Guerrilla Warfare: Review-ish Thoughts on Horizon Zero Dawn

Review-ish Thoughts

It’s a good thing Horizon: Zero Dawn‘s statistics menu doesn’t list hours played, otherwise I might be horrified at the amount of time I’ve dedicated to the PS4-exclusive.

Guerrilla Games has delivered its magnum opus; a post-apocalyptic future earth where humans have been pushed back into the food chain.

There was always this charge in the games industry that Guerrilla’s intention was to release “a Halo killer”. Whether or not that was the studio’s intention — or if it then was mandated to chase that dragon due to the rising popularity of console shooters — the Killzone series never quite accomplished that goal. Thirteen years later, Guerrilla extracted itself from becoming a factory to manufacture the same captivation found in games like Halo to try something new.

Though, Horizon: Zero Dawn is not completely different.

Jill of All Trades

Scrub the features from Horizon and you’ll see back-of-the-box promises found on dozens of games released over the last decade.

  • Open-world
  • Character customization
  • Traverse the world any way you see fit
  • Bows and arrows galore

Horizon: Zero Dawn is Grand Theft Auto meets Assassin’s Creed. It’s Watch Dogs cozying up to Tomb Raider. Plus Jurassic Park.

Fear was Horizon would be “jill of all trades and master of none”. I was worried it was chasing another popular genre down the rabbit hole. But Horizon: Zero Dawn works so wonderfully and it’s definitely my favorite game of this generation, thus far.

It was five or so hours into the game when I realized I didn’t do that thing I think we always do when we play open world games; I didn’t try to mow down a town of friendly NPCs.

In any other game that gave me complete freedom one of my first horrifying acts as ruler was to try to wreak havoc upon the world.

  • Horizon: Zero Dawn Gameplay
    Aloy versus a Sawtooth

Listen, I’m not a monster, I just think that it’s a test of limitations that I and a lot of others have attempted. We ask:

“How much damage can I cause before the developer brings the weight of the world down on me in an effort to get me back on track?”

I realize I don’t even know if you can kill a civilian in Horizon: Zero Dawn.

I’m in no hurry to find out.

Aloy’s world makes sense from a gameplay perspective.

It’s natural for me to aim my bow at any number of the “Transformers: Beast Wars-inspired” monsters ruling the world. Even the shadowy and aggressive offshoot of a struggling tribe are easy to hunt since they’re usually caught treating people like bags of garbage.

It’s the game’s story that sets my course. I enjoy the characters and its crazy story so much that the freedom Horizon‘s open world affords me is to play to Aloy’s intentions more than any other open world game I’ve experienced.I understand her position in this society and the sacrifices that have been made to bring her to this point in her journey.

I understand her position in this society and the sacrifices that have been made to bring her to this point in her journey. Offering mercy to someone who has betrayed you in a game of Mass Effect was always in an effort to push a slider to the left or right. Be good or be bad. In Horizon, I actually made that decision based on Aloy’s past and the difficulty of getting to the moment where I could kill or spare.

Though that may not be unique to others, it was to me with Horizon.

Keeper of Secrets

I’ve avoided the last mission of Horizon: Zero Dawn. I’d rather rush out to complete every side quest and errand offered in the game instead. I’ve found myself seeking out data points to read more about the world; if only to get the fascinating interpretation of the old world from Aloy in a quick voice over. I revel in talking to NPCs to hear what version of Aloy’s story they’ve heard and are willing to tell.

Even the mundane is enjoyable. I like traversing the world rather than fast travel from place-to-place, for example. In between, I get to do the extraordinary. I like pitting monsters against each other as though I’m some futuristic hellscape fight promoter.

It’s all pretty silly, mind you; Horizon is a pre-programmed world of ones and zeroes designed to react to my input, but it’s fuckin’ fantastic.

Part of what I love about being out of the games industry is that I’m no longer forced to absorb every piece of information about a game as soon as it’s announced. I didn’t see or read a thing about Horizon: Zero Dawn since it was revealed. I’m so happy about that.

It’s lovely to be surprised by a game and it’s even more amazing to be enamored with it.