Saturday, 6 May 2017

Horizon Zero Dawn: A Tour Through A Post-Apocalyptic Wilderness

Horizon Zero Dawn is a terrible name for a brilliant game. I would usually never even bother trying an open world game of this type, but I heard good things that included mention of post-apocalyptic robot dinosaurs. Who wouldn't be intrigued by that premise?

It certainly delivers on the robot front, with a variety of different robots that are modelled after animals or dinosaurs. They all move and act in different ways, meaning you have to adjust your strategy to take them down (or just run away!).

The game tells the story of Aloy, a mysterious girl in the care of an outcast called Rost. You play as Aloy, first as a young girl, but for the majority of the game as a young adult. Finding out about yourself is the driving narrative, but there are some brilliant stories to be found as you wander through the beautiful landscapes and settlements.

This post-apocalyptic world is a universe away from the usual drab, desertified fare on offer. Here instead we have the natural world reclaiming the land back from man-made structures. Only fragments of that ancient world remain, buried in caverns or rusting in ruins, overrun by vegetation.

Of course we also see a more lasting legacy of technology in the autonomous robots that are prowling in the valleys, forests and deserts of this strange new world.

It is rare for a game to surprise me so much these days, and for a game which could be described as following the open-world template to the letter it is especially surprising that it keeps giving me interesting quests and experiences.

Just wandering through the world is great, the artists who have created it deserve high praise for crafting such a fantastic and varied environment. There's also a wonderful photo mode, which has meant I've been taking a lot more screenshots than I would usually.

You begin in a valley, outcast from the tribe that lives there, but still allowed to live within it's relatively safe confines. The game begins slowly, showing you the ropes, but as is typical with such games there's a point at which you are thrust out into the larger world.

This is where the game really comes into it's own, as the pace you set is yours to define, you can spend hours wandering through the wilderness or you can focus on particular quests or challenges.

Even the minor quests can be interesting, from tracking murderers to hunting robots or killing bandits. The characters you meet are a diverse bunch, from various civilisations with their own cultures and ideas. The designers are obviously borrowing largely from existing cultures, but it's still interesting to see a future world that is so different from the usual Mad Max inspiration.

Each culture examines this new world with a different perspective, either seeking to shun technology or embrace it, to live simply or to rebuild in new ways. You see the dramatic differences in architecture and clothing styles. You see the responses to the environment, and their political systems.

My favourite moments so far have to be those quiet moments, as I traverse the wilderness and you watch the wildlife and the robots in the distance. And while the game excels at the stealth and hunting aspects of the gameplay, it usually delivers too on those big set-piece moments.

I'm about 35 hours into it, and I certainly feel like I'm on the road towards the end, but there's still a lot to do. I'm looking forward to it all.

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