Over the last couple of weeks, I have been playing Horizon Zero Dawn (or HZD) with a lot of gusto. The post-post-apocalyptic game has been my favorite game in a while , which includes the excellent FFXV. For me it hits a lot of great buttons:
- A apocalypse story where the story of the apocalypse is shrouded in myth and mystery.
- An unfolding story around a character who is smart, sarcastic, and able.
- A World that feels like it has been around a while, and doesn’t feel like you kickstarted things.
- challenging game concepts that are easy to learn but take a while to master.
- Lots and lots of side quests.
- A reflection of our current world
One of my gaming flaws is that for large scale games, I get bored with the story, which leads me to drop the game before it is finished. I find a lot of RPGs get to the point of being rather same-same, the story kinda bloats out to the point it really doesn’t matter. In FFXV, they did well in deflating that by giving a sense of momentum and drive to the second half of the game… whether people liked that or not is still up for debate. With other games, I find the mechanics so overwhelming that my skill level is outstripped and the story is not engaging enough for me to press forward. (or I just cave and read the wiki article on it)
With HZD however, I am finding that the story and gameplay is engaging and challenging and spurs me to keep going, and I think it has a lot to do with the politics of the game.
BTW, the following will contain spoilers for Horizon Zero Dawn, so if you continue to read beyond this point, spoilers are going to come fast and heavy, you have been warned.
In the game, you are in the far-flung future after a Cataclysmic disaster that befell the world. As the protagonist, you uncover ruins and areas where you can find notes, letters, and messages from people of the past. From these seemingly random collectables, it begins to tell the story of what Earth was like prior to the event.
You learn about how Automation has put a large part of the world out of a job. You learn about resource wars, effects of climate change, corporations becoming stronger than nations. There are wars and advancement, peace and dystopia. The world leading up to its destruction sounds very much like something we would expect to see in the real world, and it is something that fascinates me.
Then, of course is politics of the current time period as well. In the game, you are played by a woman and her tribe, the Nora, are a tribe led by women. In the overall world, this is remarked on a few times, but generally it is accepted by the people in the world. There are male and female braves, but overall, they are led by several matriarchs. Further, the races of the people are diverse, more diverse than you would see in a given area. Other tribes have different social norms, generally male dominated and have stricter gender roles. However, you are introduced to a very feminine world, and I think that is actually a great move by the developers. Outside only a couple of moments, the world accepts the Nora, and while they are often called “Savages” due to their complete rejection of technology, they are ostracised for placing women in power.
With the past being so tantalising and the present being so progressive, it has kept my interest in the game for over 70 hours now. Further, Aloy the Character herself is especially compelling. She reminds me a bit like Geralt from The Witcher, which means that she is a pretty well rounded character that is more than just an avatar of the player. She is a lot more fun than Noctus from FFXV or the Dragonborn from Skyrim or even the Inquisitor from Dragon Age: Inquisition. Her characterisation makes me want to actually meet her, and care about what happens to her throughout the game.
All of this makes me really enjoying the game. I feel that with the character and the story being in such a good place, the mechanics and gameplay dovetail nicely into the experience. There are sidequests, but not so many as to overwhelm you. You have a lot of take it or leave it scenarios, and you truly build your own experience.
As I said, I am over 70 hours into the game, doing as much as I want, exploring, finding collectables, and all that, I should be finished in the next couple of days and I feel like I am heading into the last parts of the game. Massive lore bombs have been dropped in the late game, and I feel that there are only a few more secrets left to uncover. Overall, I have found HZD an incredible game, and one that I suspect will lead to a major franchise for Guerrilla.
I want more of these type of games, they are too fun to play by far.
Then, it will be onto Mass Effect: Andromeda, which I suspect will be a completely different experience.