Many months ago I picked up the video game Horizon Zero Dawn while it was available for free on the Playstation Store. I knew nothing about the game, but the cover image had a giant metal t-rex, so I thought it would be worth looking into. What I did not expect was one of the better video game stories I’ve experienced in some time.
Horizon Zero Dawn is an adventure game set in the far future, amongst the ruins of our world. The tribal peoples of the area live amongst numerous giant robots that take the place of large wild animals such as deer, bulls, wolves and tyrannosaurs. Each of these robots has their own strengths and weaknesses, that the player must exploit to defeat. The tech level of the humans is bow and arrow level of technology.
The main character, Aloy, obtains a device early on that allows her to interact with surviving ancient computers and eventually the machines. Her effort to become an adult member of her tribe initiates the storyline of the game, and her exploration of the region (the Denver, Colorado, area) advances the story and explores the background.
What I like (Spoiler Free)
There are two aspects of the game’s story that I want to bring up, and if I can do so without spoilers I will.
First, exploring the background and history of the world. I believe that the producers and directors of the game spent a lot of effort to ask themselves ‘what questions is the player asking right now? What can we answer, and what can we allude to?’ Each major point of the main storyline builds on the previous ones, and sets up the next, superbly. By the time you get to the big reveals, you know enough to be prepared for what you’re about to learn, but not enough that it spoils anything.
Second, setting up and executing the final battle. Final battles can be tricky; they need to be challenging, but no so hard that they break the continuity of the game, while also providing an end to the story. HZD did this very well. Not only did they draw together several different threads, but the final battle felt like a final battle. It was a series of tough fights, and none of them were boring. So, kudos for a final fight that felt like everything was on the line.
From here on, there be spoilers.
My favorite scene (Spoilers)
HZD is not just a game that takes place in a Sci-Fi world; I would say it is a full sci-fi story. In the mid-21st Century, a line of bio-powered self-replicating warbots breaks its programmed shackles and begins eating everything, threatening not only humanity but the entire biosphere of the world. They cannot be defeated, and the program to hack them will take too long to finish. The solution is Zero Dawn: to save humanity by repopulating the planet with clones after the machines have destroyed everything. This plan includes re-educating the population with thousands of years of human history and culture.
Yet the world Aloy explores lacks any knowledge of the previous world. What happened?
Horizon Dawn was controlled by an AI called Gaia, aided by several subordinate intelligences who focus on one specific aspect of the plan: Demeter, to replace and rebuild the plants, and Poseidon to detoxify the water. The intelligence dedicated to educating the new humanity, Apollo, is deleted by the madman genius who started the machine plague in the first place, to keep the new humanity from making the same mistake.
Ever come to loathe a character in a very short time? Boy, did I come to hate Ted Faro. Good job, game writers.
Obtaining and playing the game was a whim, but I am very glad to have done it. The story was fantastic, the world was immersive, and the game play was fun. It was a great game to experience, and I’m looking forward to the second one, coming out sometime next year.