Horizon Zero Dawn is easily one of the most anticipated games of the year, if not the most anticipated PS4-exclusive of 2017. Of course, it’s still early in the year and E3 could bring its own share of surprises, but so far the Guerrilla-developed title ranks very high on the hype scale.
Indeed, early write-ups based on a four-hour hands-on with the game have been very positive, with words like “jaw-droppingly attractive”, “gorgeous” and “spectacular” all stirring players’ expectations even further.
“We’re excited by the reaction that the fans have had to the game so far,” Sony Interactive Entertainment UK’s product manager Jon Edwards (pictured, right) tells MCV.
“We really feel that [Horizon Zero Dawn] is an exciting addition to the array of PlayStation exclusives already available.
“Managing expectations can be tough but what we’ve really tried to do is focus on things like the live playthroughs from the team at Guerrilla and also to give a glimpse of what [protagonist] Aloy faces in this post-apocalyptic world.”
On paper, Horizon Zero Dawn sounds like a pretty-promising open world action RPG.
“Civilisation as we know it has gone,” Edwards describes. “The world has been reclaimed by nature and is now dominated by machines. We follow Aloy; an agile, cunning and inquisitive hunter, on her quest to unravel the truth of the world around her own past.”
However, the title has a strength that most of the recent open world RPGs don’t have, and that’s Aloy herself. Horizon’s lead character has become one of the title’s biggest selling points – the other one being its beautiful open world.
It hasn’t always been this way, though, as president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida said he was “nervous to see the reaction from people” when he first unveiled the game at Sony’s E3 press conference in 2015.
“She’s a female lead character,” he told Polygon at the time. “That has always been the vision by the team, but we had a discussion. Is it risky to do a female character?
“The concern came after the game was in development. We started to show it to many more people internally and they had questions about it. So we worked with our marketing groups to do this focus testing. The focus testing reaction was positive and that made us feel good, but you know it’s a limited number of people that we were able to test.”
While it’s worrying that having a woman as lead character still raises questions in the games industry, it seems Aloy has been a hit for Guerilla and Sony, as they now not only have a new flagship character in their portfolio, but a flagship character who’s a strong woman.
When asked whether or not having a woman as the lead character remained an issue for Sony when it started working on Horizon’s marketing plans, Edwards’ answer is clear.
“No, not at all,” he says. “Guerrilla Games has talked about this in the past and they were very much focused on creating a curious and determined character that was believable in this new world – it just so happened that the character ended up being female. Aloy is spirited, adventurous and driven to figure out the challenges that she comes across in this post-apocalyptic world inhabited by machines, you really buy into her as a tribal hunter and we think that the players will really enjoy playing as her. She’s a PlayStation icon of the future.”
With its stunning art, story-driven gameplay and recognisable characters, Horizon Zero Dawn looks like the kind of game that could easily become a franchise. But it’s too early to tell, Edwards says.
“Nothing has been announced to date but I think there’s a lot of potential for this to be an exciting new franchise for us – we’ll just have to wait and see.”
For now, Sony is focusing on pre-orders and on the marketing campaign ahead of the game’s launch on March 1st.
“Pre-orders are in line with our expectations. The players seem to be excited for this new gaming experience and this is reflected in the pre-orders,” Edwards says.
“We have kicked off our above-the-line campaign in cinema alongside Assassin’s Creed, XXX 3 and Underworld. We will also have a big focus on TV and outdoor advertising in the build up to launch and beyond. Combine all this with our digital plans and we will have a significant campaign which will reach players across the UK.
“We also plan to provide a strong campaign post-launch to promote the title. We see this as a key title for PlayStation and supporting it through all of its life cycle is key.”
"Guerrilla was focused on creating a curious and determined character that was believable in this new world – it just so happened that the character ended up being female."
Jon Edwards, Sony
Horizon Zero Dawn was initially due to launch in 2016 but it ended up being delayed until early this year after Guerrilla said it needed more time to polish the game ahead of its launch.
“Guerrilla Games wanted to make sure the visuals and gameplay quality were to the highest standard,” Edwards says. “The extra time allows the studio to deliver their ambitious vision for Horizon Zero Dawn.”
It also allowed the title to be compatible with Sony’s brand new PS4 Pro.
“This game looks beautiful on the standard PS4 but those with a PlayStation 4 Pro will definitely experience enhanced visuals if they have a 4K HDR-ready TV. You will notice subtle details such as branches swaying in the wind and more details to the machines. Meanwhile, the HDR really adds a whole new level of beauty to the different ecosystems.”
Sony obviously has a very strong new IP in Horizon Zero Dawn and Edwards believes it could be a hit.
“We’re really optimistic about how this title’s likely to perform. It’s got a great studio behind it and what we’ve revealed so far has been really well received. It was also on many ‘Most Anticipated Games of 2017’ lists which added to our confidence.”
Get the Aloy look
Talking to MCV’s sister title Licensing.biz back in 2015, Sony’s senior business development manager for licensing and merchandise David Evans stated that Horizon: Zero Dawn presented “an incredible licensing opportunity” for merchandise. Now that the title is on our doorstep, Sony revealed last week that it is indeed launching alongside a wealth of tie-in items.
“Since work first began on Horizon: Zero Dawn, we’ve been excited by the prospect of partnering closely with the talented team at Guerrilla Games to build upon what is an incredibly rich new IP,” Evans now tells MCV.
”From the moment the game was announced, we were inundated with requests from enthusiastic partners, eager to join our licensing program. We’ve been busy developing an array of items to extend the exciting world of Horizon: Zero Dawn and we are proud to announce that products will be available at launch with the following licensee partners: Titan Publishing for art books and other publishing formats, Future Press for strategy guides, Triforce for high-end statues, Cook and Becker and Iron Gut Publishing for limited edition art prints, GB Eye for posters and giftware, Bioworld, Gaya and Park Agencies for apparel and accessories.”
And if this impressive list wasn’t enough, there’s even more to come, Evans says: “We are also in discussion with a number of other partners to further grow the licensing program, and will be developing a selection of additional items to expand the fascinating Horizon: Zero Dawn universe.”
You'll be able to read more on Horizon's merchandise in MCV's February 17th issue