My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!
#3 Horizon Zero Dawn
I’m very late to the party on Horizon Zero Dawn, but better late than never. I’m still in the midst of playing through this absolutely gorgeous game that somehow balances beautiful fantasy vistas with post-apocalyptic destruction and sci-fi horrors. It plays like the perfect marriage between Assassin’s Creed and Skyrim, but its true power lies within its unique, memorable world-building.
It’s one thing to craft a post-apocalyptic world, it’s another to fill it with multiple rich cultures, characters, and events. It’s set within a compelling future world of tribal humans squeaking out an existence among an untamed wild filled with badass robot dinosaurs. The dichotomy between the ‘Robot Uprising’ and ‘Nature Reclaims All’ dystopias operate in perfect harmony, but more than anything the story is about people, how they survive, what they believe, and why they kill.
At the heart of it all is Aloy, the perfect protagonist in an open world setting. She has just enough character development to let you emphasize, while leaving you occasional role-playing choices so you can mold her personality. The opening moments with her as a child, then training with her Obi-Wan figure should be put on a pedestal as the gold standard for handling tutorials, as well as drawing you into the world and story of Horizon Zero Dawn.
Movement is fluid and easy, and there’s a fun emphasis on stealthily hunting your opponents, whether that’s enemy bandits at a camp or robot raptors prowling in the forest. Lots of fun weapons and tools are available; I particularly enjoy setting up tripwires and luring opponents into my own personal killzones.
In many ways Horizon Zero Dawn is my dream game. It’s got everything I want in an open world action-RPG: meaningful skills, fun weapons and tools, an intriguing world to explore, and a neat story to experience. And did I mention the god damn robot dinosaurs? I’ll be playing this one well into the new year, and it will stay with me long after that.