In recent years there have been a heap of beautifully created, vast living and breathing open world games. Everything from sprawling plains to snowy mountains, full green forests to rocky red deserts. It brings the question, what else can they come up with? What else is there? With Guerrilla’s newest game, Horizon Zero Dawn, they graciously deliver another gorgeous sandbox worth exploring.
Long into the future, well after modern humanity rained and technology took over only to fall to near extinction numbers, mother earth reclaimed much of her land back. Humanity has declined back to tribal behaviors and old remnants of urban landscapes decay beneath the lush green foliage. Only machines from the past still roam the lands and seem to becoming increasingly more violent as the years begin to pass.
As you take control of Aloy, an outcast since birth, you begin to train for a chance to one day prove your worth to the tribe. Controlling Aloy is fluid, aiming her trusty bow and crafted arrows, using a variety of health aids and potions is near effortless. For close range attacks she has a couple various swings of her spear both light and heavy damage. Jumping and climbing is solid and smooth for easily traversing the very rocky and mountainous map. The story unfolds and new gadgets from the past begin to appear, most importantly the “Focus”. Traditional when compared to similar functions in other adventure games, the focus allows you to scan an area revealing enemies, object, resources and proves handy during numerous quests along the way.
Progressing through the game and a few cut scenes later, Aloy finds herself on her own once again. By now several skill points have been accumulated and you begin upgrading her skill tree full of dozens of useful abilities and enhancements. The entirety of the skill tree is broken up into 3 categories: “Prowler”, “Brave” and “Forager”. Enhancing battle techniques and new skills are found in the first two columns with prowler leaning more towards a stealth play style with silent moves and strikes while the brave column deals with skill sets found when in the heat of battle, such as faster reloads, firing a number of arrows at once and upgraded spear attacks. Forager is geared towards helping you out in the field. From acquiring additional resources to disarming traps set throughout the land, these skills help Aloy survive when enemy engagements have subsided, or to help prepare for the inevitable run ins with tribes and wild machines everywhere.
You’ll spend much of the game running around, either taking out hordes of various machines, collecting assorted leaves and branches for resources or medicines and hunting wild boar, turkeys or any other form of animal in the somewhat meager array of wildlife featured throughout the game, none of which being larger than the boar. Using the skins and guts along with a number of other scavenged parts from machines, you’ll craft upgrades for numerous quivers and carrying pouches for weapons, potions and traps. Furthermore, many common resources are used for crafting your ammunition, so regularly gathering is a favorable habit to adapt early on.
The map is huge and seems daunting to imagine traversing the entire land simply by foot. Luckily the game has a fast travel option, warping from campfire to campfire, keeping in mind it will cost you one “fast travel pack”, a relatively cheap item purchased from merchants, every time you wish to skip trudging through the immense wilderness. Another useful option for travel is using your “focus” to override machines and hopping on board to ride them around. Not as immediate as fast traveling but much swifter than running, as well as keeps you immersed and exploring the vast and vivid terrain.
With enough missions and side quests to help build Aloy’s reputation across the lands, there’s also plenty of simple errands, bandit camps to clear out, hunting grounds, and other activities to keep you busy. Infiltration opportunities become available and will have you exploring underground bunkers known as “cauldrons”, not only full of patrolling machines but plays home to them as well. Fighting your way deep into the core of the cauldron, or sneaking your way through, by the end, without giving too much away, you’ll find yourself with more information on machines than before, allowing more species to be overridden. This, being just one of many events to prevent premature exhaustion and repetition throughout much of the game.
Open world games are almost always a ton of fun to play and delve into. It’s the repetitive nature of these games that begins to wear down the player, i.e. you. With plenty to accomplish and yet another engaging world dropped upon us, Horizon’s boundless freedoms, brilliant scenery, curious story and addictive pick up and play action offers another reason why sandbox games have a tight grip on the ever so promising industry.