For the past few days or week, hard to keep track, I’ve dug into Horizon Zero Dawn PC on my desktop and on Steam Deck. It’s a blast to play and I love the unique hunting gameplay elements. The story is interesting and I actually like it better than God of War. Let me tell you why.
Aloy’s Future Stuck in the Past Story
By now, most people know the basics of Horizon Zero Dawn’s story. A society of hunter-gatherers battle animal-like machines. Some are normal animal size, while others are taller than buildings. It’s an interesting mix of nature and machinery.
I like how the story of the main character, Aloy, is setup. From a motherless baby adopted by an outcast, to kid determined to become a great hunter. Thumbs up to the devs using part of Aloy’s childhood as the tutorial. Learning controls and how to navigate the world literally like a child.
It’s funny to think how she yearns for the Nora clan to accept, then basically gets stuck doing their dirty work. Someone lost? Dangerous machines to destroy? Send in Aloy. The danger is real, but Aloy has a leg up with her Focus. It’s a piece of future (well her past) tech with Augmented Reality features. It provides analysis of paths and weaknesses.
The machine animals were built, not born, so it is interesting unraveling their origin. Loving the mix of futuristic past with primal present. Investigating technology ruins for what happened to the previous civilization is a bit more interesting than with Assassin’s Creed’s Isu.
Looking forward to literally hunting for the truth behind the Zero Dawn.
Horizon Zero Dawn PC Gameplay
I’m enjoying the story, but the gameplay is king. Hunting in other games I actively avoid unless there’s a big benefit. Yes, there’s animals to hunt in this game, but the benefit is mostly for potions and increasing carrying capacity. The real hunt is the machines. Unlike most hunted animals, the machines can and will kill you, so it’s not taking out innocent mammals.
Hunting machines is a great game concept, and I really love the components each machine has. There are various canisters, processors, power cells, weapons and more. It’s possible to shoot off most of those parts or take advantage of their weakness. It scratches that science stuff itch.
Overloading Blaze (flammable fuel) canisters and power cells is so much fun. A Snapmaw (giant mecha crocodile) is intimidating at first, but igniting both its Blaze canisters triggers damage dealing explosions. When I hit those right they are at my mercy.
A shock arrow to a power cell overloads it and sets off an EMP shockwave. My go to technique to immobilize and cause serious damage at the same time. It’s great to use science to blow the machines apart, while causing area damage to other nearby machines.
Tools of a Horizon Zero Dawn Hunter
There’s so many options to take down machines. Tripcasters launch trip wires of various elemental damage. Perfect for setting traps. Ropecasters launch tie down ropes to slow and temporarily disable machines. Slings launch elemental bombs and there are plenty of bow varieties.
The many bows have even more variety of arrows. There’s fire, ice, tear, corruption and more. Non-elemental arrows include varying amounts of tear damage. I love fire arrows to burn components and tear arrows to shoot off weapons from the machines. Nothing like grabbing a blaster I shot off a machine and turning its own weapon against it.
Analyzing the machines components and weaknesses is a big part of the fun. I like the AR overlay style to remind me where the components are and their weaknesses. This is where the Focus tech comes into play.
That Focus provides options to tag enemies and their patrol paths. It also reminded me a bit of the Witcher the way foot paths and items are trackable during investigations. It’s also the key to enter technology ruins throughout the world.
Horizon Zero Dawn PC Side Missions
I typically only mess with game “activities” and “challenges” when they are extremely fun or provide some game benefit like useful gear. These are all fun for me in Horizon Zero Dawn. Hunting lodge challenges are a bit difficult, but worth the struggle.
Not only are the ultimate rewards nice, but working those challenges teach advanced combat techniques. It’s not an exercise in frustration like challenges in many other games, but rather a chance to experiment with different techniques. The skills learned while trying to complete the challenges were a big help with later missions.
I even enjoy the stealth and climbing puzzles to reach vantage points and collect ancient items. Climbing the Tall Necks is worth revealing whole sections of the map and the challenge to get up there. Even picking apart Bandit camps is enjoyable.
Overriding the Machines
Within the first couple of hours, Aloy learns how to override the machines. This opens up even more options for gameplay. Now I can turn machines against each other now. It’s fun to hide while that chaos unfolds, then sneak in to pickup the parts.
Some overridden machines are even available as mounts. Nothing quite like riding a robot version of a bull, full with its own trample attacks against anything in my path. This is an are where many of the skill points are available to spend on improvements.
Steam Deck Performance is Ok, but Needs Improvement
Horizon Zero Dawn is Steam Deck verified to run great, but it’s not as smooth as my experience with God of War. The graphics settings auto detect and controller settings are automatically set. The convenience is nice, but there are some extreme frame dips in larger open areas. I’m talking like 11 FPS in some spots.
Not sure if it’s the game or Steam’s Proton version, but the implementation could use improvement. Beyond those dips, it is fairly smooth at about 40 FPS. Definitely more than playable when a gaming PC is not available.
God of War I played plenty on the Steam Deck, but I’ve leaned more towards playing on my desktop for Horizon. Part of that is how good the game looks on my Alienware OLED Monitor. That said, switching between Steam Deck and desktop PC could also use improvement.
The cloud save works great, but the game also saves graphic settings in the cloud it seems. When I go from Steam Deck to desktop PC, I have to reset the resolution to my ultrawide, turn on HDR and hit auto detect graphics to get my Ultra settings back. Going the opposite way is a little easier as I only need select auto detect in graphics.
It only takes a few seconds for me to update now, but I’d love to skip those steps. First world problems, so I’ll live with the minor annoyance.
Gyro is a Must for Bow Hunting
The other thing I just remembered is there’s no Steam Deck gyro control turned on by default. There’s so many bow shots that depend on precision hits on components, it’s silly not to use it. I tried turning it on in the Steam Deck options, but my view jumps straight up as soon as I enabled it.
What I found worked for me is to set the Gyro to mimic the Right Stick. I set the enable button for gyro to a full pull of the Left Trigger button (aims the bow). With that sorted, I had to experiment with the Gyro Neutral Settings to find the setting where it would not immediately go up when I activated in game.
It works, but wish I didn’t have to set that all up.
Those minor annoyances aside, Horizon Zero Dawn PC is a beautiful game with excellent game play and interesting story. I really love my time in game so far. Can’t wait to see what other secrets I uncover in the game world.