Yesterday morning I warned my friends that there was a 99.9% chance that I would end up hunting Zoids all night long, and not to expect me for anything else. This was a completely accurate sentiment. Sure I popped into Final Fantasy XIV long enough to do my Ixal crafting dailies… which admittedly take way longer than any other set of quests… but after that I had a date with Aloy. Now Monday night I got in for about an hour as soon as the game unlocked, and spent at least a little bit of time getting myself adjusted to the world. My goal this morning is to give you my spoiler free impressions… or at least as spoiler free as I possibly can while still talking about the game and showing things off. When I logged in last night I descended into the valley for the first time on zip line to start my first off rails questing, and I have to say… I was instantly hooked on the game. Granted from the moment I booted it up and played through the first little bit… the hook was already setting pretty strongly. One of the things we do as gamers is try and compare every game that comes along to something else that already exists. The problem with doing this in regards to Horizon Zero Dawn is there is just a lot of things this game is drawing from. In theory if you took Skyrim and blended it with Fallout… then mixed in a huge dose of the modern Tomb Raider games with a little Mad Max and in truth a touch of Farcry… and you end up with a pretty good explanation of this game. More importantly than that… this game is what I wanted Turok Dinosaur hunter to always be…. stalking awesomely augmented dinosaurs with only my bow and my wits.
What is most impressive about this melange of different genres is just how damned good it feels. Not only does the world have a high coolness factor but it also feels like it makes sense. Things exist for a reason, and as the player and observer… it feels like you understand the whys of the world better than the characters that participate in it because you can theorize about what each and every little Easter Egg laid before you might mean. In many ways you get the impression that this is an alternate version of Fallout… where instead of returning to the surface and finding the world a barren wasteland… the first survivors found a world reclaimed by nature and populated by the machines they created run amok and self replicating. Granted none of this is stuff that I know, just things that I have started turning around in my head. What is absolutely true is you are existing in a world where the machine and the wildlife are equally at home on the grassy plains, and you as a hunter need components from both to survive. So with your bow and your spear you set out to scavenge what you need from the landscape. You play the role of an outcast, someone shunned by the tribe from birth… and the key driving force of your actions is more than anything to find out why. The shunning aspect feels a little odd, especially given how many of the tribe you end up helping out along your way as optional side missions. I was originally wondering if these wound up effecting the flow of the story at all.. but so far having played through the first little segment it really doesn’t seem to other than offering items and leveling opportunites.
One of my problems with games that put a bow in my hands is generally that bows have extremely limited ammunition. I love bow weapons, but have always hated either trying to make sure I purchased enough arrows before I left town… or making a trip back to do so in the middle of doing something else. Given that the world of Horizon is a world of scavengers… they fix this issue with giving you the ability to craft most of your needs on the fly. So at any point… even in the middle of a battle which seems a little awkward… I can crack open my crafting pane and knock out a few arrows so that I can continue the fight. The same is true with traps when you eventually get the ability to use those, and upgraded ammunition like fire arrows. Similarly your gear can be modified to improve its stats and tweak its abilities… but I question if this is going to be a key mechanic or if its just the equivalent of enchanting something and you will keep shifting bows and spears as you travel through the world and get exposure to better armor and weapons. I wound up getting the digital deluxe edition and on top of the pre-order bonus… I wound up with a bunch of different options for gear that you would not normally start out with. The only negative here is that there is a moment in the story where someone makes what is probably intended to be a significant upgrade for you… and it ends up not being an upgrade at all.
At this point I have finished playing through what could ultimately be referred to as the “starter zone”. So many times in video games there is a closed off and protected area that you start the game in… and through a sequence of events you are pushed out into the much wider world. I stopped playing at roughly 11 pm last night and I had just literally crossed this barrier, and figured that I really should call it a night otherwise I would literally be up for another two hours. That means to complete this “intro” section it took me roughly five hours… one hour the first night and four hours last night, which all things considered seems to be like a fair amount of game play. Granted I always stop and smell the roses and I attempted to do all of the side quests I could possibly do, as well as spending some time gathering resources to upgrade my quiver and various other inventory elements. What I like the most about this game is that it feels like I truly am self sufficient. I can live off of the things that I scavenge from the land… be it herbs to fill my medicine pouch, or upgrading my various pouches to be more effective at gathering.
The only thing that I don’t really like is that it feels like maybe the game sets you up a little bit to fail. There are some items that you scavenge off of the bodies of the machines that are clearly marked as “crafting” materials. So those make complete sense to hold into for long term use. However there is another category that is marked as “trade to vendors, sell for shards” given that metal shards are the universal currency as well as a crafting material. So my immediate thought was that these would be vendor trash and I could simply sell them with impunity. That is absolutely not the case and as I found out from later vendors… certain items require certain scavenged components as well as shards to purchase. So right now there is a set of armor that I would love to have… but it requires me to collect two watcher eyes… something that I have had plenty of in my inventory but had been selling them to vendors for shards up until that point. Basically… what I am telling you is to hold onto the various materials that you pick up off the machines unless you find out for certain that you are not going to need them. The game at least in theory tries to teach you this… but the lesson was not as clearly outlined as it should have been when you trade a part you scavenge for an item. I am used to bringing all sorts of random crap to NPCs for the sake of a quest… and did not realize that the game was attempting to teach me that this is a thing that could and does happen.
Up until this point I have really only talked about the game play, which is generally a safe spoiler free den of information to dwell on. Now I am going to attempt to talk about the story, which is a section where I am going to get a lot more vague and general. For lack of better phrasing… as good as the game feels when you are fighting robotic dinosaurs… it also feels equally good when you are dealing with story elements. The game has created a world that I instantly want to know more about, and populated it with a bunch of interesting characters that I have feelings about be they good feelings… or bad feelings. I already care far more about this game than I do many others that I simply go through the paces because they are mechanically enjoyable. I really like that the game allows me to tailor the Aloy I want to play through giving me a series of dialog choices that are reminiscent of the Bioware games. There will generally be an option marked with a fist, an option marked with a heart, and an option marked with a brain. So far I have not really chosen the fist that often, but I tend to alternate between the heart and the brain depending on how I feel about a given character. These choices do at least somewhat effect how later interactions are going to work out… based at least in one small part on how I interacted with someone when I was a tiny babby Aloy. I chose to use the brain option… and sure enough the game remembered it and brought it up at a later time. The game does a great job of giving you characters that you are going to hate… and other characters that you are either going to genuinely like… or at least begrudgingly respect.
All in all this game has lived up to every expectation I had for it. I wanted an awesome post-apoc game where I roamed around on an awesome bow lady and took down robotic dinosaurs. This game has paid that off in spades, but also given me a really interesting world that I already deeply care about, as well as giving me just enough call to action to make me want to move forward in the quest chain. This is where so many games fail for me when it comes to open world adventures. In Fallout 4… I simply did not give a single fuck about the main story arc. All I wanted to do was explore the world surrounding me and build up the settlement of Sanctuary. I didn’t care about my baby being stolen, and I most certainly didn’t care about trying to track it down. The game completely failed at giving me enough motivation to keep moving forward… however already in Horizon I care… I want to know more about why this world is the way it is and how exactly all of these different pieces that it keeps exposing me to fits together. Guerrilla games has somehow managed to create an open world with an infused sense of purpose behind everything you are doing… and I like it… I like it a lot. I am sure there will be some slow spots… as happens with literally every game but I feel both the desire to keep moving… but also at the same time the freedom to wander about and explore whenever I want to. At this point I am super hooked, and am fighting every desire to boot the game up and play some this morning because it would without a doubt make me super late to work.