Open-world games are dime a dozen these days and for good reason. The medium of video games is known for the sheer amount of interactivity games offer, and what better way to demonstrate this aspect than allowing players to explore a vast open space at their own will? However, there are some obvious downsides to this whole influx of open-world games as well, the most prominent of which is padding. In a pursuit to create endless swaths of content spread over dozens of virtual miles, developers tend to fill the space with repetitive activities and repeating locations, that after a while, stop being fun.
Of course, even the best open-world games of recent memory are subject to some of this criticism to varying degrees, so it’s really surprising when a game so focused on its open-world actually manages to carve out a space of itself in the hearts of fans and maintain a decent level of fandom even years after its release. Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn was released in 2017 as a PlayStation 4 exclusive and rightfully deserves a place as one of the best open-world games you can experience to this date. Horizon Zero Dawn also eventually made its way to the PC platform last year, although it did take some post-launch patches to get its performance issues alleviated. It’s been close to five years since the original game released, and with its sequel, Horizon Forbidden West planned for release early next year – the time seems ripe to look back at Zero Dawn, and ask, what made it one hell of a game.
To really understand what made Horizon Zero Dawn a fabulous game requires paying attention to the time when the game was released. Open-world games were all the rage back in 2017 too – sure, and they were subject to the same criticisms I mentioned before. However, the concept of mish-mashing action RPG-esque progression into an open-world game was present in very few games but they were pretty rooted in the tropes that came with them – from restricted movement mechanics to level-gating content and so much more.
So, when Horizon Zero Dawn was released in February of 2017, it was almost unlike anything fans had seen before. And what a world it was (and still is to this day), with its rich post-post-apocalyptic setting, flaunting its juxtaposing tribal denizens and lush green forests along with unique technology, machines and weaponry. Guerrilla Games worked with a bunch of experts on how to make the world as realistic as possible, and it clearly shows in the final product with crisp visuals and superb art direction.
Horizon Zero Dawn takes a lot of cues from other modern open world games, especially in its hybrid stealth approach to the combat loop. As fans of the game might already know, players get to face both humans and robotic dinosaurs in this one hell of an adventure. You can either choose to take your enemies head-on or take them out one by one by devising and then carrying out unique and creative strategies. Of course, as you’d expect – downing these gargantuan dinosaurs is no easy feat- more so with primal weaponry like bows and spears. Thus, it becomes absolutely essential to target weak points on the dinosaurs in an effort to take them down as efficiently as possible.
You can go behind weaker machines to either take them down silently or even take control of them to either ride them or make them fight their species. You could also use traps to lure enemies into them, causing them to trip over them or electrocute themselves. There are also multiple types of traps and ammunition that you can craft on the fly. All of this coalesces together to make Horizon Zero Dawn‘s combat system a highly dynamic experience that promotes player expression with its bevy of tools on offer.
Horizon Zero Dawn‘s movement system relies heavily on the use of parkour and free-running across its environments. You can climb up huge towers, travel down ziplines, and so much more – giving you a lot of freedom in how you want to traverse the world all while giving the game’s world a whole lot of verticality. It’s not Mirror’s Edge levels of free-running, but what’s here is certainly impressive in the context of the packed world. There are a ton of side-quests to track, camps to clear out, dinosaur species to hunt, resources to be scrapped, towers to climb, and so much more. Of course, it’s not anything new that we haven’t seen in previous games – but the game doesn’t excessively pad itself out and the rewards (for the most part) are worth making the effort for completing these activities. These rewards all feed into making you even more powerful than before with an increase in core stats and tools, which is absolutely vital if you want to survive the increasingly tough assortment of enemies.
Tying it all together is a tale about protagonist Aloy who has been shunned from the Nora tribe and raised by an outcast by the name of Rost. Throughout the campaign, players learn more about the world, what happened before the machines took over, their origins and how to stop them, and what happened to her mother. The story itself isn’t the most riveting, although it does put a lot of focus on Aloy – who is an interesting character that’s worth rooting for. The way in which it is told, however – does leave a lot to be desired with robotic animations and inconsistent dialogues being a major point of criticism on launch.
That said, when looking at Horizon Zero Dawn as a whole – is simply put, an unforgettable experience. What makes it such can be attributed to some great art direction and background research that makes this post-post-apocalyptic world a beauty to gaze at. Its combat system is very well-thought-out and most importantly unique which makes fighting the machines a constantly frantic and exhilarating experience. Of course, it ties everything together very neatly in a package, which is the most important aspect of an open world and is integral to making any game of this ilk one hell of a game. Guerilla Games nailed this aspect with Horizon Zero Dawn and its follow up expansion, The Frozen Wilds, and we hope to see more of this magic once again when Horizon Forbidden West releases in February of this year.
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