10 Improvements That Would Make Horizon Zero Dawn a Better Video Game

Horizon Zero Dawn

I’ve been playing Horizon Zero Dawn for a couple weeks now. If you’ve followed any of my previous coverage, you should already know that I think it’s a gorgeous game — it might be the best looking open world game I’ve ever played. And when you consider that this is Guerrilla Games’ maiden voyage into the open waters of the open world action RPG genre, this is an amazing accomplishment in and of itself.

But even so, there are a few elements that leave something to be desired. If Horizon Zero Dawn gets a sequel — or even a massively game-changing patch — here’s a list of things I hope are addressed.

1. Improve Aloy’s jump animation.

Horizon Zero Dawn

What kind of person jumps and then raises their legs to their chest after reaching the apex of their jump height? This makes no sense to me, especially because Aloy doesn’t go into a roll upon landing unless she’s jumping from a greater height than just ground level. Her legs should extend to stick the landing, unless she was planning on going into a crouched position.

2. Let Aloy swim faster.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Aloy can dodge with the best of them. She can sprint and climb and jump ridiculously (see my previous point), but when it comes to swimming, she’s slower than a turtle on a tour of a molasses factory. I loathe having to cross even the narrowest creek if it happens to be too deep to simply run through. Goodness gracious

Now, to this you might say something like: “But Julian, she’s in water, so it’s supposed to be slow.” But this is far from a simulator in any other regard, so maybe just dial it back a bit.

3. Add fast travel to the “show on map” function when choosing an active mission.

Horizon Zero Dawn

This one is a weird one. When you’re actively selecting a mission, there is a button prompt that opens a map to show you where that mission is located. Since the map is already open, why not look for the nearest campfire to the mission marker and fast travel to it? Except that you can’t, because in this version of the map — which is identical to the map tab you’ve been using for the entire rest of the game — you’re not allowed to fast travel. You need to close the map, then manually open up the map, find that mission marker, then go about your fast traveling. Why offer the option if I then need to find it myself anyway? Doing it myself isn’t difficult, but this is a bizarre and unnecessary process that could have been streamlined.

4. Add a survival difficulty.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Survival Mode is all the rage these days. Far Cry Primal patched one in, and it was actually pretty awesome. Fallout 4 did something similar. Since Horizon Zero Dawn includes a lot of mechanics that would make for a fantastic Survival Mode, it seems like a natural fit. You’re already hunting real animals, so adding some sort of hunger management mechanic would be cool. Exhaustion would also be a neat addition — a girl needs to sleep, after all. With so many survival elements already present, why not go for a full-on survival mode? It just makes sense.

5. Add predatory animals.

Horizon Zero Dawn - Raccoon

I haven’t yet completed the main story, so this nitpick may not apply to the later portion of the game (think of the bears in Red Dead Redemption). But if not, adding real animals that would actively want to harm you could really spice things up.

Imagine you’re trying to sneak past a herd of mechanical beasts, then you spot a pack of wolves up ahead. Now you have to navigate a predator group that can see, hear, and smell you while you’re trying to avoid robot dinosaurs at the same time.

6. And while we’re on the topic of animals, can we make the variety less bizarre?

Horizon Zero Dawn - Turkey

I get why we’ve got foxes and boars. Sure. But turkeys? Turkeys?! I can’t think of another game of the top of my head that included wild turkeys among its wildlife. Turkeys? After the fall of mankind’s dominance over the planet, when nature reclaims the landscape, it’s the turkeys that surive? I’m sorry, but this is just bizarre. Turkeys?

7. Give the player more freedom regarding Aloy’s personality.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn has borrowed liberally from Mass Effect‘s approach to dialogue trees, but those choices typically only amount to how much you want to jabber before cutting to the chase. There are times when you can decide to speak from your heart, head, or gut (I guess), which can determine how compassionate you are or whatever. But you are never given a choice to just be a dickhole the entire time. I realize that Aloy is a very clearly defined character, much more than Mass Effect‘s Shepard. But why give any choice at all if it’s inconsequential?

8. Implement The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild‘s climbing mechanic.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

If there’s one thing that irks me about video game characters who can jump — even if those jumps look ridiculous — it’s when said character can only grab specific ledges. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the guy can just climb the heck out of cliff walls. If there’s a mountain in this guy’s way, he’s going over it.

Meanwhile, Aloy — much like the pair of arms you play as in the Far Cry games — can only grab onto ledges that have a yellowish rim. I’m sure there was a legitimate design reason for going this route, but it’s details like these that constantly remind you you’re in a video game where video game rules prevail over actual physics.

9. Create a deeper crafting system with actual consequences.

Horizon Zero Dawn

I’ve been struggling over whether or not to add this one, but I do think it has some merit.

Let me start by saying I love Horizon Zero Dawn‘s current crafting system. Nothing gets my heart pumping quite like trying to craft arrows while simultaneously dodging a charging beast. Horizon lets you consistently pull this off, but it does so at the expense of having any sort of crafting animation (think Joel from The Last of Us). If all your items just replenish magically, without some sort of animation to show the process, why even make the player go through the motion?

If Aloy runs out of arrows in the middle of a fight, it should be up to her to either switch weapons or tactics, or cower behind a rock to kneel down and craft  a few arrows. It would add tension — as well as an extra layer of strategy — to be surprised by a mechanical beast when you know you’ve only got three arrows on you.

I get that Guerrilla Games probably didn’t want to have ammunition packs littering the world, and I’m glad they didn’t go that route; I hate that shit. But as a trade-off, having Aloy magically craft items as opposed to picking up floating boxes like Snake in the Metal Gear games isn’t that much of an improvement.

10. Improve the enemy tagging system.

Horizon Zero Dawn

It is incredibly frustrating to try to scan enemies in this game, and trying to keep the reticle hovered over a moving target seems way less concise than it should be. Add to that the annoying sound effect that plays every time you scan — or fail to scan in my case, which triggers that sound over and over again — and it’s enough to drive a guy crazy.

But the weakest aspect of the scanning mechanic is that it’s super finicky, making it more difficult than it should be to tag two enemies — or an enemy and an alarm — that are within close proximity to one another. Even if you are actively highlighting the person or object in the background, an enemy in the foreground will supersede whatever you’re trying to tag. I find myself having to consistently change my character’s position in order to overcome this. And that just seems like a design flaw.

But even so, I am really enjoying this game overall, and I don’t see many of the larger pieces needing that much improvement going forward. It’s just a few small things that need a little TLC.

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