Next week is going to be legendary for us as fans of this medium- not only do we have an exciting new system launching with the Nintendo Switch, but two highly ambitious games in Sony and Guerrilla’s Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are launching in the same week, And this isn’t just a case of two major titles releasing together, either- Horizon and Zelda actually share a lot in common, from their open world action RPG inspired gameplay to their focus on a mysterious setting that the player must unravel, to each game’s attempt to evolve the open world game template further.
"Reviews for Horizon are already out, and it is one of the most critically acclaimed games of this generation."
Reviews for Horizon are already out, and it is one of the most critically acclaimed games of this generation. Zelda reviews don’t go live until next week, but yesterday, the embargo on pre-release previews and impressions lifted, with gaming media being universally, overwhelmingly positive, and several sources outright proclaiming Breath of the Wild to be a superior game to Horizon. In fact the first ever review of the game has already awarded it a perfect 10/10 score.
Take a look at what Gamespot’s Peter Brown, who just last week awarded Horizon a glowing 9/10, had to say. “…I really liked it [referring to Horizon Zero Dawn]. But playing Zelda is really making me question- jeez. Horizon is a great game, it’s a fantastic game. But next to this, it’s like, shoot! If I was to make a list about what I like about both these games, the Zelda one would be as twice as long, I think.”
Brown isn’t the only one pointing how Zelda appears to already have made Horizon obsolete, either. “Having just completed it, we couldn’t help but think of Horizon Zero Dawn while playing Breath Of The Wild, and how simplistic it now seems compared to Zelda,” said GameCentral in its overwhelmingly enthusiastic preview of the game.
"Zelda reviews don’t go live until next week, but today, the embargo on pre-release previews and impressions lifted, with gaming media being universally, overwhelmingly positive, and several sources outright proclaiming Breath of the Wild to be a superior game to Horizon. "
I could go on, and produce more such quotes from my fellows in this industry who think Zelda is a better open world game than Horizon, but I think I have made the point- regardless of where we stand in terms of our fanboy allegiances and our own preferences and dislikes, the fact of the matter remains that the only people who have had a chance to play through Horizon and Zelda both, extensively, seem to prefer Zelda. Horizon is therefore caught in the rather awkward position and this is after receiving accolades and applause from the entire industry.
The question, then, is, can this percolate down to the commercial market, too? Is there a possibility that the release of Zelda (and the Nintendo Switch) puts a bump in Horizon‘s sales? Realistically, the answer is- no. While I am currently going to make no judgements or statements about which of the two games is better, the fact of the matter remains that currently, they are going after two very different audiences. PlayStation 4 has achieved full mass market penetration, and is owned even by extended, ‘casual’ gamers, so to speak- these are people who may have bought a PS4 to play some FIFA or Call of Duty with their friends, but will absolutely look into a high profile release for the console that they find interesting. These people are likely to purchase Horizon, especially after Sony’s relentlessly aggressive marketing for it over the past month.
Zelda, on the other hand, is launching for the Nintendo Switch, a system that, in spite of its potential for full mass market success later on in life, is initially selling to a very devoted audience of Nintendo, technology, and gaming fans and enthusiasts, and only in very limited numbers- only 2 million consoles are produced for the month of March. It is also launching on the Wii U, a system that sold in dismal numbers to begin with, is now discontinued and impossible to purchase, and now has an entirely disengaged audience that is looking to transition on to Nintendo’s next system.
"The question, then, is, can this percolate down to the commercial market, too? Is there a possibility that the release of Zelda (and the Nintendo Switch) puts a bump in Horizon‘s sales?"
None of this is to say that Zelda will sell less than Horizon– in fact, given the absurd attach rates that Zelda is likely to enjoy in March (what other reason is there for you to pick up a Nintendo Switch right now if not to play Zelda?), it is almost certainly going to be the highest selling game worldwide next month, even accounting for the PS4’s bigger by magnitudes of order install base. But this is pointing out a very important fact- at some point in the nebulous future, the PS4 and the Switch may be catering to the same customers, and thus, their releases may be directly competing with each other. As of right now, that is not the case. The people who are buying the Switch right now were largely never going to purchase Horizon at launch- the people who are buying Horizon now were probably never going to pick up a Switch right away. Which is to say- each of these games exists, for now, in its own bubble. The sales of one are not going to reflect on the sales of the other much at all. If this were a Venn diagram, the overlap would be pretty minor.
But that minor overlap does exist- and what of it? What about the gaming enthusiasts who own a PS4, and are eagerly anticipating Zelda and Nintendo’s next machine? Among them, what is more likely to win? To answer that question- who knows? Anecdotally, I know several people (myself included), who have decided to pass on Horizon for the time being to be able to focus on Switch and Zelda. But I won’t claim that my experience in this regard is universal- anecdotes are anecdotes, with no factual basis in reality (which means, please spare me the angry comments about how none of your friends are interested in getting a Switch because they would rather play Horizon).
But there is no larger way to know which game will sell better to the gaming enthusiast audience, in large part because we don’t even know what that audience is, or how big it is. You might be tempted to say Zelda will do better- after all, it’s the next entry in gaming’s most prestigious series, and has a ton of goodwill and hype surrounding it. At the same time, you might be tempted to say Horizon will do better- after all, it is a technologically stunning achievement, and a lot of gamers may not want to put up with Nintendo’s primitive tech even for Zelda‘s sake. But again, both those arguments cancel each other out- we have no empirical evidence.
"The sales of one are not going to reflect on the sales of the other much at all."
What we know right now is that both games have been marketed aggressively by Sony and Nintendo. Both are likely to be the biggest game releases of this year. Both are hugely anticipated, and well received by critics. For now, it looks like Zelda will end up doing better in terms of reviews and critic scores, but previews should never be taken as an absolute indicator of final success.
Will Horizon be affected by Zelda‘s launch? If Zelda does as well critically as it looks like it will, I can see all buzz and chatter around the game slow down a bit. But in terms of tangible metrics like sales? I think both games will be fine, and that both will do exceptionally well. More than anything else, I think that we are, as gamers, in for a hell of a treat come March, with two such exceptional exclusives to play.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.