Horizon: Zero Dawn Review – My Disappointment
Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the most widely-revered and adored games I have seen come out in recent years. Ahead of its release, copies that had been sent out for review were being praised left and right, and with each new rave review, it raised expectations higher. One would think that this could lead to some levels of disappointment on the consumer side, but all I have been seeing is how amazing this game is. I feel like I am alone in my feelings, but I still wanted to give an honest review for my fellow Enthusiacs. Let me be frank right from the beginning here; Horizon: Zero Dawn left me disappointed for a variety of reasons.
Everyone keeps raving about the beautiful open world it provides, and while it is stunning to look at, I also found it quite boring after a while. Initially I loved running around and using photo mode to capture these amazing landscapes, but this gets old after a few hours and I began to realize that I had no incentive to explore anymore. The desire to explore and go on adventures is vital to an open world game. In Horizon: Zero Dawn, I couldn’t help but feel like there was no point to going anywhere on foot. There weren’t any surprises or unique locations I wanted to explore. It all felt the same and I started to use fast travel more and more, leading me to groan whenever I had to run all the way to a new location that I hadn’t discovered yet.
I found the side quests and the smaller “errand” quests are equally repetitive and uninteresting. Even when you are aiding an NPC on what should be an emotional quest, they still fall flat and I find myself not even wanting to complete these missions anymore. While many games tend to have repetitive moments or missions, there is something lacking in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s world that I ended up especially annoyed with during these tasks. They all lead you to tracking with your Focus ability, and then killing machines and/or people, followed by a conversation. Rinse, and repeat.
One could certainly argue that the writing is one of the biggest issues with the game, and that would explain my lack of interest in almost everything. It’s funny, because the story itself, in a nutshell, is actually quite fascinating. It is an original setting, and has a story that is interesting as a whole. But how it was executed felt drawn out, and I was simply going through the motions until the final cut-scene. There are countless notes to read and audio logs one can listen to, but due to my lack of interest in the game’s story, and most of its characters, I kept ignoring them more and more. I’m sure that didn’t help me love the universe, but I certainly tried to get into it. I just couldn’t.
I think the dialogue probably led to me not feeling invested in anything, including the world and its side quests as well. There are some ridiculous conversations that you will have with random people that you help, and I just kept wanting to skip all dialogue. Initially I appreciated that there were different ways to respond to others, and these moral choices were usually represented with a heart, a fist, or a brain. These allowed you to answer in either sympathetic, blunt, or more logical, ways but to be honest they didn’t feel like they led to different outcomes, and so I found these to be a pointless addition. Unlike Fallout 3 and Mass Effect, the moral choices didn’t seem to alter how anyone saw or approached Aloy.
Speaking of our protagonist, Aloy was the only thing in the game I really liked and cared about a lot. She was executed in a great way, and I appreciated a female lead that just was. They didn’t constantly nudge you in the ribs with “look, she’s a female” references like some other companies do. (I’m looking at you, Bioware.) This is proof that we don’t need to fill quotas so much as we need to create good characters and let the chips fall where they may. She’s not just some strong female lead; she is a strong lead, and that’s it. She had a tough childhood and experienced a tragic loss, but these experiences didn’t lead her to being Superwoman. They kept her a more natural, relatable human character, and I appreciated that.
The combat is something that we probably all felt really excited for. Shooting down large dinosaur-like machines with a bow and arrow sounded like a game we needed but didn’t deserve. And while it is fun for a little while, I couldn’t help but find even that to be tedious and boring after a while. The large ones can take you out so quickly, and they’re always in groups, so I found myself simply avoiding them more and more. Especially given that you have to hit necessary components to take them out, which can take several minutes.
Thankfully they implemented the ability to quickly craft more arrows on the fly during combat or you’d be pausing a LOT. When you craft arrows during combat this doesn’t pause the game but it does slow down time a lot, much like the way the VATS system now works in Fallout 4. But despite the ease of crafting more arrows, it still gets tiresome for the countless shots required to take down a larger enemy.
Even after saying all of this, I understand why people are enamored with Horizon: Zero Dawn. It is breathtaking to look at, and it is set in an original universe for a change. In a time where gamers are inundated with annual sequels to long-stale franchises, it is understandable why people would flock to a new IP. However, I found this new world to be lacking and while I acknowledge I may be alone in this, I was disappointed overall.