Over the Horizon

After several months of picking away at it in tiny bits, I resolved over the last couple weeks to finally finish up with Horizon: Zero Dawn. And to clarify the term “finish,” I mean that I got to the end of the story and did all the more meaningful extra activities. I got almost all of the trophies, but I couldn’t be bothered to perfect (or even try) all the hunting ground challenges, and I have no intentions of playing New Game+ or buying the DLC campaign. In fact I deleted the game as soon as the post-credits scene ended (because I needed the hard drive space).

Having played Horizon for almost exactly 70 hours (!!!), I think it’s safe to say that I liked it. Or, I guess I should say that I enjoyed the first fifty-five hours, which were devoted to wandering around the world and finding as many baubles and pretty vistas as I could. Once I began completing the story missions, it all kind of fell apart.

Let’s note right now that the story “dungeons” aren’t very fun. They’re basically exposition tubes that throw in a combat scenario every third room. It’s so cookie-cutter AAA that it hurts. Sometimes there is a locked door, and the key is always a “puzzle” that requires you to line up four dials in the configuration shown on a screen right next to them. What really bugged me is that these places are crammed to the gills with audio logs and journal entries that you’re expected to stop and listen to/read. It really slams on the brakes in regards to the game’s pacing, and I started ignoring them after I noticed that I was losing a ton of time to having to stop and listen to sixteen 2-minute long audio logs every other room.

I’d like to say for the record that if all of these audio logs and journals were spaced out more evenly, I would have had less of a problem with them. Or probably even no problem at all. But they aren’t, and they couldn’t be, because they’re all adding supplemental information to story bits that need to be told at specific times. Horizon’s backstory is the most compelling mystery in the game, so dropping these logs in too soon would really kill all the big reveals. And so, they all have to be jam-packed into the correct dungeons, placed before and after all the corresponding forced story sequences. I would have loved it if there wasn’t so much blatant exposition, and you just had to piece it all together for yourself by finding these logs throughout your travels.

But that could never happen in a AAA game, because Joe Average is much too stupid to comprehend non-linear storytelling and needs it all spoon-fed to him as plainly as possible.

On top of that, there are a ton of other datalogs that you can find strewn about the world, but they’re all… completely boring. The ones I’ve found have had nothing to do with anything and are just information about the world that used to be. They have no impact whatsoever, and that’s even somewhat confirmed in-game by the fact that they’re the only things that don’t get marked on your map for easy finding. They’re also tiny little things and are ridiculously easy to miss, so they’d actually be the most important to mark on the map for people who actually want to collect them. So it goes.

Other things that you can find around the world are metal flowers, coffee mugs, and little wooden horsies. When you collect complete sets of these, you can trade them in for… garbage. You will be granted a prize box full of other prize boxes, all of which contain a weapon or outfit modification piece. And all of them were terrible. Most of the ones I got were green, which is the weakest variation. Fortunately, I’m more of an “it’s about the journey, not the destination” kind of guy, so the crappy prizes didn’t diminish the enjoyment I got from hunting them all down.

The one collectible that I thought was the most important were the Vantage points. These are twelve spots hidden around the world, where not only do you get a nice view of the landscape and/or a ruined landmark, but you also get to see a holographic display of what the area looked like pre-apocalypse, which is cool. Each one also has a piece of a very personal little story about the man who placed them all. These still just barely relate to the main plot, but I did like how they told a complete tale, which ended up being the most interesting side-plot in the game, despite the fact that you’re not a part of it at all.

Anyway, enough about collectibles. This isn’t a Rare game, after all. The other thing I want to complain about is the final boss. It’s a big robot. The same type of big robot that you’ve fought as the last three bosses in the story missions. The same big robot that you just exploded at least half a dozen of in the penultimate mission. So after defeating so many of these robots already, how do they make the last one feel special? By making it nearly impervious to all damage until it (very rarely) exposes a weak spot. And also it spawns in a bunch of lesser robots at certain intervals. It’s such a lazy finale in every regard. Oh well.

But I guess it mostly matches up with everything that’s happened in the story. It’s not like a single unique robot would show up at the very end for no reason. It could have happened, but it didn’t. I guess that’s what the DLC campaign was for.

At the end of the day, I think Horizon: Zero Dawn is a good game. It didn’t draw me in quite the way I was hoping, and honestly I just want someone to make a prequel movie about Elizabet Sobeck and Ted Faro and the end of the world. I’m not actually sure how interested I would be in playing a sequel, considering how I don’t plan on buying or playing The Frozen Wilds. But it was a mostly fun ride, and I don’t regret having spent all those hours on it. Plus all the extra time I spent reading all the Wikia entries on the various robots and other, more spoilery things. So yeah, I’d say that it was worth the $25 I got it on sale for, and would definitely recommend it at that price. I think I’d be a bit more put out if I’d spent the full $90 or whatever they charge for new PS4 games. But then again, it kept me busy for almost three full days, which is nothing to sneeze at!

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