Let’s get the good stuff out of the way. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a masterpiece. In my opinion, it is a monumental achievement in game design and storytelling. I can nitpick pretty much anything, but I had a hard time coming up with much I didn’t absolutely love about this game. I sunk close to 100 hours into it, tracked every single collectible, and got the platinum trophy for it, so you could say I wrung every ounce of game possible out of it.
Horizon is a post-apocalyptic third person action game from Guerrilla Games. The game takes place in the very far future. Earth’s population has been greatly reduced, and has reverted to being mostly hunter/gatherers. Except the game they are hunting is robot dinosaurs. Yeah, you read that right, ROBOT DINOSAURS! You assume the role of Aloy, a young outcast of the Nora tribe. Her reasons for getting cast out are explained via some pretty great story beats early on, so I won’t spoil them here. She is, as you would assume, a remarkably talented hunter/fighter/climber who finds herself in some…situations. Again, the story in this game is just superb, so I don’t want to ruin it.
Most of the minute-to-minute gameplay here is filled with stalking all sorts of different robot dinosaurs(!), crafting ammo/modifications/potions, and fulfilling different quests for the people you run into while exploring the map. There are some bandit camps, and the majority of the army the main enemy uses is filled with humans, so there is some person-on-person violence. Your primary weapons are a spear and a bow. Both work as you would assume. The spear does have the ability to take control of, or “override,” the robot dinosaurs(!) so that they will fight for you, or allow you to use them as mounts to move more easily over the terrain.
The story delves heavily into some science vs. religion as you get deeper into it, but it would probably be missed by younger minds who would be swept up in the magic of FREAKING. ROBOT. DINOSAURS. As it were, I was so engaged by what was happening around me that it just encouraged me to dig deeper into every audio file, diary, or journal entry that I found strewn about the world. However, taken from a 30,000 ft. view the story just kind of works along the same lines as the million man vs. machine apocalypse stories we’ve all heard.
There is quite a lot of violence. You take down enemies, both humans and robot dinosaurs(!) both, using your spear and bow, as well as a slingshot that lobs bombs, a ropecaster that uses rope to immobilize enemies, and a couple other different kinds of weapons. The mechanical enemies usually die like most machines in entertainment do, but going still and toppling over. The humans are a little different. While you can, and do, shoot them with arrows, hit them with your spear, or lob a bomb at them, there’s no blood or gore. Even when you walk up to “finish” a downed human enemy by stabbing them, you don’t see any blood. But the act is still vicious. The only thing I would consider a tiny bit “gory,” is when you stumble upon some desiccated corpses left in an airtight room during the apocalypse. While the game is definitely violent, you won’t see blood and guts splashing all over the screen.
As for the language, it is surprisingly light. There are a couple Hoover Dams, and a handful of h-e-double hockey sticks here and there, but with a couple of exceptions, that’s it. The two exceptions: in the last hour or two of the game, you watch a cutscene from the past and one of the characters drops a single GD. It felt really out of place, considering how clean the rest of the game had been, so it was definitely jarring. The other exception is in one of the game’s collectibles. Scattered all around the map are “Vantage Points.” I believe there are twelve of them. Once you climb to them, you can see an image of what the world looked like before the big event, and you hear audio journals of a man who was around for all of it. He titles each one of them “Apocash**storm.” I guess he thought that was clever? I didn’t hear, or read, anything else worth noting.
As for sexual content, there is none. Aloy is always fully clothed, as are all the people around her. There’s no obvious romantic stuff in the stories, a couple situations here and there that you can read into, but that’s about it. There is one character, and one alternate armor for Aloy, that exposes their midriff, but it isn’t of a sexual nature at all. There is one sidequest where you help a man deal with his grief after the death of his husband. That’s basically it.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the restraint the developers chose when making this game. I don’t think I would let my child play it if they were under 10 or 11 (obviously your child’s maturity will vary), but I would have no issue with my 12-year-old playing it. As I said at the beginning, this game is a masterpiece. Seeing it running on a PS4 Pro on a 4K TV with HDR enabled is breathtaking. I could not recommend it high enough to an adult, or a teen. Anyone under that, I leave up to you! If you have any further, more in-depth questions, please do not hesitate to ask. If they’re story-related, I would much rather you message me, so I don’t put anything spoiler-ish in the comments.
DAD. BLAME. ROBOT. FREAKING. DINOSAURS.