I was stuck in a gaming funk for a while. An embarrassment of riches at my fingertips and I couldn’t muster the energy to choose anything. On a whim, I remembered that I had specifically bought four games to go along with my new PC. With two of them down, why not see if a third could break me out of the funk?
Horizon: Zero Dawn certainly did.
It was a fun experience going into this game effectively blind. Like, I knew the general premise of the game, as will anyone who has ever seen any screenshots: you are a tribesman hunting robot dinosaurs. Basically.
What I was not particularly expecting was the general level of fidelity to the premise. You really are walking around with a bow, arrows, and a spear. After dying a few times on Normal difficulty (!!) in frustrating ways, I took a mental step back. Although things certainly look like a sort of Action Adventure game, this was not Grounded wherein you Perfect Block the attacks of a house-sized spider. You are hunting machines made of metal – you cannot hope to parry with a spear. Of course, you do have a dodge roll with infinite i-frames, but nevermind.
Instead, I started approaching the game as the hunter I was supposed to be. And the game got worlds better. Unlocking the ability to set down elemental tripwires and such certainly helped, but even before that I started approaching from cliffs, and using other terrain to my advantage when possible. Did I still occasionally get one-shotted and lose 20 minutes of progress due to the annoying checkpoint system? Yeah. But I also realized that I was one-shot because I got cocky and wanted to finish off one robot instead of retreating once I aggroed the second. It all sort of reminded me of PvP games and the adage that if you died with cooldowns available, it was your own fault.
Also amazing? The visuals. Yeah, I have a beefy PC so I’m playing a max settings and everything, but the visual direction itself is spectacular. Running around in the machine bases in particular has been a treat. Some of the larger robots are extremely intimidating, even after you are experienced enough (and have the proper tools) to take them out with ease. Plus, as before, even “routine” encounters with robots you have killed dozens of times can quickly turn against you if you aren’t careful. Any time I see a few Snapjaws (robot crocodiles) swimming around, I say “Nope” and go a different way.
Near as I can tell, I’m about halfway through the game. And unfortunately, I fell into the Open World trap of exploring the Open World instead of plowing through with the main story. I say “unfortunately” because at this point I have unlocked all the Skills I was looking forward to, and unlocked all the best weapons. The game is still fun for now, but I’m worried about whether or not I’ll stick around long enough for the ending. I had 80ish hours in Cyberpunk and never actually beat that game, for example. So we’ll have to see what happens with Horizon: Zero Dawn.