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Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn

Written by Sean Cahill on 8/19/2020 for PC  
More On: Horizon Zero Dawn

Let me preface this review by stating the obvious: Horizon Zero Dawn is an amazing game. When I first played it back in 2017, it truly caught me off guard just how good it was. The story is captivating, the world is expansive with beauty and threats of all kinds around every corner. The protagonist is a solid female lead with just the right amount of attitude that you are ready to run head first into a brick wall for her. The game itself is just a wonderful experience, top to bottom.

But…that only goes so far when a Game of the Year contender gets ported to PC. It’s not just about story and gameplay at that point. How well does the game hold up graphically? Are the framerates capped or unlocked? Can you run it in native ultrawide? All of these are valid questions for PC gamers who don’t bother with consoles and wait patiently for ports.

Horizon Zero Dawn, as good as it is with gameplay and story, is not a good PC port. Again, the game is still so good!

The story of Earth in the far off future is back as outcast Aloy desperately wants to know the origins of her birth. Earth as we know it ceased to exist, but now flourishes as tribes of humans try to coexist with mechanical beasts that are responsible for restoring the planet to its former glory. We’re told of the initial story quickly as Aloy grows up before our eyes under the tutelage of Rost. When she comes of age, she rejoins the tribe for an event called The Proving.

At the end of that event, the winner gets anything they want while everyone else becomes a full member of the tribe. The Proving ends in bloodshed with an unknown cult firing upon the braves and attacking the Nora. This leads to the tribe anointing Aloy as a “seeker” which frees her from the confines of Nora land and allows her to investigate who the killers are. She ends up unlocking mysteries about the land thanks to her earpiece called a focus. The story becomes so much more than revenge against killers. It’s a battle for life itself.

My 25+ hours of gameplay took me from start to finish. I played half of the game with a keyboard-and-mouse combination and the other half with an Xbox controller. I will say that I still prefer the controller for this game, simply because it felt familiar. The added fine-tuning with aiming and control of the keyboard and mouse was good, but my biggest problem was remembering the secondary commands like creating arrows on the fly when in the midst of a major fight. I’m certain that if I played it straight through on just the keyboard and mouse, my time in the game would have cleared another 10 hours just from the amount of deaths I was suffering. Truth be told, third-person shooters and I don’t get along on PC unless the controls are almost perfect. This one gave me fits, but I think that’s a mental block for myself.

Horizon Zero Dawn is still an amazing game and I do look forward to the sequel that is set for PlayStation in 2021. Sadly, the port is not good.

Look, I enjoy the heck out of this game. I’ve played through it a few times on both PS4 and PC now. However, this PC port is lazy at best. There’s a little bit of good, at least. HZD on PC supports ultrawide monitors, so my Z35 Predator had no issue filling the screen. I can’t test out the 4K capabilities as my monitor is only for 1080p, and that leads us into the issues with this port.

There are a lot of graphical anomalies and issues that need to be pointed out. First, let’s start with the overuse of lens flare and how it appeared in places that it shouldn’t be possible. There are more than a few occasions during the night in-game where a player can get flat out blinded by the lens flare, as seen below:


Lens flare is fine in small doses, but some of that is going through rocks. This is also one of the less egregious pictures I saved. There were cases where the lens flare went through hills where I couldn’t see anything other than grass, but move the camera angle a specific way and boom! Lens flare.

From nothing.

Sadly, there’s also serious framerate issues with this port. For the record, my system is a Core-i7 8700K, 32GB of RAM and an NVIDIA 2060 RTX. There’s no shortage of horsepower with my system, yet switching to a higher framerate manually yielded some weird situations. To be specific, it seemed the game had to remove some pixels in order to keep up with the framerate I had chosen. Aloy’s long red hair, which looks great on the standard setting, became almost like a shimmering blob the moment I chose what I wanted the framerate to be.

You see, HZD uses adaptive FPS so the game adjusts based on where you go and how much is going on around Aloy. It sounds good in theory, but everything works in theory (even communism!) and the basis of the theory here falls apart in a hurry. It’s truly disappointing to play on ultra graphics and have to lock the frames at 30 FPS because the port just can’t handle it. But that’s not the worst part. 

If I stopped there, I could live with giving this game a better rating than I’m going to. Sadly, the biggest issue I had was crashes. So. Many. Crashes. This pop-up became my worst friend through all 25 hours of the game:

There was no rhyme or reason as to what was causing it. I specifically waited to start my review because a day one patch was going to be available to mitigate issues like this. I’m okay with that if it means the game is going to work properly. However, my crash count for my playthrough was 11.

Eleven crashes. That’s unacceptable, especially for a game that’s been out since 2017 and the studio had three years to work on it. I can appreciate that this might have been a challenge to handle for Guerrilla Studios, but sometimes it’s best to either bring in another studio for assistance or outsource it completely to make sure the final product does so well everyone praises it for being a gold standard in PC ports.

Instead, I got crashes during standard fights, boss fights, riding mounts, and just randomly once in the middle of a cutscene. They almost always came at the worst time and frustrated me enough where I’d have to stop playing (not much of a choice!) for a little while and come back to it. That’s never a good sign that the port was done correctly or with confidence, especially with a large day one patch to download.

So who should buy this? I can’t stress enough that Horizon Zero Dawn is an amazing game and everyone should try to play it. The problem is that it’s currently $49.99 for the Complete Edition, which comes with the Frozen Wilds expansion that adds on a good five to 10 hours of gameplay but is purely optional. If you played this game on PlayStation 4 and were hoping for a port that can push your PC to the limit, then you’re going to be disappointed.

For those who don’t own a PlayStation 4, I still have a hard time justifying that price given the issues I experienced. I’d give it some time to see if more patches come out to fix the problems I came across. A sale is almost certainly going to happen on Steam as well. If it drops down to $30 or so in the coming months, it’s worth a pickup. Any other situation, unless you absolutely want to play it now, I’d hold off.

Wrapping up, I hate that I have to sound so negative with a game I truly enjoy when it works properly. Horizon Zero Dawn’s story and gameplay are truly wonderful. There’s so much to explore, so many characters to interact with, and the story unfolds at just the right amount of pacing to keep you gripped and wanting more. The PC port just suffers from framerate and graphical issues with plenty of crashes mixed in, at least with my experience. Sorry to say, the port just doesn’t hold up to my expectations. A good game makes up for it a bit, but not enough for me to give it the “Buy it now” stamp of approval.

The PC version of Horizon Zero Dawn is still a fun game to play...so long as you aren't expecting a graphical powerhouse. The PC port suffers from framerate and graphics issues, crashes, and just an overall feeling of what could have been. I'm not mad, Guerrilla Studios, I'm disappointed.

Rating: 7 Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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Sean is a 15 year veteran of gaming and technology writing with an unhealthy obsession for Final Fantasy, soccer, and chocolate.

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