Feature Article

The Horizon Zero Dawn PC Port Needs Some Work

The former PS4 exclusive has made its way to PC, but notable issues hold it back from greatness at the moment.

It's a pretty big deal that another PlayStation 4 exclusive has made its way to PC. This time, it's the open-world action game Horizon Zero Dawn. It may be a little over three years old at this point, but proper PC ports of former exclusives tend to offer an optimal way to play for a mostly new audience. In my case, I was just hyped to replay one of 2017's standout games with cranked up visuals, higher frame rates, and, in this particular case, keyboard and mouse controls. After about 12 hours with this version, I've come away with some very mixed results.

Horizon Zero Dawn is a visually captivating experience; its depiction of nature and the wilderness is rich with thick vegetation, vast mountain ranges, and sweeping deserts. Remnants of the world's high-tech past with imposing, beastly machines also contrast with the environments in a fascinating way that entices you to uncover more of the story's mysteries. That's all part of why a PC version is such a big deal. However, in the current pre-launch phase, performance hiccups and some graphical shortcomings can overshadow these elements.

(You can watch the review of the PS4 version from 2017 in the video above, or read the original Horizon Zero Dawn review.)

During my time playing Horizon on PC, I used a rig equipped with a Core i7-7700K, RTX 2080, 16GB of RAM, and Samsung 970 Pro NVMe SSD--a fairly high-end system. I also used the ultrawide 2560x1080 (21:9) resolution and set all graphics options to their maximum along with TAA (temporal antialiasing). While I could maintain around 80 FPS or a bit higher in many open areas, my mileage varied by virtue of the changing density of towns and villages, or the intensity of certain chaotic combat encounters. Here, I would experience drastic drops in frame rate to about 35-40 FPS. It's expected that a game of this scale and fidelity would be quite graphically demanding, but what stood out was the inconsistency in performance and the occasional stuttering or hitching.

Another present bug is that the anisotropic filtering option simply won't work. For a vast open world game like Horizon, it's an important graphics setting to use since it provides much more clarity and detail for surfaces in the distance. (Also, be sure to update your graphics drivers to the latest versions--using older versions may result in significant artifacting and serious visual glitches, which is a mistake I made when first booting up the game.)

The natural environments of Horizon Zero Dawn are quite stunning, and you'll spend a lot of time in Photo Mode.
The natural environments of Horizon Zero Dawn are quite stunning, and you'll spend a lot of time in Photo Mode.

The list of bugs doesn't end at the graphics department, however. There are a few issues that actually stop the gameplay from working as intended. For example, the Concentration ability is supposed to let you zoom in and slow down time to carefully aim your bow. But in my particular experience, activating it on the PC version only zooms in and does not slow down time at all. Pulling up the weapon wheel should also slow down time, but this does not happen. This problem extends to the perk that's supposed to slow down time when aiming the bow while sliding or in mid-air--everything keeps moving at normal speed. It seems that the game simply does not recognize any of the time-slowing mechanics. I tried experimenting with different settings to see if it was an issue tied to unlocked frame rates or v-sync, but such is not the case. These mechanics are extremely useful in all the game's combat situations, and the fact that they are not functioning properly at the moment is a major problem.

The big caveat is that there will be a day-one patch, and I've currently only experienced Horizon Zero Dawn's PC port in a pre-launch state without the upcoming fixes. Once I have access to the patch, I plan on reevaluating many of the bugs encountered to see if they're addressed for official release.

Aside from the aforementioned shortcomings, this PC port offers some welcome features such as an FOV slider, native ultrawide support, fully customizable control mappings, an uncapped frame rate, and a benchmarking tool to test out the viability of your chosen graphics settings.

As for the game itself, Horizon Zero Dawn impressed back in 2017 as the first open-world effort from Killzone developer Guerrilla Games. While there's a noticeable reliance on a few tired open-world gameplay tropes, it truly stood out with an excellent combat system that emphasized precise aiming, exploiting weaknesses, and clever use of the many neat weapons and tools in your loadout. Horizon has a distinct David-and-Goliath type of feel as you're often overwhelmed and dwarfed by the hostile machines, and seemingly ill-equipped--like, how the hell am I supposed to destroy robot dinosaurs with a bow and arrow? Devising ways to overcome these odds has a satisfying feel, especially in big fights that test your mastery of the makeshift arsenal of bows, arrows, tripwires, and slingshots (and your ability to repeatedly dodge roll from danger).

Taking down intimidating machines with a bow and arrow, and other low-tech weaponry, is pretty satisfying.
Taking down intimidating machines with a bow and arrow, and other low-tech weaponry, is pretty satisfying.

Horizon's style of combat always left me wanting to use a keyboard and mouse control scheme, given the need to land pinpoint shots, but that comes with some concessions. The nature of using WASD to move in this style of third-person action isn't as intuitive as an analog stick, and the need to dodge-roll or platform in high-pressure situations highlights how exact directional movement can be awkward. And with the Concentration ability broken right now, I haven't really been able to wield mouse-aiming the way I expected. Controllers have native support with the proper button mappings, but there's an issue: aim assist is hardly present, if at all, regardless of whether it's on or off in your settings, making combat more difficult than it should be.

What remains intact is Horizon's narrative ambitions. A 31st century where civilizations are thriving as hunters and gatherers, living within specific tribes, is fascinating as it's juxtaposed to an "old world" of futurist high tech buried in the waste of a calamity from long ago. Our protagonist Aloy remains relatively steadfast in the wake of wild revelations about her own past as well as the truth about how a super-advanced civilization continues to haunt the present day from its grave mistakes and the technology it left behind. These are also really good excuses to have robot dinosaurs roam the wilderness and pose major threats to you, since it does come together in a thematically coherent fashion.

Our stoic protagonist, Aloy, has a complicated past, and Ashly Burch delivers a great voice performance.
Our stoic protagonist, Aloy, has a complicated past, and Ashly Burch delivers a great voice performance.

Admittedly, I'm still wary of its amalgamation of Native cultures and Nativist tropes with little proper context. It's something to be mindful of as you dig deeper into Horizon's characterization of its in-lore tribes and the ways in which it draws upon our real world with terminology and imagery of tribal practices as a backdrop for its fiction.

Overall, it's quite disappointing to see the game in a rough state, but again, this is the experience of a pre-launch version before the scheduled day-one fixes. Considering that Horizon was the progenitor for Guerrilla's Decima engine, and we just saw Death Stranding hit PC with an outstanding port (it uses the same engine), I'm also surprised by the shortcomings. If you're in the mood for a sprawling open world with some top-notch combat thrills--that sometimes get bogged down in genre routines--there's a great game underneath. But you'll probably want to wait and see how the launch day patch goes. I will update my impressions of Horizon Zero Dawn's PC port for the official launch, which is set for August 7.

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highammichael

Michael Higham

Associate Editor at GameSpot. Southeast San Diego to the Bay. Salamat sa iyong suporta!

Horizon Zero Dawn

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jenovaschilld

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Edited By jenovaschilld

I would suggest to everyone that when you buy this game, when it comes out. Play it for a few days if it is too buggy for you, then refund it and purchase it again later when there are some updates and prices have went down. It comes out 8/7. Do not worry about steams hours played thing, you can get a refund with a simple email, maybe two and a few words is wrong. I have had games for weeks and dozens hours played and still gotten refunds on broken issues, no problem. You may have to put a little effort into it.

DO NOT EXCEPT buggy games on release get a refund, gamers should not have to also be game testers, where developers drop a poorly ported game, gamers find the bugs , and they fix it through patches and updates.

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jenovaschilld

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@jenovaschilld: Sony did say a patch to the game would hit on the 6th to fix many performance issues, before game release.

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Barighm

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This is much more informative than that "OMG! Not getting 60 fps at ultimate settings! BAD PORT!" review.

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ps3gamer1234

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Why this game even on PC, as this was made a Sony owned studio? Should had stayed a PS4 only game.

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Mogan

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@ps3gamer1234: Because Sony decided to port it. Why should they have to keep their games on only their hardware?

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R4gn4r0k

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Edited By R4gn4r0k

@ps3gamer1234: Why though?

What on earth is wrong with more people being able to play a game that has been exclusive to your favourite console for the last 3 years? :/

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jenovaschilld

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Edited By jenovaschilld

@ps3gamer1234: Maybe, or maybe not. Think of it this way. This game sold over ten millions plus, it sold even better when it went to greatest hits list. The were basically giving it away last Christmas with a console and dropped the price down to $10 for digital at one point. The game is as saturated as they believe possible.

NOW

Why not also drop it on PC for many more purchases and eyeballs on youtube to see this game. It is an amazing game, regardless of any minor glitches of the port, which is expected, I mean come on this game was developed 'to the metal architecture', porting it over to PC with a universal 'perfect experience' is not expected. Again, giving this IP new eyes around the world. WHY? because....

THEN

A new console, new generation and a new Horizons game comes out on that console 2021. All of the people that enjoyed the PC version will want to but that new platform just to play the game, allowing Horizon to be an even more system seller.... that or else Sony will at least enjoy splashing in the puddles of PC fanboys tears when the exclusive Horizons game comes out on their new console and PC has to waits years to play it.

Least my two cents.

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lon3wolf2002

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@jenovaschilld:

Or if it does really well on PC the sequel might appear sooner on PC, who knows?

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jenovaschilld

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@lon3wolf2002: That would be nice, I play the majority of my games on PC, except for console exclusives. I could wait if I knew it was going to be like say, FF7 remake just a year away..... though I bought FF7r on launch day.... im so weak.

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lon3wolf2002

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@jenovaschilld:

I am just as weak lol (I did the same)

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DAOWAce

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@ps3gamer1234: ..Boy your username really says it all.

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ps3gamer1234

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@DAOWAce: Date joined: 2009-03-26. I play on PC too. It just makes it unfair that the PS4 Pro is stuck at 30 FPS and PC players can get better FPS and visuals. I not buying the game again.

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DAOWAce

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@ps3gamer1234: I see that and raise you mine: Date joined: 2003-11-29

...Anyway.

Console players got to play it 3 years earlier. That's not fair to PC players, right? This is a frivolous argument. The only reason games are exclusive to certain consoles is to sell said consoles. Otherwise, they can be multiplatform without too much issue, development wise.

Maybe in the far future companies will have synchronous ownership, but until then, everyone's stuck buying separate copies for separate platforms. Or turning to piracy. If I were you, I wouldn't re-buy it either (not because they don't deserve it, but because I can't afford to do things like that), but I would play it anyway.

Yay monetization..

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Daidochus

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Edited By Daidochus

@DAOWAce: My join date 2001-03-05 ; )

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jenovaschilld

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@DAOWAce: want to throw mine in there, 2004-08-06 but originally there when GS just covered PC games back around 97' 98'. I had to rejoin 2004, because who wants to keep using a Comcast email address. (now using Yahoo email) soon will change to that new thing GMail or whatever you kids call it nowadays.

See my comment few spaces above, in responding to ps3gamer1234.

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ps3gamer1234

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Edited By ps3gamer1234

@DAOWAce: True, you are right. I am just in salty mood.

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deactivated-5f8b197a9a34c

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@ps3gamer1234: At least you are honest. Look I also own a PS4 Pro, in fact I pretty much upgraded from my base PS4 just for HZD, and right now I'm more than happy to experience Even Greater Greatness on my rig. Admittedly I did manage to scoop up a cheap local version on Steam early on so there's that, but I'm happy to send good developers and publishers money again when they make polished complete games without GaaS features and stuff, and expand the access to these games by widening platform availability.

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Wartotehlock

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@ps3gamer1234: "It's unfair" .. get over yourself. Yeah you username really does say it all. You don't have to buy it, and you don't get to hold it back from others who wish to experience that do not have a ps4.

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CottonFly

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Sounds like Gorilla Games haven't heard of play-testing...

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jenovaschilld

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@cottonfly:This AAA game was built/ developed 'to the metal architecture', https://www.gamesindustry.biz/ and they created tools and assets not even part of the dev kits. Porting it to the varied PC market is going to be hard and a perfect experience not expected, as time and testing gets expensive.

But you are right, play testing and competent game testers may be a thing of the past. Used to be teams of qualified game testers putting in countless hours in to games before release. Now sadly they port them, let the consumers find the bugs, and developers then fix them through patches and updates. Long has the PC diskette and CD gone by.

I would suggest anyone having troubles enough, refund their purchase and buy later after some patches.

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lon3wolf2002

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@jenovaschilld:

Wasn't Death Stranding also developed that way (maybe more so as KP altered the engine again for DS), and that port was great on PC?

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jenovaschilld

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@lon3wolf2002: Not heard on DS, it was released just 8months apart so sounds like it was a paid timed exclusive co-developed together.

Also, the above is one editor using a test build, I would assume as the game Horizons ZD has not released to the public yet. The gold build may have gotten patched since then, as the review embargo is lifted before the game, and reviews have been high with few complaints of poor optimization.

Once the vast majority of PC gamers get their hands on it will the verdict be clearer, as the far ends of super overpowered pcs and weakest laptop pcs go through their paces. Saving my judgement till then.

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Random_Matt

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Could play with such variable frames, freesync isn't that great. My range starts at 44 as well, perhaps setting on high rather than ultra would be better. But spending thousands just for 60 fps is a bit of a joke to be honest.

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GirlUSoCrazy

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Try it on an AMD GPU? This game was made for those. It might take a while to get the same performance out if Nvidia GPUs.

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Random_Matt

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@girlusocrazy said:

Try it on an AMD GPU? This game was made for those. It might take a while to get the same performance out if Nvidia GPUs.

Radeon VII does worse.

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