Revisiting Horizon: Zero Dawn, 2017’s Underachiever

2017’s Horizon: Zero Dawn had everything going for it pre-release. A gorgeous looking open world, stunning visuals, a reputed developer (if you can ignore Killzone: Shadow Fall), the authority of being a Sony first-party game, and the standard weapon of that year, a bow.

It was one of the earliest releases of 2017 and already looked like game of the year material. The character of Aloy was lovable, relatable, and players almost immediately accepted her as a worthy protagonist. The setting was another great mystery to be unraveled; a post-post-apocalyptic world with robotic beasts running around. I mean, what the hell was all that about? Not to mention the quick bow combat which was fun all around. And yes, the visuals were absolutely stunning. I remember the moment I spotted a Tallneck wandering just on the horizon while I was scaling a cliff; that moment stayed with me till today.

Horizon: Zero Dawn mastered the aspects that open-world games were built on; it even had a good story, which most games of this genre don’t work too hard on. So why then did it eventually land up somewhere lower down on most people’s 2017 GOTY list? Well, the answer is simple, three other games released that year. Three games that went beyond the perfection that Horizon offered.

I played Nier: Automata only because a colleague convinced me to. Sure, I love PlatinumGames combat, but I wasn’t really keen on starting this a from a random series I had never heard of before. Even so, I began my mission to bring Glory to Mankind. I was in a complete daze during the period in which I played the game, Yoko Taro just did not let up with the baffling twists and reveals. The multiple playthroughs, the different perspectives, the constant questions, and the realization that sentience was not as easily definable as we thought was not what I was expecting from the successor of a relatively unheard of game. So, while Horizon: Zero Dawn did have a good story and reveal, nothing has made me question my sentience quite like Nier: Automata. And nothing has made me go through quite as many explanation videos either.

But that’s still just for the story, right? Open-world games are rather known for their environments and player freedom. Horizon did try a few new things which I found interesting, like the walking Tallnecks as towers, but another game came out that year which is considered to have the best open-world of all time. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild had one mission, kill Calamity Ganon; the rest of it was about the thrill of discovery and adventure.

Some would say that Nintendo overcompensated with the sheer depth of the open-world mechanics, but in truth, Nintendo breathed new life into a genre that became nothing more than towers, outposts, and side missions. Not only did the game’s world contain a plethora of creative mechanics, but the developer also armed you with tools to harness those mechanics even further. You never knew what you were going to find over the next hill, for instance, a giant dragon floating through the night sky; one of my favorite moments in gaming.

Yes, Horizon perfected the existing open-world formula, but Breath of the Wild changed the game.

That’s story and open-world, but Horizon: Zero Dawn also shuffled things up in terms of gameplay. Yes, the scaling mechanic was the same as any Assassin’s Creed game, but its highlight feature was the combat and on-the-go crafting. Aloy could combat machines in a number of ways, use tons of traps, and knock off chunks of armor and parts with precision shots. This customized combat approach demanded technique and improvisation, depending on what kind of machine you were fighting; this prevented things from getting repetitive.

However, if we’re talking about improvisation, there’s no way we can leave out another 2017 masterpiece, Super Mario Odyssey. If Breath of the Wild can be considered the best open-world game of all time, Odyssey can safely be called the best platformer of all time. You don’t usually hear of player freedom when it comes to platformers, but that’s exactly what Odyssey offered. There was no one particular way to get over a hurdle or reach an objective. Super Mario Odyssey speedruns will show you just how much freedom the game gives players. I know it’s not the same as Horizon’s combat approach, but what I’m trying to say is that Super Mario Odyssey gave us freedom that we could never imagine having in a platformer.

It’s a sheer coincidence that all three games I’ve compared Horizon: Zero Dawn to have come from Japan, but the point I’ve been trying to make is that while Horizon perfected already existing gaming norms, these three games revolutionized these norms and set a new bar. Guerrilla Games by no means made a bad game, it, unfortunately, put out a relatively structured game in a year where others broke free of traditional norms.

Horizon: Forbidden West is due to release sometime this year, and hopefully the developers have seen where they fell short last time around.

NEXT: The Biggest PS4 And PS5 Games To Look Forward To In 2021

  • TheGamer Originals
  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • NieR: Automata
  • Horizon Forbidden West

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