I finished the game last night, but wrote this up at about a week ago and will have a proper review up sometime soon.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a really gorgeous game. The gameplay for the most part isn’t terrible, but can be a bit unfair if you aren’t super prepared for a fight, see Rockbreaker.
But the storyline and world building have really gotten a firm bite on me. I’m going to try and organize this by topic. But there’s a lot here.
I’m going to do what I can to avoid spoilers for the main story. I will be talking primarily about the Vantage data, and the other bits of random ‘world of metal’ data that I’ve found. However I do need to address the very beginning of the game, and do so indepth. Sorry.
Shortly after Aloy finds the Focus and tries to find her way top-side, we are ‘treated’ to the dying messages of these ancient humans. They were part of a team of scientists, we know that the perimeter had been breached and they were ‘welcome to try their odds in the wild’, but for everyone else ‘drugs would be available’ so they could all commit group suicide. I am not far enough in the game to know what breached the perimeter. I have a suspicion that it is the huge robot we see hanging on the mountain side.
These people were told there was absolutely no hope left. One man killed himself, the recording capturing the sound of the gun firing. This is the very beginning of the game and it paints an intensely bleak picture of a civilization not too far off from our own.
This said, we know that humanity isn’t dead, as otherwise we’d basically be playing Tokyo jungle or some such.
Linguistically, this game is full of all sorts of interesting bits. They know that the machines are that, machines. But they treat them as living things all the same. They speak english, and Aloy at least can read what we would recognize as english as well as ‘glyphs’. I surmise she learned it while tinkering with the Focus as a child, as we see her waving her hands at streams of some sort of display.
We’re told that the Nora tribe does not ‘covet metal’ or something to that effect by one of the Matriarchs. We see them repurpose bits and pieces and put it to use, but no one is taking broken watchers or striders and making new mechanical things from them beyond simple machines.
But from the various ‘text messages’ you find in the environment, and what one Nora tribe npc said, something stuck me. This character (who I shant name because minor spoilers) said “A warrior should never forget the feel of the craft”, in regards to making a new weapon from a recently handed over Lancehorn. All of the text messages thus far are about consumer culture. Movie ticket contests, people talking about reality tv shows, ‘holo-bot battles’, etc.
I don’t mean to say that the ‘metal world’ was solely destroyed by consumerism. But it is certainly a contributing factor. We see another thread of hyper-consumerism and corporatization being mirrored in the Vantage caches. Mr. Mati mentions a drug overdose at a concert. He mentions seeing a sports team owned by a seemingly omnipresent corporation. He talks about vandalizing places in his past.
Sufficed to say, this was not a world at peace, or that is any more improved than our own outside of it’s technology. He speaks of planning to overdose on a mountain when he finds out something at the last moment. This is a world that doesn’t have his back or his mothers, that doesn’t help them when they need it. He even mentions that taking ‘personal time’ was a redflag, and taking ‘psych leave’ was career suicide. He grew up and died in a world where people did not care about others.
Anthropologically we have all sorts of interesting things to pick at in this game.
But there are many things stuck in my particular craw about this new civilization that is growing. You can over here a storyteller talk about how ‘all-mother’ stopped the ‘metal devil’. To me, this reads as ‘someone who didn’t understand the situation saw this happen and lived to pass on what they interpreted from what they saw’. We can see that this has happened for a lot of things in regards to the history of ‘the metal world’. I strongly suspect whomever came out either didn’t know enough about that old civilization, or wanted to steer people away from possibly repeating the same mistakes. An intentional reset seems extremely likely. We will that answer later, I’m sure.
And yet with this presumed attempt at a ‘reset’, there is a universal currency between the four or five tribes. Metal Shards are accepted by everybody and not only that, but everyone is also on the same page for pricing. I get that it’s a game, etc. But that every town in this world has a merchant that will sell me Blaze canisters for the same cost sticks in my craw.
What about barter? Like, seriously. Why aren’t we just trading machine bits and animal bits for the supplies we need in the game? Is there really so much commerce going on that a currency is needed? Most of the Nora live in small wooden homes, are you telling me that they are doing anything much more than subsistence/group hunting & gathering? We see some barter in the ‘required items’ portion of purchases, but they still all take metal shards as well the components.
What about regions that have fewer Blaze producing Machines? Or are all regions equally ‘Blaze Producing’, as might be implied by one of the Cauldrons. (But that’s more of an environmental/agriculture management toward the Machines, whom I doubt will have many answers for us).
Speaking of agriculture, we see what look like small fields in one of the Meridian estates, but other than that, nothing. Gathering agriculture is entirely possible for smaller groups like the Nora or outcasts, but for larger cities like Meridian? And then we come across the game issue.
Game as in animals which are hunted that is. There are rabbits, foxes, raccoons, turkeys and boars that I’ve seen thus far. Of these, only rabbits are true herbivores (I had to go look this up, Turkeys are omnivores, I mean it makes sense in retrospect, they are basically tiny Raptors). We know the Nora hunt rabbits, as we see several being cooked or cured over fires, and similarly we hunt boars for subquests. Are these small game plentiful enough to support these communities? Because there are zero horses, cows, deer, etc to be found thus far. Nor are there any pure carnivores. This says to me that these creatures were either selected and allowed to continue or meet some sort of parameter for the machines criteria for environmental balance and docility in proximity to the machines operations. Also, I really damn hope no one is resorting to cannibalism, though I’m certain we’d have seen some evidence of that if it were a common occurrence, that and there wouldn’t be ‘exiles’, probably.
That’s another thing. The Exiles and the amount of game animals. You’re telling me that you’ll just let exiles hunt the same limited game? I’m not advocating differently, I’m just saying that we as a species are pretty consistently good at being assholes to people we’ve deemed to be ‘others’ (See, Resh & his behavior. Behavior in general to Exiles. Wealthy v poor in Meridian, The ‘old sun-king and the red raids’, etc). We survived a civilization ending apocalypse as a species, but we still kept the talent for being complete dicks to one another if we so deem it ‘socially acceptable’. Also War. holy shit. We nearly are wiped out, and we dig ourselves back out from the 6 feet of MECHANICAL DEATH MACHINE FLAVOURED DIRT, and we start WARS over being allowed to literally murder people for religious reasons. Wonderful…
That said, thus far the game is wildly optimistic, although in a subtle way. Humans survived a world ending event. Survived and manage to thrive up to the beginning of the events of the game.