I’m going to preface this by saying I really enjoy playing this game. No matter what else I say, and I’ve got a lot to say, I really enjoy playing this game and can’t wait to keep playing it once I’ve finished creating my blog buffer. The combat is rewarding, all of the action moves feel incredible, and the lore is just waiting for you to stumble over it. The skills you can unlock by leveling up feel diverse and any one of them can have an incredible (positive) impact on my play style.
I’ll admit my first impressions weren’t super positive. Having never owned a PlayStation anything, I consistently bear a minor grudge against all exclusive games on a platform I never intend to buy. A grudge that grows in size depending on how cool the game looks. Sure, I have access to one now since one of my roommates owns a PS4, but the game looked so cool when it came out that I made myself wait about four months before I bought it. Somehow, I managed to avoid all spoilers for the game, so I was essentially going in blind other than what turned out to be a few unfortunate comparisons to Breath of the Wild.
I say unfortunate because the comparison does Horizon Zero Dawn no favors. HZD is much more focused on lore and story-telling. Characters will constantly tell you all sorts of really interesting information about the world and what has happened in its recent history. Also, and this was the biggest problem for me, you can’t climb everything. There were so many times I had to settle for hopping up a pile of boulders or finding a way around the cliff rather than just being able to scale it. It isn’t really a problem given HZD’s preference to make you feel like there’s danger around every corner, so being forced to walk around more requires you to get really good at sneaking or decent enough at combat that you can eliminate several robo-beasts as you’re trying to find a path that leads up to the top of the cliff. Or ruined skyscrapers (which are so freaking cool).
Probably the best comparison between HZD and BotW is in their atmospheres. I absolutely love the atmosphere of HZD. Both maintain an air of neglect, decay, and loss but BotW veers toward melancholy and then focuses on what is now gone forever while HZD turns toward attempts to understand the mysterious and forgotten past. Around every corner is some relic of a past that is slowly revealed through text or audio dumps that hint at what was going on in the world before civilization collapsed. Everything from the various machines you encounter to the remnants of cities or bases you can explore works to paint a picture of a world that was headed toward the collapse you know happened.
One thing that I’m still on the fence about, which is the reason for the title, is how every robo-creature you kill lets out a keening scream as it dies. It is a really nice effect, making each of the kills feel rewarding and real, but stealth kills also result in loud noises and nothing seems to notice the death cries of anything. If you stand around and gawk once you’ve killed something, THEN something might notice you. There seems to be almost no concept of noise and some of the line-of-sight stuff can be confusing, too. You can walk within a dozen feet of something and it won’t notice you, but it’ll watch you from a mile away if it noticed you and ran away, no matter how much you attempt to sneak or hide.
I have a few other gripes, but it’s mostly stuff about what I prefer in video games. Stuff like particular movements the character models make, word choices and personality stuff, the way they wrote some of the lore. Nothing of importance. Any negativity is far-outweighed by how much fun it is to sneak around and look for new lore. I can’t marathon it the way I could marathon BotW, but HZD is definitely something I try to play for at least a little bit every day. If you haven’t played it yet and have the means to do so, I suggest picking up the complete edition and playing your heart out.