hitboxes and barebones melee combat whenever human combat was involved. This wouldn’t be a huge problem if a major part of the main story didn’t involve fighting human enemies, which, sadly, it does. 

Horizon Zero Dawn Gameplay
Exploring the lush fields in Horizon Zero Dawn.

Side quests are the final piece of the pie. While most of these are interesting to an extent, they also suffer from limited presentation. It also doesn’t help that the dialog and the way it is delivered isn’t particularly great either. Disco Elysium, this is not the case, but I thought the stories they tell made it a worthwhile endeavor nonetheless. 

Repetition is the major problem with Horizon’s side quests. Almost all of them involve going to a specific spot, using your focus to follow tracks or look for clues, and then maybe a combat encounter to top it off. Some diverge from this pattern, but unfortunately, those happen to be extremely rare. 

Visuals And Performance

Horizon Zero Dawn Visuals
The Visuals.

Horizon Zero Dawn is a stunning game that still looks like a technical marvel. It’s a game that expertly merges lush green forests and sci-fi in a perfectly natural way. Overgrowth invades the remnants of mighty skyscrapers, the cauldrons function as a bygone remnant of a future now forgotten. It’s a breathtaking game that never fails to surprise you with its stunning visuals. 

As far as performance goes, all versions of Horizon Zero Dawn run flawlessly. The PlayStation 4 version maintains a consistent 30FPS throughout, while the PS5 version runs the game at a buttery smooth 60FPS at 2160p. While the PC version initially had a lot of issues, after numerous patches, I found it to be an even bigger visual feast than the PlayStation 5 version. 


Horizon Zero Dawn Verdict

Despite suffering from a fair number of issues, Horizon Zero Dawn is a great open-world game that largely delivers on its fantasy. Guerilla’s foray into the open-world genre is bold and unique, even though it sometimes ends up shy in places where it counts. There is a lot to love in Horizon Zero Dawn, from the frantic combat to the great storytelling, but it is often held back by its formulaic design and sometimes limited presentation.

This concludes my review of Horizon Zero Dawn. Be sure to check out other recent reviews before you go:

This is box title
Get This Game
If you enjoy open world games like Far Cry and The Witcher 3.
Dont Get This Game
If you are expecting a unique gameplay loop.
Do I Need To Get This Game
If you like open-world games, then Horizon Zero Dawn is a no-brainer purchase.

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Nameer Zia is a video game News Writer on eXputer obsessed with hunting down all the latest happenings in the industry. Nameer has been gaming for more than 15 years, during which he has spent more than 3,000 hours on Overwatch 1 & 2. As a literature student, his literary chops feed into his passion for games and writing, using eXputer as the medium to deliver the latest news in the industry. Websites such as GamingBolt and IGN have also credited his works.

Experience: 4+ Years || Previously Worked At: Tech4Gamers || Education: Bachelors in English Literature.

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