Paige FTW: Diving In ‘Horizon: Zero Dawn’

I am by nature deeply slow and perpetually behind, so it’s hardly surprising that now, yes, only now, have I finally had the chance to dive into Horizon: Zero Dawn. I had heard nothing but acclaim for this PlayStation 4 exclusive, even if it was ultimately overshadowed by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The story, set in a post-apocalyptic world where monstrous machines roam the land, our modern society is considered ancient history and humans have resettled into almost medieval communities, focuses on unraveling the question of what happened to the old world — and why. The heroine, Aloy, is a charming outcast girl with a mysterious past who, of course, is the key to unlocking everything.

The story is honestly the best part of the game, part of a larger, loving emphasis on world building. Horizon feels alive and rich with people and mystery with a long history. The mix of cyberpunk and nomadic aesthetics works better than it ought — I always love the subtle details of the technology-averse Nora sporting bits of robot as bucklers and bracers. The characters don’t quite understand why the monsters around them work the way they do; but they understand them as resources — not unlike early man did with his world. This ever-constant negotiation between past and future serves as a quiet, powerful backdrop to the game’s events.

When it comes to the gameplay that governs this charming, interesting world is rather … nondescript. Similarities will be drawn to nearly every other third-person open-world shooter/RPG (Breath of the Wild, Tomb Raider, The Witcher, etc.), because it follows the same tried-and-true formulas. It does it well, yes, but it also draws heavily from its predecessors.

Much ado has been made about Horizon’s emphasis on strategy and epic combat in every encounter. This may be so, but it does get tedious trying to strategize ways to kill monsters when it is much easier to simply hide, snipe them from afar, rinse and repeat. Perhaps if there were more enemy varieties or specialized scenarios, this would have worked better. 

I’ll have some deeper thoughts to share next week.