Horizon Zero Dawn and the Overwhelming Task of Completing an Open World Game

Horizon Zero Dawn

If you’re anything like me, whenever you play an open world game you inevitably stray from the main quest line as soon as humanly possible. Typically, as soon as a game removes the restraints, I run amok, getting lost in my surroundings. And lord help me if the game has any sort of looting, scavenging, or item collecting. I need to gather plants for crafting? Looks like my character has a new full-time job.

The game I’m playing right now is Horizon Zero Dawn. I’ve spent dozens of hours collecting coffee cups and metallic flowers, searching for vistas that give glimpses into the past, taking photos like mad, and collecting as much wood as humanly possible.

After all of this hunting and gathering, I decided to actually progress the story a bit. I felt like I was doing a decent enough job chipping away at the main quest and was in dire need of a break from busywork and meandering. In the process, I discovered a desert biome, which made me realize I am probably only about 20% of the way through the main story. I haven’t even come across the enormous, imposing T-Rex robot from the 2015 E3 trailer.

Horizon Zero Dawn

This seems crazy to me. I’ve revealed what I assume to be at least 40% of the map, and I have yet to meet a single robo-rex. A quick glance at the Trophy menu was all it took to confirm I had barely scratched the surface; there are a good deal of main quest-oriented Trophies as of yet unclaimed. The daunting part is that I’m starting to feel the fatigue that is often associated with open world games — the burnout wall, the oh-so-difficult hurdle.

Then I started to think of all of the open world games that I’ve played within the last couple of years, and how many of them remain unfinished to this day. And that’s to say nothing of the numerous side quests, collectibles, and Trophies that I also had never completed.

Batman: Arkham Knight, Dying Light, Dead Island, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Infamous: First Light, State of Decay (not for lack of trying), No Man’s Sky (in as much as it can be completed), Just Cause 1-3, Fallout 4 (or Far Harbor), etc.

Of course, I’m not the only one. For each of these games, there’s an army of players who might never get around to completing the main story.

Far Cry 4

Now I will admit, some games just have too much stuff, and the collectibles are rarely worth fretting over. I finished the main quests in Far Cry 3 and 4, but fuck if I was going to spend the rest of my life opening all those loot crates and finding all the masks or figurines.

And to be completely clear, I love open world games. I mean, despite finishing very few of them, I continue to plunk down the cost of entry so I can continue to get lost in whatever the next big thing is, knowing full well I may never see the credits roll. I love these games for all of the same reasons I imagine a good chunk of people seems to. There is something purely addictive about being allowed to explore the intricacies of new worlds — to see where the hobos sleep in Grand Theft Auto V, or what those snipers are protecting in the brilliant Mad Max (which I did manage to beat, if not by shear will alone).

Mad Max

And yet the sheer size and nature of these worlds makes actually seeing the main quest line through to completion seem like far less of a priority than checking all of the mailboxes in this post-apocalyptic, nuclear-war-ravaged hamlet I just found while searching for toy cars because I am in need of their screws. I’m the type of player who will gather as much resources as possible to max out the crafting or upgrade system that is immediately available, while hording excess for the higher tiers down the road. I want to find every written letter or remnant of a lost world. I need to scout out my path between destinations to make sure I can maximize the number of things I collect along the way.

But maybe this is just a problem inherent to my personality type. Maybe I am in the minority. Maybe I just don’t care enough about killing the leader of the bad guys so long as I kill enough along the way to make a dent. I have been saying for years that I would love a game like Fallout 4 if it was exactly the same as it exists today minus the main quest. Fallout 3 would be even better.

Fallout 4 Preston Garvey

Open worlds are incredibly immersive, but almost to a fault. I think I would have a better time coming to terms with my inability to finish these games by the standards of video game-dom if they just didn’t have an end to speak of.

For some games, the ending can conflict with the overall tone of the game world and only end up souring the experience to a small degree. Remember when Fallout 3 just ended (before the “Broken Steel” DLC was out to fix that)? Or when you had to leave the main game map to enter the smaller more straightforward endgame map in Far Cry 2? Yeah, that sucked.

If I actually do ever end up completing a game, I most certainly want the option to return to its world to keep tracking down car parts, or shooting pigeons, or eating a pork bun from every street vendor in Hong Kong.

So here I am, staring down a grim completion percentage in Horizon Zero Dawn. If I don’t see this one through to the end, hopefully I can accept that I’d done as much as I’d wanted to in the amount of time I’d spent with it, and “The End” isn’t always the end anyway.

The End.