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Review – Horizon Zero Dawn PC Edition

On the list of things that I didn’t see coming in 2020 was the announcement of Horizon Zero Dawn on PC. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t unhappy about it – I love HZD, it was a fantastic game when it was released in 2017, and it really highlighted Guerrilla Games as a contender to the dominance that Naughty Dog had enjoyed in the first party PlayStation title space. To see it get a PC release was something of a watershed moment from Sony Interactive Entertainment – are we starting to see the end of first-party exclusives?

It was released in a time where Microtransactions were creeping into every conceivable title, and it offered a breath of fresh air, by eschewing that model and focusing on a strong narrative, solid mechanics, a beautiful and interesting open world, interesting quests, and just being bloody good fun. This was followed up by a DLC – The Frozen Wilds, which introduced some new weapons and wildlife types, and was a worthwhile addition to the game. So, when the announcement was made, I was very excited. I game on PC, and I have a lot of friends who are PC-only gamers. Knowing that this title was now going to be accessible to them got me talking to them, adding it to their Steam Wishlist, and generally fizzing about the game all over again.

All of those things, everything that made HZD so special, are present and accounted for in this PC offering, as well as some unexpected pieces, both good and bad. I will say right now that this is a great game, and my view hasn’t changed in that regard (I awarded it 10/10 in my PS4 video review, below), but this isn’t the best port of a console game onto the PC, which does have an impact when compared against my PS4 review.

Here’s my PS4 Review video

So, for your PCMR edition, you get the full game, and the Frozen Wilds DLC, making for a big adventure. It’s still a huge amount of fun, and for the PC, I didn’t go Mouse / Keyboard myself, preferring to use the Xbox Elite V1 controller. The controls are mapped out-of-the box, and there were a significant number of graphics settings and other options to play with which were simply not present in the console edition. I set it to Ultra @ 1440p on my RTX2070 powered laptop, and I was able to get a pretty consistent 50-60FPS for the time I spent this way. If I’m honest here, I would expect my machine to get a higher FPS count than that – I’m used to a consistent 80-90 FPS on the majority of games I play at that resolution .

I’m also in the process of testing out a GTX-1660Ti Max-Q powered laptop, which I installed and fired up this game on, which yielded a 40-50 FPS result, but with the resolution set to 1080p and the settings in “Original” mode, which is mostly Medium quality settings. Bear in mind that on this same laptop, I can get a V-sync locked 60 FPS on Forza Horizon 4 on ultra. Of course, HZD still looked very good, and played well, but there’s no question that there’s a bit of a high GPU overhead for this title’s performance relative to other titles, so it’s something you should be aware of.

Also, of particular note was the shader loading screen when I first started up the game and also after I updated my GPU drivers. It took several minutes to complete in each instance. Now, I’ve been informed that this is going to be patched out around the official release date, and that’s a good thing, because that screen was painful to look at after about 30 seconds. I just wanted to be playing it! Thankfully, this only happens on first launch or a graphics driver update, so it’s an infrequent pain point.

Once you’re in this game though, it’s still an undeniable joy to play. Combat, story, exploration, and everything else that I loved about it on PS4 have come over faithfully and it still looks gorgeous and is a great deal of fun to play. Aloy and the Nora tribe and her adventures beyond the Embrace are a fantastic journey to experience. I’m happy that PC gamers get to experience this now, because the core game is still as good as the day it was released.

So, a great game, with a not-so-great port. What’s good though is that it’s relatively easy to fix the port, as long as the game underneath it is solid. HZD remains a very solid game, and a worthy title to add to your PC library if you enjoy large, original, and interesting open world adventure titles. Whilst time has been kind to Aloy, when I consider this in the context of what’s been released over the last 3 years, I do need to adjust my score for it slightly, so:

It’s a 9/10 from me for this one, and an excellent title to enjoy on your PC.

– Dave

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Gaming & Technology Editor at The Empire Digital Media Ltd.
Gadget fiend, maker of beer, technology enthusiast, and Dad of three, Dave enjoys trying to protect expensive gadgets from the destructive power of tiny people, and frequently fails.

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