Horizon Zero Dawn's world is bigger than we ever imagined

If Aloy hurtling across the unique landscape of Horizon: Zero Dawn sent goosebumps down your arms in the PlayStation conference, you're not alone. It's a world that's beautifully alien. An environment where even the glimpse of the long-legged giraffe-style robots in the screen above gave me Alan Grant style feels from that moment in Jurassic Park. And it's a world that Guerrilla Games hasn't just built a mythology for, but also an ecology.

Calling this a post post apocalyptic world, Guerrilla says it has a full ecosystem where the robotic wildlife isn't just for show but interlinks and interacts together. In the PlayStation conference demo, Aloy ropes and captures a 'Broadhead', a kind of robo-cow she then uses as a mount. Guerilla's lead quest designer David Ford called that type of creature an "Acquisition," adding that "those types of machines are actually pretty skittish so what happens is, if I go in and shoot one, all of the rest will just take off. They’re going to run away". 

Other 'animals' will react differently though: "A lot of the machines, the Watchers and combat machines you’ll encounter later on, are very hostile, they’re very aggressive. Every machine has its own ecology. Their behaviour is going to be within the hierarchy.” 

When it comes to this world, we've apparently not seen anything yet, either. Guerrilla has revealed that there will be ancient cities to explore and vast old remains of previous civilisations. We've only encountered small settlements so far, but in her quest to find the answers of her heritage, Aloy will explore enormous areas that once belonged to her original non-robot hunting ancestors. The studio is remaining tight lipped on details but says some of these will be tied into the narrative, others will just be uncovered through exploration. 

Adding further depth to its open world, Horizon doesn't just have a main narrative to explore. Side quests of all sorts fill that enormous map just screaming 'waste hours in me.' And Guerrilla knows it. “You might notice some of the blue diamonds [marking missions]. Each one of those is a side quest," explains Ford. "You can talk to people and figure out what their problem is, give them some help if they need it. We have a hierarchy of quests."

"We have the main story and then below that we have Tribe quests which are kind of national level. So think of each of these tribes having big picture problems that affect everyone. Then below that there are the more personal stories. Those are some of the things that we’ll see in a place like Mother’s Crown where someone has something that’s very important to them  - it’s very urgent but it doesn’t affect the entire world.” 

Speaking of affecting the world. There are dialogue options that function as an added narrative layer but won't change the broader narrative. They're merely a way of discovering different things about this unique environment. Engage villagers in conversation and you'll get more information about the tribes, adding ever more answers to your quest for truth. 

And all of this layers on top of a crafting system that utilises the resources through the world perfectly. Collect bits from hunting and you'll be rewarded with components. Items like metal shards can be used for buying goods from shops in villages but also for building your own weaponry and we've already seen how exciting that gets with explosive arrows. Looks like there'll be some tough choices ahead. Mmm, bombs or new clothes which are more resistant to specific enemy attacks...?

Horizon will constantly keep you balancing crafting and resources in the hunt for an even more powerful arsenal. Each weapon even has modifiers that you can equip that come from hunting creatures in the world. More powerful enemies store more powerful goods so you'll always be risking life and limb for the next hit of cogs. If Far Cry 4 sent you hunting for every animal skin to make a wallet, just think what this will do. Perhaps it's for the best we're not getting this until 2017. 

Louise Blain

Louise Blain is a journalist and broadcaster specialising in gaming, technology, and entertainment. She is the presenter of BBC Radio 3’s monthly Sound of Gaming show and has a weekly consumer tech slot on BBC Radio Scotland. She can also be found on BBC Radio 4, BBC Five Live, Netflix UK's YouTube Channel, and on The Evolution of Horror podcast. As well as her work on GamesRadar, Louise writes for NME, T3, and TechRadar. When she’s not working, you can probably find her watching horror movies or playing an Assassin’s Creed game and getting distracted by Photo Mode.