Most folks who were excited for No Man’s Sky expected a universe full of elaborate mystery and fantastical beasts, instead they got an absentee story filled with procedurally generated monsters that didn’t push the limits of the imagination at all. What they may not know, is that Horizon Zero Dawn captures much of what people wanted from No Man’s Sky in a beautifully expansive adventure.
After booting up Horizon, I expected an incredibly well done open world adventure with a few innovative twists to the sandbox formula, but not much more. While part of that is true, the excellent monster design combined with the Monster Hunter-level of difficulty required to take them down makes the world feel full and worthwhile to explore.
Every time I ran into a new beast I would take a few moments to admire it in all of its technical finesse. Then I’d immediately worry about how much effort it’d require to take it down with my advanced and yet prehistoric set of weapons.
These encounters made a simple ride around on the back of a strider, one of the horse like creatures found in the wilderness, an exciting safari that almost always depleted my stockpile of arrows.
I didn’t get to literally blast off into the Horizon and explore the neighboring planets of a futuristic earth like I would have in Hello Game’s space epic--instead, I embedded myself in one comprehensive world that has more to explore in one square mile than No Man’s Sky had in one hundred of its procedurally generated planets.
Now, I’m not saying No Man’s Sky is a bad game. It’s something completely different compared to what the hype train built it up to be. I’m focusing on the hype train that started with trailers like this:
Not once in my exploration of dozens of planets did I ever encounter something as interesting as the dinosaur like creatures seen in that trailer. Instead, I ran into a lot of hyper aggressive things that hardly look like they could function with their biological makeup.
Nothing about those creatures interested me at all. I didn’t want to watch them in their natural habitat for more than a few minutes, let alone kill them if they came at me for seemingly no reason.
That just isn’t the case with Horizon’s mechanical wonders--these beasts altered the way I played the game. If I encountered a pack of Sawtooth wolf-like creatures blocking the way through a canyon I might have to consider taking an alternate path, completely changing my weapon load out, or considering trying a different quest to level up first.
In one case I was galloping towards the next objective in Aloy’s adventure when I was knocked off my mount by two Sawtooths. Since I had just taken down a bandit camp, I wasn’t equipped to take out two of these mechanical beasts. I had to retreat back across the river to gather supplies, build electric tripwire traps, and then lure them through in order to incapacitate and fill them with flaming arrows.
Nothing encouraged me to actually explore the planets that Hello Games set before me. The animals on each world would act either docile or hostile, with no variation or balance between those two moods. And on top of that, they were incredibly easy to kill, a few shots with your blaster turned most beasts into space chow.
Guerrilla Games creature design made me respect and admire these enemies. They looked like a futuristic Frankenstein monster and were equally as difficult to take down. I’ve booted up the game to simply go on a few hunts, completely ignoring the raw of the main quests.
No Man’s Sky and Horizon Zero Dawn are completely different types of games, but only one of them came through on the promise of awe inspiring monsters that are a mere pleasure to encounter and fight.
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