Hunter vs. hunted
Horizon Zero Dawn
Beauty, this side of the horizon
If you’re a hunter like me, you’d probably make the mistake of thinking
Horizon Zero Dawn plays like Monster Hunter; you set out hunting creatures beyond human reckoning, using materials salvaged from the hunt to craft weapons for future hunts. While this is true in its loosest terms, diving into the world of Horizon Zero Dawn with this mindset is a mistake, as this is an entirely different beast altogether, to be hunted on its own terms. This simple fact is both a good and bad thing, but we’ll start with the former first.
The world of Horizon Zero Dawn is one of immense beauty, with rich, vibrant colors that you’d easily lose yourself in, especially if you’re a bit sick of the dull gray concrete jungle. What the game offers is an actual jungle bustling with life and greenery, with a sprinkle of snow white and desert brown, and a splash of golden sun rays when the time is right.
And the right time makes return visits in the form of day and night cycles and dynamic weather. The latter comes in multiple forms, depending on where you are at any given time. The jungles will be embraced by healing rain that also obscures sounds, the desert plains buffeted by sandstorms that only slightly limit vision, while the snowy altitude gets falling snow that’s just simply pleasant to the eye.
But to truly appreciate the eye candy that is Horizon Zero Dawn, you’ll need to look at the finer things in Aloy’s life. And by fine, I meant going down to the individual blades of grass, and the intricate details on the practically embellished weapons and armor that she uses. Armor gets progressively more of the body covered instead of less, and the same applies to weapons as well. You start with simple-looking bows, slowly gaining access to those that look progressively more like they belong in a modern archery range, while still looking practical enough to be brought outside to an actual hunt. Then, there are the end-game ones with bright colors that would make you want to fork out some cash to have one made in real life. The NPCs haven’t been given the same sort of detail, sadly. Most of them look like you’d confuse one for another, and there isn’t the level of detail that you’d expect once you’re used to looking at all the details on Aloy herself. That said, I’m by no
means suggesting that the level of detail given to the NPCs is subpar. In fact, it’s more than what most other triple-A titles would give theirs.
Guerilla Games made sure to make up for this by going all out on the machine wildlife. The overlap of armor plating reminiscent of snake or fish scales, the artificial musculature that look nearly edible, and the natural reaction to the unknown would sometimes make you forget that there are both organic and robotic wildlife. Even the more outlandish machines like bison the size of small hills look like they might be something that would show up in a few thousand more years, until they start using their improbable machine abilities.
For those of you who are inclined to document your adventure, but find that words can never describe it as well as pictures can, there’s a pretty nifty Photo Mode included for all your stylized screenshots. The range in which you can zoom out the camera is a tad limited, but you get some additional toys compared to what other Photo Modes may have on offer. For one, if you’re one of the bokeh enthusiasts among photographers, then this Photo Mode is one that you’d like, as you’re given the freedom to change the aperture of the camera and the focus distance, to selectively blur portions of your shot. You can also change the time of day for the shots that simply need the golden rays to be complete, or those that need the silver orb in the sky.
The abrupt end of the hunt
There is, after all that’s said and done, one issue that I’ve had with Horizon Zero
Dawn, and that’s post-game replayability. As engaging and smooth the story is, and as relatable a main character as Aloy is, at its conclusion, you’re suddenly left with pretty much nothing to do. There’s no New Game+, and the only thing you can do after clearing the story is to hunt for collectibles and trophies, if that’s your kind of thing. And it’s not a particularly long story either. It’s easily cleared within 60 hours of gameplay, and the ability to switch difficulty on the fly leaves very little incentive to start a new playthrough.
There is also little incentive to hunt machines either. An averagely well-geared and prepared hunter can take down the toughest of machines in less than five minutes, with the most time being spent immobilizing the agile ones or ones capable of flight or burrowing. And by hunting, you get more resources to craft more arrows from the beasts you fell, but by this point you could buy most of the resources you need from vendors, or you could even buy the arrows straight up. This is unlike the Monster Hunter series that heavily inspired this game – or so said the developers – where hunts take tens of minutes, and grant materials that cannot be obtained anywhere else used to make better weapons and equipment, instead of just specialized ammo that can be bought using the in-game currency.
As you progress, you gain the ability to take control of hostile wildlife. This leads to machines brawling against each other for an amazing spectacle.
Despite their fearsome appearance, they go down pretty quickly, unless you’re grossly ill-prepared.