Horizon Zero Dawn

I stopped doing game reviews for a while because I just don’t have time to delve into something so consuming.  During the academic year, I try to stay away from them. Luckily, we’re in the middle of summer.

I recently had a chance to play Horizon Zero Dawn, one of the biggest releases of 2017 (I think). I actually happened upon it by chance, while browsing for other games on Amazon. I didn’t know too much about the game– only that there are mechanical monsters– but that was enough to sell me. I think it was the fact that you saw one of those giant creatures on the cover. I love things featuring gigantic monsters (Godzilla! The Last Guardian! Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom!).

So yeah, I didn’t know anything going in. Other than there might be giant monsters. I didn’t see Aloy at the bottom, either, because my eyes were drawn to the massive iBeast. Sorry, I know that it has a technical name but I can’t remember it right now. :’-)

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^ This is a “tallneck”. They’re MASSIVE. I couldn’t find a screenshot that properly conveyed how ENORMOUSLY HUGE it is, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

You start out with this gorgeous cinematic that depicts an older man traveling with an infant; it establishes the relationship between this man (Rost) and our main character, Aloy. The two of them are outcasts; I won’t say more on why they were outcast. I know part of Aloy’s story, but nothing pertaining to Rost. I hope that you find out more during the game (I didn’t play through the whole thing). The first half hour or so is a tutorial, and establishment of Aloy’s background: she and Rost live together on the outskirts of a village, hunting the mechanic creatures and surviving on their own. The villagers don’t speak to or acknowledge them; Rost treats them likewise. Aloy, as a young girl, seems put-out that they refuse to talk to her. She doesn’t have any young friends, so she only wants to make some– and this goes badly, as we see in one scene where she is shunned by a Village Mother and the children. The things we see in this first part help connect the player to Aloy, as well as understand how to use her “sight” device– a strange, alien contraption that allows her to identify targets, look through walls to find electric components, and register the walking path of different creatures. I’m sure there’s more you can do, but that’s all I can really remember right now.

 

A recurring theme throughout Aloy’s childhood is the question of who her mother is. When Aloy is older, she decides to take part in this ceremony that 1. allows challengers to become a part of the village community and 2. if she beats everyone else in this competition, she may have one wish granted. Aloy plans to ask the elders about her origins.
From here, life becomes more structured. Your main goal is to become strong enough to compete in and successfully complete these trials; Aloy trains by fighting the machine creatures, discovering ruins, and furthering her skill-set.
I really liked how EXP and skill build-up worked in this game. It was really simple to understand. I remember trying to play Dead Space 3 and the worst thing about it was how difficult it was to understand the weapons-upgrade system. One of the most awful things you can do in a game is over-complicate power-ups, so I’m glad that the developers stuck to a default model, where each skill is part of a branch, and costs a certain number of “points” that you can gain by working on your EXP and raising your level.

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The map isn’t too helpful– I’m terrible with directions, anyways, but luckily, if you’ve played Arkham Knight or any of the other Arkham games, it follows the same kind of thing where you have an objective marker on the screen and just have to follow it around. Crafting and Inventory are equally easy to peruse.

The game itself is stunning. One of the things I was so drawn to was the machine-mixed-with-nature aesthetic. I know I’m pulling a lot of random video game references, but it really reminds me of Enslaved: Odyssey to the Westwhich is one of my favorite games of all time. Aloy even reminds me a bit of Tripitaka (maybe the child of Trip and Monkey) (but that’s just wishful thinking lol). You’ll see what I mean in the following screenshots; both games rely heavily on intricately-built jungle-based environments entwined in the harsh, stark lines of technology and machines. I bet it’s symbolic for something, like the contrast between what man makes and what the natural order of the Earth follows, but I just think it’s a really nice visual.

 

Right? Left is HZD, right is Enslaved. I don’t know. I felt like they looked pretty similar.

Oh man. Thinking about Enslaved makes me so nostalgic. YO. IT’S SUCH A GOOD GAME. PLEASE CHECK IT OUT.
Back to HZD.

I love female protagonists, and Aloy fits the bill. Although… I will say that she’s a pretty flat character. She’s whatever you shape her to be; she doesn’t have any super definitive traits, like Emily Kaldwin from Dishonored 2. Rather, she seems to adjust to whatever the player wants her to be, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I do think that it’s interesting that the developers decided to make her female, when they could have easily made her male and been done with it. It’s kind of cool that your default character is a woman and you have to play the game through her eyes; most of the time, being a woman in a game is a choice that you consciously make. I don’t know if this sounds rambly, because it’s 2 AM and I’m exhausted, but I feel like you don’t really get too many female protags in games and so I do appreciate it.

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You do have dialogue options; they cycle between a compassionate response, a logical response, or an angry response. Though your choices affect the characters directly (like say you make an angry decision and yell at someone; they’ll probably remember it later), they don’t impact the overall storyline. So they’re futile, just put in place to make you feel like you made some change to the story, which is kind of disappointing. I’ve always loved those games where your choices matter.

So the last thing I’ll talk about is the plot: I’m intrigued. It’s a sci-fi adventure, but I don’t want to give too much away because it’s one of those things that’s better discovered by yourself. Aloy’s powers are cool; the game’s enemies are actually kind of difficult to kill, at least in the beginning, but they’re not impossible. Oh geez, I tried Prey (Arkane Studios), hoping that it would be as amazing as Dishonored 2, and I’m sure that it is… but I couldn’t get through the first part, even. The enemies in that game are ridiculously hard to beat, and I was playing on the easiest setting :’-)

I’m definitely going to purchase Horizon Zero Dawn eventually; probably after I’m done with all my big exams coming up in the next few months. Gotta focus on grad school… which I’m not, because I’m reading all these books instead. uuughghhgghghhhhh…
I would definitely recommend HZD to anyone with an interest in adventure games and open worlds with structure! Though you can go on side-quests or explore on your own, it never gets to the point where you’re like “what am I even doing,” like it did for me with Skyrim. I’d often get so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff that was available to do, that I never did anything of importance. HZD ensures that you more or less stay on track.

I hope you get a chance to try it out and take down some mechs! Kachow.

 

Update: 8/31/2017

This game is amazing. I’m so fully absorbed in it and it’s such a fantastic story. I’m definitely a fan. Please try it out and I bet you’ll love it!

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