I was on an errand to take out some Sawtooths, but for the life of me, I could not do it. Over and over again, they would decimate me, despite the errand being well below my level. So I decided to come back to the errand later and take on the SIGMA Cauldron, the first dungeon in the game other than the introductory one when you’re a child. It was an hour-long journey that was filled with beautiful yet terrifying futuristic machinery and culminated in a blood-rushing boss fight. After I finally beat it, I gained the ability to override Sawtooths, making it easier for me to complete my previous errand.
This is Horizon: Zero Dawn at it’s best. It presents multiple ways to deal with a problem. I could have just waited until I was at high enough of a level to beat them without a sweat. I could have also set traps to weaken them, or simply just “gotten good” and learned to time my attacks and dodges perfectly. But my method worked perfectly well too.
Despite this, I do not have much patience for Horizon: Zero Dawn when it doesn’t deliver. At times, the game can feel like a giant checklist of things to do. While stunningly beautiful, the environments seldom hold much value in and of themselves. Instead, they are filled with quests that are usually interesting and fun, but don’t fully take advantage of the open world that Horizon provides.
Most of the time spent figuring out how to defeat an enemy is spent hiding in tall grass. At least at the beginning of the game, you often can’t afford to go in guns-blazing unless you want to get a swift Game Over. Instead, the game encourages you to take cover in the tall grass placed wherever enemies are near, and analyze their walking patterns and weak spots, change weapons and traps accordingly, set said traps, and use said weapons on their weak spots once they’re disabled. What is fun and engaging at first quickly becomes dull and repetitious after hours of the same actions. Nevertheless, as you level up, such stealth actions become less necessary for lower-level enemies, allowing you to go in guns-blazing for lower-leveled enemies or at least run straight past them without taking too much damage.
Actual combat consists of a few things: bow and arrow, light/ heavy melee attacks, and dodging. You have a few different types of arrows to use that you’ll have to decide on depending on your enemy’s weakness, and then try to hit their weak spots. Once they’re incapacitated, you can close in for a light melee attack that does less damage but has a shorter animation, or a heavy melee attack that does more damage but has a longer animation, leaving you more open to potentially take damage. And of course when the enemy is charging at you, you can dodge to avoid taking damage if you time it right. It’s the tried-and-true high risk, high reward system that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but works well as long as you’re not fighting someone well above your level. It should however be noted that combat with humans, while less common than combat with machines, is a variation on the stealth and combat, but much less interesting because humans suddenly become boring once you grow accustomed to fighting ROBOT DINOSAURS.
While I am still relatively early on in the game’s story since I’m trying to do all of the sidequests that interest me, what I have gathered from the story so far is intriguing. What’s more, the game actually gives you answers to some of the questions raised in the game before the final boss, which is a nice change of pace that keeps you engaged with the story instead of thinking “yep, another question that I’ll just have to wait for the end to find out.” Instead, the story evolves alongside the game, with some genuine twists and turns early on that I was not expecting.
And the story is facilitated that much more by the excellent voice acting. Most of the entire cast is fantastic, but Aloy’s voice actress, Ashly Burch, really knocks it out of the park. She can be funny, somber, intense, and everything in between. This is a good thing because hoo boy do characters in this game like to talk. A lot of this is, admittedly, up to the player. Most dialogue-heavy cutscenes have the player select from anywhere from two to sometimes eight prompts, which will go down a certain conversation between Aloy and whoever she’s talking with. You’re not required to read every single one, but I always do because I’m interested in the story, even if it’s just world-building stuff that isn’t integral to understanding the whole plot. There are also a few bucketfuls of audio and text files from before the world went to sh*t which are also expertly written and make me that much more interested in what the hell happened.
The quests themselves are a combination of this. Meet someone and get story bits, complete an objective for more story, rinse, wash, repeat. So far, the story and gameplay are interesting enough for the time being that they keep me engaged most of the time, but there are other times when I can’t be bothered. Horizon: Zero Dawn isn’t interesting for its open world; It’s interesting for what it tells you to do in it.