Set in a world called Horizon, the main character is a woman named Aloy, a proficient hunter and also a rebel. The game is set 1,000 years into a post-apocalyptic world ruled by robot-dinosaurs known as Machines. They hold dominion over the land, keeping groups of scared tribespeople locked inside fortified walls. But Aloy is an outsider (her exact origin story was not shared), and as such, she doesn't conform. She wants "real" answers, instead of the stories her tribespeople tell her about the origins of the robosaurs, lead writer John Gonzalez said in a demo session attended by GameSpot.
In pursuit of her answers, Aloy travels outside of her settlement's walls, into the dangerous and foreboding outlands. In the sequence I saw, Aloy was told time and again not to go. But she has a fire burning inside her, and she treks into the creature-infested wild to get her answers.
Thankfully for Aloy, she's a skilled archer and melee fighter, and has a suite of abilities at her disposal to take down the Machines.. These include a series of ranged bow attacks, one of which ties a creature to the ground (if you shoot it correctly), leaving it struggling and vulnerable. Additionally, Aloy has a "focus"-type power where time slows down to allow her to hit targets in critical areas more effectively. Of course, the focus power can only be used so many times before it must be recharged.
Aloy also has multiple melee abilities, including a power attack where she slams down a blade onto her enemy with extreme force. In addition to these, Aloy has throwable bombs, one of which is a fire bomb that spreads a blaze upon enemies and an ice bomb that slows down enemies for a period of time. She's also very nimble, able to dive, roll, and slide in some circumstances to avoid attack. The game also makes use of several audio cues, including intensifying music, to help let you know when trouble is nearby.
In the demo I saw, Aloy was already outfitted with some powerful abilities. As with other RPGs, you unlock these as you progress, and you can decide how to fill out your skill tree. This was only referenced, but not discussed at any length in the demo. However, a cool feature is that the skill tree menu will show you Aloy performing her abilities before you decide to assign one.
Outside of her weapon arsenal, Aloy has a scanning ability that lets her look over a scene and see where enemies are and what loot they will drop. This also provides information about what level the enemy is and what kind of attacks they are most susceptible to. This is pivotal information to have when determining which enemies to take on and which you might want to run away from. As for the loot, Machines drop Shards when you kill them, which can be spent when you return to town to buy weapons and clothing, among other things. Additionally, Zero Dawn has a crafting system, though Guerrilla is not yet sharing any specifics on the nature or extent of this.
As for the enemy creatures, they are varied and unique. One group of these are called Watchers, and as the name suggests, they keep watch of larger, more dangerous enemies that look like robo-field water buffaloes. All of the beasts I saw move like natural creatures, even though they are made of robot parts. You can see some of these in the gameplay video above. Another interesting element to the robot creatures is that some of them can be "overridden," allowing you to ride them (for faster travel or as a means to attack) or set them loose on their former robo-pals.
It's worth noting that there are also natural creatures in Zero Dawn, including large, tame rabbits. However, it's unclear if there are any hostile natural creatures.
During a hands-on session that followed the demo, I got to try out some of Aloy's ranged and melee abilities in a sequence where I was challenged to complete a number of objectives. These included things like taking down a set number of watchers and overriding bigger creatures and then riding them to attack a group of other Machines. It was intense and challenging, in part because the enemies are quite intelligent, never staying in one place for too long and attacking from all sides. It's thrilling to be in a battle with these unique-looking beasts. And the numerous ways in which you can defeat them brings about an element of strategy that I was not expecting.
There is still so much more I want to learn about Zero Dawn. As of yet, Guerrilla Games has not said much about the origin of the Machines and why Aloy wants so badly to discover where she came from. Guerrilla Games is being intentionally mysterious--at least for now.
"She's very curious and determined; she wants to explore the world; she wants to figure out these mysteries," game director Mathijs de Jonge told us about Aloy. "And hopefully, we can give the player that same feeling. You want to know what's out there, you want to discover these new machines; you want to meet new tribes."
After a delay, Zero Dawn is now due out on February 28 exclusively for PS4.