Usually when there are a few games I’m interested in that come out at once, I pick them all up and switch between them frequently. I try to make the most out of the limited gaming time I have. Something about that changed in March.
Around the office there was a particular phrase I kept overhearing, “I can’t play anything else right now, I’m playing Zelda.” And while I wasn’t playing Zelda myself, I caught myself sharing in that same sentiment, “I can’t play anything else right now, I’m playing Horizon.” I’m completely addicted to Horizon Zero Dawn, and it feels great to be this invested in a game again.
It’s a feeling that seems to be going around. Several weeks after launch, after even great games have started to fade away, Horizon is still on people’s minds. What exactly gives the game its addictive nature? Sure it’s fun, but why am I thinking about it when I’m not playing it? Why am I completing every side quest available when I could be using that same amount of effort to play another new game I’ve had my eye on? Considering that I’m often lamenting there are not enough hours in the week to finish games I’ve set aside, I wanted to understand why Horizon has me hooked enough that I’m bothering to clear some random village of their Glinthawk infestation.
Covering off on the obvious and what we expressed in our review, playing Horizon Zero Dawn just feels so, so good. In an age where guns are the main weapon in most AAA titles, to have a game set in a futuristic apocalyptic world where your weapons boil down to a bow and arrow, rocks, and some rope are traits that could have worked against the game; but the bow and arrow is so satisfying that I don’t want to play with anything else right now.
Although games like Rise of the Tomb Raider also have a bow in its arsenal, that’s mixed in with pistols and rifles, which are often the better weapon choice the further you get into the game. But in Horizon bows are it, and learning to master their uniquely strong (yet limited) mechanics is very rewarding. It’s probably the best-feeling bow in a video game, and that’s no small feat.
When I encountered my first Sawtooth, I thought once I blew my cover I’d still fair okay going head-to-head with the beast, because from my experience most games are set up where resilience and constant hack-and-slash can eventually bring down an enemy. I was very, very wrong. I was immediately trampled and had to restart the task at hand, forced to change my tactic for this particular enemy and all other machines that came thereafter. That was a welcomed surprise and one that I’ve come to really appreciate about Horizon’s teaching method.
It’s probably the best-feeling bow in a video game, and that’s no small feat.
It doesn’t leave you completely on your own without at least some guidance, especially with the Focus always available to break down the enemy’s weak spots. But it also slowly introduces you to different types of dangers that you simply have to adapt to or die trying for the next time. Bottom line? You’re able to succeed if you’re paying enough attention. Because I made an effort to learn (and not just make my way through as I sometimes do), I can finally hold my own against one Sawtooth, which is great considering that there’s usually two or more lurking somewhere nearby.
I’ve cleared all the bandit camps and corruption zones, and overridden all the Tall Necks. If you’re not playing Horizon right now, that probably doesn’t mean much, but for those of you playing, you’re likely in the same boat. Horizon, like any open world game, has many side quests, but unlike some of its brethren titles they’re all setup to be fairly quick and achievable. There are level requirements listed to attempt them, but thanks to how quick other side quests are, it doesn’t take much to meet the level needed to tackle the next one. And considering that the main story missions are usually on the lower end of the level minimum, completing side quests like I have been makes the main story points a breeze, but still not so easy that I’m too bored when completing them.
That attainable framework also applies to other aspects of the game, like the gear you can collect. Sometimes in RPGs I feel overwhelmed with the variety of choices available for all my different characters, but in Horizon I’ve bought pretty much all the weapons and outfits available, and I’m about 60% done with the game.
Horizon is all about finding resources in the wild—picking flowers for health and taking scraps from fallen enemies to craft bigger pouches and more ammo. I was initially afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the needs of my character through scavenging, but there’s plenty to harvest when running low. Plus, if you sell your excess resources like I do, you’ll have more than enough shards (money) to buy what you don’t want to spend time hunting for (except fox skins, which is absurd to me because everyone’s hunting in this world so I’m sure there’s people out there who can spare some freaking fox skin for me to buy!). Speaking of resources…
A small but very important note is the ability to fast travel early on in the game. Although you first have to find the campfires in order to travel to them, having the ability to warp to an area you previously visited is vital to the ease of Horizon’s approachability, and addictiveness. I can switch between side quests whenever I want, and if I’m running low on something I’d rather hunt for, I can recall the best areas for that item and just warp there.
If you happen to peruse the merchant’s shop thoroughly enough, you’ll also find a Fast Travel Pack which gives you the ability to fast travel indefinitely, without spending resources every time you want to warp somewhere else.
Guerrilla Games did a fantastic job in creating a living world that acts as an enemy in and of itself. Even if your objective is to reach the top of a mountain, you’ll encounter many enemy groups in between that will make the journey that much harder.
Those Sawtooth from earlier? Well, they’re now joined by some Ravagers and Long Legs, and you’re intruding on their grazing area. Oh, and it might just rain heavily while you’re trying to stealthily sneak by, making visibility and the battle (should they spot you) that much harder. I love not being able to predict what’s going to happen next—though the game’s map will notify you of the enemy areas you’re walking into, which is particularly helpful for those invisible Stalkers—and having to hold my own against threats outside of mission enemies. The many times I’ve gotten too cocky I’ve sometimes barely made out alive, and that makes me want to venture around this primitive abundant world even more.
Soon I will run out of things to do in Horizon Zero Dawn, which was not my original intention when I picked up the game. I used to push myself to get as close to 100%’ing a game many (many) years ago, so to find myself doing that again is pleasing; it takes a special type of game to get me to do that. With slick gameplay, stunning visuals, an intriguing narrative, and monsters that still manage to get the better of me, Horizon is an addiction I’m happy to have.
Esmeralda Portillo is IGN’s Executive Editor of Custom Content. Follow her on Twitter @EsmeraldaIP to chat about true crime, puppies, or the philosophy of Kingdom Hearts.