The PS4 had a fantastic year in 2017, there’s no question. And one title stood head and shoulders above all others: Horizon Zero Dawn. But to exceed the rest of the field in 2017 was a big ask; a year that was probably one of the best years for gaming we’ve ever seen. That was largely thanks to a resurgent Nintendo firing on all cylinders, delivering the incredibly well-received Switch, and two video game masterpieces in the shape of Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild (which was not just our 2017 ‘Game of the Year‘, but many others’ as well). So what can Guerrilla Games do with the Horizon Zero Dawn sequel to make sure they’re top dogs of the year we finally see the next game?
First and foremost, they must recapture everything that made the first game so great. The dynamic combat, the stunning visuals, the deeply engaging world (I could go on forever here). Even though Horizon Zero Dawn didn’t implement any gameplay mechanics that were radically different to things that have come before, it somehow managed to feel fresh and new, avoiding the boring tropes that the Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, and Watch Dogs series’s languished in. (It wouldn’t hurt to move away from the Ubisoft-style world construction in the future – less tower climbing to reveal the map please!) Part of how they managed to make Horizon distinct from similar titles was in how they resisted the urge to pad the game out with unnecessary quests and mindless tasks. The quests that were available to us felt fleshed out and interesting, and not just some tagged-on afterthought to simply give the player another ‘thing’ to do.
Okay, that’s a generalization. There were a few too many side quests that involved staring at the ground and following a trail to find someone. The DLC expansion The Frozen Wilds definitely alleviated this problem, making the side quests vastly more interactive and entertaining. This can certainly give us hope that Guerrilla Games will build on this for the Horizon Zero Dawn sequel. An issue that wasn’t really dealt with by the DLC was that a derelict world such as the one the presented in the game begs to be explored. Especially if you’re a player who likes to travel to the far corners of the map to find hidden secrets. But there wasn’t really much of a reward for doing so. On a couple of occasions, I found myself traversing some labyrinth of metal and machinery, only to be blocked from progressing because the location was actually part of the storyline, and would only be arbitrarily opened at a later point.
This is where I think a Horizon Zero Dawn sequel could make the biggest gains: implementing areas specifically for those exploration-junkies. The optional tombs from the two most recent Tomb Raider games would be a perfect template. Small, secluded spaces dotted throughout the landscape for Aloy to happen upon. And completing these optional areas would reward you with a weapon, a cool item, or a piece of really interesting lore. Maybe in these areas Aloy’s focus wouldn’t work, so you’d have to figure out the puzzle or maze completely by yourself (as a reminder, the ‘focus’ is a piece of pre-apocalypse tech that allowed Aloy to interact with the pre-apocalypse world to do some pretty cool pre-apocalypse stuff). Or, going the opposite way, perhaps you would have to use your focus in a way not introduced to previously. Considering that the focuses were integral to past society, we don’t really see them having other kinds of functionality. Again, another aspect that could be explored in a sequel.
What we also really need to see is an improved way of telling the story. Woah there, I’m not saying the story itself wasn’t up to scratch. Far from it. The main narrative in Horizon was probably one of the most compelling gaming stories of recent times. The concern lays with how the story was presented. Here’s why: a lot of your time with Aloy is spent marauding above-ground, wondering what surprise encounters await over the next mountain. The landscape is so beautifully crafted; a perfect blend of tech and tribe. But when it comes to the really big narrative moments, 80% of them are revealed to you underground. The nature of the awesome story itself goes some way to disguising this, but instead of utilizing the gorgeous visuals to tell the story, you’re wandering through dark, dank hallways that aren’t really that visually remarkable. And that was a real shame. It doesn’t help that you do this multiple times throughout the game. You delve into one bunker, discover a key piece of information, and then traipse towards the next mundane bunker to get the next hit of exposition.
In terms of what direction the story needs to go in, exploring the nature of Sylens’ true motives are top of everyone’s lists. Without giving too much away, at the end of Horizon we’re left with a pretty gigantic teaser of what to expect in the next game. And even though a lot of how and why the world is in its current state was explained, there’s endless scope for what other mysteries could lie lurking in the Horizon Zero Dawn sequel.
A skill system that actually means something would also be a wonderful inclusion. Not to say that some of the skills you learn don’t become invaluable (slow-mo when aiming, for example), but if you’re just going to allow us to unlock everything by level 50 anyway, why bother even restricting our use of those skills in the first place? I understand that perhaps by drip-feeding these skills to us as we level up allows us to get to grips with everything at a manageable pace, but why not go down a more RPG-like route? Have skill-trees that allow Aloy to become either an all-out-attack killing machine, or a ghost-in-the-night master of stealth. Or even something similar to the three side-by-side trees that Borderlands utilizes. Whatever the change, a change is needed.
Biggest of all: Guerrilla Games cannot get lazy. The worst thing they can do is rest on their laurels, and rush out a sequel as a quick grab for cash, hoping that the success of the first game will draw in the crowds. We want the same level of quality and meticulous attention to detail, because that’s what made the game so successful in the first place. If they manage to address the issues above, I think we’ll be in for a huge treat. And this list is by no means exhaustive. I haven’t even touched upon the crafting system, facial animations, and Aloy’s unnatural ability to climb mountains simply by jumping at them repeatedly (although, imagine how incredible the Horizon Zero Dawn sequel would be if they implemented some Breath of the Wild or Assassin’s Creed Origins-style climbing features?).
Suffice to say that I am already more than a little keen to get back to busting up machines and embarrassing the local tribesmen with Aloy’s quick wit. What do you hope to see from the Horizon Zero Dawn sequel? Let us know in the comments section below.