Horizon Zero Denouement

I finally finished Horizon Zero Dawn. I took my time, doing most of the upgrades, finishing every side quest, doing almost every hunting trial with a complete success, collecting most of the outfits and weapons and all that. It was good, though I’ll be the first to say that though the text logs are super interesting, they’re a little too hidden away and difficult to find for any but the plot-centric ones to be worth getting. I thought I did a pretty good job of looking, but I definitely did not, seeing as I found maybe a third of the non-plot data logs. I could look up a guide and hunt them all down, but that just does not feel worth it when I could move on to other games, like playing Ghost of Tsushima again or playing The Witcher 3 for the first time (it was on sale!).

All said and done, it was worth playing. I had a good time, enjoyed most of the gameplay, and only got bored three times. And it wasn’t game-terminal boredom, just session-terminal. I was able to take a day or two off of hunting for raccoon pelts and bellowback hearts before returning to the game, refreshed and ready to hunt again.

While there were definitely some difficult parts early on, the availability of arms and gear meant that by the time I hit level thirty, fights weren’t a challenge anymore. It was only ever a question of how much time and how many resources it would take to finish it. The only times I died is when I fucked up a hunting trial and decided it was easier to just die since I spent too many resource to just try again. I even successfully killed a giant t-rex monster robot called a Thunderjaw way earlier than I should have been able to by cheap-shotting it with fire arrows from behind a rock it couldn’t path its way around. It took, like, fifteen minutes, but I brought it down.

The narrative was worth binging, though, so I’m glad I largely ignored it until I was mostly finished exploring and sidequesting through an area. It’s not that it wasn’t memorable, but that it had a degree of urgency to it that was difficult to ignore most of the time. While the robotic movements and painfully awkward expressions of the characters in cutscenes was difficult to watch, the plot itself was enough to carry me along. It twisted in not entirely surprising ways, but it gave me villains to hate, assholes to yell about, causes to believe in, and a twist I didn’t expect. I always thought it was going to be a global warming/environmental thing that wrecked the world, but that wasn’t it. Turns out that problem was solved. It was something else that revolved around the hubris of humankind that ultimately did us in.

That being said, I felt like there wasn’t enough plot. It felt like maybe ten hours of plot stretched into sixty hours of game by refusing you the information you want until near to the end, at which point it just dumps it all on you at once. There were a couple places where the protagonist, Aloy, interrogates another character about some big plot element (usually about a character) that is just a bunch of question prompts, the option to bail out of this massive dialogue tree, and an NPC just word-vomiting. It felt kinda of stilted, to have it all dumped out at these points. I’d have preferred never knowing to this kind of expository dumping.

While I’m super excited for the next game, and very interested in what might be going on in this next segment, I do feel a little restless. The final conclusion to the game wasn’t terribly satisfactory. Not merely because it was a setup for a sequel (as far as sequel bait goes, this was relatively mild), but because it just felt sort of abrupt. We’re chasing this thing down, fighting to save the world, and then we beat the big bad and it’s just over. No wrap up, no denouement, just a final cutscene to set up the next game. I know that unresolved plot is the key to a new story and that I literally just wrote a post about wonder and the space between certainties, but I don’t like it when it feels like those things were created by cutting holes in something.

I would definitely recommend the game and this is one gripe in an otherwise wonderful distraction and experience, but it is pretty heavily on my mind as I reflect on the conclusion to the game. There was just a world demanding so much of Aloy, a moment of victory, and then a lead-in to the next plot. Seriously, it just feels like they clipped the actual denouement out of the game. It’s a frustrating end to a lovely game.

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