E3 2015: Impressions of Horizon: Zero Dawn

e3-15-horizon-impressions

I think that this was probably my sixth or seventh E3, and one of the most fortunate things that we’re afforded now is to get an increasing number of private appointments for upcoming games. E3 is a huge “industry” event, but even still, there are still lines everywhere. When you’re trying to cover as much as possible, a 2-hour wait to play a 5 minute demo can ruin your chances at any meaningful coverage, and well, that’s why we’re there. My last “behind closed doors” demo for E3 2015 was an incredibly memorable one, as we were given a live demo of Guerrilla Game’s new IP Horizon: Zero Dawn.

Mathijs de Jonge, Game Director for the first non-Killzone title from the veteran studio, slowly spanned the landscape to show us the thick forests, faraway mountains, and even an abandoned city off in the distance. This is the same area in the game that was shown at the PlayStation press conference a couple of days earlier, but this was a chance to get a lot more in-depth with what we saw initially a couple of days earlier.

Herd

A small team at Guerrilla actually began development on this right after Killzone 3 had shipped, but as soon as Killzone: Shadowfall was done, the rest of the team then focused squarely on Horizon: Zero Dawn, and as we all saw that preceding Monday, this one has already been in the oven for a while. Unlike other “post-apocalypse” games though, this one is actually considered “post post-apocalypse”, as nature has fully reclaimed the world from its former inhabitants, which haven’t been around for about 1,000 years after civilization fell. The only indication of this former civilization are the remnants of some of the larger cities, all of which has been overrun by foliage and wildlife. Seen up-close though, you’ll quickly notice that the wildlife on the planet aren’t what you’d expect, and instead are machines. How did this happen though? We’re told we’ll find out when we play the game (of course). My theory is that there’s some mad man who’s been building all of these machines and is actually running the entire planet as some weird experiment. Well, that or the typical “man made machines too well, they took over, took civilization out, and are now building themselves”. But hey, we don’t want that stuff spoiled anyway, so enough with the speculation!

Outro

Let’s take a step back though, and answer the most basic question, what the heck is this game about?. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a 3rd Person Action RPG (which seems to lean more toward the Action, which is alright with me.) The main character, Aloy, is incredibly agile, very intelligent, and possesses excellent crafting abilities. These aspects are all quite important if she wants to survive in these harsh times, and if she wants to have any chance at defeating the larger machines that fill the world now. The machines too, aren’t simply “robot dinosaurs” like initially rumored, but instead comprise pretty-much anything that you’d associate with “wildlife” in any other world. The mechanical deer are known as Grazers, and the Giraffe looking things with the saucers for heads are known as “Longnecks”. Lastly, the economy is loot-driven, with materials such as machine parts, plants, collectables, and even things like bamboo and rope, all of which can be found/bought/sold/traded. These materials can also be used for crafting things like new weapons, clothing, armor, and who knows what else at this point.

Aloy_Hunting

Crafting seems easy enough, as we’re shown the “Quick Craft Menu”. Instead of needing to use trial and error to see if you have the correct ingredients for a specific “recipe”, you’ll simply see items that can be crafted, and if you have the necessary ingredients in your possession for that specific item. What we saw in the menu were things like arrows that could either be explosive, electrical, or simply tipped with a machine part to gain more penetration. This part was a relief for me personally, as I’ve played some games with some pretty intricate crafting systems that quite literally drove me to close the game and never go back.

So, back to our demo. During the press conference, Aloy happened upon a “Watcher” when she came out of the tall grass, and it alerted to bring more forces in to help. This time, Aloy performed a stealth takedown on the Watcher, and I heard her apologize for killing it. With the “tribal” aspects that have been shown already, it definitely seems that at least her tribe have a deep respect for what they know as nature, even though they’re all machines. Also, instead of simply hunting the Grazers, Aloy moves over to a small creek and uses the Ropecaster gun to set explosive tripwire traps. She then fires an explosive arrow behind the herd in an attempt to scare and direct them toward the trap (it’s pretty obvious that the Grazers are a skittish bunch,) and that’s exactly what happens. As they run into the tripwires, explosions go off all around them, and Aloy can finally harvest those green tanks from their backs. As she moves over, that familiar and frightening sound of heavy footsteps gets closer and closer though, and as expected, that large beast we all saw in the original demo arrives to survey the area.

Scouts

It noticed Aloy and rushed toward her immediately, then the screen completely freezes with an immediate “the game didn’t crash!” from our presenters. They’d paused the action to not only give us a closer look at the beast, but to also give us some pretty cool information about it as well. It’s name, fittingly, is “Thunderjaw”. It’s 80ft long, 33ft tall, is built with over 550,000 polygons, 271 animations (70 of which are just for hit reactions,) 67 different visuals effects, 93 individually destructible plates (each of which are individually monitored and with their own hit values,) and with soft “muscle” under the plates. At the top part of the base of the neck is its Power Core which is heavily armored, but is critical if actually hit. The Thunderjaw has 12 different attacks including a disc launcher (which can actually be used by Aloy if she blasts it off of the beast), a laser blast, gatling gun in its mouth, a bite, tail swipe, and a tail stomp (among even more apparently). When the demo resumed, and the Thunderjaw actually started using these attacks, the audio design took center stage to add an incredible level of immersion to the battle by using some gnarly mechanical sounds mixed with technological elements as well. I was in awe during the battle, which was so much more impactful in this more intimate setting. Even my nerves were taking a beating as Mathijs battled the Thunderjaw like a boss (seems to me that he’d done this a time or two before.)

Aiming_at_Thunderjaw

Some other tidbits in my notes, we heard that “anything you see in the distance you can go to”, but obviously take that for what it is since we’ve heard that before (I’m talking to you Destiny.) It was stated that the game is running at 30fps, but they didn’t say if that was the final target or not. To me, if what I saw was running at 30fps, I’m totally fine with that, because it looked fantastic. Also, it has a full weather system and day/night cycle as well, which after playing some other recent games with that present, is a welcome feature.

Aloy_Stalking

But what do I think about the game as a whole? I’ll be honest, when I saw Aloy sneaking through the tall grass in the press conference demo, my brain raised my personal DEFCON levels since I’ve never been a fan of stealth gameplay. The good thing though is that after the second demo, it seems to me that the gameplay will be more action oriented than all of that stealth nonsense. I’ve played some Action RPG’s in the past with great success too, and the gameplay looks to be quite fun. Add-on a simple crafting system, gorgeous environments and wildlife, and an intriguing story (hey, I’m hooked already, I have to know what the heck is happening with all of these machines), and it seems that Guerrilla Games are well on their way to owning a top spot in the genre, but the high quality of their competitors in this area is going to be tough to beat. I’m definitely interested in knowing more about Horizon: Zero Dawn in the coming months, and as it stands today, I definitely want to play it.

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