Horizon Zero Anxiety
Open world adventure games. The very notion normally sets my synapses on fire. Every iteration of Grand Theft Auto (since number three), The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion , Skyrim. and The Elder Scrolls: Online…they daunt me. The sheer volume of additional things you can do and see sets my mind into a panic. Even LEGO games flare up my anxiety – so much to do and so many things I’m potentially missing and may forget to revisit once I have acquired the correct power and so on. Yet I still continue to buy and play them. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment or perhaps it’s the hope that one day I will conquer these overwhelming feelings.
For a recreational activity, it feels like so much hard work. Despite these feelings, I do thoroughly enjoy the stories and activities and may “keep calm and carry on” once I find my bearings. There was only one exception to this until a few weeks ago…Red Dead Redemption was my first, anxiety free open world game in which I went at my own pace and soaked in the visual beauty and the story that seemed like it was snatched out of the hands of a screenwriter in the seventies. There was something calming about cantering across the “dusty trail”. Until cougars/zombie cougars…as soon as their yowls sounded my heart would be in my throat and I’d go into a panic with the camera spinning around like a frantic chase in a “found footage horror movie”.
I stumbled upon a bargain in Argos…’Horizon Zero Dawn‘. £24.99. You belter. So I got home, had it install ready for the evening. I fired it up after what seemed like an eternity and I was immediately sucked in by the stunning visuals and gameplay. I remember watching some gameplay footage on Sony’s E3 live stream last year – the song that played , “Carry Me Back Home” by Blues Saraceno, immediately grabbed me and was soon to be found on my Google Play Music playlist. It is on the shortlist for songs I want played at my funeral. Although I don’t believe in God and all that jazz.
Anyway, this game…there is an absolute TON of stuff to do – collectibles, beasts to destroy and override, side quests with some incredible battles and story twists…Despite all this content, I never feel rushed or overwhelmed. For such an expansive game there are some fantastic little things that pleasantly surprised me. For those who have played the Elder Scrolls series, the amount of glitches can be overwhelming in themselves but the game intelligently tracks your activity and the dialogue seems to shape itself around it.
Some examples – there are a number of hunting grounds in which you earn ‘suns’ (badges) based on your time. If you beat the initial time you earn a ‘blazing sun’ which is the highest hunting ground accolade you can achieve. If you complete it first time, when you return to the groundskeeper, he expresses shock that you managed it on your first attempt (one moreso than others…he seems to hate the Nora tribe). Other times you may tackle a quest after having completed a side quest and the NPCs’ dialogue makes reference to some of those events.
Even though I have achieved the Platinum trophy, I still have a few quests to do and, with the upcoming DLC, the game has plenty of life left in it. A recent update has also introduced ‘New Game+’ and an ultra hard mode – both of which I haven’t checked out. There is so much to love about this game – the attention to detail, the story, the graphics, the super smooth and engaging combat (if only Final Fantasy XV played like this) and the sheer amount of things to do without it ever feeling laborious.