The once-PS4 exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn is coming to PC this summer. So, now is the perfect time to take a look back at this best-selling 2017 game.
In the not so near future, humanity returns to its roots. They live off the land, hunting and gathering in close clans that stay huddled together for survival against the wild beasts of the land. Only the wild beasts of this particular land aren’t living, breathing things. They’re machines.
You play as Aloy, a girl raised outside of your area’s primary clan. Aloy has been an exile since birth for unknown reasons. She’s learned to survive on her own with the help of her paternal figure Rost. As a young child, she stumbles into a ruin and discovers a Focus, an augmented reality device that gives her a survival edge.
When she comes of age, she’s eligible to enter the Proving. This is a competition that allows any child to win the right to join the local clan as a Brave. It removes her status as an outsider and gives her access to people and resources otherwise forbidden to her.
It’s during this competition that the local clan, the Nora, are attacked. This is where the game truly begins. As one of the few surviving Nora Braves, you are sent out into the world to discover who these attackers are, what they want, and to learn more about how the hybrid world you live in really came to be.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is an interesting twist on the postapocalyptic future genre. The genre is mostly populated by games like Fallout that are heavily reliant on salvaged tech from what we consider our modern world. There is still quite a bit of scavenging in this game. (It’s essential to crafting your armor, weapons and more.) But most of your weapons and armor are significantly lower tech than you might expect from a futuristic game. You fashion arrows out of rocks and reeds, and armor out of skins from animals you hunt.
The plot is fun. But it’s the numerous side quests and the variety of ways to navigate the game that really set Horizon: Zero Dawn apart. Depending on how you level Aloy’s skills you can focus primarily on melee or distance combat. A lot of games essentially require you to specialize in both. You can certainly do that in Horizon, but sometimes you just want Aloy to beat someone up with a stick. You can also choose if you want to specialize in brute force or stealth your way through the game. Both are possible depending on your preferred playing method.
The action/RPG hybrid isn’t a new genre mix. But what is relatively new is the forced perspective of a female character in one. In The Witcher series, for example, your only option is to play as a man. In the Fallout series, you can choose to be either a man or a woman. But in Horizon: Zero Dawn, Aloy is your only playable option, which is exciting for the future of women in games.
A Female Lens
At varying intervals in both side quests and the primary story, characters will flirt with Aloy. Some flirt subtlely, some blatantly, but her reaction is always bewildered. She turns in a quest and suddenly the person she turns it into is trying to date her.
To a lot of female players, this may not be an unusual experience. But it may come as a surprise to male players. Hopefully, no one is put off by the idea of playing as a female character who isn’t adorned for the male gaze like the Laura Crofts of the past.
Women navigate the world differently than men. Through the vantage point of Aloy’s gender and unique life experiences, every player gets to witness that first hand. Functionally and theoretically, she’s no different than any other Nova Brave who passed their Proving. And at many turns she’s treated accordingly. But certain quests or characters treat her differently specifically because she’s a woman they find attractive.
Aloy stays focused on her mission, and as a player you aren’t even given the option to flirt back or accept a romantic overture. It’s a refreshing change of pace to have a leading female character whose attention can’t be deterred from the task at hand by a handsome boy. Even if she can be distracted by hundreds of side quests instead.
There’s an extended edition of the game available that unlocks an even larger map to explore. It’s definitely worth picking up if you plan on giving Horizon: Zero Dawn a chance.
All in all, if you want an action adventure game where you can shoot at robot birds with arrows and save all of society as you know it in the 31st century, Horizon: Zero Dawn definitely fills that niche. This is certainly a game that’s going to influence future story and gameplay designs, and it’s worth keeping up with for that alone.