A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Horizon Zero Dawn is a vast role-playing game (RPG) with moderate violence. Players assume the role of a female warrior who was cast out of her tribe at birth. She's clever, capable, and just, eventually respected by most people she meets. Fights -- involving weapons such as bows and arrows, trip wire traps, and some unusual-looking guns -- are fast and frenetic, but most are against machines rather than living creatures. When players battle humans and animals, they see small splashes of blood with each successful hit. Parents should also note that spoken dialogue includes infrequent instances of mild profanity as well as occasional references to drinking and smoking.
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What's it about?
The world as we know it is long gone in HORIZON ZERO DAWN, an expansive role-playing game set centuries in the future. Humanity has regressed to a tribal culture largely devoid of technology, though working machines still exist in the form of robotic animals that roam the wild. Born into this world is Aloy, a mysterious child without a mother. She's an outcast from her tribe, raised by a fellow exile named Rost. But when she comes of age she makes a bold bid to rejoin her people and eventually sets out on an epic quest to learn the answers to several enigmas. Where do the machines come from? What happened to the old world? Most importantly, who is she, and who -- or, perhaps, what -- was her mother? She becomes a fearsome warrior and hunter, capable of taking on the fiercest of the machine animals using an array of weapons ranging from a bow and arrow to a "tripcaster" that instantly creates trip wire traps for machines to stumble into. Her adventure takes her beyond her homeland into a vast and seamless world pocked with the skeletons of ancient skyscrapers and the architecture of contemporary tribes and filled with mythology and mysteries. During her 60-hour quest she continues to grow her abilities as a warrior and hunter, encounters and aids countless people, and learns the truth about herself, the machines, and the old world.
Is it any good?
This is one big game -- not only in terms of length but also the size of its enormous map and the scope of its story and lore. Horizon Zero Dawn provides players with a captivating world rich in history, culture, politics, theology, and conflict. It has the depth and breadth of an epic fantasy or a science-fiction novel and just as many factions and characters. And everything is cleverly woven together to create a mythological tapestry where it's easy to lose oneself. At the heart of it all is Aloy, a smart, skilled, self-assured heroine who's easy to like and fun to cheer on -- not just while fighting the massive machines that roam her land but also while confronting closed-minded or conniving adversaries during her quests.
The story and the stunningly rendered world in which it takes place is what will pull most players in at the start. But what might eventually prove even more gratifying for some players is the action. Aloy's battles with the machine animals are fast and furious, forcing players both to strategize and rely on their reflexes as they lay traps, acrobatically leap away from attacks, quickly switch between weapons, and pick the right types of ammunition to suit their enemies and the situation. Some battles are nothing short of exhilarating. If it has a flaw, it could simply be that it borrows a little too much in terms of play concepts and mechanics -- outpost raids, crafting, dialogue design, and more -- from its open-world contemporaries. But the sheer imagination and scope of the rest of the game is so impressive that a few pilfered ideas shouldn't be too hard for most players to overlook. Make no mistake, Horizon Zero Dawn is among the best and most impressive new entries in the relatively sparse genre of lush, large-scale, single-player role-playing games.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the depiction of female characters in games. Aloy is a strong, non-sexualized heroine who is defined by her skill and actions rather than how she looks or her romantic interests, but can you think of other female characters in games that are similar?
Talk about screen time. Like in many role-playing games, Horizon Zero Dawn is large and lengthy, but how do you set up a moment to break from the action when it can be easy to lose yourself in its world? Since some quests are made from multiple parts that can take a surprisingly long time to complete, do you give yourself a "hard stop" time before starting each session to ensure you don't end up neglecting other responsibilities?
- Platforms: PlayStation 4
- Price: $59.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment
- Release date: February 28, 2017
- Genre: Role Playing
- Topics: Adventures, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires, Robots
- ESRB rating: T for Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Blood, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Themes, Violence
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.