This is a transcript of the above video blog...
Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is episode three of my video blog, “Go Game, Young Man.” You know, at some point I will must get some theme music and a nice title slide, but, for now, it’s just me.
I’m actually going to talk about a game this week. Specifically, Horizon: Zero Dawn, a PlayStation 4 exclusive title that came out almost a year ago, but which I only got around to playing in the last couple of months. Mostly because I’m cheap and waited to get it on sale during Black Friday Deals week on Amazon.
This will be a review of Zero Dawn, and may contain some mild spoilers. If you haven’t played the game and really want to go in fresh in order to be “wowed,” stop this video now. The rest of you may continue without fear of anything important being revealed.
I really enjoyed Zero Dawn. I think it’s a great game. The story is intriguing and would make a wonderful movie. The game is set on Earth hundreds of thousands of years in the future. Not hundreds. Hundreds of thousands. Humanity has almost been wiped out and has reverted to a very primitive state.
The ruins of “The Old Ones,” (i.e. “modern” humans from our near-future) have been almost completely swallowed by nature. The only remnant of their society are very large, artificially intelligent machines in the form of various beasts. Mostly prehistoric dinosaur types. There’s a T-Rex, and a sabertooth, and a giant crocodile...you get the point.
You, the player, take on the role of Aloy, an orphan cast out of her tribe and raised by another outcast. Your task is to seek information about your mother, and this leads you into discovering information about the Old Ones, the fate that befell humanity, and what is becoming of the world you inhabit.
So the story is great. There’s a lot of reason to keep pressing on to the next objective so you can get more history, and discover Aloy’s origins. And the world you travel in is quite beautiful. I’m showing some screenshots from the game, demonstrating the next-level graphic fidelity.
Note, I do NOT have a PS4 PRO, so these are the 1080p textures with non-HDR lighting and they are still wonderful.
Here is a conversation between Aloy and her adoptive father, Rost. Look at the level of detail in the animations and the expressiveness of the faces. We aren’t quite at “real” yet, but we are getting very close. The conversations and cutscenes are so good, I didn’t even skip through them as I usually do.
The game is also quite long. It took me just under 60 hours to complete the game, including all the side quests and miscellaneous objectives. Guerilla Games obviously spent a lot of time on the graphics, writing, and world-building.
You knew there was going to be a “however,” right? The game--especially the world--might just be TOO big. Once you get past the beautiful sights and the excellent story and acting, the gameplay tends to be very average.
At first, fighting the machines is fascinating, but there is just too much of it! Here is a screenshot of the world map, zoomed way out so you can see almost all of it. All of those animal figures are “machine sites” where machines can be found and regularly respawn.
As you can see, they cover the world, and that’s only about half of the actual places machines are found. Many of the sites where machines spawn are never marked on the map. Traveling around the world is essentially a giant, overland dungeon crawl with enemies around every bush.
After a dozen hours or so, I spent more time sneaking AROUND the machines rather than going through them. And, you do have to go either around or through because you get to walk (or ride) EVERYWHERE. There’s a lot of this…
And some more of this…
And yet more of this...
Yes, as you travel you open up fast travel spots and that helps make the game faster in the later stages. At the beginning...it’s a slog. And then throw in all the machine encounters as you’re hoofing it from one place to another...There’s some real tedium involved in those 60 hours it took to finish the game.
And what I’m finding in modern, triple-A games, is tedium is the currency being used to sell the games. Zero Dawn, Dragon Age, Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, to some extent The Elder Scrolls...all filled with mostly tedious filler or empty spaces to make the game seem bigger than it really is.
Compare that to the Uncharted games that are very linear, not open-world at all, and can be finished in half or a third the time of those other games, but every minute is packed with story. I get to the end of Uncharted and feel, “Is that it?” At the end of these other games, it’s more like, “That’s finally it!”
Another issue that contributes to tedium in Zero Dawn is the repetitiveness of combat. There are two dozen different machines in Zero Dawn, but the strategy against all of them is roughly the same. Find their weak points using your scanner (called a Focus) and attack the weak points.
Often, those weak points are items that can be torn off with special ammunition. In some cases, as with these Ravagers I’m fighting in the video you’re watching, you can rip weapons off the machine and use its own weapon against it. So I guess that’s kind of cool, if you can survive long enough to pick up the weapon and aim it.
For some machines, you weaken the machine with fire, cold, or electrical damage and then hit its weak spots. This video shows the tactic against one of the mid-game boss machines. I’m heating the machine up and then using high-damage weapons against the exposed weak points.
And, while I’m talking about weapons, let’s “unpack” Zero Dawn’s inventory system. Like most games, you have a limited inventory. OK, I’m used to inventory management, it’s a part of almost every game I play. But, then, Zero Dawn doubles down and forces you to craft just about everything you need, like, say, ammo for your weapons.
You can see me crafting arrows in those combat videos. Since you have to craft your own supplies in the field, you have to carry lots of the materials you need with you at all times. Your inventory fills up fast, and the first thing you do is desperately try to obtain the material to upgrade your inventory capacity, so you can then carry all the other materials.
At low difficulty levels it’s not that bad. You can kill enemies fairly quickly and can cut down on how much raw material you carry to make ammo. At the Ultra Hard difficulty? Forget it, you go through ammo like Amazon Lightning Deals. My inventory needs increased by about fifty percent when I started a new game at the harder difficulty.
At some level, Guerilla Games must have realized they had painted players into a corner, so they stuck random merchants just anywhere on the map. Like this poor soul standing in the middle of nowhere so Aloy can sell off junk and restock with good stuff right before a big quest objective. Helpful. But...does break immersion just a little bit.
I know it sounds like I’m giving Zero Dawn a hard time, but...here’s the thing, and from a certain perspective it’s kind of sad...I EXPECT this from most games. Actual gamePLAY--you know, the thing that should be the core of a GAME--takes a back seat to visuals, and storytelling, and mo-caps, and...
Look. I’m a gamer. I’d rather play a video game than watch TV, and, in fact, that’s what I do. I have almost no conception of what’s on TV anymore these days. And I liked Zero Dawn. It is, in the end, a glowing example of game-making in 2018. I just wish, sort of in the back of my mind, that game-making in 2018 was a little more about the GAME.
That’s it for this week. Next week will be a two-fer. I’ll put out a regularly-scheduled video at the end of the week (more discussion about video games), and then, hopefully, get a review of Black Panther up early the following week. All dependent on whether or not I get out to see Black Panther over the weekend of the 16th.
If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to hit the Like icon below and Subscribe to my channel to keep up with new releases, which should continue at the rate of about one per week.
If you enjoyed what I have to say, be sure to check out what I’ve written. Go on over to bettysterlingbooks.com to get copies of my two fantasy novels. You can follow me on Twitter, @PapaGamer, and on Facebook and Instagram, both @PapaGamer66. Links to all in the description below. Until next week, Go game, young man.