Gameplay Diaries :: The Enemy Variance, Design & AI in Horizon Zero Dawn


It takes a number of well-designed elements strung up together for a game to excel, but, for it to be exceptional, it takes a single element which overshadows all the other good or bad traits. It was the Quest System in Witcher 3, the storytelling in God Of War, the atmosphere of Ori and the Blind Forest, and, the beauty of Horizon Zero Dawn, which made them great games. Now, I won’t be discussing about the glorious landscapes and procedurally generated environments of Horizon Zero Dawn, since they have been discussed numerous times in the past. What I want to highlight, is the game’s impressive Enemy Design & AI.

Horizon Zero Dawn was the only PS4 exclusive I hadn’t tried out, and I picked it up last week. Apart from the customary awe-striking graphics, the Enemy Design was the main element which grabbed my attention. Machine warfare isn’t something new in the gaming industry, but the way Horizon Zero Dawn does it, is actually praiseworthy. It is so interesting to see Guerrilla Games putting so much work in designing each and every enemy, their behaviour, their weaknesses, their fragile points, their roles in the game and of course, their attack patterns.

Speaking of design first, the amount of detail in each and every enemy is simply amazing. Each and every machine, has their own weak points, which are either hidden or exposed and which directly influence the strength of the enemy. It is interesting to see how Horizon Zero Dawn attempts to eradicate the common dodge-hit-dodge fighting encounters by making the machines bullet-sponges, except in their vulnerable points. For instance, the first Cauldron mission, the Sigma Cauldron, introduces the player to the Fire Bellowback, a pretty large machine, capable of spitting fire, and carrying large amounts of Blaze, an inflammable substance. If players use the traditional dodge-hit-dodge tactics to defeat this machine, they will probably fail, because the rest of the machine’s body is pretty well armored causing really insignificant damage, and, its attacks are pretty lethal. Use the tripcaster to set up a trap, once the machine triggers it, it falls down and reveals the area where it is carrying Blaze, and shooting it with fire arrows triggers an explosion which reduces a significant amount of it’s HP. Using your focus to spot out the vulnerable points, using traps to expose them, and finally using the proper weapon to capitalize on that weak spot, makes the combat encounters a really fun experience.

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The AI is another praiseworthy aspect of the game. MOST games make the enemies bullet sponges when players crank up the difficulty level, but, what I noticed in Horizon Zero Dawn is that the enemies become vigilant and accurate at higher difficulties. What makes the AI praiseworthy, is their approach towards the player, amidst a combat. Certain enemies like Watchers often portray active aggression towards players, while enemies like Striders often undertake a passive approach, i.e., retreating and attacking only when provoked. Not only that, if players try to conceal themselves after grabbing the attention of a certain enemy, they use scanners to detect for the player, thereby making them letting down their guard. Moreover, larger enemies tend to take an overly aggressive, head-on approach while attacking, while smaller enemies, often try to chuck in some damage by attacking from behind. Now, this might have been very easy to adapt to if each area had a specific type of machine, but this is where Horizon excels in making world traversal enticing, i.e, by mixing different types of machines at each area. This forces the players to maintain a quite vigil approach while traversing the world, and this is what makes it thrilling.

Speaking of roles, the enemies are pretty aggressive towards the players, but, they have specific roles to cater to. Horizon Zero Dawn’s story isn’t a remake of the cliched machines going berserk plot. Instead, these machines are designed with a motive recreate the Earth’s biosphere, and hence they are segregated categorically. Terra-formers, which are found digging the soil most of the time, have a certain apparatus on their heads with which they break down soil to help plant growth; Purifiers have specific apparatus to detoxify the atmosphere and marine biosphere, and so on. Not every game has so much emphasis on these small aspects, and usually most games just place enemies in the world just for the sake of attacking players. This might be an insignificant addition in the player’s perspective, but it is just a mere implication of the amount of work Guerrilla has put behind this game.

There are plenty of reasons why Horizon Zero Dawn is a good game, and rest of them are a topic for another day, but it is definitely the Beauty and the enemy design of Horizon: Zero Dawn which makes it exceptional, at least for me.


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