It's still not easy. Most fights end with you wrenching the components loose from your foe with your spear or with an explosive blast after you disable an essential component. There's a brutality to the combat, with fights turning into a weird dance of swirling elemental attacks, quick spear jabs, and last-minute dodges saving you from savage attacks.
Unfortunately, when fighting your mechanical enemies is this good, it's understandable that other aspects would suffer: Fighting normal enemies, whether they're bandits or enemies you encounter through the game's storyline, is lacklustre and just doesn't have the depth of combat elsewhere in the game. Combat here lacks the grace and fear and instead often involves you putting enemies down with a flurry of headshots or pushing a spear into a guard's spine from a squat, concealed in tall grass.
Guerilla has created an impossible, incredible world for you to explore. Horizon itself has a touch of the Ubisofts in its layout, with the dense map asking you to fulfil countless errands, but when the world it's asking you to explore is this good, it's hard to begrudge it the extra effort. I grew more tired of these errands as the game continued and found myself doubling down on the story content, but one of Horizon's greatest strengths is that you're never really sure what game you're playing.
It's a compelling game; there's no doubt about that. It's jaw-droppingly beautiful, and the story is interesting — even if many of the performances are as wooden as the forests you'll explore — but the game I thought I was playing often turned out to be something more interesting, with a scale that was much more vast than I expected. Ashly Burch imbues Aloy with a sense of humanity that holds the game's plot together as a hero that genuinely wants to do the right thing but also has a fiercely rebellious streak and isn't afraid to give someone some sarcasm if it's warranted. It's nice to see that, after 20 years of the promise of nuanced characterisation normally just coming down to the game asking whether you want to be a renegade or a paragon, Horizon instead actually just lets Alloy be, y'know, a real person.
This is interesting, because while Horizon is far from the first game to create likeable characters that feel like they exist separate to the player, it is one of the first games that hasn't made a song and a dance about it. Make no mistake, Horizon is a game about hunting robotic dinosaurs and using their corpses to craft yourself better armour, but that doesn't mean the characterisation isn't wonderful.
The pacing issues at its core and the fact that Horizon seems to do all in its power to remind you that you're playing a £40, AAA survival game hold it back from being an instant classic, but there are the building blocks here for a fantastic franchise, and if Sony is looking for something to take the place of Uncharted 4 as its golden franchise, it should be looking towards the Horizon.