Saturday, May 8, 2021

Horizon Zero Dawn – An amazing, buggy experience that quickly loses its charm

These last few years have been a great time for the PC gaming world and its users. PC enthusiasts all over are celebrating the fact that we finally start to see Playstation exclusives getting ported to PC, or more specifically, the Windows platform. First started with exclusives such as Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit Become Human. A year later and we see widely successful video games such as Death Stranding also ported to PC. Finally, we also witnessed Horizon Zero Dawn be a part of the PC world after almost three years as an exclusive to Playstation.

Even though I finally got to experience this wonderful piece of art (HZD) on my computer and I am going to tell you about that experience, there are still some issues I have to shed light upon. Port-related issues specifically.

Horizon Zero Dawn looks amazing

Before we talk about anything else, I have to mention the beautiful visual experience that comes with this videogame. Even before HZD got any kind of improvements in its graphical fidelity, it still looked quite impressive, especially on the PS4 Pro. With the port from PS4 to PC, there were several improvements to the lighting, the shadows, and the resolution of the textures.

All of these changes/improvements are not very obvious, but they do add to the visual art of this videogame. There are also some other improvements in the antialiasing and view distance which again contribute to the visuals.

Combining these impressive visuals with the amazing world that you can find in HZD, you will most definitely have a wonderful time. I sure did.

In this huge open world, I was able to find everything from deserts to snowy mountains to rainforests. The map is unique in every way because it is equipped with all kinds of diverse entities. Different trees, buildings, animals, and many other elements that contribute to the gameplay.

The graphics come at a price

Everyone loves the idea of extreme graphics that make things as realistic as possible. Unfortunately, not everyone can experience video games at such high graphical fidelity. Not everyone has the required hardware to run demanding games. This is why we have the option to optimize those settings. But, when it comes to running HZD on older and weaker hardware, things get a little problematic.

No matter how much you try to lower the quality of textures, shadows, or lighting, the FPS does not seem to change at all. Things get even worse when you try to run this demanding title on older CPUs that have a smaller amount of cores and threads. The amount of stuttering and drops in FPS can make the game unplayable.

It makes sense for such older hardware to have trouble running such a demanding game, right? Well, yes, but there are videogame titles out there that have much more impressive graphics while providing a much smoother gameplay experience. The truth is, HZD has not been ported and optimized properly for the Windows platform.

Even those with better hardware have experienced crashes, stuttering and FPS drops. Personally, I did experience several crashes at the beginning of the story, but the frequency of crashes slowly started to reduce after playing some time, and then they finally disappeared. But, even with a Ryzen 5 3700x, which is a CPU with 8 cores and 16 threads, I still did see some stuttering in certain areas.

Optimized settings for Horizon Zero Dawn

I played through the entire story, the Frozen Wilds expansion, and did most of the side quests which allowed me to optimize the graphical settings as best as I could. So, if you are also having trouble getting stable FPS in HZD, I would recommend trying my recommended settings. Keep in mind, I was running it on an AMD Radeon 5700XT and a Ryzen 5 3700x.

Textures have a huge impact on the visuals of Horizon Zero Dawn. However, it seems like the difference between ultra and high is negligible while the increase in performance is quite apparent. I saw a 5% increase in FPS when going from ultra to high.

Model quality and anisotropic filter also very visually important which is why I decided to leave them on ultra. Reducing them to high or medium did not provide a significant performance increase.

The world of Horizon Zero Dawn is rich with all kinds of different shadows which is why I decided to reduce it from ultra to high. Shadows on high still look great while giving you a boost in FPS you need.

For some reason, both reflections and clouds have a huge impact on performance while they are not that visually present in the world. So, both on medium.

For the best antialiasing, I went for TAA. Usually, TAA can be very blurry, but that is not the case here in Horizon Zero Dawn.

Finally, ambient occlusion on ultra and as a personal preference, motion blur is always off.

Insignificant upgrades and scarcity of equipment

The moment you are introduced to the open world of HZD, you are also met with a leveling system. Just like any other RPG, you get a skill point with every level. At first, it is interesting looking through all the different skill trees and abilities, but they soon become boring and insignificant. Of course, they do make you stronger and you do start to kill the machines in a much easier manner. But, earning levels and different abilities does not feel rewarding at all.

In fact, I think I managed to grab most of the abilities pretty early on in the game. I love sidetracking, so I did a lot of side quests at the beginning which left me with no upgrades in the middle of the game.

I also experienced the same thing with the weapons and armor in HZD. It seemed like equipping a better bow or a better outfit did not have any kind of major change. Out of all the different armors, I think I wore just two or three of them.

The only significant and major change I experienced was when I equipped the Shield-Weaver Armor. Unfortunately, you get to wear this amazing armor at the end of the game which is kind of pointless.

Final summary

Even with all the different bugs, crashes, FPS drops and the scarcity of equipment and significant upgrades, I still had a lot of fun hunting down giant T-rex-like machines across the world of Horizon Zero Dawn. The story was unique and I did manage to connect well with the characters surrounding the story. But, with proper optimizations to this port, I think I would have had a much better overall experience. Right now, I would rate it a 7 out of 10.

Branko Gapo
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

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