The live gameplay demo of Horizon Zero Dawn was undoubtedly one of the highlights of Sony’s E3 press conference this year, if not the whole expo. Although the fluid combat mechanics, diversity of weaponry and stunning game world all impressed, it wasn’t those aspects that blew me away. In fact, it has taken me until now to realize precisely what has captivated me so much about this open-world, action-focused RPG.
In short, I’m excited because developer Guerrilla Games look like they may be trying something different with Horizon Zero Dawn.
This generation’s video game scene is frankly stuffed with what may be defined as action RPGs, to the point that it is easy to argue that the sub-genre has become saturated. These games place a heavy focus on action with relatively simple gameplay systems, as opposed to those that offer more in-depth customization and crafting menus, and strategic depth.
The critical and community acclaim of recent juggernauts in the action RPG sub-genre, specifically The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Fallout 4, has set the bar very high indeed. It is therefore perhaps more imperative than ever that developers entering the RPG fray for the first time, as Guerrilla Games are doing, try to mix things up a bit. Fortunately, the developer that previously worked on the Killzone series seem to have come across something really rather special with Horizon Zero Dawn.
In an interview with Game Informer, Horizon Zero Dawn’s Director, Mathijs de Jonge, admitted that pushing forward with the project was a risky move, and most would agree with him. Moving from a linear FPS series to an open-world, third-person action RPG game is about as drastic a shift imaginable.
Guerrilla Games have boldly leaped out of their comfort zone into a genre teeming with noteworthy competitors. In an industry that is notorious for publishers of AAA games being reticent to take risks, Sony Interactive Entertainment should certainly receive some recognition for giving Guerrilla Games the green light to push the boat out.
Whereas for many RPGs the core strength may be their immersive worlds, vast in scope, or their choice-influenced narrative, in my opinion, Horizon Zero Dawn’s forte looks likely to lie elsewhere. Quite simply, it seeks to excel with the mechanical “creatures” that populate the world.