Open World Games have worlds very beautifully rendered and more-or-less open worlds populated with a bunch of systems (physical, natural, economical, weather, chronological, combat, biological) that interact in ways that try to engage the player and produce entertaining moments. Gameplay tends to be generic allowing for varied approaches to solving problems (gathering resources, traversing terrain, killing bad things).
Horizon: Zero Dawn is an open world game of the First Type: that sandbox type you probably know from Dragon Age: Inquisition, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Final Fantasy XV, and the later Far Cry, Just Cause, Assassin’s Creed, and others AAA gaming titles. You’re given a map with a lot of icons on it and you proceed to remove those icons by fetching things for NPCs, experiencing story moments, completing challenges, and so forth.
(( This is in contrast to open world games of the Second Type where you’re given a map with no icons and you proceed to fill in the map as you go. This is where The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild comes in. ))
(( Oh, and this First/Second Type nonsense is all made up by me as an organizational shorthand so I can reason about these games separately and together. Don’t take it too seriously, I’m probably wrong. ))
Horizon: Zero Dawn may in fact be the best open world game of the First Type I’ve ever played. Its world is dense without feeling crowded, its systems are obvious and clearly-communicated, its story is communicated environmentally and cinematically, it is populated with characters written humanly and animated with diversity and depth… Basically every complaint I had with Final Fantasy XV and Mass Effect: Andromeda was addressed somehow by this game.
And on top of it all it is almost aggressively beautiful to look at, when in conversation character faces are energetically and believably animated, the main character is actually an interesting person, and the setting and story are compelling from start to finish.
But when I completed the story and loped off to the top-right DLC-only corner of the map (which came included with the edition I bought) I… I played a few hours in it over a few days and, after putting down my controller haven’t bothered going back. I didn’t want more of the story, the world, or the mechanics. I don’t want to continue controlling, coercing, or combatting more creatures and characters.
It isn’t like Zelda where it lives in the back of my mind and wants me to put it back in. Maybe start from scratch, maybe continue where I left off. See what I missed by rushing to the towers too quickly and not making my way more methodically through the world. Maybe chat with others who have played the game and compare notes about what cool things we found.
But no. For some reason I’d had my fill of HZD. Maybe I’d had my fill of Open World of the First Type (We’ll see. I think The Witcher III is another one and it’s on my list to play soonish). Maybe with the overarching plot complete my brain had its closure and didn’t feel the drive to continue. Maybe I was tired of the armoured and HP-pooled palette-swapped monsters in the DLC area slowing down my exploration.
Whatever it was, I now find myself really not all that interested in going back to it.
But if they made a sequel, I’ll play it.
Anyway, I recommend Horizon: Zero Dawn to anyone who enjoys open world games of the First Type. It’s a polished game of appropriate length, depth, and breadth.