Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn

I've played a bunch of Horizon Zero Dawn last year. I wanted to try it since it came out,[1] even though I didn't know much about it beyond 'it has robot dinosaurs'. I ended up loving it.

Aloy is a charming, relatable protagonist; she's not perfect, but she's easy to root for. The game just looks great. Vibrant colors, an expansive world, lots to explore.

Since my gaming time is quite limited and I have plenty of other hobbies as well, I rarely start games that I expect to take very long to beat; and when I do, I only stick with them if they really drag me in. This one definitely did.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew the genre of open-world games was done to death in the gaming industry as a whole. Typically involving elements of RPG, stealth, crafting, collectibles, lookout towers that reveal surrounding points of interest on a map, et cetera. This combination was so common that in certain parts of the 'net, it became a subgenre of its own (known as 'jiminy cocktrhoat' in some circles). Complaints about games that just cram all those mechanics in because they make money abound. On the other hand - I have never played any of them.

And HZD ticks all of those boxes, so when I started playing, I was a bit worried. Will it be hand-holdy, dumb, or condescending? Am I going to get herded into detours so I could do Mandatory Appreciation of All The Mechanics?

At first, it seemed fine, though I did think there were too many UI elements, arrows pointing at objectives, highlights for every bush around. Then I checked the settings and found very granular controls that let me turn off almost everything. (Or turn on even more, if need be.)

Suddenly the screen was clear - just a few of the most necessary indicators, nothing that would mar my view of the beautiful world. I decided to ignore the main quest line and headed in a random direction, determined to just explore the world until the game forces me to get back to it.

It never did. That's when I fell in love.

The sheer joy of exploration was compounded with every character I met and every weird thing I discovered. Even the collectibles made ludonarrative sense.[2] The last time I loved exploring a virtual world this much probably was with Gothic (I and II) and GTA Vice City - that is, decades ago.

When I finally decided to get to the actual plotline some 30 hours later, it turned out to be great as well. Learning more about the world and its history was fun, and the world was clearly built with care.

After beating the game, I played it again on Ultra Hard to get all of the achievements. I've played plenty of great games in 2023, but I think this one takes the crown.

  1. It didn't even take me twenty years to get around to trying it this time! ↩︎

  2. And you could easily get a map of all their locations, so there clearly was no attempt to just inflate playtime. ↩︎