Guerrilla Games is most famous for the Killzone series, but it's making a bit of a departure with its latest game. Announced at E3 last year, Horizon Zero Dawn is a kind of post–historic single player RPG adventure game where robotic dinosaurs rule the earth ("They moved in herds.... They do move in herds…") and you, a flame-haired hunter, are on an epic quest to discover your destiny and also, maybe, like, sort out the dinosaurs? We're not sure. But after this year's Sony conference, we do know somethings.
This is one of the taglines attached to Horizon Zero Dawn (hereafter referred to as Horizon, for the sake of brevity). The game is set about a thousand years after a cataclysmic event – which Hermen Hulst, Guerrilla Games' MD, estimates took place about 50 years or so from our present day – resulted in machines, not humans, becoming the dominant species on earth. Humans now live in separate tribes which have each developed a different way to live alongside the machines, which themselves have evolved into big dinosaur-esque things.
There are a bunch of different kinds of dinosaur robots, each with a specific role in part of the, for want of a better term, machine ecosystem. One kind of machine is called a Grazer, which we saw up close in the gameplay walkthrough with producer Mark Norris last year; they're harvesting some kind of green liquid from the surrounding flora. In this year's gameplay the Broadhead machine, which kind of looks like a big moose, also has smaller canisters of this green stuff, and tubes of it running from its head, so this could be a distinguishing feature of the machines we'd think of as representing herbivorous creatures, or it could actually be a form of energy for the machines. There are also alert robots called Watchers and at least one huge aggressive terrorzard called a Thunderjaw. They seem to sort of work together, and machines of different 'species' haven't attacked one another in any of the videos thus far.
It's been confirmed via the Twitter account of game director Mathijs de Jonge that all the machines in the game can be dangerous, but in the gameplay demo we've now seen a Corruptor, an older kind of machine that can turn others hyper-aggressive. We've got no idea yet if the machines are being produced by a secret AI somewhere, or if they're making themselves. We know that one part of the story is related to finding out what happened to the old civilisations, and maybe trying to clear the corruption that is making the machines more dangerous.
Horizon's protagonist is Aloy, a member of one of the human tribes – her voiceover in the extended trailer says it's supposedly the first tribe – but in the new trailer she's described as 'an outcast' that 'came from nowhere', although why her tribe decided to keep and raise her despite hating her very nature is a question still to be answered. Suffice to say she's a little different to other humans. Aloy has some skills that make her better at hunting machines than the average human, most notably her staff, which can be used as a melee weapon as well as to tame and control machines, and a hands free bluetooth headset – sorry, Focus – which lets her scan enemies for weak points. The full applications of this system have yet to be revealed.
So, the other part of the story is Aloy finding out who she is and where she came from, and multiple sources from Guerilla say the two are linked. At the end of the new trailer we see Aloy being scanned by a kind of door, which says 'Identity Confirmed', and it's been hinted that as part of her personal journey she'll be finding some of the old secrets left over from the previous civilisation. It has hopefully not escaped your notice that Aloy is one letter away from alloy, an alloy being a mixture of two different elements, one of which is a metal. So. We bet that's not a significant concept.
Earth is ours no more
Members of the Guerrilla team have used the phrase 'post-post-apocalypse', because of how far in the future Horizon is set. Because the cataclysm is that distant, the world of Horizon is much more lush and natural (though still with some ruined skyscrapers here and there), than other post-apocalypse titles like The Last of Us. Hulst and other members of the dev team have mentioned mountains, rivers, jungles, deserts, and forests, so there's a diversity of terrain. However, we don't know the size of the map they fit in – although according to Norris there won't be any loading time between locations, so that's nice.
The different tribes now living in the world have their own different styles and agendas, and they each have story arcs you can follow. Not all of the humans will be friendly, and there will also be quests for individual people, that kind of thing. It's also confirmed there is at least some kind of dialogue system, and Aloy will have the opportunity to make some choices (though how far-reaching the effects will be is unconfirmed). It looks like they're going for proper open world RPG here.
Combat in Horizon will be tactical, especially for the times that Aloy is facing down huge machines many times her size. As well as predicting the behaviour of the machines (the old gameplay showed Aloy setting traps in the path of the herding Grazers) Aloy can use rope arrows to pin enemies down, armour piercing arrows to destroy plating and expose weak points – where she can deal up to four times more damage – and electric arrows to stun. She can also use weapons that she's knocked off the machines themselves.
The inventory wheel has four weapon slots, and each weapon can have up to three different ammo types equipped (some have less than four types; some have more), so you'll have to pick and choose which you prefer. We haven't seen that many yet, though, only the composite bow and a 'shadow sling' from the inventory, as well as the rope launcher. There's no telling how varied, or how limited, the combat will end up being.
Aloy can collect components from machines she takes out, including but not limited to: Blaze, Wire, Sparker, Metal Vessel, Metal Shards, and Corruption Metalburn, which we saw briefly in the gameplay demo. You can also hunt animals for crafting and food, and gather plants. According to Norris the basis of the entire human economy is now machine parts, and Hulst said that Aloy can trade for new clothes that have different properties. In the gameplay videos we've seen Aloy doing on–the–fly crafting of traps, including an explosive tripwire, shock traps, and a fireblaze trap, which all require different components. The menu in the gameplay also showed an option for crafting.
What does Horizon Zero Dawn mean?
The devs have said that this is actually a plot point, so they're not giving it away, but we reckon we've made a pretty credible stab of working it out, so, just for fun, and for potential applause down the line, here it is:
The world of Horizon is populated by artificial intelligences, yes? As in, the robots roaming around have an intelligence, and are artificial, even if they're not controlled by one central AI. The horizon effect is a problem encountered in AI (the typical example being in chess games) where the number of possible outcomes is so immense that the AI could never possibly search all of them to their conclusion, and may therefore make a move which is worse in the long run because the AI couldn't see the further negative consequences.
Stretching a bit further: The binary system (which is used in digital electronics and circuitry) is commonly expressed with zeroes and ones. One of the simplest kinds of binary codes that you have near you right now is an on/off switch; the reason the universal symbol for on/off is a circle with a line in it is because that's a composite of a zero and a one. One is for 'on', and zero means… off. We're theorising that Horizon Zero Dawn refers to either the original cataclysmic event, or Aloy, a potential mix of machine and human, being the detrimental move that the AI couldn't see beyond its own horizon. Come back here in February to check if we were right.