HORIZON ZERO DAWN PC REVIEW. Horizon Zero Dawn was regarded as one of the best PS4 exclusives and a must-play for any that chose to pick up the Sony system. I say “was regarded” as this title is no longer an exclusive, having now made its way over to the PC. It’s been over three years since Guerrilla Games’ new IP first wowed us on PlayStation, but a lot has changed since its release and the PC crowd can be a stickler for outing poor ports. Here’s how Horizon Zero Dawn holds up on PC with the “Day One Patch” installed.
Throwback to 2017
When reading back through Game Revolution’s 2017 review of the PS4 version, I found myself nodding along to many of the game’s strengths, which still hold up three years later. There’s the “living, breathing world with day/night and weather cycle” that still make for breathtaking vistas and almost force you to utilize the comprehensive Photo Mode. While a 30 FPS cap was the cost of beautiful visuals on PS4 and PS4 Pro, there is no such sacrifice on PC, as you can enjoy both high detail and high frame-rates.
The “fast-paced combat with on-the-fly crafting system” is also still fantastic and uber satisfying. Going up against a vast mechanical beast and chipping away at its various weak points, watching as chunks of armor break off, never gets old. Different enemies require different tactics, with some weapons and ammo types working better than others. Gathering materials to craft ammo and other resources is also quick and never feels laborsome.
Where things haven’t aged quite so well are in side-mission design, which while varied enough, don’t hold up to other open-world titles that have blurred the lines between main and side-quests. With that said, so long as you set your expectations and anticipate a bunch of fetch quests for forgettable minor characters (who are sometimes plagued by bizarre animations), then you should be okay.
And by “forgettable minor characters,” I mean pretty much everyone besides protagonist Aloy (Ashly Burch) and deuteragonist Sylens (Lance Reddick). While Aloy and Sylens undergo interesting character development, you don’t really see that elsewhere. This makes the main story missions feel distinctly premium when compared to side content.
Personally, I really just wanted to keep on moving along with that main story, as it presents a truly compelling mystery for the player to solve. The good news is that there is no real grind here. While you do level up and get new abilities, there are a ridiculous number of difficulty options that you can use to quickly level the playing field. Go for “Story” if you just want to see what happens next without having to go off the beaten path, and go for “Ultra Hard” if you want the toughest experience possible and to necessitate that grind for some crucial later-level abilities.
Horizon Zero Dawn on PC allows players the opportunity to enjoy both mesmerizing visual details at high resolutions up to 4K and with ultra-wide support, as well as an unlocked frame-rate. This performance combined with all content included in the “Complete Edition” of this game, means that PC players are playing what is the definitive version. If you’ve waited three years to finally enjoy this game, then you’ll be enjoying it at its best on PC, with all previous patches and DLC included.
Keyboard and mouse are surprisingly useful when it comes to pinpointing weak points on enemies, though I imagine most will use a controller, which obviously works great. (It still makes me giggle when I see Xbox controller symbols popping up on an ex-PS4-exclusive game that I’m playing on a PC.)
PC players can also enjoy an adjustable field-of-view, as well as enhanced lighting and reflection systems, in addition to more dynamic foliage that reacts to the player’s movements. The point here is that this isn’t just the PS4 version flung across to PC and running at a higher frame-rate, as it has undergone some other enhancements to make it look and play even better.
Know your limits
With the latest Nvidia driver installed, which specifically notes optimizations for Horizon Zero Dawn on PC, and the “Day One Patch” that was rolled out early for reviewers fully implemented, I enjoyed a mostly stable above-60 FPS 1080p experience on the automatic preset. However, taking things into my own hands for my 4K display, I tweaked around with the settings. I normally go with 1440p High/Ultra for modern games at 60 FPS, but that just isn’t currently possible with this title. For 4K Ultra, you’re going to need a seriously beefy system.
My Ryzen 7 3700X/RTX 2070/32 GB RAM combination was made to look weak, despite the recommended settings suggested on the game’s store page. For this reason, I’d recommend directly purchasing from a store with a good refund policy — Steam and Epic Games Store have proven systems — just in case you are hit with unexpectedly bad performance.
After coming from Death Stranding, which also uses the Decima game engine, and playing it at 1440p/60 FPS with max settings and DLSS 2.0 upscaling visuals to 4K, I was a bit disappointed to revert back to fewer options within Horizon Zero Dawn. Sure, they are completely different games, but my point is that it’s possible to really push the boat out when creating top-tier experiences for PC. Horizon does enough but fails to really blow me away.
If you struggle with performance, as I imagine the average PC gamer will, there is an “Adaptive Performance FPS” option, which scales down the resolution to keep the game running at your requested frame-rate. You can also manually fine-tune the “Render Scale” to get you those few extra frames above 60 FPS. Be warned, however, that the visuals can quickly become blurry with this option enabled.
There’s also HDR, which Windows 10 can still be a little funky with. Get it working, though, and Horizon Zero Dawn shines just like it does on PS4. It’s a vibrant world that can really make your new TV or monitor pop. The settings menu allows for basic HDR customization that should get the game looking good on even budget displays.
I should also mention crashing issues, which for me went away once the new patch was installed. To avoid any conflicts, I completely uninstalled the game and reinstalled it for good measure!
Horizon Zero Dawn PC Review | The Final Verdict
Horizon Zero Dawn is a 2017 Game of the Year contender that is still well worth playing in 2020. Given the PC enhancements, if you own a decent gaming rig, then this version should now be considered the definitive edition where both high detail and smooth performance combine to make for a largely uncompromised adventure.
While performance isn’t quite up there when compared to other ported ex-console-exclusives, the PC version takes steps in the right direction to break free of its 30 FPS cap with some additional graphical bump-ups that help it look the part in 2020. You’ll still get quirks that drag you back into 2017, but for the most part the game has aged well, with a story that you’ll want to see through to the end and combat that drives you forward with new weapons and upgrades to take down even bigger beasties.
Horizon Zero Dawn for PC earns a great score as it still does so much right, easily deserving the attention of any curious PC gamers who feel as though they missed out, and for anyone who’s happy to jump in at that $50 launch price.