Horizon: Zero Dawn’s greatest mistake is that it arrived only a week before Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
It doesn’t help that Horizon: Zero Dawn is a relatively long game. I logged 45 hours of playtime before seeing the ending. But the primary reason I didn’t complete it until over 3 years later was the tidal wave of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Even though I enjoyed my short seven days with the game, it was replaced, shelved, and forgotten as newer titles released.
I did finally return to Horizon: Zero Dawn and was pleasantly surprised at how well the game has held up.
Horizon: Zero Dawn looks good
First, the obvious. The game is beautiful–artistically and technically. While there is a bit of uncanny valley to the faces, the environments and creatures look flawless, even on my base-PS4.
Why does this graphical fidelity matter to gameplay? Draw distances are good. Visual intrigue propels the player forward. The level of detail on the “machines,” the game’s primary enemy type, helps the user to pick apart chunks of armor and weak points in combat.
Welcome to the machines
The pinnacle of playing Horizon: Zero Dawn is in these encounters with the myriad of “machines.”
While I have never played a Monster Hunter, I have to imagine that this is a less level-based and more Americanized version of that concept. Through a series of events in the past, the world was overrun with these large, jurassic mechs. In order to progress through the story, female protagonist Aloy must take down these beasts through any means necessary.
What makes this segment of gameplay so fun is the focus on planning. Sure, you can brute force your way through a fight or two if you want to use all of your resources, but taking on a nest of the machines is more about careful planning than skillful execution.
Will you tie down the larger machine in the group with a rope gun and then pick off the smaller machines with arrows? Will you set up some shock mines in the path of a machine that is weak to it?
Horizon: Zero Dawn provides the player with many tools and elements and then throws different scenarios at them, like word problems in a math textbook. While Aloy definitely gets stronger as the game progresses, a majority of combat improvement happens in understanding of the different machines and how to best handle them.
People ruin everything
Unfortunately, to get to the machine battles, you sometimes need to slog through encounters with human baddies.
It’s fitting that the humans in many monster stories, Horizon included, are TRULY the cause of the problem, because man is not fun to fight these people. Where battles with machines take place over vast battlefields, featuring differing strategies and varied weapon use, fights with human enemies amount to the following process:
- Sit in a corner getting pelted by the absolute SNIPERS that comprise every single archer in the game
- Throw fire and shoot fire at them
- If a melee attacker gets close, roll and attack
- Heal every now and then
I’m glad that I finished the game, but, even without many game overs, I won’t lie that the sheer annoyance and quantity of human fights had me on the verge of stopping.
Horizon: Zero Dawn tells a compelling story
One reason I’m glad I finished Horizon: Zero Dawn was that I got to experience the entirety of Aloy’s unique setting and story. Post-apocalypse has been done more than the actual apocalypse, but never exactly in this way. I always felt excited to unravel more information on the overarching world and liked the pacing of the lore breadcrumbs.
Aloy’s story was less interesting to me, but not because of Aloy herself. I really liked Aloy as a character, along with the surrounding cast and their voice actors, but I just found Aloy’s origin story a bit underwhelming compared to the rest of the overall narrative.
While side quests are not at the level of a Witcher 3 (few games are), I would submit that at least Guerrilla Games made an effort on the side quests here. These treks typically feature multiple objectives and new characters who integrate into the larger story.
You should play Horizon: Zero Dawn
I wish that the quest was more focused, perhaps 10-15 hours shorter with less emphasis on human encounters. That being said, I really did enjoy my time in the lands of a dark yet simple future. If you are looking for a fun open-world title with big battles, you can’t go wrong with Horizon: Zero Dawn.