Let’s Play: Horizon Zero Dawn

This summer we finally got a lull in an incredible year of games so that I was able to go into my backlog of games to play. At the top of that list was Horizon Zero Dawn.

Here was a new Playstation exclusive IP from a dev studio I never paid any attention to. But the pre-release buzz was really good and post-release reviews put it at the top of the games of the year, which is pretty impressive.

I state a few times in these videos that the level of polish and quality for a new IP is incredible. The visual direction and story are established with a sense of total confidence. The gameplay is tight and all the systems work together flawlessly.

And Sony has a new mascot in Aloy, a vibrant, brave, spunky, female protagonist. She has an aura of mystery but balanced with a virtuous code and a touch of rebelliousness. Ashly Burch’s vocals initially took a bit getting used to since I just kept hearing Chloe from Life is Strange, but was a great choice. Despite a few times where she sounded too much like a modern millennial, Burch gave all the poignant and emotional beats the proper weight needed to sell the story.

The main mystery in Horizon’s universe is extremely gripping and even hits a bit too close to home sometimes. I wasn’t prepared for how harrowing or tensely the history unfolded. Even though it’s told mainly through choppy holograms, audio clips, and emails, the developers were able to keep a sense of momentum and suspense that builds extremely well towards the end of the game.

In fact, the story is so tight that I’m not sure where the inevitable sequels will go. Sony has hit on a new franchise here, and especially with Nathan Drake (probably?) retiring, it’s hard to not to see more Horizon games on the… horizon.

Most online chatter has this game going neck and neck with Breath of the Wild for Game of the Year, and I can’t disagree. I’d probably put Persona 5 in the conversation. But we’re also about to ramp up again into some great looking releases in the fall.

And I’m definitely interested in diving into Horizon’s DLC in November.

Advertisements

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

Having not played a Legend of Zelda game since A Link to the Past, Breath of the Wild was a wholly new experience.

Fully 3D and open world meant complete freedom. Praise for this game has been about how if you can see it, you can get to it. And it’s true: there are no invisible boundaries that block you. Any hindrance I encountered was more about if I didn’t have enough stamina or the right clothing for the environment.

Other than somewhat confining me to a beginning area (although fairly large) to casually introduce game mechanics, the game never dictates what a player should do. You could even rush right into the final area to confront the end boss if you wanted to. You’d be almost guaranteed to fail, but the game doesn’t exactly say no to you. Open world has never felt so… open.

The storyline is fairly standard Zelda fare: Link is a legendary hero, Zelda is the princess in peril, Ganon is the big bad, and Hyrule is the expansive world in which to explore. Outside of the main quests and some side missions, there’s really no storyline or dialog. Players are free to run around and discover the environment.

That’s where the beauty and richness of this game really shines through. Instead of heavy exposition or long pages of text to flesh out the world, Hyrule casually and subtly presents itself by exploration and discovery.

I continually marveled at how almost every location I wandered into felt like it had a deeply baked-in sense of history unique to other locales. Ruins of long-gone structures told as much of a story as talking to inhabitants of villages. Even small touches, easily missed such as a patch of cobblestones among the overgrown grass would hint at a history to that area.

Enemies are littered throughout the land, but other than in the first few hours of the game where I lacked equipment and hearts, none of them ever felt challenging. In fact, they never level up with my character’s progression. Soon, my Link became an overpowered beast, easily mowing down hapless goblins with the same sticks and clubs they had when I first encountered them in the game.

But it makes sense that the enemies are only a secondary element. In Breath of the Wild, Hyrule is the singular focal point.

In an age where games usually hold a player’s hand, to the point of just providing a line to the next location, Breath of the Wild almost never tells you where to go or what to do. The game never falters to portray freedom, discovery and wonder, all without sacrificing tight, robust mechanics.

In fact, it’s amazing that the puzzles are all so well executed in a way where there are multiple solutions. I solved a few of them with an absolute knowledge that I somehow did it in a way the game probably didn’t intend.

Nintendo really outdid itself with this iteration of The Legend of Zelda. And that’s saying something. It’s amazing how so many developers struggle for years to output a game and Nintendo’s teams continually create innovative, polished games so often.

As games head towards more cinematic experiences, relying on motion capture, vocal performances, quicktime events, dense worldbuilding exposition, Breath of the Wild proves that a video game can give an equally immersive experience without any of those elements.

Even after beating the main villain, I can’t wait to jump back in and see what else Hyrule has hidden away, waiting to be discovered.