Horizon Zero Dawn vs. The World
Sony has been on quite the roll with exclusive games for the PS4 in 2017. The most recent addition to the solid ’17 portfolio was Horizon Zero Dawn, a game that many are looking at as the best exclusive on the platform yet. It’s being praised for its beautiful open world, strategic combat, and solid story. For some, Horizon Zero Dawn is the best open-world action game out there. But is it really?
That’s sort of a difficult question to answer, but we’re going to try our best by comparing Guerrilla Games’ latest with some of the best and recent open-world releases. We’ll be comparing worlds, stories, characters, and gameplay to solve this mystery.
vs. Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 was a hit that came seemingly out of nowhere. You would think that a third entry in a series would already have a huge following, but that wasn’t the case with Far Cry. While its predecessor was well received, it was Far Cry 3’s more densely populated world, new combat options, and interesting enemy in the form of Vaas Montenegro that made the third entry that put the series on the map in a big way. But it was the world that truly made the game a star.
Like the world of Horizon Zero Dawn, Far Cry 3’s is filled with varied locales and dangerous wildlife that you must always be aware of, even when fighting humans trying to shoot your head off. While they aren’t mechanical, there is the same sense of wonder when you first encounter each type, a wonder that quickly becomes fear when a honey badger tears you apart in the blink of an eye. The locations are open to you, although the further you go, the deadlier things become so you must rely on your wits and the tools you acquire.
The variety on offer helps Far Cry 3 stand out quite a bit in comparison to the latest Sony exclusive. You have your bows (which are quite fun to use with their varied ammunition), but you also have an assortment of firearms, explosives, and traps that you can use to make enemy lives a complete hell. Using the tagging system (which is all the rage in open-world games these days), you can set up complete strategies that employ stealth, loud gunplay, or a mixture of both. The crafting system allows for upgrades when out in the wild for the ability to carry more goodies of death, and for some useful concoctions to make the hunt easier.
Far Cry 3 does handle the balance between hunt and human interaction quite well, and that’s why it still holds up today, able to challenge what Guerrilla Games has accomplished. However, Horizon Zero Dawn does have the leg up in two solid areas. The first is the use of its world in a way that everything ties into the central plot rather than feeling like pieces of different situations. Far Cry 3, like many Ubisoft games, uses towers which are fun traversal puzzles, but they didn’t lend themselves completely to the islands you explored. The use of the Tallnecks in the world Aloy explores, though, never breaks the illusion that you’re in a world controlled by robots. The Tallnecks feels as much a part of the game as ravagers. Sure, they work the same way as the towers in other open-world games, but you never feel as if you’re leaving the action to approach one because they’re so entrenched in the game’s lore.
The second is combat, which is fun in Far Cry 3, but the urgency is dialed up to 11 when you have a mechanical T-Rex bearing down on you. There’s a larger sense of dread as you move about, with simple traps and methods working on most humans and smaller machines, but those quickly going out the window when you come across certain behemoths like Rockbreakers, Thunderjaws, and even the tricky Stalkers. You’re not just dealing with a tiger that may maul you, or a honey badger that might bite your ankles to death. These are lethal war machines, mounted with powerful weaponry, and more cunning than any real animal. The hunt becomes central to the entire game rather than just an option and that helps fighting for your life really stand out.
vs. Fallout 4
Fallout 4 handles its open world quite differently from Horizon Zero Dawn, and it has much more of a focus on the RPG side of things. The world is vast, though not as varied if you don’t have the DLC, but that’s perfectly understandable. While the world Aloy gets to explore is seeing a resurgence of life, the Boston Wasteland in Bethesda’s most recent RPG is still suffering from the nuclear fallout from centuries before.
While it’s not as vibrant, it still manages to be beautiful. The light shining through the decay of once lively cities, mutated wildlife hurrying about its business, sometimes attacking you for getting too close, and mechanical menaces trying to destroy you all make this a post-apocalyptic world that is intriguing and worth exploring. And that exploration was pretty enjoyable.
Where Horizon excels over Fallout 4, though, is in regards to the fluidity of gameplay. Yes, Fallout 4 is action that can be played in first or third-person, but it can be stiff at times, especially compared to the tribal/mechanical warfare found in Sony latest first-party exclusive. The combat is beautiful to behold, and the frenetic strategy provides a layer of depth and challenge that ensures no two encounters are the same. Plus world traversal just feels more engaging, just the animations as you jump, slide, swing, and swim though the large, beautiful world is captivating.
vs. Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV is definitely much more of an RPG than Horizon Zero Dawn is, but it still makes great use of its open world to deliver a gripping story with some intense action. It’s the first main entry in the series to go for a full action-RPG approach, so many were worried about how it would fare. Thankfully, it actually fared pretty well, maintaining the scale of some of the most celebrated monsters and summons while providing a tough challenge at the same time of making you feel truly powerful, with the fate of the world in your hands.
Final Fantasy XV can be a bit stiff, though. Take driving for instance. It’s so restricted, even when you unlock the flying version of your vehicle. Exploration is available over a large area, but you don’t do much traversal of the geography. No mountain climbing, no swimming. Combat is varied though, and there are some neat abilities on offer. It’s never as hectic as that in Horizon, where you’re trying to drop traps and find cover at ever turn, but it does require strategy and paying attention to your enemies.
The open world is a different flavor in Final Fantasy XV, so that may decide which you prefer. The restricted exploration is a turn off for some, and that’s understandable, but Final Fantasy came back from what many were calling a serious rut, placing the latest entry pretty highly on many lists.
vs. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
It’s pretty much impossible to discuss open-world, action-RPGs without bringing up CD Projekt Red’s masterpiece, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. There are so many things this game got right that even though it’s a fairly recent release (May 2015), it’s becoming the standard-bearer for what open-world, action-RPGs should have. Beautiful world with varied locales? Check. Great characters? Check. Exceptional enemy design? Check, as long as we don’t have to look at the Ladies of the Wood anymore (they’re terrifying). The list goes on, but you can rest assured that it checks all the appropriate boxes. But the biggest, most praiseworthy check of all is that the world and the people within it mattered.
As you play through The Witcher 3, you come across countless people of all races, many of whom need your help. That naturally leads to side quests, a part of video games many developers are still trying to figure out. What’s usually comprised of fetch quests and pointless errands end up being deep, involving stories that expand the lore of the world while also giving plenty of more ways to care for the people within it. To be honest, if you asked me I’d say this game still hasn’t been topped, and is the pinnacle of what what world building and action-RPG design is.
Horizon Zero Dawn does take some cues from this amazing experience, but it misses the mark with some of its side quests, and the whole affair is on a much smaller scale. The central story (which we have a breakdown for here) is definitely one to experience, but outside of that, things aren’t as refined. Sure you get to dive deeper into some of the NPC stories, but a lot of it will be forgotten in no time. We’re still thinking about Wither 3’s Bloody Baron quest, and that means something.
vs. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Any video game that comes out from this point on will be forever under the shadow of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s currently one of the best reviewed games of all time, and some are saying it might be the best video game ever made. And to be honest, that’s difficult to argue against. Not because it’s necessarily true, people do have differing opinions, but because the game does so much right that it’s hard to find a crack in its beautiful veneer.
The world is beautifully illustrated and completely open, offering players the opportunity to traverse wherever their eyes can see, something that isn’t exactly possible in Horizon Zero Dawn. Sure, you go to a lot of interesting places, but you can only stand in very specific spots, with many natural and invisible borders barring your progression up mountains and to other areas.
The gameplay of Breath of the Wild outside of exploration is definitely noteworthy as well. You can fight, use stealth, glide, climb everywhere, cook, brew elixirs, swim, fish (sort of), and hunt. It’s all so open, and you can quickly transition from one to the other with no hassle. Plus, there are plenty of puzzles and quests to get lost in, making the game feel impossibly expansive.
If I had to say Horizon excels in one area over Breath of the Wild, though, it would be combat. Breath of the Wild is fun, don’t get me wrong, but that constant threat of a grizzly death and how quickly battles can change in Horizon is not to be overlooked. Plus, crafting on the go is so useful. Breath of the Wild could really use some crafting.
Aloy’s adventure is not to be diminished, nor is the accomplishment put forth by Guerrilla Games. To put it simply, Horizon Zero Dawn is an absolutely amazing game. Usually when amazing games release, many are quick to label it as the best. It may be hype, it may be a genuine sentiment, who knows?
However, it’s not necessarily true. The past few years have been good to all of us, whether you play on PC, PlayStation, Xbox One, or a Nintendo platform, and that’s come with some amazing, open-world action games, some of which are more worthy of the title “best.” But the fact that Horizon Zero Dawn can stand toe-to-toe with these magnificent titles speaks volumes. Guerrilla Games may have been known solely for first-person shooters prior to Horizon Zero Dawn, but from this point on, they’ll be the creators of one of the best open-world action games this world has seen so far.