This past week has been spectacular in gaming. Two of the best games in recent years have been released in Horizon Zero Dawn and Zelda Breath Of The Wild. Releasing in such a short space of time has led to many comparing the two. While there are some similarities in the genre the games could not be more different in their own ways. Unfortunately, people are always looking to be the Highlander where gaming is concerned. For these games I can assure you, the can be only one’ has never been more out of place.
Horizon Zero Dawn is an amazing game, never before have I played a more polished third-person action game. Uncharted 4 comes close but for the sheer amount going on, HZD trumps it easily. There really is no other game out there that gives you the ‘thrill of the hunt’. From the earliest encounter with the fantastically realised mechanical beasts you get a feeling of kill or be killed in every encounter. Even the way you take them down has never been implemented as well. Scan the enemy find the logical weak spot and target it in any way you can. Sometimes this is so realistic that you can’t believe what happens in front of your eyes. Take a Sawtooth, the mechanical version of a lion, sabretooth tiger or another wild cat. It is an imposing beast easily able to kill you in one or two hits. Its armour has only two weak spots and those have different weaknesses as well. The fuel tank underneath the animal is susceptible to fire and if you can hit it with a fire arrow will explode dealing massive damage. The downside of this is how close you need to be to get a guaranteed hit on the tank. You can be close enough for the explosion to injure you leaving both you and the Sawtooth injured and in a next it kills scenario. After this try fighting two at once when ducking and diving around the ancient ruins of a skyscraper.
Zelda Breath Of The Wild has been compared to Horizon Zero Dawn because of a few genre specifics. They are both third-person open world experiences. Both characters can fire arrows. Here is where any comparison between the two must end. Zelda Breath Of The Wild isn’t so much a game as it is a sandbox for you. Where HZD is the pinnacle of open world games design at the moment, Zelda is playing by a different set of rules. Zelda has far more in common with Minecraft than any other game I have played. There is literally no pressure on you to proceed in any direction you don’t want. HZD has the best open world quests, but these are simply a checklist of things to do to 100% the game. Zelda doesn’t seem to care what you do and how you do it. There is the brief awakening scene then you are out in the world with only your logical brain to help you. To make things even better you can turn the HUD to Pro for the purist’s experience. This removes all screen furniture except the heart counters. It means you have to actually look and see what is happening. If Link is warm he will sweat, if there are rain and lightening in the air he will need to dress accordingly. Wear metal armour elements in the lightening and expect to get hit.
The logical thinking pattern in Zelda removes it from the tropes and video game elements that HZD does so well, this is why it is unfair to mention the two together. In HZD You level up you get XP and you do quests. You sneak into an enemy bandit camp and use the skills learnt in the game, you know you have to get close enough to an enemy to do a stealth kill, you know the grass is placed just in the right place to give you a chance of doing it all unseen and you know enemy placement will be just in the most awkward places.
Zelda still has enemy goblin camps to take down but there is not really need to, to progress the story. When you come to the camp your brain lets you pick any way you want to take them down. One camp had a large tree nearby. Having lifted a woodcutter’s axe, it ought to myself I could chop down the great tree to land on the three enemies huddled around the fire in the camp. It almost worked. The tree killed one and alerted the other two. They managed to hit me and knock me off the cliff where I, unfortunately, drowned after a clumsy mix between climbing up the cliff and swimming. Another way to do this camp could have been to sneak in while they were sleeping, steal their weapons then wake them in an unarmed defenceless panic. If you can come up with a way to do it, Zelda Breath Of The Wild will no doubt allow you to come very close to it and that is the key difference in the games. HZD will allow you to kill the enemy in any order and way you can think off using the tools provided. Zelda simply removes the tools and leaves them up to your imagination. By this I mean HZD won’t let you cause an explosion to collapse some of the architecture of the game onto the enemy, whereas that is an option open to you in Zelda. The world is more like Minecraft than a tightly crafted experience, it is a genre of its own, just like Minecraft. If Minecraft is an open world building sim then Zelda is closest to an open world deconstruction. Instead of building camps and enemies, you are using the game engine and the world to defeat and deconstruct them. It is simply a beautiful and brilliant game engine that allows the feeling of ‘breaking’ a game to become natural. If you solve a puzzle or shrine in ten seconds, it is ok the game will likely get you back with the next one. It is down to you, how you do this and up to your psyche how you mentally handle this. Can you let go of all you like about open-world games, collecting artefacts, levelling up to unlock skills, and reaching observation towers to reveal the map? If you let these go and just ‘live’ in Zelda’s world, ten you will experience greatness. If you want the best version of what you are used to then get Horizon Zero Dawn.