Alternate title: “Horizon Zero Dawn or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Open Photo Mode”
While everyone and their mother is playing the new Zelda game, I finally got my hands on Horizon Zero Dawn. As such, I wanted to talk about open world games in general and their loosely-connected game mechanics that ruin the gaming industry. I might actually be exaggerating on that last bit. Either way, what had started out as a nagging worry slowly turned into a stronger appreciation for one of the bigger draws of Horizon Zero Dawn.
You see, upon booting up and playing through the first little chunk of Horizon (about an hour to an hour and a half give or take some minutes) I started to feel tiny pangs of dread as a number of game mechanics that have becoming increasingly popular in open world video games began to rear their unintentionally-horrific heads. Things like outpost capturing, limited crafting, hunting for specific parts to make bigger bags, vantage points, etc. You know, those things. Those things that can easily become repetitive and boring and not fun. At least for me.
So, way back near the end of 2007, good ol’ Ubisoft launched a game that would in-turn launch a whole mess of other games that, by the time 2017 rolled around, will have made me leery of a very well-made open world game about a girl kicking ass and looking for her mother. That original game from 2007 I’m referring to is Assassins’ Creed, by the way. I know you know that because Ubisoft refused to let anyone forget about the “Ass Creed” franchise up until 2016 when they decided that trying to out-Call-of-Duty Call of Duty is maybe not be the best strategy, but I digress. Assassins’ Creed, while having a fairly interesting premise, was chock-full of same-y snooze-inducing side quests and map objectives to complete just to get to the next major story point which then lead into doing it all over again and again until I eventually simply gave up and moved on.
I should point out that video games, more often than not, rely on at least a small bit of repeating certain tasks over and over. Super Mario Bros. you ran right and jumped and that’s it. But you kept running right and jumping because the music was catchy and you got a higher score the quicker you completed a level. The secret is to engage the player enough that the repetitive tasks in a game don’t appear or feel repetitive. In the case of MMOs, usually it’s to get to the next big challenge or to make enough gold to get that one item that will help you get to the next plateau or to get that one fancy hat that will make you look “the most fab.” In the case of Assassins’ Creed, for me, there was nothing that made me want to keep repeating the same 3 or 4 missions to get to the next story nugget and every time I tried to trudge through it I ended up hating it more and more to the point that I just never beat the game.
At this point I should…point out that this is my own personal take on what I want from a game when I play it and that I’m sharing my thoughts on the matter in the hopes for discussion about game mechanics in open world video games and how the whole “capture the same looking outpost for the 140th time” needs to die out. And this is one of the great things about video games and other entertainment mediums as well, that everyone experiences them in their own ways for their own reason. But that’s a whole other post for another time.
Assassins’ Creed became popular enough and made Ubisoft enough money that it became this whole thing that I try to avoid despite people telling me it’s “fantastic” and “really good.” Then Far Cry 3 came along and took what Assassins’ Creed had done and added some minor crafting bits and hunting for bobbles to upgrade your gear and the map icon treasure hunt became a whole pseudo-sub-genre for open world games. But there were never any “cut-and-paste” approaches to this and the open world games that followed added their own spices to the melting pot. This brings me back to Horizon Zero Dawn.
As I said, the first little bit of the game I was worried that I had just spent $60 bucks on a game that I wouldn’t beat because it would have me go to a new section of a large map and repeat the same damn capture and hunt objectives without any real motivation. Well, I mean it does, sort of, in it’s own unique ways, but I stuck with it and eventually I came upon some very pretty scenery and used the game’s own ‘Photo Mode’ to capture it. I moved on and then I came upon some more chances to snap some very scenic shots. And then I moved on and so on and so forth. What I’m getting at is that the game is very pretty and exploring the post-apocalyptic reclaimed landscapes has become quite rewarding. And, I guess, it helps that the main protagonist is pretty cool and the world building is interesting and I have the ability to tame wild mecha-bulls to ride around on and kick smaller robot animals in the face with…but the main thing is that the game world is an absolute treat to look at and explore and is actually so worth it to endure the repetitive tasks of hunting and crafting, overthrowing bandits, and throwing myself at some trials that I seem to always just miss getting a blazing sun on. And that’s how Guerrilla Games got me to keep playing their game.
What it all comes down to; what it has always come down to is player preference. But, at the same time, it wouldn’t hurt if developers crafted their world with more thought so I don’t end up feeling like a dumb mule going from one map icon to the next until I weep tears of blood wishing for sweet release. Looking at you Watch Dogs devs.
Oh, wait they did Watch Dogs 2 which was pretty alright so I guess they did learn a thing or two.