Even on Ultra Hard, Horizon Zero Dawn AI Can Be Abused

Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the biggest games of the year, a PS4-exclusive that topped the charts of an albeit lackluster February. Today, Guerilla Games announced that, while they’re working toward the release of The Frozen Wilds story DLC expansion, Horizon Zero Dawn will get a major update, adding among other things New Game+ and an Ultra Hard difficulty, not for the feint of heart.

Since that update is available right now, we decided to go hands on. This is what we came away with:

It’s Really Hard

Ultra hard difficulty is true to its name. It’s really, really difficult. The smallest enemies can take your health down in huge chunks, so fighting multiple machines at once can really put a damper on your chances of survival. Not only that, it seems your weapons are far less effective against these enemies, and your stealth strikes are also much less deadly.

Bear in mind, too, that if you should decide to play New Game+ on Ultra Hard, you will not be able to revert to a less-punishing difficulty mode. Guerilla Games wants to make sure you’re comitted to your choice of Ultra Hard before making that leap. That said, you can still change your difficulty setting if you picked an easier difficulty.

The A.I. Still Needs Work

The announcement for Ultra Hard mode says “This new setting will enhance machine senses and behavior and other additional smaller tweaks,” which seem to suggest A.I. improvements. But, from what I’ve played on both Ultra Hard and Normal, the changes seem to be marginal at best.

One of the biggest complaints people had with the A.I. of Horizon Zero Dawn was that you could simply hide in a patch of tall grass, whistle an enemy over, give a silent strike to kill that enemy, and rinse repeat. You’ll notice in the video above that the player almost never becomes visible by doing this. Naturally, I gave this a try on Ultra Hard to see what I could get away with.

Once equipped with the ability to whistle and to strike from bushes, I tested this cheesy method out, sat in a bush and waited for a couple of Striders to walk by. I whistled to lure one over, took him out in front of the other. Then, I whistled to lure the other over and took him out, too.

This Can Be Fixed

SniperElite4Bush

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Sniper Elite 4, for example, has a very similar mechanic. You can hide in tall bushes, lure people over with rocks or whistles, and then take them out with a kill. In general, this is one of those mechanics that only makes sense in stealth games. However, when you made this stealth kill from the bushes, you would be visible for that brief second, meaning if someone saw you, your cover would be blown, and the enemies would begin to hunt you from that exact position.

What this comes down to is detection windows. See, even when I did accidentally step out of the borders of the tall grass while using a stealth strike in Horizon Zero Dawn, even on Ultra Hard, I was briefly seen by a Watcher. However, Horizon Zero Dawn gives you a brief few seconds of grace where you can jump back into cover without actually being “seen.” So, I moved back, and no harm came to me. Just one more whistle and an ensuing take down.

So, if you become visible during stealth strikes, and the window of time to be seen is decreased or eliminated entirely, Ultra Hard difficulty would go a long way to improving perhaps fatal flaws in the game itself. While these stealthier segments are few and far between, especially in the early game, they do stick out like ugly, sore thumbs.