Horizon Zero Dawn
Guerrilla delivers an ambitious combat system in its sprawling action RPG
During our demo of Horizon Zero Dawn, protagonist Aloy tackles a towering bipedal Corrupter, which is thought to be the cause of a growing number of corrupted machines encountered in the wild. The fight, though played in realtime, is carefully choreographed for public viewing as Aloy first deploys explosive balloons, fires arrows from the back of a hacked Broadhead, and finally tethers the irritable, ancient machine before going in for the kill.
But although smart stage management neatly compartmentalises the battle, players are free to tether from the off, remain on foot throughout, or even run away and hide. This flexibility ripples throughout the entire game and promises to deliver an uncommonly deep combat system for even the action subset of RPGs. “We wanted to create a lot of tactical options so that you have different ways to approach combat,” Troy Mashburn, lead combat designer, explains. “We built a lot [of aspects] into the machines that work with the variety of weapons and different ammo types that you have along the way.”
One example of this thinking manifests in the Blaze canisters that sit on the haunches of the grazing Broadheads. The sickly yellow/ green liquid that’s collected as the machines ‘eat’ is a key resource in the game, and can be used to craft ammo. You could, of course, just kill one of the herd and extract the canisters from the wreckage. Or you could sneak to within range and knock them off with a wellplaced arrow and then leave the group to flee as you collect your prize. But Blaze is also, unsurprisingly, explosive, and hitting a canister with a flaming arrow will light the fuse on an explosion. And since that’s the case, you can turn fallen Broadheads into bombs to help take out larger robots.
But while there’s systemic depth in the way you can tackle any given situation, there is also added complexity in the form of the behaviour of the game’s robotic wildlife. “We wanted to give creatures believable behaviours,” Mashburn tells us. “The Broadhead looks like a grazing animal, so they run away when they’re frightened. If you get very close and then startle them, they have a quick attack and then dash away. But the Shellwalker’s main behaviour is it wants to defend the cargo that it’s carrying around. You can knock it off, but then you’ll notice it will put its shield up and try to get between you and the cargo to protect it. Each machine has its purpose or role, and we try to make them behave in a way that really fits that role, and also wrap that into the combat structure.”
They’re also surprisingly robust. Every machine poses a serious threat to Aloy, who must rely on her wits and a slow-mo aiming function that allows her to pull off impossible shots while, say, on the back of a galloping Broadhead or rolling underneath the swiping claw of a Shellwalker. But key among her strategies is the option to retreat, leaving a damaged robot for later or simply making off with a component and not putting herself in further jeopardy. “We wanted the machines to be much more powerful than you are – they’re more advanced, they have greater numbers. They’re really tough,” Mashburn explains. “The way Aloy counters those is with her agility, her weapons and her skills. But we also wanted her to be able to reset the encounter, by retreating, so she can maintain control of the situation. She’s smarter than they are and knows all the weaknesses that can be exploited. That’s the feeling we wanted to go for to make you feel like a hunter.”
Guerrilla seems to have achieved its goal if the mingled sense of empowerment and imminent danger that arises as you stalk a target through the long grass is any indicator. And Aloy’s hefty, powerful movements belie a graceful nimbleness that lets you dance around the aggressive robotic opponents, even if hubris can swiftly put you back in your place. We’ve seen inspired tactical choices quickly devolve into something less appealing in Guerrilla’s previous PS4 effort, Killzone
Shadow Fall, but if the studio can maintain the variety and depth on show in the small portion of Horizon we’ve played, it could turn out to be something very special indeed.
“We wanted the machines to be much more powerful than you are. They’re really tough”
Watchers defend other robots, staying close to herds and creeping through the long grass to weed out pesky marauding humans Developer Publisher Format Origin Release
Lead combat designer Troy Mashburn