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Exploring the tech-infused world of Horizon: Zero Dawn

All aboard the hype train for this open-world action RPG. Our extended preview was a blast.

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Now playing: Watch this: Horizon: Zero Dawn's 'ancient magic' is actually technology
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Horizon: Zero Dawn came onto my radar the second it was announced at Sony's E3 2015 press conference. Since then, I've been keeping tabs on the game's development and watching as anticipation for it reached a fever pitch.

I spent about 5 hours playing Horizon: Zero Dawn in an extended preview of the game's early stages and I'm thrilled to say that so far, the hype looks justified.

Lost technology and modern magic

In Horizon: Zero Dawn, you'll wander a world of primitive superstition and stories of "the old ones," a people steeped in tribal folklore. Turns out, those old ones are basically us, a race of technologically advanced humans who built towering skyscrapers within sleek cities. At some point those cities went dark and the world has returned to a more primitive place, which is where we meet our hero, Aloy.

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Sony/Guerrilla Games

We're used to heroes in action RPGs discovering ancient magic or being imbued with special powers, but Aloy's "magic" is technology -- and her prey is gigantic robot animals. Equipped with a special device, Aloy enhances her hunting and combat skills as she sets out to get answers about who she is and where she came from. It's a clever upending of expectations in a genre that can always use something new.

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Sony/Guerrilla Games

Fight smarter, not harder

In the game's trailers, combat always seemed to teeter on the brink of overwhelming: You're hunting down robotic versions of animals, swapping weapons on the fly, crafting ammo as you dodge incoming attacks, and scanning enemies for weaknesses. That seems like it would be a lot for anyone to keep tabs on, but somehow Guerrilla Games rolled all those things into a signature package that feels both stylish and incredibly fluid.

Stealth works a bit like it does in Uncharted 4. Aloy has to to creep through tall grass to stay out of predatory robo-raptors's sight, but her tech reveals enemy paths so that she can sneak by, override or carry out a critical attack on her targets. If you're used to running into combat guns a-blazing, you'll be disappointed to know that every time I chose that strategy, I died in fairly short order. These robots aren't messing around and they will kill you if you rush into every fight you can find. Trust me, I tried.

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Sony/Guerrilla Games

Exploring a spectacular world

Even after spending over 4 hours wandering the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn, it felt like I'd barely scratched the surface. And when you consider the story's sci-fi origins, it opens up vast possibilities for more locations. Most of what I saw were tribal cities and beautiful vistas full of nature in all forms, but I'm hoping we'll also get to visit locations the "old ones" once inhabited.

I found the leveling up and equipment systems easy to understand -- you'll find them familiar if you've played previous action RPGs. And buying equipment is consistent with the game's universe and themes. Traders won't just ask you for currency if you're eyeing a new piece of gear, they'll also require you to hand over components or materials you'll need to loot from a specific machine. It's a great way to get you to take risks to bring down larger, more dangerous machines.

Sony/Guerrilla Games

Most of my play session was on a standard PS4 in 1080p, but I did have some time to watch the game played on a PS4 Pro in 4K and HDR. It was stunning. This is a game you'll want to enjoy on the largest 4K HDR-compatible screen you can find.

Delayed gratification

My 5 hours of demo time flew by, unlike the long wait for the game's release. But I think Guerrilla Games made the right choice in delaying it. The extra polish is obvious and may end up being a blessing for gamers, who've been rightfully critical of other recent game launches riddled with bugs and glitches.

Unfortunately, that delay may also end up being a bit of a curse. The game will now drop a scant few days before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch and Wii U. This is going to create a terrible ultimatum for those of us with limited time to play open-world action RPGs -- even when they come packed with cool heroes, smooth combat and beautiful sights to behold.

Fortunately for us, that's a pretty great problem to have, so I'm not complaining.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is exclusive to the PlayStation 4. It's released on February 28, 2017.

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