Imagine that, my next Link is actually female, just not from Nintendo. Her name is Aloy, and she is the heroine of Guerrilla Games’ next title, Horizon: Zero Dawn. To be clear, I actually enjoy that she’s a female, and I’m non-committal on the gender of Link. I would be perfectly fine with playing a Legend of Zelda game as Zelda herself, or even having a role reversal with a female Link and a male Zelda. To me, there is plenty of fun to be had there. But Zelda games have never been about their story so much as the gameplay fun. The stories can be nice, but ‘complex’ or ‘deep’ are never terms that I would associate with them. It’s not based on the gender of the main character. So why does this game capture my imagination and excite me more than Nintendo’s offering? I’m definitely no huge fan of Guerrilla’s previous titles, although I don’t mind the Killzone series. To answer that, let’s go back a little.
During the era of Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword there were actually two Zelda games that I did love. Those games were Darksiders and Darksiders 2. For those who did not play them, make no mistake that these were both Zelda games, especially the first one with its dungeon puzzles and dungeon items that would unlock new rooms and regions. But unlike the Nintendo offerings of the time, they had amazing graphics, an amazing art style, a very interesting world and story, and, most importantly, the combat was dynamic and fun. It was Zelda all grown up.
And that’s where I’m at with Horizon: Zero Dawn. The graphics and the combat are quite stellar, especially compared to Breath of the Wild. And there is just something so appealing about the world story and aesthetic choices of the game. The story takes place thousands of years after humanity has fallen from their peak, and features a mostly symbiotic relationship between humans and self-replicating robots. However, something recently has been causing the robots to turn on the humans. This is the other side of The Matrix. I know that I’m not the only one who looked at the demos this E3 and said, “That’s a Zelda game.” Worse, this all happened before the Nintendo Treehouse event showing off their own title.
In some ways, this Zelda is actually more adult oriented than previous entries. There are a lot of more complex systems here, such as the temperature system and the noise emission system, both of which you can see on the above UI. The open world and the huge map are things that everyone who was paying attention knew would be a part of their next game. Those additions were widely requested amongst the fan community. The stamina system and the looting system combined with rather severe weapon durability were quite a surprise, though. So I don’t want to be too negative about this title. There is a lot of interesting things here, and I will definitely be purchasing this game, both to give it a try for myself and also because I barely even turn on my Wii U, so that system needs to justify its existence. But frankly my largest takeaway was that Nintendo seems to have made The Elder Scrolls: Hyrule. And I really didn’t want that. Bethesda already makes those games, and makes them well. I wanted a Zelda game, just with far better graphics than this one has. But part of that is Nintendo’s decision to rely on underpowered hardware instead of just developing for the other two major console makers, or making one of equal or better power.
Perhaps Darksiders already paved the way for this train of thought in me. But mostly I would say that Nintendo and I have largely drifted apart over the years. They are far more focused on gaining new fans than keeping the old ones. And that’s fine; I can certainly see the merits of that strategy. But that just means that I’ll be looking forward to my next Zelda game coming from Guerrilla Games and for my Playstation 4. And there are certainly worse things to look forward to. I’ll still play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but all my excitement is devoted to getting my hands on Horizon: Zero Dawn. And, not that it affects my opinion greatly, but I have already seen that I am not alone there.