This month in my gaming life was an achievement, as I finally – years behind everyone else – finished Horizon Zero Dawn. I’m not nearly as fast a gamer as Jacob is; if I like a game, I tend to draw out the experience as long as I can, which is easy to do with a game as exploration and side-quest heavy as Horizon Zero Dawn. Thus why I have been playing it for … *checks PS4* … 3 years. 😁
Long review short, Horizon Zero Dawn is one of my favorite games. I picked it up largely because of all its accolades and the non-traditional female main character it had in Aloy (at least as typical female designs in video games go), and I was not disappointed by any of it.
(Jacob, meanwhile, didn’t make it very far in. He found the game’s massive to-do lists unengaging and the combat uninteresting. It probably didn’t help matters that the very first side quest he worked on featured annoying repetitive dialogue. He also found the core design direction of primitive humans taking down robots to be too much of a stretch for someone who knows how powerful and dangerous even a modern six-axis industrial robot can be.)
For those who are unfamiliar with the game: In the far future, after some sort of technological apocalypse, the people of earth have descended into tribal existences, sharing the earth with biomechanical monsters that process organic material, including humans, for fuel. Among these humans is Aloy. She’s been cast out from her matriarchal tribe for being mysteriously motherless – but unbeknownst to all of them, she’s also the key to unlocking the secrets about their post-apocalyptic world … and what led to it.
The thing that stood out most to me, at first, was the grand, epic scale not only of the story, but of the world itself. The lands you explore as Aloy are so vivid and well-rendered that every nook and cranny looks meaningful, like they all hide something of value, and I wanted to explore them all. Thus, why it took me so long to finish. 😄
Well, that and hunting all the random biomechanical monsters just for the fun of it. 😁 A combat system can make or break a game for me – I don’t have the patience to wade through games with bad combat systems – and Horizon Zero Dawn hits that sweet spot of being simple to learn but complex enough that you can get really crazy with your strategies if you want to. There’s also more to hunting than just killing monsters; some will drop pieces of armor and other materials as you fight them, which can change the course of a hunt if knocked off at the right time. (I admit another of the reasons it took me so long to finish was because I spent a stupid amount of time figuring out how best to hunt the creatures, Monster Hunter-style.)
Finally, I don’t play most video games for story so much as I do gameplay and role-playing/character interactions, and admittedly, despite its epic, high-stakes premise, there’s no real sense of urgency in Horizon Zero Dawn’s story. (This isn’t because of the story itself, but rather because the player can opt to fill the space between main story beats with as many side quests as their little completionist heart desires. Which I did. 😁)
Viewed as a whole, though, the story is a spectacular one, and in my opinion, stands on its own as a piece of hard sci-fi, video game or not. Even once The Big Reveal about the setting’s mysterious history is made, the player finds that there are dramas within dramas that spiraled behind the scenes in the setting’s past, to contribute to what became the setting’s present, and though we only meet the contributing characters through audio logs and hologram recordings, they’re easily as interesting and well-realized as the more interesting NPCs. I could nitpick some aspects of the plot – namely that the most pivotal, destructive part of the history comes down to one guy being an idiot. But honestly, given the past few years, I’ve learned to never discount the incredible power of One Guy Being an Idiot, so now, in 2022, it doesn’t seem so unrealistic to me.
Overall, though, it still remains one of the best games I’ve played in years, and I look forward to playing it again, even after I’ve played the sequel, Horizon: Forbidden West.