In this day and age open world games are incredibly popular. So, back when the initial trailer for Guerrilla Games’ new IP Horizon Zero Dawn was shown during the 2015 E3 conference, it immediately garnered a huge following of excited fans.
By its eventual March 2017 release these fans were chomping at the bit to get their hands on the finished game, myself included. Horizon Zero Dawn’s unique concept of a post-apocalyptic world overrun by ancient robotic machines (as well as the promise of a deep and immersive story) was so appealing that I’d put in my pre-order well before launch day.
The first few hours of the game revolve around forming a relationship with central character, Aloy, a hunter living in the overgrown future ruins of Colorado. A young Aloy finds a “Focus” deep beneath the ground in a laboratory lost to time. This technology changes Aloy’s perception of the world around her and, alongside her bow and hunter spear, allows Aloy an advantage against the cruel world she lives in. Horizon’s story is pretty impressive, but it’s the vast open world which gripped my attention. In a previous post I mentioned how in awe I was of Horizons environment. Rich forests flush with life fill the south of the map and treacherous mountains and blizzards rage in the east. The space between these two drastic environments are wide distances of dry desert and an elevated mesa of grassy flatlands. Traversing though these areas almost feels as though Aloy is moving through multiple different games.
Although the game encourages the player to follow the storyline I felt myself being pulled into the side quests which are peppered across the open world. The machines who co-habit the world alongside the Nora thrive in the world like a living ecosystem. Skittish herds of robotic cattle shy away from Aloy which makes them easy prey to scavenge metal parts from. Small machines which resemble theropod dinosaurs called Watchers have a symbiotic relationship with other machines and cast their observant eye over the environment. Because they almost always surround themselves with the company of combat machines such as the Sawtooth or Ravager, it’s highly important to either sneak past Watchers carefully and silently or dispatch them before they can alert the larger, more threatening machines to your location.
Fighting the machines and scavenging them for parts was easily my favourite aspect of Horizon Zero Dawn. Each environment is populated by groups of specific, adapted machines. Even a year after the games release I’m still awe-struck by the nature of these machines, they’re animalistic behaviour implants the idea of danger and the way they move and operate is terrifyingly realistic. They sound terrifying too.
Unfortunately, the more time I spent exploring this stunning open world, the less interested I became in the multitude of dialogue which partnered the game’s main narrative. Whilst the story was engaging and stimulating to a point, I felt as though I was being drenched with dialogue to a point where I found myself skipping through the dialogue wheel desperately trying to pull myself back into the vibrant open world. As the conclusion of the game drew near I found myself delaying the inevitable ending. It’s because of the open world in Horizon Zero Dawn and the multiple activities, fetch quests and collectables that I ended up grabbing the platinum trophy for the game. Not the story. Overall Horizon Zero Dawn’s appeal for me was always the wilderness, hunting machines for parts and upgrading equipment and clothes. The success of this alone meant that I could spend an endless number of days mapping out the world whilst the story only interested me for certain stretches of the game.
Horizon Zero Dawn however has had a hugely successful first year. With over 7.6 million copies sold and a successful DLC (The Frozen Wilds), Guerrilla Games have officially added Horizon Zero Dawn to the list of best-selling RPG’s of all time. A sequel seems nearly certain, but I don’t want the developers to rest on their laurels. I want a story that’s less wordy and more effectively communicated. Do you feel the same? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.