Open-world games are starting to get a bad rap with gamers. Complaints of huge maps filled with icons leaving people feeling cold litter forums and social media as some are starting to turn their back.
30 hour games are no longer celebrated in the way they once were and are now frowned upon as players feel as though they're filled with pointless tasks and empty promises. The thing is it's not the tropes of these games that are the problem, it's what they do with them.
It's understandable that people are starting to get tired of open-world action adventures. We've been bombarded with them in recent years and more series seem to be turning to this style of game than ever before.
So I get the sighs and the eye rolls, but if there's one thing Horizon: Zero Dawn
can teach us, it's that pre-judging is never a good idea.
On paper it's got all the red flags needed to turn people off. A new IP made by the development team behind Killzone
. Not only are they trying to introduce us to a new world alongside new characters, they're taking a wild departure from the sort of game they've been producing for 13 years.
It's a huge risk. From the first look of Horizon: Zero Dawn
we knew that it promised too much and that Guerrilla has a history of not living up to our expectations, but it won't take long before the past is forgotten and you soon realise that the team's capable of making a game that delivers.
The opening few hours of Horizon
are slow but important. You play Aloy, who was banished by the local tribe at birth. Raised by a fellow outcast she learns to become a hunter in order to earn back her place in society.
The world around her is dangerous. When she's not being bullied by tribe that disowned her, she's avoiding getting killed by mechanical dinosaurs. Your first few hours are spent learning and understanding the world and Aloy's place within it.
She stumbles across a device that lets her see things in a different way to those around her. She can track the movements of her foes and highlight their weak spots. She can view logs and view memories of the dead. She quickly became a videogame character with videogame abilities and this where I feared we'd stumbled into the over familiar, but I was wrong.
By the time the game opens up and lets you do what you want rather than forcing you to follow checkpoints you'll have experienced more plot than is given to most games in their entirety. Here, the slow pace is warranted and by the time the game starts for real, the story and world already have your attention.
And it's not just the plot that thickens. The combat starts to open up, exploration becomes something worth being distracted by and scavenging becomes essential. Everything that you've been learning gets put to the test and once the game lets you go, you're on your own.
A big part of your playing time is spent experimenting. You'll go off the beaten path to see if the game will try and push you back, take on over-powered machines to see if there's something new to learn or simply explore to see what's over the next hill. It never falls back into a new tutorial. Once you're out in the world it's down to you to work things out.
You push forward and any direction you go seems to be the right way. Whether it's cracking on with the main story or heading off in whatever way you fancy, you'll stumble across something worth spending your time on and as the game grows, so do you as the player.
You'll start out fearing everything, going stealth and shooting from range. But soon you'll understand what you need to be cautious of and once you have a feeling for the world you'll
start to become confident when approaching the enemy.
All this hangs on the combat being so good. It's one thing to fill the space with enemies, but another to make each encounter feel fun. Whether you're taking on giant robots or swarms of humans, the fights are always tense, challenging and offer several different ways to attack.