Words About Video Games

41 Games: Horizon: Zero Dawn

If you show someone the map of Horizon: Zero Dawn, they will immediately grimace. It's a grimace that says "Not another game about sweeping icons off the map." In fact, if you compare Horizon's map to that of the latest Assassin's Creed--a series that used to be one of the worst offenders in this respect--it's a terrifying mess. 

Horizon's map is perhaps its biggest mistake because of how powerful that impression is, especially when people compare this game to Breath of the Wild.

But I think it's better in almost every way. Certainly, the storytelling is better. The world-building is masterful. Not just gorgeous (it's hard to tell whether its hyperrealism will hold up over time the way Zelda's painterly look undoubtedly will), but importantly, it is full of details that make it a place with rich history. You can look at it and learn something about it and the people in it.

Especially after playing the game on NG+ at the hardest difficulty setting, I think the combat and systems are better, too. The level of strategizing and care you need to take navigating its world when many of the creatures in it can kill in one or two hits, keeps you focused on your environment. It takes a lot of careful planning and or resources to take the bigger robots down, so you will actually want to go out and hunt the smaller creatures for specific items--to improve your gear or to craft valuable ammunition. I'm not saying you have to play at the hardest difficulty setting--but that it's a game whose systems spring to life when you're playing at the limits of your skill.

Finally, its tale has things to say about us. About what could happen to us if we continue to pursue our ultra-capitalist path and entrust the shape of our future to the Ted Faros of the world. About human brokenness--that protecting humanity from knowledge of themselves can't save humanity.

And then, amid all that pessimism, it has the audacity to imagine someone as good as she is smart and strong. It's no coincidence that that character becomes as close as the setting has to a personified god. But it's also vitally important to the game's worldview that she is only human.

There are no Ganons or Zeldas in the world. None who are wholly evil or wholly pure. We have capacity for great evil, but we also have capacity for great good, and none of us gets to wash our hands of responsibility for our choices.