Every gamer eventually reaches a point where they start to put Trophys and Achievements over actually enjoying a game. A time where a platinum trophy that most of your friends won’t even notice or care about is all you can think about, a momentous moment where you use fast travel to reach one last collectible rather than pay attention to the comprehensive lore and depth of a game. It sounds insignificant, but you haven’t really appreciated a game until one of them knocks you out of your Trophy-hoarding stride. This is the story of the moment that happened to me and the moment I got over it.
Aloy currently stands on a plateau within the great city of Meridian, a large and prosperous settlement located in the centre of the vast world of Horizon Zero Dawn. To the east of this sprawling city lies the place she grew up, a small hut outside the village of the Nora, to the west lies vast unexplored areas the likes of which I can only speculate at this point. But it was here, in Meridian that my stupid mistake, became a gift.
I had started the game with anticipation and excitement, having followed the project since one of the E3 demos a few years ago, I was bubbling with nervous joy as I booted the game up, impressed as I watched the opening cutscene and astounded as I took my first steps on the game’s ravaged, aging Earth. But just before that, while I was tinkering with the settings on the main menu, I started a new game and it was with this that I was asked the fatal question: select difficulty.
Assuming there was a trophy for finishing on the hardest difficulty I selected Very Hard and immediately plunged into the world of a young Aloy. It wasn’t until seven or eight deaths later (more than I’d care to admit from falling), while I was still in the relative safety of the east of the map that I googled the Trophy list. None of them are locked behind difficulty barriers.
Of course, I could have simply lowered the difficulty upon discovering this – and trust me, I considered it – but I thought that doing so would be like admitting defeat, letting my inner Trophy-whore win. Plus, if you were a human wearing tribal leathers and a giant metal tail, swung at you by what we can only assume are incredibly sophisticated hydraulics, collides with your chest it’s going to take a huge chunk out of your health pool. So I pressed on, believing in my own ability and my desire to have a semi-realistic experience – giant robot dinosaurs excluded. At first, my search for collectibles and new machines to kill took me north, up to a series of beautiful ruined highways and apartment buildings, past dilapidated huts and snowy tundra terrain. During this time I killed many machines, most using primitive traps and tripwires, fewer using my trusty spear and its silent strikes and fewer still using my increasingly ineffective bow. But I hadn’t really been challenged, nought had really crushed my resolve as a mechanical killing machine should. Then came the colossal Bellowback.
If you imagine a giant ant-eater at the front combined with the bulbous behind of a Black Widow spider you can picture the creature. At least three times as tall as Aloy and about 20ft long it spews globs of ice or fire at our huntress while remaining thoroughly resistant to damage from regular arrows. I soon discovered that I could fire two shock blast shots from my sling to put the creature into a downed state and then smash the canisters under its well-guarded body to deal incredible damage, but repeating this action brought me no excitement. It felt almost like cheating. Instead I found myself dodging the whirling flicker of flames in a close range attack and throwing my red-haired maiden out of the way before her mane was literally ablaze, as this provided much more entertainment. Trying to fight this creature with stealth had proven barely effective, one silent strike did little damage to such a colossal creature. Even a double-shot arrow which found its monstrous and exposed bulbous tank barely scratched the surface, so as I ran away, a level 25 warrior, crafting more arrows as I made my mad dash to safety, I turned my camera to face the beast and found the one small grace my trophy hoarding brain had afforded me. I was having fun.
I knew I had traps, I knew I could hit the weak spots of this creature, and I knew I could escape if necessary. However, I also knew that I needed a Bellowback Heart, one of the game’s rare components that can be traded for superior weapons and goods. So I turned, and ran head first into a fight with a rampaging foe that I wasn’t sure I could even survive, never mind win. What’s more, I did this not because the game told me to do so, not because I needed this part to unlock something, but just because I felt like it.
By the end of a five minute long contest I had devoured seven potions and an entire satchel of medicinal herbs. I had 120 health remaining and by my feet lay the sparking carcass of the Bellowback. There was no heart to be found, just some regular components and a lens of some kind. “Next time” I told myself, before scooping the salvaged material into my ever expanding inventory and continuing upon one of the many side quests in the game.
All of this took place in the eastern section of the map, a small snowy backwater compared to the towering Meridian, but it was the training area you need to prepare yourself for what comes next. Or, it should have been. Travelling down into what appears to be the vast dry riverbed of what was once a very large ocean your view changes from a Christmas card-esque snowy white hue to a harsh swirl of dust, sand and endless mountains of red clay. The mechanical beast I ride is tiny compared to the Chargers, Snapjaws and Thunderjaws that litter my way to Meridan, but I press on, certain to find the answers I seek regarding the massacre at the Proving and a place to offload my rare materials. But rising to the top of the towering metropolis I had only more questions. What new and powerful kind of machines lie below, how would I fair in an environment which by all means seems much more densely populated with bloodthirsty robotic savages, and perhaps most importantly of all, why, when I stare out over the hazy land of this dystopian post-post apocalyptic world, were my eyes transfixed upon one, glorious thing? The glimmer of a Glinthawk and the promise of limitless adventure upon the Horizon.