Post Playthrough Roundup – Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4)

boxThere was a time long, long ago (well, in February) when my backlog monster had defeated me, leaving me burnt out on blogging, gaming, and life in general. Before that, I had preordered the collector’s edition of this new open world game Sony was going on about. I was only half paying attention to the details. It looked cool with the robot dinosaurs and bow-wielding female lead, but the last thing I needed was a big adventure to add to my never-ending backlog. Nothing about the gameplay seemed radically exciting to me, but the fancy plastic statue that came with the collector’s edition sold me on it (I’m weak). Then my devastating crash happened. I planned to cancel my preorder since Breath of the Wild was also on my gaming horizon. Surely nothing could top a new Zelda game, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to play that either (it was a bad time). The launch day rolled around and I picked it up anyway. I decided to play it that night, and almost like a flash of lightning, Aloy banished my darkness and sparked my interest in gaming anew.

How Far I Got

Quite frankly, the Platinum Trophy wasn’t good enough for me. After my last update, I spent another chunk of time getting all the Datapoints and the full 100% completion. I was missing a side quest from a prophetic Banuk fellow with interesting tastes, and one of Aloy’s outfits. My jaw dropped when the status screen told me I had spent just over 78 hours in this hauntingly beautiful world. I enjoyed the whole experience so much that I didn’t notice the hours racking up. What a journey!

After I did all that, Guerrilla Games was generous enough to release a FREE DLC pack containing 2 more shiny trophies, New Game+, Ultra Hard Mode, and face painting. In this dark age of paid DLC, I can’t stress how awesome this was of them. I’ve spent far too long in this world already though so I’m going to pass. Sadly, there are many, many other great games I need save from the clutches of my evil backlog monster. I will definitely be breaking my stubborn no paid DLC rule when the new story pack drops later this year.

Completion Progress: First Impressions > The Adventures of Aloy and Link: Part I – Finding Balance > The Adventures of Aloy & Link: Part II – Hapless Critters > The Adventures of Aloy (Sorry, Link) > The Adventures of Aloy Part II: Entity Wins

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I could tell Aloy was getting sick of me around the last of it.

Lightning Review

Gameplay
It was clear from the Lion King-ish intro cinematic that this story was going to be one hell of a ride! You are dropped into a primitive version of Earth in the far future as a little girl named Aloy. During the seamless tutorial, my nominee for Father Figure of the Year, Rost, teaches her the basic skills you need to survive in this brutal land. This gives us, the players, the rare opportunity to grow with the protagonist, instantly forging a special connection with the game world. An unknown catastrophe has reduced humanity to a gaggle of ignorant tribes, who fight against each other and hunt weirdly out of place packs of technologically advanced robot animals. The once docile robots have inexplicably turned aggressive and will happily tear apart any unprepared human. To add to young Aloy’s problems, her matriarchal society, the Nora, have deemed her and Rost outcasts, condemning them to wander alone, shunned from the group. The Nora hate and fear Aloy much more than the typical outcast, for she has the unforgivable sin of being motherless. It was hard for me not to rage-cry as I witnessed the Nora treat little Aloy like less than nothing, for being nothing more than who she is.

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D’aww! Little Aloy is so adorable. Don’t listen to those mean Nora, girl.

You get to watch the awkward little girl grow into a powerful huntress during one awe-inspiring cutscene. The real adventure begins as a determined adult Aloy sets off on a mission to find her mother. While her compassion and resoluteness guide her along her path, Aloy discovers she is infinitely more valuable than the worthless outcast she sees herself as, and the fate of life itself may very well depend on the answer to Aloy’s ultimate question. The robot animal anomaly initially gets you invested in this world’s story, while the developers masterfully reveal snippets of deeper plot details, leaving you stunned when the big reveals finally happen. The less you know going in, the more rewarding the experience will be, so I’m going to shut up about the story elements now. Looking passed the game’s big hooks (i.e., the intriguing story and lovably sarcastic protagonist) you are left with a very structured, dare I say linear, open world to traverse.

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Stealth is your best friend, until you suddenly out-level everything.

While out in the world, Aloy moves smoothly on foot and you can override certain types of robotic animals to use as mounts. The biggest movement issue I had was with climbing. Aloy can only take defined paths up cliffs and other structures, and these are almost never clearly visible. Since I was playing this with BoTW at first (a game where you can climb literally ANYTHING) this felt especially annoying. In terms of navigation, you will never feel lost since every important location is conveniently marked on the UI with a direction and distance indicator. There is an expected fast travel system, but it requires a consumable item to use, which encourages players to actually go out and explore things. Shortly into the game, Aloy finds an item called a Focus, that works similar to the Eagle Vision mechanic in the Assassin’s Creed series. In Focus mode, Aloy can scan certain objects, and track angry robot movement patterns. In the beginning, there is a heavy emphasis on stealth (usually by hiding in the many tall grassy areas) since getting jumped by a pack of angry robots usually doesn’t end well for novice Aloy. As you level up, spend skill points, acquire stronger weapons, and grab tougher gear for the game’s smartass shero, the combat difficulty drops significantly, allowing you to brute force your way through many of the bad-bots, if you so desire.

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Once you figure out robot vulnerabilities, and have the tools to exploit them, combat is a breeze.

There are a variety of enemy robots to deal with, that each have their own weaknesses to pounce on. The game does a good job of slowly introducing the robot types so you are never overwhelmed with too much learning at once. Each robot you scan with the Focus is added to a notebook section that can be accessed from the pause menu. If you happen to forget, or can’t see any obvious weak points, you can simply pause the action to view a detailed log entry that explains how thy enemy operates. Combat gets a little crazy when you are facing multiple enemies at once. There is no targeting system so I often just dodge-rolled for Aloy’s life, while shooting exploding things when I could. In the mass confusion, it’s also very easy to forget to watch Aloy’s health meter, resulting in many untimely demises for the brave heroine.  That being said, combat is incredibly fun once you have a full arsenal of weapons. Aiming the various bows and firing perfect shots is quite satisfying, and you’ll definitely feel a glorious sense of accomplishment from taking down the biggest-baddest-bots. Aloy can also pick up heavy guns and severed robot weapons to use against her opponents. Nothing feels better than destroying a towering Thunderjaw with its own Disk Launcher.

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Humans are so stupid.

There are several humans to dispose of during your journey too. Unfortunately, the human AI is dumber than a bag of rocks when compared to the highly advanced robot animal AI. I cleared an entire human camp by sitting in the tall grass, whistling, and then stealth killing each idiot who individually walked over to Aloy. Can you not see your dead comrades in front of the suspicious grassy area there, buddy? There are many innocent critters to murder as well. These poor defenceless creatures provide you with the materials you need to craft potions and inventory capacity upgrades. Don’t feel bad! It’s the law of nature, and they’ll probably respawn later anyway. All-mother will forgive me, I’m sure. You can also gather components from downed machines and harvest resources from the environment to craft ammunition. Even at max inventory capacity, the inventory limit may still feel too small if you’re a hoarder, like me.

HZD 2
To retaliate with rock, be smart with rock, or not to retaliate with rock? That is the question!

In addition to the main storyline and killing things, the game has several side activities to distract you. Though most of these never felt like timesinks, hunting collectibles can easily get repetitive once that glorious new game feeling wears off. The side quests themselves offer a lot of depth to the game’s narrative, never making them seem like the boring fetch quests that plague other open world games. If you embark on the many side excursions before doing the main missions, like me, you will quickly find yourself over-leveled for the storyline. If you want more of a challenge, there is always the option to up the difficulty. Whether it’s part of the main objective or not, every sarcastic and/or compassionate interaction Aloy has with various NPCs is a memorable one. There is a response wheel system, but most of the Flashpoint Choices have little impact on the story. Instead, they serve as an RPG element that changes Aloy’s emotional response to the situation. You are always given 3 options: Confront, Insight, or Compassion. This will make Aloy handle the situation aggressively, thoughtfully, or kindly. Again, this has zero impact on the overall story, but helps the player customize Aloy into the person they want her to be. My version of Aloy took crap from no one, but was always willing to help those in need.

Graphics
Stunning would sum up the whole game quite nicely. Going into a bit more detail, the environments are full of natural beauty, and the world can be divided into a few different zones: Snow covered, forested, desert, and jungle. My description sounds simple, but it’s nothing short of amazing what the developer’s pulled off here. They were so confident in their work that they even included something called Photo Mode. This lets you pause the action whenever you want, and opens up a menu that lets you pose Aloy, switch up the camera angles, and change time of day in order to create the perfect screenshots. I did run into a few minor graphic bugs during my playthrough. The transition from an underground to above ground area often caused a split second jerky change of the weather type/time of day. When aiming Aloy’s bow near tall grass, the greenery sometimes blocked my ability to aim, robbing me of my perfect shot opportunity. I also managed to get poor Aloy stuck in the environment. I must stress this only happened ONCE in 78 hours, so I’m not sure it’s even worth mentioning. It happened though and I got her out eventually by dodge-rolling, a lot. I was also able to wall jump my way into some areas that I wasn’t suppose to access, but hey, nothing’s perfect!

hzd r3
Yup, I had way too much fun with Photo Mode.

I also loved the look of the primitive equipment, the advanced robot designs, and character facial animations. Each faction of humans has there own primitive fashion style so it’s easy to tell which tribe someone belongs to just by glancing at them. Aloy can acquire many different outfits that fit the style of the factions, and also offer specific stat boosts. The higher level the outfit, the more details it has, making it seem like a true upgrade.

Sound
All of the voice acting was superb and conveyed the essence of every character wonderfully. Ashly Burch (aka Chloe Price from Life Is Strange, Quancho Queen from World of Final Fantasy, and Cassie Cage from Mortal Combat X) lends her talented voice as Aloy. She truly captured the spirit of this fierce redhead and delivered every dialogue line earnestly, giving Aloy a real personality. The music is filled with haunting violin vibes when you stumble across ancient ruins, and a fast paced action tempo when the fighting starts going down. One of the sound effects did annoy me a bit – every time you turn the Focus mode on, an irritating swishing noise pulses out of the controller speaker. I guess having spent 78 hours in the game, every little thing was starting to annoy me.

My Overall Biased Opinion
Absolutely no question about it – If Lightning Farron didn’t exist (I don’t even want to think about that cruel world), I would be AloyEllen rambling on aloyellen.com with a tattoo of Aloy on my arm. Therefore, my opinion of this game may be a wee bit biased. I really connected with Aloy’s character in a way that hasn’t happened since I played Final Fantasy XIII. I raged as I saw her get bullied and treated like garbage. I smirked as I watched her smartly tell off many stupid people. I cried tears of joy when she conquered her many demons to become someone greater. The bond she has with Rost also reminded me of the many fun times I’ve had with my own aging father. I closely related to how alone she felt in a crowd of people when she first ventured into the game’s main city. Oh and the best part about being an Aloy fangirl – the internet seems to love her as much as I do. It’s okay, Lightning… You’re just too awesome to be fully appreciated.

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With the fighting spirit of two badass sheroes in her heart, Ellen is now truly invincible!

Overall, this game plays like an open world Assassin’s Creed, plus a dash of Dragon Age-ish social interaction scenes, with an inspiring female protagonist. If Aloy wasn’t the main character, would I love it so much? Nope! But she is the badass protagonist, the combat is mostly fun, and the story is amazing, so I highly recommend anyone with a PS4 give it a go. Climbing issues, minor graphic hiccups, limited inventory space, and a few overly chaotic combat situations are all insignificant drawbacks.


Memory Lane
SPOILERS AHEAD!!! You have been warned.

This “Memory Lane” section of my “Post Playthrough Roundups” is a way for me to remember my journey through a game. Major spoilers can be present here so please avoid this unless you’ve already played the game, or don’t have any plans to. Feel free to share any experiences you’ve had with this game in the comments area thingy below.

Favourite Story Moment

After Aloy finally learns all about Project Zero Dawn, Helis crashes the party and captures her. The fanatical asshole decides to drop her into the Sun Ring so he can watch her get torn apart by a corrupted Behemoth. It was very satisfying to watch him howl with rage after Aloy got her equipment back, taunted everyone, busted the Behemoth, and rode off into the sunset with Sylens. Honorable mention goes to visiting Rost’s Grave on many occasions. This acts as sort of a confessional for Aloy, offering insight into her character, and triggering many tears.

Favourite Ability/Item/Weapon

Shield-Weaver outfit. This badass piece of former civilization attire makes Aloy almost invincible! It gives her a rechargeable shield bar over her health bar which was a godsend during the final mission. The developers were very cruel with this, I must say. You get the side quest to acquire the outfit near the start of the game, but you can’t actually complete it until the second last story mission.

Favourite “Oh S@#%” Moment

When GAIA explains exactly what happened, how Aloy came to be, and that she is the only hope left for all life on Earth. Oh, the chills! Honorable mention goes to climbing my first Tallneck.

Favourite Zone/Level/Area

Cauldrons. Specifically my first one. The transition from primitive forest environment to highly complex self-automated robo-animal factory was very jaw-dropping.

Favourite Character

Obviously, Aloy. I’ll say it again – I have never connected with a video game protagonist this much since Lightning Farron. The way Aloy thinks, acts, and cares about her world also screams INFJ to me.

Most Tedious Gameplay Moment

Hunting innocent woodland creatures to get enough materials for inventory capacity upgrades. It took me forever to find enough Rat Skins.

Favourite Smartass Remark from Aloy

“Good thing I’m shunned or I’d have to talk to these idiots.” – I could not relate more to this sentiment.


Final Stats

Total Playtime: 78 hours 1 minute and 28 seconds
Game Completion: 100.00%
Datapoints found: ALL of them

Machines Killed
Watcher: 214
Redeye Watcher: 38
Grazer: 75
Charger: 29
Strider: 96
Tramplar: 18
Glinthawk: 59
Scrapper: 128
Lancehorn: 12
Broadhead: 32
Longleg: 24
Snapmaw: 17
Behemoth: 5
Shell-Walker: 16
Sawtooth: 16
Ravager: 26
Fire Bellowback: 12
Freeze Bellowback: 5
Stalker: 32
Rockbreaker: 2 (plus TWO corrupted ones at once)
Thunderjaw: 6
Stormbird: 4
Corruptor: 10
Deathbringer: 7

Human Enemies
Killed: 532
Headshots: 171

Wildlife Killed (I’m a monster)
Boar: 48
Rat: 30
Rabbit: 54
Racoon: 27
Goose: 10
Fox: 61
Salmon: 9
Turkey: 71
Trout: 24

Combat
Silent Strikes: 168
Critical Hits: 362

Other
Campfires lit: 171
Very rare items: 142
Training Dummies: 23
Machine overrides: 31

PlayStation Trophies Earned
Main Game – 56/56
DLC Pack 1 – 0/2

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Wannabe Writer’s Notes
– I still can’t get back into Breath of the Wild. I decided to ignore my other big in progress games too (Recore and Fallout 4 – the bane of my gaming goals) and recently started a whole new awesome adventure: Dragon Age Origins. Expect me to do plenty of rambling about this masterpiece in the near future.
– You know what? My non-tattooed arm looks kinda boring now, and Aloy is really awesome…
– I FINALLY beat Final Fantasy IV. Wow, that last dungeon was brutal… My unqualified review for that is coming soon!

Thanks for reading!

37 thoughts on “Post Playthrough Roundup – Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4)

  1. Solid review! I have too much open world fatigue to jump into HZD right now but I’ve seen a stream of the game’s opening and Aloy is thoroughly awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congrats on completing FF IV! Honestly even though I’m a big Nintendo fan I have to admit that this game looks a bit better than Breath of the Wild. I like having options of what you can do in the story (Like the rock throwing example) and the gameplay just seems a little more satisfying than LoZ. Likewise the story seems better while I think BotW may have had the better graphics. This game just seems more immersive in general and the fact that you put in over 70 hours really attests to that. Quite an impressive journey and a great review to read through. I look forward to your article for Final Fantasy!

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh yeah, never mind by the way (although maybe start Breath of the Mild again as it were interrupted by your PS4 antics last time – breath of fresh air, eh? Turning a new leaf. Reinventing the wheel.) as there is a GAME ABOUT A CAT on the way, called HK Project. Oh yeah. Cats! Games! Game Cats!

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review! I’m absolutely in love with Horizon, Aloy and the world that Guerrilla has created. A game beyond all my expectations. During last missions I was breathless, trying to advance and to know how it was going to end. Counting the days for the expansion, hope it also delivers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It sounds like you got bowled over by a bout of depression back in February if you want my wholly unqualified opinion. Just going by the lack of interest in things you cared about and the sense of being overwhelmed, and again I’m not remotely qualified to say this except by comparison, BUT it could be due to other factors. Either way I’m glad you were able to forge a better future with a phenomenal Aloy (I’m pretty sure I said everything prior JUST to make that pun).

    The Lunar Core in FFIV (accidental rhyme!) is probably the hardest Final Fantasy dungeon I’ve ever faced. They do the same thing in later games with boss battles for every fight, but rise freaking Death Masks were brutal. There is NO good strategy for them, and I usually just wound up running away. I look forward to your review despite how unqualified you might feel 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d say your expert diagnosis is correct, Dr. The Shameful Narcissist. Lightning helped me overcome my darkness, but the shadows still creep up on me now and then. I guess sometimes I’m such a mess even the One Woman Army needs help, haha. Aloy’s character really spoke to me since she dealt with the same bullying issues and chronic outcast condition I’ve been haunted by. Oh and she’s a total badass (just not quite as badass as Lightning). That pun was so worth it 😂

      OMG those Death Masks… I kept running into encounters with TWO of them at once (my luck is terrible). Thanks, haha.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pesky shadows…I definitely fight them, too!

        I HATED those Death Masks. They were the worst enemy because they cast reflect on you, which meant you couldn’t use cure unless you cast reflect on them, but then they’d usually dispel themselves. I think they were worse than the final boss, even though he was no pushover!

        Liked by 1 person

          1. For the final fight I initially had Cecil and Edge doing normal attacks, Kain jumping, Rydia summoning Bahamut and Rosa healing, but I had to have both Rydia and Rosa on healing duty with Rydia casting Asura each turn. I made the mistake of have Rydia summon Bahamut for ONE turn and that was my undoing lol. I think Zeromus is the hardest final boss of any Final Fantasy, though I’m sure the ones in I-III are probably difficult, too!

            Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m still not completely sold on the PS4 to be honest. I do want Persona 5, Nioh, and Bloodborne. That’s only 3 games though and I have hundreds on my PC and I already have 10 on the Switch. I know I’ll eventually buy a PS4 and hopefully Horizon will be around $20 by then :).

        Liked by 1 person

  5. For how biased you are, you were very up front with the flaws you found. So your totally biased conclusion is not fanwank, it’s justified! There you go.

    I love picking up a game I know little about and finding something special therein. That’s how I’ve found a lot of the games that are most precious to me, and it sounds like it’s worked out for you to.

    Liked by 1 person

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