Horizon Zero Dawn has a very interesting concept, story, world and combat. I love the game and many aspects of it. It's beautifully presented. It presents a series of mysteries about the main character and the state of the world. It deals with a lot of interesting topics of technology, ecology, religion, politics and psychology. The world is beautiful and the interaction with characters is mostly pleasant. It's a feel good game.
I have uploaded a play-though of the game on my Youtube channel. It's intended to be seen as tv-series for it's story, with usually on quest per episode. Or as inspiration or walk-through for how you can handle the game with my play-style, using stealth, sniping and clever tactics. I also created a much shorter movie version.
The main strengths of the game is it's story, combat and presentation. Most of the other aspects of the game is similar to other open world games. It has a standard skill tree, weapon upgrading, quest structure, open world objectives, traversal, animations. Many parts of the world lacks geometry details. Some of the first side quests in the game has pretty bad dialogue. I decided to give this game a chance, coming from Witcher 3. That game is older but still has better looking nature and absolutely better story and writing for the side quests. Horizon Zero Dawn is still good in these aspects, but not the best.
I specifically would like better traversal mechanics. Aloy is super good at climbing, but only by using the designated handholds. She is somehow completely unable to get up on things that's only chest height. It's designated handholds or jumping and nothing else. At least you can go wherever you like. There are a few invisible walls and you can't go off the map. But for most of the time you are free to find your own way to approach or avoid objectives in the world. Almost all of the mountains in the world are climbable. And by climbable I mean jump-up-able.
I don't choose a game for its combat. I prefer to avoid combat, seeking peaceful solutions, heal the world and build a better future. There has to be a greater purpose and meaning for the things I do in the game. I don't like making decisions under time pressure. I'd rather find a way to get the time to assess the situation and find the smartest way to proceed with minimal risk and preferable without hurting anyone. The fun part is to explore and find new and better ways to handle difficult and dangerous situations. I want too see the result my actions has on the state of the world. That I did something good that has ha lasting effect. I love the tactical combat of XCOM. If it's not a turn-based game, I'd like to slow down the time and using stealth as much as possible.
I love the combat in Horizon Zero Dawn. The game allow for many different play styles. You can play the game similar to DOOM, with fast paced action, or play it slow and methodical. It's not just that I can play it with my preferred style. I'ts that is very interesting to do so. There is almost no grinding. No repetition. Every situation is different. And I continually learn better ways to handle situations. I do get better at aiming and dodging, but it's mostly about learning to use the right tool at the right situation. There's no objectively best way to do things. Different player uses different tactics. But they all involve switching between a number of different tools and it's differ between the type of enemies, environments and situations. You will not have just a single weapon that you use all the time.
If you try to take on an enemy with brute force, it can take forever and deplete your resources. With the right knowledge and tools you can destroy even the biggest machines in less than a minute. And that's for me on Ultra Hard, having a hard time aiming at moving targets. But it's challenging and interesting. And you always has to respect even the weakest enemies. They are still deadly even if you are leveled to the max. They will probably not kill you if you play on the easier difficulties, but they will still knock you around. You have to respect them.
You will gather herbs and hunt smaller animals in the game. The animals blend in with the vegetation. They will spook and run away if they see or here you. You'll have to keep quiet and approach the prey from behind. This is especially important in the beginning of the game when hunting boars, since you can't kill them with a single arrow. Sneak up on them and use your spear. You will need to hunt all the different animals through out the game.
Aloy has a focus device that will give additional information about things in the world. It includes a notebook with detailed information about the different type of machines. It will highlight specific components, their function, strength and weakness. You can destroy a specific component of a machine to disable one of it's attacks. A blaze canister can be exploded by hitting it with a single fire arrow. A freeze canister can be exploded by hitting it with a single freeze arrow. A battery can be exploded by hitting it with a single chock arrow. Those arrows don't deal damage but will be very useful if used in the correct way on the correct component. The machines will often have a lot of other armor components that will often cover other vulnerable parts. That means that you often has to first remove the cover and then switch to the correct arrow. If you instead uses a normal arrow on the canister, it will just be destroyed or be knocked off and you will not get the benefit of the explosion.
The damage you deal or takes during combat is not random. It's specifically decided by what you use and the exact part you hit. It will give zero damage if you hit an armor plate and it will give two or three times the normal damage if you hit specific weak spots like the eyes or other parts that's differs depending on the type of machines, like their eyes. Many of these details are not covered in the notebook. The arrows has a specific speed, range and a slight trajectory. That's why it's a bit hard to hit moving targets. The game gives you aim assist by default, unless you are above hard difficulty.
The machines communicate with each other with specific sounds. You can learn to hear if a specific machine is unaware, suspicious, aggressive, frightened or if it's about to attack you. The sounds a different for each machine type and each attack. That means that you can dodge incoming attacks with the correct timing even if they come from behind. Some machines has antennas used to call for reinforcement. Most herds has specific machines that guards them, that will warn the herd if it's sees danger. Kill the lookouts and you can deal with the rest of the herd unimpeded. The body language and movement of the machines are very natural. They behave like their animal counterparts.
In order to get the most enjoyment out of the game, you should start the game with a difficulty setting high enough to force you to learn to respect the machines and learn how to handle them. I have seen too many people play the game with the wrong settings. You can lower the difficulty if you never played a 3D game before, if you just want to throw yourself into combat without thought, or if you just want the story and a casual experience with no stakes. You should bump up the difficulty two steps above what you usually play at. If you like Hard, you should go directly past Very Hard to Ultra Hard. It's still easier than Dark Souls. Especially since you almost always can choose your difficult in the specific combat encounter by the amount of preparation. You can almost always run away and/or use healing. Start the game with high difficulty and turn it down if it's too hard even after you learned your tools.
I found the story engaging, interesting and emotional. I have played the game three times now, on normal, very hard and ultra hard. I have also seen many other people play the game. I'm moved to joy and tears every time at specific points in the story. But I watch other people play the game since I find the topics in the game very interesting and I'm curious to hear more people comment and discuss them.
The world is deeply realized with several distinct cultures. The Nora is a matriarchy, prays to the all-mother and reveres the undisturbed nature. The Carja is a patriarchy, prays to the sun and subjugates the nature. The Oseram is a patriarchy, practical materialists and treats the world as a machine. The Banuk is a meritocracy, pantheistic and treats the world as a challenge to survive. The game takes place in Nora and Carja territory and has some settlements from Oseram and Banuk. There are some other cultures mentioned or with sporadic appearances.
Aloy has lived in isolation as an outcast. That gives her an outsider perspective, similar to that of the player. She is critical to all the cultures and beliefs similar to the player. All the culture has different traditions that limits the individual freedom. The Nora is isolationist as a way to preserve their culture. The Carja and Oserams restrict the woman's life-path choice. There is a clear theme of feminism throughout the game. The Carja is going through a time of progressive change, with more equal opportunity for people regardless of sex, wealth or nationality. And your actions may be a part of this societal transformation. You can hear the general population talk about what's happened in the world. About the things you have done.
The Nora reverence of mother nature is beautifully stated in the intro movie, about the splendors of creation. You can choose to talk to Teersa about the matriarchy. The grand matriarchs are those with three or more generations of progeny. That is, with living children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I see the sense in that system of governance. That means that your authority is based on both your ability to take care of your children in a way that they grow up and successfully takes care of their own children. It also means that you have a strong bond to the community and obviously cares about the well-being of the community since they are closely linked to your own children. It also means that you will have a long and deep life experience and wisdom. The grand matriarchs uses majority votes among them self if needed.
I like the main story about what happened with the old world. It's mostly told by data-points with video, audio or text. It tells about the catastrophic climate change and all the problems that entailed. It talks about the technological innovation and how the world later was saved with advanced technological innovations, including artificial intelligence and robotics. Many initiatives for cleaning up and restore environments and ecosystems. It also describes the culture after those technological innovations. I'm happy to hear about their use of universal basic income. There's also a bit about entertainment and the normal daily life of that world.
The description of the old world is similar to the Zeitgeist Movement. About the use of science, technology, nature and sustainability. They had domestic servitors. Robots that could take care of shores for you. They had the focus that would give you direct access to the internet and uses augmented reality interface for display information and providing interaction. They call it holo. But it's images formed in your eyes directly by the focus device. No need for flat panels. Monitors are replaced by virtual displays seen by your focus. They somehow developed a way to create batteries that lasts hundreds of years.
The secret of Zero Dawn is interesting to learn about. The great thing about it is that everything in the world makes sense. You learn about why where are robots in the nature that behaves and looks like animals. Why they got more aggressive year by year. Why there are a lot of primitive tribes that knows nothing about the old world. Why all the tribes has a mix of genetic backgrounds. Why there are such a limited set of animals in the wild. It's also interesting to learn about the psychology of fighting for the preservation of the humans even in face of certain death. There are still a lot of questions left for Horizon 2.
It's interesting how the old memories of the origin of the tribes transformed through the years to legend and religion. The servitors of the old ones has become gods for their children. It speaks of the formation of beliefs of things beyond understanding. But it's also an allegory of how we (in present or past day) treat the things we think of as spirits or gods. The way Aloy understand the gods, is in some way similar to how an occultist or theosophist understand the gods of the world's religions.