Clearing the Backlog: Horizon Zero Dawn

First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Chris and I’m going to be covering video games here on The Outpost. I have a wealth of knowledge on the video game industry, and I’m excited to be contributing to this site. I work two jobs and, as such, don’t have as much time to devote to video games as I’d like. As one can imagine, I have a pretty big backlog of games that stretches back several console generations. For that reason, I decided to start an on-going series of articles about the most recent games I’ve cleared from my backlog. The first one up is Horizon: Zero Dawn, a game that took me a couple of years to complete, but it was well worth every second invested in its massive world. I realize the game is several years old at this point, but it seems prudent to issue a spoiler warning anyway.

Horizon: Zero Dawn surprised a lot of people when it was first announced in 2015. Guerilla Games had up until that point developed the Killzone series. It was unthinkable for them to pivot from a linear FPS to an open world action-adventure game. They had never before developed a game of that type. An open world game is an order of magnitude larger than an FPS, both in terms of scale and the necessary manpower. Surely, they would fail, right? How could a developer, with no experience in the open world genre, come out with a game like Horizon?

Guerilla surprised all of us. The game’s initial reveal trailer told us several things. First, that Guerilla knows what it’s doing. Second, that Guerilla doesn’t just want to make an open-world game. They want to make the open-world game. They wanted to make a game we’d be talking about for years, even decades to come. A game that doesn’t just use the mechanics and trappings of the open world genre but pushes them to new heights. For this purpose, they created the Decima Engine. It’s a powerful engine, to be sure (so powerful, in fact, that Hideo Kojima himself chose the Decima Engine to power Death Stranding), but an engine is nothing without the right people behind it. Guerilla hired people with experience in open world and action adventure games and surrounded themselves with some of the best talent in the industry.

Horizon: Zero Dawn focuses on a girl named Aloy, who is headstrong, curious about the world, and a gifted tracker and fighter. More importantly, the circumstances surrounding her birth are mysterious. No one quite knows where she came from. She was raised by an outcast named Rost, but she has no parents to speak of. As a young girl, Aloy discovers a mysterious device known as a Focus, an advanced computing device that fits in your ear. This device sets her on a journey of self-discovery and to learn the truth of her past and her origins. Also, there are robot dinosaurs devouring the earth. Those are always fun.

One of the things that always struck me about Horizon was how utterly beautiful the game is. The graphics are gorgeous, but the art style really helps push and accentuate the graphics. Colors are bright and vibrant, even in a world ravaged by machines. Environments are beautiful to look at; find a good vantage point and you could just sit there admiring how beautiful everything is. One of the things that really impresses about Horizon, though, is the motion capture. The first time you see it, it’s absolutely jaw-dropping. I don’t pretend to be an expert on mo-cap, but whatever Guerilla Games did, it’s working. Believe me when I say it outshines every other game available today with its mo-cap tech. Even cutscenes from sidequests and small conversations look stunning.

I loved the variety of weapons Aloy has available to her. Initially, I was wary of the whole bow and arrow thing. I figured those couldn’t possibly be a match for a gigantic killer robot, right? Turns out I was wrong. Not only do Aloy’s arrows provide more than enough firepower, but she also has a wide variety of arrow and bow types to choose from. I found myself using fire arrows a lot, but I switched it up now and then with the occasional Ice or hardpoint arrow. The ability to craft more arrows on the fly was a great design choice, though it led to me hoarding a ton of resources in my inventory, to the point where I had to turn down other loot (though that has more to do with the fact that I simply didn’t want to be caught short in a tough fight. I also have a hoarding problem in video games. Don’t judge me.)

The story of Horizon is enthralling, powerful, and emotional. Machines now ravage the world and devour the earth. Humanity as we know it today has long since died, replaced by a more primitive, more tribal version of humankind. Centuries have passed since the fall of civilization. Humanity and the machines have a fragile balance. Humans hunt the machines for sport, parts, or valuable resources and the machines feed off the land, maintaining some semblance of an eco-system. Except, for reasons yet unknown, the machines suddenly went crazy and started attacking everyone and everything. The story deals directly with the fall of civilization and the resulting aftermath. Aloy has a mysterious connection to the machines and The Old Ones, the humans who built the machines and inhabited the world before Aloy and her kind. While the game ends on a note of finality, there is a post-credits scene that sets up a sequel or two.

Considering the runaway success the game turned out to be, I’d be genuinely shocked if a sequel wasn’t in active development right now, though I’d caution you not to expect a sequel until the PlayStation 5. Crafting a world as deep and engaging as Horizon does not happen overnight. The first game was in development for about six years before it finally came out. It’s not unreasonable to think the sequel would be a launch title for the PlayStation 5, but that’s admittedly speculation on my part. My hope is that a sequel continues Aloy’s story and answers the burning questions fans have about the world, like what exactly does Sylens intend to do with Hades? Who (or what) sent the transmission that woke Hades and severed Gaia’s subordinate functions?

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