Horizon Zero Dawn – Guide to Getting Started

Horizon Zero Dawn is not only a fantastic game, it also tells the story of Aloy, one of the most intriguing and capable female protagonists to grace games this generation. With global game sales for Horizon in excess of 2.6 million for its first two weeks on sale and widespread acclaim from critics and players, this feisty new heroine has undoubtedly proved herself worthy of a place in the PlayStation hall of fame.

In order to help you get to grips with Aloy’s adventure, I’ve compiled a guide containing all you need to know when first stepping foot in this sprawling prehistoric-style land, as well as tips for taking on its fearsome mechanical inhabitants with ease.

Use a variety of weapons

Not all robotic dinosaur beings are made equal and so you’re going to have to utilise a variety of weapons and tactics in order to bring them down. While a well-placed arrow to the face of a Watcher may do the trick, better firepower and a carefully thought-out strategy are needed for the bigger, tougher enemies that soon show up. Luckily merchants are stocked with a diverse supply of death-dealing instruments suitable for every kind of encounter. The Rattler, for example, is fast firing but lacks power, rendering it largely ineffective against machines, but perfect for human targets. The Ropecaster pins small yet quick enemies like Scrapper’s in place, leaving them open to powerful melee strikes. Heavy firepower, like the Tripcaster loaded with blast darts, is ideal for inflicting massive damage on more hardened adversaries such as the mighty Sawtooth.

Complete weapon tutorials for extra XP

When you obtain a new weapon, check the tutorial section of your quest list to find an optional objective pertaining to that weapon. Usually requiring you to take down a certain number of enemies, these quests not only provide a means of learning how to use the device, they also grant a generous amount of experience upon completion, helping you level up faster in the game’s early stages. A means of levelling up quickly is essential to keeping Aloy alive as it grants her a health boost as well as valuable skill points used to gain access to new and useful skills. In order to complete a weapon quest you must have it set as your active quest, otherwise kills made with that weapon won’t count towards the quest’s completion.

Don’t forget about your Focus

Scattered throughout the landscape are collectibles that grant an insight into the ancient technology-obsessed world. These can be found and activated using Aloy’s Focus. This strange mechanical earpiece not only gives information but can also be used effectively in combat. Using the Focus allows Aloy to target enemies and tag them, pinpointing their location even if they’re no longer in sight. This helps with tracking enemies, especially if you want to edge in for a stealthy takedown. If all out action is more your approach, the Focus can be used to briefly highlight weak points on enemies which can be targeted for maximum damage.

Continually scavenge for resources

Downed enemies offer a bounty of useful items for crafting ammo and items as well as storage upgrades. They also regularly drop modifications to helpfully enhance weapons and armour. It’s not only mechanical creatures that can be scavenged, the environment also yields a wealth of useful resources. With no regenerating health system, you’ll have to rely on healing herbs scattered throughout the land for survival. Collecting branches ensures that you have a healthy supply of arrows and the meat from small creatures allows you to craft fast travel kits for instant navigation, helpful for when you’re tired of wandering the wilds and would rather speed up the action.

Choose skills wisely

As mentioned, Aloy acquires skill points as she levels up, giving her access to new skills that improve her performance in a variety of ways. Some of these skills are more useful than others and choosing the right skills rather than wasting points on unnecessary ones makes for an easier and altogether more enjoyable experience. The machines in Horizon are worthy adversaries and Aloy can’t withstand any more than a couple of hits from these ferocious robotic beasts. It’s therefore highly advisable that you spend points that allow Aloy to carry more herbs which she can scoff if the battle goes ill. Boosting the Concentration skill is essential as it lengthens the duration of slow motion while aiming, allowing for easier and more effective targeting with the bow. Critical Hit also proves invaluable as it allows for high impact hits on downed enemies. Skills, like dropping silently from a height and shooting from a tightrope, aren’t all that useful and should only be considered when you’ve bought up the more beneficial ones.

Take the time to explore

Not only are the side quests in Horizon Zero Dawn an effective was of obtaining XP, supplies, and special items, they’re also worth doing for what they add to the narrative. Venturing off the beaten path leads to encounters involving interesting characters in all manner of dire straits. Side quests and areas of interest don’t instantaneously pop up on your map so you’ll have to do some exploring if you want to discover these optional objectives. Make sure to always venture to areas outside of the path required for the main story and keep an eye out for green exclamation marks that pop up when you near the location of a side quest. Scaling the world’s mighty Tallnecks allows you to uncover more of the world map and for those keen to discover everything, treasure maps that handily pinpoint the location of secrets and collectibles can be purchased from traders.

Horizon Zero Dawn is a huge adventure with lots more to discover on your journey from outcast to seasoned adventurer. These tips should prove helpful during your first few hours in the wilds. Happy hunting!


2017’s Games Featuring Female Protagonists

2016 was viewed as a bad year for a number of reasons, but thankfully not for its lack of notable female characters. Lara celebrated her 20th birthday in style with the long-awaited launch of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4, a grown-up Emily Kaldwin more than proved she can hold her own in Dishonored 2 and Faith returned for more awe inducing  parkour in the unnaturally pristine world of Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, to name but a few.

2017 brings with it another strong line-up of leading ladies ready to blast their way onto the gaming scene. It’s also worth mentioning that most of the characters on this list are making their gaming debut, a promising sign that developers are keen on creating intriguing new female characters to help balance the usual influx of testosterone-heavy titles.

Gravity Rush 2

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Developer: SIE Japan Studio and Project Siren
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 18 January (US) 20 January (UK)

Kat is back to turn your world upside down with the direct sequel to PS Vita’s Gravity Rush. While the original received positive reviews the decision to release it on a Sony’s handheld platform meant simplifying the graphics and AI and a rather hefty audience reduction. Thankfully, Gravity Rush 2 is getting the full console treatment with the vastly superior processing capabilities of the PS4 bringing the beautifully vibrant anime world to life.

In stark defiance of Newton and his laws, Kat manipulates gravity to traverse the world and rid it of the evil Nevi. Gravity Rush 2 won’t have one heroine, but two, as Kat joins forces with former rival Raven – who appears as an AI controlled ally in combat. Boasting a map two and a half times the size of the original offering 3 times the content as well as enhanced mechanics and new powers, it’s a no-brainer for those that enjoy an action adventure with a twist (pun fully intended). Not only does Gravity Rush get female representation right, its approach to DLC is also something that many developers could learn from. Releasing in March, the 5-hour long episode will star sidekick Raven and cost you the grand total of nothing – forget defying gravity, that’s true madness!

Tales of Berseria

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Developer: Bandai Namco
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 24 January (US) 27 January (UK)

Considering how much games nowadays struggle to get even one follow up title the Tales series should be commended for reaching an impressive sixteenth entry with Berseria. Despite enjoying regular releases since the mid-nineties, this latest entry marks the first time the franchise will feature a solo lead female. According to the game’s producer, this is due to a rise in demand for female protagonists, particularly in Western countries. This new direction for the series is also thanks to the popularity of Tales of Xillia’s female protagonist Milla Maxwell, who shared the spotlight with male hero Jude Mathis.

The lady leading the usual mix of offbeat characters is Velvet Crowe. Far from the colourful airy fairy type, some might expect, Velvet displays a distinctly icy demeanour. Imbued with the powers of a Deamon, she fights using a fierce werewolf claw. Her shredded attire – that makes it look like she’s just had a battle with said werewolf – leaves little to the imagination and has come under some scrutiny. Berseria’s producer Yasuhiro Fukaya explained that “players will see why she wears that costume during the course of the game”. Let’s just hope it’s a better excuse than she has to breathe through her skin à la Metal Gear V’s Quiet, sigh…

Horizon Zero Dawn

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Developer: Guerrilla Games
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 28 February (US) 3 March (UK)

Horizon is an unexpected yet highly welcome change of pace for Guerrilla Games, a developer who’ve cut their gaming chops on FPS series Killzone. Although Killzone has always remained somewhat in the shadow of other shooters, Guerrilla has a real chance to shine here as it’s developed something that truly stands on its own. The team’s first foray into the action RPG genre, Horizon provides the perfect blend of past and present with a prehistoric world that’s teeming with deadly robotic enemies known as “Machines”.Like a female Tarzan, Aloy fearlessly sweeps into battle; bow in hand, ready to deal some serious damage to the mechanized invaders.

The likes of Far Cry and Tomb Raider have already proven the bow to be an extremely enjoyable and satisfying weapon to wield, but Horizon looks set to improve on this with an altogether smarter, more tactical and considered approach to combat. That brainless method of tapping a single button to unleash a fury of combos and bring an enemy to the ground with ease, that modern games love so much, just won’t work here. Aloy has a multitude of ways to get one over on her foes including electric arrows to stun and rope arrows to render them immobile, giving her the opportunity to destroy them and loot their frazzled remains for those all-important crafting resources.

Nier: Automata

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Developer: Platinum Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 7 March (US) 10 March (UK)

Scalebound, Platinum’s DMC-like Dragon title may be dead in the water, but never fear as Nier: Automata promises to cure that itch for stupidly stylish, fast-paced action. Set after the events of 2010’s Nier, the surprising sequel puts you in the wickedly destructive boots of female protagonist YoRHa No. 2 Model B or, rather mercifully, ‘2B’ for short. Automata shares the grim atmosphere and branching narrative structure of its predecessor, but doesn’t directly expand upon any of its story elements.

2B is an android tasked with ridding Earth of killer robots – a rather unwelcome gift courtesy of some anti-human extra-terrestrial beings. Luckily 2B can more than hold her own and makes quick work of legions of mechs using all manner of slick sword combos and gunplay. Developers nowadays have a tendency to want to develop characters, particularly female ones, that players can relate to, making 2B’s lack of emotional hang-ups, inhuman finesse and all-round badassery delightfully refreshing.  While action is the order of the day Platinum hasn’t forsaken the series’ RPG roots as Nier: Automata promises to fuse the developer’s unique action style with the familiar progression elements of the original.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

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Developer: Ninja Theory
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 2017

Ninja Theory not only develop great games, they develop great games with highly adept female characters. From the combat abilities of Heavenly Sword’s Nariko to the tech skills of Enslaved’s Trip and mystical abilities of DmC’s Kat, each female created by Ninja Theory has serious skills. These women don’t exist to be rescued by a male, nor are they created for titillation – they are interesting characters that happen to be female, not interesting because they are female. Thankfully Ninja Theory looks set to continue this admirable trend with protagonist Senua in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

Bridging the gap between indie and AAA, Ninja Theory has described their approach to creating Hellblade as independent AAA. This allows them to retain creative freedom without sacrificing the spectacle that comes with high budget titles. This freedom has led the team to explore something more hellish than all the shuffling zombies and sharp clawed creatures of other games – mental illness. A victim of psychosis, the demons that Celtic Warrior Senua faces are manifestations of her own troubled mind. It’s experimental development model and serious subject matter marks Hellblade as one of the most  important and progressive prospects to grace gaming in years.

This is in no way a complete list of all the female game characters we will see this year, nor does include titles such as Mass Effect Andromeda and Prey – which allow you choose the gender of your character. Rather, it’s a snapshot of the best taken from the most high profile releases that 2017 has to offer. If your favourite upcoming gaming heroine has been missed off the list feel free to add them in the comments below.

(featured image courtesy of scee-press.com)