Some great games hit the ball out of the park right away. Others stay consistent, offering a similar experience throughout without any moments that stand out as particularly better or worse than the others. And some, like Horizon: Zero Dawn, increase in scale at a slow and steady pace. Games like these run the risk of not interesting the player enough for them to continue, but Horizon’s solution to this is to sprinkle hints for where the game is heading, both in terms of story through foreshadowing and posing intriguing questions, as well as mapping out all of the different types of missions through giving an early sampling of most of them very early on.
In my first handful of hours with Horizon: Zero Dawn, I didn’t quite see how everything fit together. I enjoyed most of the moving parts: the story, voice acting, combat, stealth, side quests, open world, and so on. But aside from the obvious connections (it’s pretty easy to tell how story and voice acting go together, for example), I was worried that all of these good foundations for a game would clash with each other and devalue the overall experience.
And then it just clicked.
After having taken a break from Horizon to really sink my teeth into Breath of the Wild’s first DLC pack, I decided to set aside a nice chunk of time to finish up a story thread that I’d been setting aside for a while. While it was fine on its own, it wasn’t the most fun I’ve had with Horizon so far. But by finishing this story segment, I realized how all of the elements of Horizon could come together to create a fantastic experience.
At a pivotal moment in the story that got the ball rolling for the narrative, two story missions were unlocked at the same time. One was clearly meant to progress the game’s plot that would eventually get me to the credits, while the other was clearly meant to deal with the consequences of the aforementioned plot point. I set both on the back burner while I explored the new area and did side quests, thinking that no significant changes in gameplay or story would occur until I decided to pursue the main story. I was wrong.
Near the beginning of the mission that was supposed to tie up loose ends in the story, I was introduced to a new character who seemed very likable, and he referenced another character and asked that we find and assist her. Fine, I think, I’ll do that once I do a few other things first. I do them, and then go to help her out. It’s an infiltration mission where it’s suggested that I be all stealthy, but because I didn’t quite get what they were asking me to do, I got caught and nearly died. I say “nearly” because I was able to just barely scrape by and complete the mission anyway, which was just fine with the game. I was given my next objective to meet with her, and really took a nice long break before returning to that story mission.
In the meantime, I discovered a side quest unrelated to the story mission where I was tasked with infiltrating another base full of human enemies. This gave me a chance to really get to understand what I’m supposed to do in these sorts of missions and how to do it before continuing the story, which was definitely helpful.
However, I eventually realized that even if I was doing side quests that weren’t necessarily the same genre as the story mission, what I gained in-game and learned from it would often directly apply to the story mission. Whether it was learning more lore about the world to give the mission context, learning a new technique I could use in the mission, or finding a new weapon that was super effective against the enemies I was fighting, everything seems to build off the other.
That’s what I was missing from Horizon: Zero Dawn! I liked all of the moving parts, but it wasn’t until that mission that I realized that they all move together by working off of each other!
So if you’re playing a game that you don’t quite know if you like, play it a bit more. Maybe you’ll realize that it’s not the game for you, but maybe even ten more minutes with it will make the game “click” for you, and it could end up being one of your favorites!