They Can't All Be Winners
I've beaten every game that I've bought this year. I don't know if it's because my attention span is improving, or because I spend more time in video game worlds to escape from our current political climate, but that's the case. So I'm pretty salty that Horizon Zero Dawn broke that record already. But I'm not willing to go back to it because it's not worth the time.
Horizon Zero Dawn takes place in a post-post-apocalyptic world with robot dinosaurs and white people with dreads and bows and arrows. It is an exercise in everything boring about open-world games, a culmination of every uninteresting design choice that's ever been made in a Ubisoft title or others like it, right down to the uninteresting name. It is exactly what you expected - or at least should have expected, which is why I found it to be such a massive waste of time, exhausting in every aspect.
The fact that this game has received such praise boggles the mind. I've been searching across the game's 40 hours that I've played of it, waiting for that spark that everyone seems to have found, but it simply isn't there. It's gorgeous, I'll give you that - the lush forests and stark deserts never stopped being interesting to look at, even while the game itself took a turn for the boring. But that's...quite literally the only praise I can find myself giving it. You collect herbs. You hunt forest creatures. You craft - a lot. You fight robot monsters. Every one of these actions becomes repetitive after the first 10 to 15 times you do them, and you'll be doing them for 100 more. I certainly knew I was sick of it when I was dropped into the eighth Batman-styled arena for me to pick off enemies one by one in. The side-quests the game presents you with are a waste of time as well, an array of endless fetch quests and no amount of lore to keep the weak boat afloat. Meanwhile, the main story never went anywhere interesting, and I was never tempted to find out all about the main character's "Focus," the magical instrument of intrigue and mystery.
That main character is Aloy, by the way, and she's as engaging as a pile of (robot) rocks. She's your typical sarcastic-quip-filled hero, who never really grows or changes as a character. I didn't care about her or her story because she didn't give me enough of a reason to beyond "this is my goal, I must press forward (but not before doing a few pointless fetch quests for people who don't know or care about me)." Nothing about her is interesting, and no part of her sticks out as being worth remembering.
And that's it. I don't have much else to say. Maybe it's because I'm hot off the heels of Nier: Automata. Maybe it's because The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild may as well have redefined open-world games as we know them. But I found Horizon Zero Dawn to be a massive waste of time that I'll never get back, a tiring affair that felt empty and lifeless, as much as it looked like it teemed with life. Nothing about its open world environment is as refreshing or compelling as I was lead to believe, and its story and characters were too bland for me to push through and see the story to its end. It's just...not special, not in a way other games I've played this year have been.
And that's just sad. But they can't all be winners, I suppose.