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Going Hands-On with HORIZON: ZERO DAWN Was a Tactical Delight

Last year, we got a chance to check out a behind-closed-doors demo of Guerrilla Games’ (Killzone) new open-world RPG, Horizon: Zero Dawn, following its on-stage reveal. After the game’s introduction at Sony’s amazing E3 briefing this year (which took the form of an eight-minute gameplay video, which we shared here), we were hoping to get more time with the title on the show floor. As luck would have it, we got a chance to play 15-20 minutes of the game, and are happy to confirm that playing it is just as fun as watching the trailer/gameplay demo.

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A world of mystery and superstition

Before we get into mechanics, let’s talk about Aloy (who is voiced by Ashly Burch) for a minute, because we learned a lot more about her personality at E3 this year. In the recent footage that was shown off, a character tells her not to go into the valley because there are corrupted bots running amok. Aloy, however, runs from no challenge and charges ahead, leaving the NPC and their superstitions in her dust as they pray to some “goddess” to keep them all safe. During our information session, lead writer John Gonzalez explained that Aloy has a unique viewpoint from her tribe, and as a result, isn’t mired in tribal superstition. She’s smart, and is instead more focused on getting to the bottom of and fixing what’s been going on with the corrupted machines.

This is our first real taste of what’s at stake in the open-world RPG. We already knew that it’s set in a post-post-apocalyptic world, but this year, Gonzalez went a bit more in depth. He explained that the events of Horizon: Zero Dawn take place approximately 1,000 years into the future (from our time), after a catastrophic event throws Earth out of balance. In Aloy’s world, wild machines roam the planet, while mankind struggles to survive, and hides behind heavily fortified fortresses. While the machines had been relatively docile beforehand, a mysterious change has led to the creatures being corrupted—one that, as far as we can tell, makes them incredibly aggressive. The only question is: Why? With her expert hunting skills and tenacity, Aloy will unravel that mystery, and more.

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On the hunt

And oh what a set of skills she has. There was a lot going on in the demo showed off, which I wasn’t able to fully appreciate until I actually got my hands on it. In the short amount I played, I tested stealth attacks, looted bots, wrangled/overrode a Broadhead to use it as a mount, and even crafted on the go. Switching between these actions was surprisingly fluid, and a lot of fun to execute. Aloy has a ton of tools at her disposal, like the rope-launching cross-bow, a variety of arrows (with several ammo types), a slingshot, and more. This arsenal adds a ton of freedom to how you can attack a mission.

Aloy’s focus device allows you to locate specific enemies, determine their weakness, and tag them… think Lara Croft’s Survival Instinct vision. This feature is adds an extra layer to planning the perfect way to attack a situation. Beyond figuring out how you’re going to take care of the bots, the device also allows you to see what materials you’ll be able to grab once they’re out of the picture for good. I used it frequently, especially when it came to sneaking up on the group of Watchers that were patrolling the area, or quietly shooting off blast canisters from another beast. To top it all off, Aloy has brief access to a slow-motion mechanic, which, despite running out quickly, helps out a lot with the faster beasts.

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Beyond the combat

Aside from combat, one of the biggest draws to the game is the fact that it is an open-world RPG. Though taking the leap from a first-person shooter is pretty substantial, Guerrilla Games sails through it with ease. The world is massive, gorgeous and ready to be explored. Aloy will be able to upgrade equipment with materials she finds in the wild, purchase weapon mods (and more) with shards, and gain new abilities by spending xp.

Although I did have access to crafting on the go, the full crafting menu was off limits. However, the fact that there is more than one way to craft in the first place is pretty impressive. From the 20 minutes I played, Horizon: Zero Dawn earned stature as one of my most anticipated 2017 releases. Unfortunately the game was delayed until February 28, 2017. But that said, if the rest of the game is as good as what I played, it will be worth the wait.

What did you think of the game? Will you be playing it next year? Let us know in the comments below, join the conversation on Facebook, or start one with me on Twitter: @Samantha_Sofka.

Images: Sony

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