Forbes Columsnit Paul Tassi published an article on the Horizon Zero Dawn
Over the past few days, Horizon Zero Dawn has been making headlines as a much-hyped game that actually lives up to expectations, at least according to critics. But with a full week still to go until release, I worry that with so much glowing praise out there, that when the game does arrive, it may be a tiny bit of a letdown for some.
DONT GET ME WRONG!
Now, don’t get me wrong. As my 9/10 review indicated, I think it’s great. But I can sort of see this hype bubble expanding and expanding as the days march on, and I want to give a few more details about what you’ll find in the game to help manage expectations a bit. I have heard people asking me how it compares to X or Y game, games that really often have very little in common with Horizon.
HORIZON IS AN INCREDIBLE OPEN WORLD GAME
Horizon is an incredible open-world game, and as I’ve said, defies many tropes of the genre. But with that said, some aspects fall short of standards set by other titles. While that’s fine, and the total package is still very much worthwhile, I just wanted to go through a few of these before release.
This Game Is Not As Big As The Witcher
I have gotten many, many questions about the length and size of Horizon Zero Dawn, and while it’s solid in both those areas, everyone wants to know how it compares to say, Skyrim and The Witcher.
Simply put, this game is not as big as those games. Not by a long shot. I’m guessing the total map size might be bigger than Skyrim (since that game is 5-years-old and developed for last gen) but it absolutely does not have as many points of interest like Skyrim’s myriad of dungeons and caves. I am guessing it is smaller than The Witcher’s map, but also smaller in terms of its quest offerings. While I praised Horizon Zero Dawn for having side quests with actual substance to them, no, they are not comparable to The Witcher’s practically endless list of lengthy quests and sub-quests that are ultimately going to be way more involved than what you see in Horizon.
I finished the game at about 30 hours. That was doing every single main mission, every single side quest, clearing every bandit camp, exploring every dungeon. If I’m going the whole nine yards and trying to get gold medals in every hunting challenge and find every single collectible on the map, maybe I could stretch the game all the way to 40-50 hours. But this just isn’t going to be a 100+ hour game on scale of The Witcher, so please, don’t expect that.
These Characters Are Not As Engaging As Mass Effect
Many reviews, my own included, have been raving about Aloy as a lead. Her voicework is great, her character is well-developed and she’s the highlight of the game. Unfortunately, there is not all that much interaction with other characters in this game. Those expecting a Normandy-like crew situation at your home village where you can learn everyone’s life story and find a future mate will discover that isn’t the case.
You have probably seen footage of the game that shows how in certain situations Aloy can react with a “kind” answer, a “smart” answer or a “stern” answer. While I like this system, it does not come up often, probably no more than 10 times throughout the course of the game. And though dialogue choices you make may be referenced later, none of these will dramatically shift the story into fractured endings based on your decisions. It simply is not that type of game. The story is good (particularly the grand reveals about the game’s larger questions), but character to character interaction is pretty limited, and “affecting” how the game plays out with your actions is almost non-existent.
The Human-Killing Isn’t As Fun As Far Cry
Without question, machine hunting in Horizon Zero Dawn is as fun as the gameplay gets, but unfortunately, that sort of destructive joy does not translate into the other half of the game’s battles, the fights against human enemies.
There simply is not a lot of depth here. While machine fights are cat-and-mouse battles where you have to use every tool at your disposal, killing human enemies, simple archers, spearmen or the occasional Heavy who scrounged up an ancient machine gun, Aloy just uses her spear to melee or assassinate, or eventually, you learn that just melting everyone with fire arrows is your best bet.
This is kind of a downer when you’re used to playing say, Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed, where human vs. human encounters can get quite strategic and deep, whether you’re stealth-clearing an enemy base, or taking out a specific target. But for as good as the game’s machine battles are, its human combat really is lacking even a cursory amount of depth, in my opinion.
The Looting And Skill Spec-ing Is Not As Deep As Diablo
I have gotten a lot of questions about the loot system, as footage shows that different monsters have “green, blue and purple” drops indicating rareness like you see from many RPGs or ARPGs. You can customize your array of weapons and armor, leading many to ask me if there’s a Diablo-like situation going on here.
Not quite. Though item rarity exists, and there are certain “builds” you can make, it’s far, far less involved than you might be thinking. Armor is really basic, with sets offering protection against individual elements, melee attacks, ranged attacks or giving you amplified stealth. You can slot in mods to increase the effectiveness in any of those categories, but in all honesty, you will probably pick your one or two favorite sets of armor and not change them the whole game, given how much they cost, and how ridiculously specialized some of them are. You can normally make do with what you have on in any given situation.
Weapons are a little better, but again, it’s a pretty streamlined system. You high-end weapons can be modded up to three times with only a few variables, damage, armor pen or specific elements. This means you can make your bow light people on fire instantly with a lot of fire upgrades, or make sure your trip wires stun almost anything in one hit with shock upgrades, but it does not get too much more complicated than that.
Similarly, while the perk system is fine, it’s nothing to write home about. You can increase damage for your melee moves, increase slo-mo time for your weapons. All pretty standard stuff and since you will unlock almost everything by the end, there’s no real “path” to choose here for the most part. All of this is more Tomb Raider than Diablo, with a bit of extra customization thrown in.
The Combat Is Not As Strategic As Dark Souls
I wasn’t expecting this, but I’ve had a lot of people ask me if the big epic machine fights were like those found in Dark Souls or more recently, Nioh.
I mean, no.
Unless you crank up difficulty all the way to the max at the start, Horizon is very much geared to be a more “standard” game than those. Punishing difficulty and painful death penalties is not what it’s going for. Its combat is more concerned with cinematic fight scenes and the player having fun using the full range of tools at their disposal. There is not a complicated dance of blocking, parrying and countering. Rather, it’s a lot of rolling (okay maybe that part is like Dark Souls), but it’s mostly to create space to use your traps or ranged weapons. While some enemies you can roll around and melee to death, your harder “big boss” enemies will require much more precision arrow sniping or elaborate use of your traps. It is hard to compare to other games (Monster Hunter might be closest, but I’m not familiar enough with the series), but I certainly wouldn’t go in expecting that you’ll need to master incredibly difficult and complex combat like in a Souls-style game.
Again, I am not saying any of this to throw shade on Horizon, or imply that I’m mad the game isn’t 100 hours or didn’t give me five romantic options in the various tribes or doesn’t have dozens of different builds for Aloy to try out in multiple playthroughs. The game as it stands doesn’t really need any of that to work. I only bring all this up because I don’t want people to see different aspects of the game that look familiar, see all the high scores and think this is something it isn’t.
I’m confident Horizon Zero Dawn will be received well by most, but I can already hear the drums of war sounding in the distance (“O-VER-RATE-D, O-VER-RATE-D”). With this much up-front praise, it’s almost bound to happen. So again, this isn’t really a deep critique, it’s more just meant to bring things down to earth a bit. Hopefully once you’re playing yourself, you’ll understand.