I Think It’s Time I Gave Horizon Zero Dawn One Final Chance

Horizon Zero Dawn was recently made available as a free download across PlayStation consoles, so part of me is tempted to revisit Aloy’s debut adventure for one final attempt to break into its mysterious open-world. I’ve tried a number of times before, although the setting, characters, and gameplay never managed to enrapture me the same way similar games have.

My struggles with Horizon are definitely due to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launching within weeks of Guerrilla Games’ open-world epic, with Nintendo redefining many aspects of a genre that had long grown stale. It was a liberating experience, one that made discovery across Hyrule feel both perfectly natural and endlessly rewarding. By comparison, Horizon Zero Dawn is a traditional adventure in many of the worst ways.

It’s a conventional open-world affair where you explore a world littered with so many icons and collectibles that discovering things on my own felt pointless – it was much easier to hoover everything up and slowly make my way towards full completion. I didn’t get that far, but progressed deep enough in the story a handful of times to feel myself losing interest, unsure if this was a world I truly wanted to lose myself in.

Now, with the sequel rearing its head in the coming months, I want to give it another chance. I know I’m not going to be fully immersed by its world and story – there are too many silly circumstances and iffy instances of worldbuilding for me to feel truly invested – but there’s enough brilliance at the core of Horizon Zero Dawn that I want to persevere, to uncover the golden treasure that so many of my friends have talked about.

From what I’ve seen, Aloy is an excellent heroine, and one who deserves much more than stale comparisons to Lara Croft and other female characters from the medium. Her story is one I could easily sympathise with, even if her personality and performance didn’t draw me in as much as I’d have liked during my first couple of attempted playthroughs. But once again, I’m not sure my mind was in the right place – I was constantly thinking about the fact Hyrule was simply begging to be explored. One more shrine wouldn’t hurt, would it?

Much of Horizon Zero Dawn felt mechanical to a fault, all of its systems coming across as exceptionally video gamey in a world that wanted you to approach its natural beauty with a sense of childlike wonder. However, once you looked past the beautiful visuals, it was clear how things had been designed. Each creature had its designated spot on the map, with collectibles and secret areas spread sufficiently apart to encourage venturing across the world in search of things.

Compared to Breath of the Wild, it felt like a virtual environment designed to be pilfered of its content. It didn’t feel like a space people would actually live in, partly because it’s filled with robotic dinosaurs that, to me, the story really doesn’t do a great job of justifying. Perhaps that’s where my biggest objection sits, in my unwillingness to accept the reality of its world even if the core premise is one of the coolest things ever. I fucking love dinosaurs, now just let me love you, Horizon.

I know – it’s a game, stop treating it so seriously. But experiences like this require a level of investment in their world, a willingness to lose yourself in it for dozens of hours. In Horizon Zero Dawn’s case, it tried everything to pull me out of this fantasy, and unfortunately, it’s worked every time so far. I’m going to try and change that, but if I can’t, that’s more than okay. Sometimes things just don’t click with you, and I still love watching my friends and family gush about how much this game means to them.

There’s often an element of FOMO in the games industry, that you need to be engaging with each hot new thing otherwise you’ll miss out and can’t be part of the discussion anymore. That’s an unhealthy mindset, and one I’m slightly guilty of adhering to with this obsession of wanting Horizon Zero Dawn to swallow me up like it has so many others. If it doesn’t, I’m sure Forbidden West will be right up my street. If it isn’t, well I can just wait for Breath of the Wild 2.

Next: Horizon Forbidden West Shouldn’t Turn Aloy Into Tomb Raider

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Jade King is one of the Features Editors for TheGamer. Previously head of gaming content over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.

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