Horizon Zero Dawn Made Me Love Video Games Again

Historically, once I beat a video game, I rarely keep playing it. What's the point? The story is done and I don't get satisfaction from 100 per cent completion. Well, with Horizon Zero Dawn, not only have I kept playing it, I don't want it to end. Ever. Guerrilla Games has created a world and experience that has reinvigorated my love of video games.

After 50 hours of Horizon Zero Dawn, battles like this are a walk in the park. All images: PlayStation

As a teenager, I was a huge gamer. Literally, I bought a game a week, and realised at one point that I had spent about $8000 on video games during my high school days. It was bad. In the decades since, I've cut down, and now it's just a pleasant hobby.

Almost 50 hours of gameplay and about 80 per cent completion later, Horizon Zero Dawn may have ruined me. These days, I go to bed thinking about what missions I have coming up. I think about how I could have done missions differently. I try to think about how I can upgrade my weapons, sell my resources, and buy new items. During the work day, I watch the clock for that precious moment when I can sign off and turn on my PlayStation. Then I play as long as I can, dinner, work or wife be damned.

There are a lot of reasons the game that has seeped so deeply into my life, the first being that it's a mashup of basically everything I love, both from genre and pop culture as well in a video game. Genre-wise, it's a sprawling adventure, about a young hero with a mysterious past who has to fight her way to the truth. To do that she has to conquer a world that mixes sword-and-sandal weapons with high science fiction. It's like Robin Hood meets Transformers wrapped around Lost and The Bible.

When you blend sci-fi with historical influences, you get a unique cross section of genre. There's something undeniably satisfying and original about using a bow and arrow to shoot a robot dinosaur in slow-motion. You draw back the arrow, slow down the action, and strategically send a shot in exactly the right place. It's a similar feeling sneaking up on the beautiful machines, overriding them, and making them your allies.

But, let's be honest, minus the robot dinosaur thing, this isn't that unique. What makes Horizon Zero Dawn unique is the Focus. The Focus is a small device your character, Aloy, finds early in the game that changes everything. It's a relic of a forgotten world. A world that birthed the machines and has since been buried under the ground. Using the Focus, Aloy can instantly access all kinds of information about the world around her. It's kind of like her very own JARVIS.

From a gameplay perspective, this gives Aloy an instant advantage over every other character in the game. You basically have a third eye that sees things no one else can see, and that's very helpful in dissecting machine weaknesses or tracking bad guys.

But on a larger level, the Focus represents the game's fundamental and universal theme: Religion vs. science. Without giving too much away, the mostly primitive characters in the game worship and fear the technology around them. Technology that remains from a world long gone. Aloy then becomes a kind of bridge between that. A woman raised in a world to believe one thing, who is now in possession of the first shreds of evidence leading to the truth of that world. Basically, Aloy has found a key to the mysteries of God and you, the player, uncover these answers along with her.

That's a pretty profound story to get wrapped up in amid all the action and beautiful graphics. So as you continue to move along and explore, using the Focus, more information is revealed about the link between the machines, the world of the past, and the world you are walking around in.

Adding to that level of interest and realism is a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. Men, women, black, white, good, evil, young, old, it just makes the world feel that much more real. You can meet any kind of person at any time and they all have a profound effect on the story. Each has a different set of beliefs and allegiances too, and Aloy can choose to side with them, go against them, or whatever you feel like doing.

One downside to all of this is the way the game chooses to give you much of this information. As you keep playing, there are several huge narrative dumps throughout the game. Every 10 hours or so there's a segment of the game where a ton of story is dropped on you at once, and you definitely would prefer to have it spread out a bit. Thankfully, you are so starved for more information linking Aloy, the Focus and machines, you gladly soak it up. Plus, if you really want to dive into it, there's a bunch of extraneous detail provided in text files.

Then, once you beat the game, solve the mysteries, figure it all out, you can go back and continue to play. Of course, this isn't new either. But it goes to show that as good as the mysteries are, all the gameplay stuff is just top notch too. The huge number of areas to explore, weapons to gain, ease of travel, all that stuff. It's all just great to explore, and that's where I am now: Levelling up, doing side missions, and engaging enemies I avoided early on. You finally become one with the world.

I could go on and on geeking out about everything I love in Horizon Zero Dawn. It's just that good of a game. And granted, I haven't played many games in the last several years, unlike many of my colleagues. But I have digested a lot of popular culture. Story and content from television, movies and, yes, video games. I feel like I'm a good judge of the quality of something on that simple level and, on that level, Horizon Zero Dawn just delivers. It simply seeps into your everyday life and continually rewards you in ways both obvious and subtle. Whether or not I'll ever get to 100 per cent completion and retire the game I don't know. But more than any other game I've ever played, I want to try. Not because it will give me some grand reward. Because I don't think I can stop.

The problem with this is that most games aren't Horizon Zero Dawn. Even many of the great games don't take over your life. In the past few months I played Firewatch, Uncharted 4, The Last Guardian, No Man's Sky and Resident Evil 7. Each is a game I enjoyed, but was fine to be done with. I'm not done with Horizon Zero Dawn. Sure I'll put it aside to play something else, but I'm coming back. Seeing how far I can push Aloy and fascinating world. And that kind of obsession is what I was missing in video games. I'm back and it's all because of Horizon Zero Dawn.

Originally posted on Gizmodo.


    It is, indeed, a very good game, hampered by shit mocap and laborious inventory management.

    No better feeling than bringing down stupidly big robots with everything at your disposal :)

    Got my copy of Horizon Zero Dawn last night. Unfortunately I started Bloodborne's Old Hunters expansion while I was waiting for it to arrive. I'm now knee-deep in the Hunters Nightmare, hoping to finish it before Mass Effect Day.

    I am really conflicted:

    The world. The visuals. The robots. The fighting. EVERYTHING about the combat. It makes me smile.

    The lore and the way it is delivered. The NPC's. The story and quests. The acting. The empty cities. All merchants in area sell the same things. The constant crafting and looting (especially having to hold the button down to loot). The itemisations. The lack of reasons to explore. The lack of variety in the weather. (EG its the same sunrise over an over and weather changes in seconds). It feels very 'gamey'. It feels unbalanced in some senses, I am level 40 and only just got to Meridian and everything is purple.

    Gosh like I love playing the game. Its fun and that combat, so satisfying. It never ceases to make me smile. Insert huge rant about its awesomeness on so many levels but ultimately its feels hollow. I guess in some senses its not this games fault but the fact I have been replaying Witcher 3. Where every moment can change everything, so far about the only decision I have had is whether to give someone a snarky or polite line.

    Yep totally conflicted by. Just wish the world was deeper and smarter and less 'Far Cry'-styled gamey.

      Fair point but remember The Witcher 3 is just that, the third installment. If you go and play the original witcher now it is pretty rough around the edges. Not just because of the year it was made, but because by the masterpiece that is The Witcher 3, they've had two installments to refine everything.

      The first witcher had a terrible inventory system and even TW3 had an update half way through to change the inventory and UI.

      Horizon is a great start to what will hopefully be a series of games. I am sure inventory clean up would be first on the books if a sequel is to follow. (Which I hope there is)

    Its payday... And i was considering Wildlands, this or wait for ME Andromeda....

    It would appear that Horizon Zero Dawn is something I completely ovelerlooked!!!

    I decided not to read all of your article to reduce spoiler impact but eveywhere i see this is the game to be playing if you have been a bit fatigued with RPG and open world gaming...

    Wandering down to JB Hifi as I type...

      I'd have a hard time choosing between Wildlands and Horizon, given that I really enjoyed watching my GF play Horizon, but am having an absolute blast with Wildlands. I think I'd probably go with Horizon if only because the narrative is so strong, and the mechanics/world a little tighter. Wildlands is infinitely more sprawling, with more flexibility of approach, but Horizon is just so different and new in its world and story.

      They're both very worthwhile.

        Yeah I feel ya - At the moment im seeing Wildlands could have a fair bit of repetitive gameplay - the beta felt like I wsa playing Just Cause bit with a crew. No problems with that but I want more of a narrative in my life at the moment i think

          Horizon's is top-notch. Definitely worth devouring every bit of lore and scanning EVERYTHING with the focus.

    Yeah, really damn good game.
    Perfect? Nah, but nothing is. A notch above most else I've played in a while tho.

    I love this game too but like a few people there are some terrible design decisions regarding merchants and inventory management. Namely you cant compare 2 pieces of gear or weapons. Looting takes time to open up loot and then hitting the loot all button again. Overriding robots doesnt actually tell you what doing that to certain bots does, they all just seem to follow you and defend but you cant do much with them other than that. It would have been better if you could override a watcher and have that scout out enemies for you.

    Regardless of my gripes I do love the world Guerilla have created and the lore is very fascinating. I'm 15 hours in and only just got to Meridian, can't wait for what else they have in store for me

    It certainly wasnt perfect but after finishing it just last night I have to say it was close. The world they created in this game was just stunning, filled with incredible combat and enjoyable characters. Best game Ive played this year. Now to get those damn Banuk statues.....

    I finished it yesterday with 100% achievements. Fantastic. The combat was fun, actually enjoyable! I'd sometimes engage robots in combat just for the thrill of it.
    The facial animations during conversations were great, they looked like real people most of the time. Acting from most of the main cast was fine.
    World building was top notch and they kept the design of the rest of the game in line with the history, which was drip-fed along the main questline.

    There were 2 places where I think it falls down. One being the economy/progression. You pretty much have access to end game weapons as soon as you hit the main city, only 1 other new type of weapon coming from a quest after that. The spear gets 2 upgrades in the whole game, once in the starting area and once at almost the end. Could have spread it out a little more.

    The other annoying thing is constantly being ambushed by glinthawks. The most annoying enemy in the game. I can take down a thunderjaw without taking a hit but these things swarm you and are so annoying to hit.

    Watched a friend play for an hour and whilst it's pretty (he has 4k and ps4 pro) I couldn't help but notice how ass creed it seemed. Climb towers, large open world, tedious collectibles and a horrible HUD.

    Maybe some of that stuff melts away when you have control and aren't watching.

      Do play it. And also set the HUD to dynamic, makes the game so much more immersive.

      Last edited 19/03/17 3:13 am

        I keep hearing that, i'll have to wait for a price drop before that happens though, lots of games to play first :)

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