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'Horizon Zero Dawn' Has Far More Than Robot Dinosaurs

Waypoint Senior Reporter Patrick Klepek starts off our letter series about Guerrilla's open-world adventure.

by Patrick Klepek
Feb 20 2017, 8:01am

The Waypoint crew is (tall)neck deep in Guerrilla Games' open-world action game, Horizon Zero Dawn, and writing to each other about it. Check out Patrick's thoughts here, and come back soon for Senior Editor Mike Diver's take on the game.


Austin, Mike, and Danielle

Horizon's world is an unexpected hook. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention to the game the past few years—or maybe I was blinded by the sheer prospect of robot dinosaurs—but I found myself immediately wrapped up in this bizarro Earth.

I love that Horizon picks up long after whatever techno-cataclysm caused society to collapse, at a point when humans have forgotten how any of the machines around them work. People now look at the machines, even ones that could conceivably make their lives better, with scorn, and a time-calcified ignorance has laid a fruitful foundation for new religious beliefs and fears.

In my ideal world, the game wouldn't even be about finding answers to the question it begins (clumsily) raising almost immediately: What happened to the old world? I found myself much more interested in learning the particulars of Horizon society. Where did the idea of Matriarchs, a group of women who commune with a God-like figure called All-Mother, come from? Did the tribes form on race, geography, or something else? How did the mythologies about the old world change and evolve over time?

 

I suspect these and other questions might get addressed as I explore more, but I'm pleasantly surprised the developers behind a series bluntly called Killzone have developed a world that's able to posit so many interesting questions so quickly.

I'm similarly impressed by Aloy, a character whose inquisitiveness and candidness often says reflects exactly what I'm thinking. She feels fully formed, yet players are offered gratifying opportunities to more narrowly define her personality. (Hey, tell me: Did you throw the rock at the kid's head? Drop the rock? Knock it out of his hand?) It's a good balance. The relationship between Aloy and Rost is strong, too, buoyed by strong writing, characterization, and voice acting. Guerrilla Games didn't pull this off in any of the Killzone games, but here, it works.

If it sounds like I'm lacking feelings on how the game actually plays, that's because, as of writing this letter, I'm still wrestling with that part. It's beautiful to behold, the combat is solid, and I'm, so far, curious to learn more about what's around every corner (especially the discovery of some new animal/robot thing), but I made the mistake of buying a bunch of collectible maps from a vendor, turning my world into some nightmare out of Assassin's Creed.

It's possible all those collectibles are worth tracking down or easy to ignore, but right now, my concern is whether Guerrilla Games managed to do more than craft a compelling mythology.

- Patrick