Horizon Zero Dawn Has a Lot to Teach Ubisoft
I recently decided to sit down and replay Horizon Zero Dawn since its sequel, Horizon Forbidden West, comes out next month. My opinion of it remains essentially the same. It is an absolute masterpiece that I highly recommend everyone check out, especially since it is on PC now.
Horizon Zero Dawn is also a game that Ubisoft could learn a lot from. On its surface, Horizon Zero Dawn shares many similarities with a traditional Ubisoft open-world game. Horizon Zero Dawn just benefits significantly from being a smaller, more focused experience. Believe it or not, every game doesn’t need to be 50+ hours long.
Horizon Zero Dawn has bandit camps, It has towers, a lot of collectibles, it has everything we are tired of in Ubisoft games. Despite this, Horizon Zero Dawn is a masterpiece.
The most interesting character in the game, NIl, is tied to the bandit camps. The towers are environmental puzzles that involve climbing giant, robot dinosaurs. The collectibles flesh out a detailed and interesting world. I want to learn more! I want to collect information. It sure is a lot better than feathers.
Horizon Zero Dawn also benefits tremendously from having an in-depth combat system with interesting enemies to fight. Let’s look at Assassin’s Ceed Valhalla to see why Ubisoft combat just doesn’t work for how long the games are. Nothing about the combat is terrible on its own. You have rather traditional hack-and-slash combat with light and heavy attacks. The issue is that’s about it. The enemies never really challenge you, and they offer little to no variety. That just compounds the game’s repetitive nature and makes it tough to play for 40+ hours.
Engaging Combat and Enemies
Now let’s look at Horizon Zero Dawn. Horizon Zero Dawn has you fighting robot dinosaurs. That is just a tad bit more interesting than dudes in armor. Horizon Zero Dawn also gives you a host of combat options for any battle.
Do you go in stealthy to pick off smaller machines and set up traps? Should you hack and corrupt a machine, so it fights for you to even the odds? Do you try and keep your distance to try and immediately knock a part off to make combat easier?
Combat in Horizon Zero Dawn is truly all about choice. These machines are genuinely dangerous, which encourages you to think about your approach. In battle, I’ll often pause and go into the codex, so I can look up the weakness of a machine, try to decide which weapons will work best, and come up with a plan of attack. I did this for the entire 30 hours or so that I played. I didn’t do this at all in the 40 or so hours I put in Assasin’s Creed Valhalla.
That time played is also something Ubisoft could learn from Horizon Zero Dawn. I spent about 30 hours doing all side quests and beating the story in Horizon Zero Dawn. Valhalla lasted me 40 hours before the repetition got to me. I didn’t even end up completing the story. It just felt like it would never end. It would do Ubisoft well to keep in mind that size isn’t everything.
Horizon Zero Dawn isn’t perfect. In fact, the worst parts of it are precisely what we don’t like about Ubisoft open world games. The human enemies are dull and lack the same depth of the machines. You just shoot them in the head and move on. Your options are much more limited and boil down to traditional options between stealth and action. They just don’t offer the same level of threat or intrigue. If they had more variety and you had to pick armor off to get at weak points, then they would be more engaging. As they stand, they are just forgettable. Much like a traditional Ubisoft open-world game.
So, what can Ubisoft learn from Horizon Zero Dawn? The main takeaway is that depth is far more important than size. Horizon Zero Dawn put in the work to make even mundane tasks like bandit camps feel engaging and a part of the world. They weren’t a task; they were a part of the story. It also helps that there were only around six camps in Horizon Zero Dawn. Not overdoing them helps a lot and actually encourages the player to complete them.
The combat system is well thought out and remains fun to poke at and try new strategies for the entire game in Horizon Zero Dawn. They weren’t satisfied with just a basic shoot-and-dodge system. They added weak points, several weapon types, machine weapons that you can knock off and use, and more. This is a level of depth sorely lacking in any Ubisoft open-world game.
Horizon Zero Dawn built a unique world with hunters using old technology, such as bow and arrows, made out of future technology and metal. There is lore around every corner, and each collectible just takes you deeper into the world. Build a world that players will want to explore every inch of.
Quality beats quantity. So far, Ubisoft hasn’t taken any of this to heart with their open-world games. Far Cry 6 was just more Far Cry and everything that comes with it: standard FPS combat, boring collectibles, and an uninteresting world. It is frustrating because Ubisoft truly is capable of more. They have talented devs. Well, they do if they didn’t all run off by now. I yearn for the day Ubisoft realizes that deeper gameplay is far more important than immense, busy-work maps. It doesn’t matter how sprawling your map is if you don’t have anything interesting to do in it.