Late to the Game: Horizon Zero Dawn

In this episode of Late to the Game, I want to talk about a game I purchased on sale and loaded on a whim and then stayed up way too late playing for several nights in a row. We won’t be discussing the game itself, but rather the story that drives the gameplay, a story that, if I may be so bold, supports my claim that all great Science Fiction writers should play video games and their wives should let them.

I bought HZD a while ago when it was on sale and didn’t even unwrap it until several days ago. I may not have unwrapped it at all had we not been in the Holiday No-Buy Zone, a time period between Oct 15 and Dec 30 during which I’m not allowed to purchase anything for myself, lest Santa bring it.

I knew almost nothing about the story, so when I loaded it up and watched a primitive man and a tiny baby and All-Mother and spirits blah blah blah, I almost turned it all off. If I wanted mythology, I would go back to playing God of War.

But I kept watching cutscenes, and during one sequence, my interest level went from 6 to 6,000.

Aloy, the main character, stumbles into an underground building and discovers a piece of tech that reveals an invisible world around her. The moment she picked it up and started seeing all the tech blended in with the grass and rock formations and ruin, my heart leapt.

Maybe You Should See A Doctor

As my heart settled, I said to myself, now that is an interesting concept. A little girl in a primitive world discovers advanced technology but it’s not from aliens, it’s from… dun dun dun… us!

The Vinestead Anthology takes place over centuries, and it’s little ideas like these that fuel future novels. All this great tech drives an untenable society until it all collapses. People revert to a more primitive stage, forget the old ways, and then what was once commonplace becomes magical.

I immediately started thinking of a future where the synthetic humans from Perion Synthetics and Por Vida become mythological, forgotten, only to be discovered walking the salt flats… appearing as corporeal ghosts to ignorant humans.

Ideas Are Everywhere

You never know what you’ll be doing when a new idea strikes you, or more likely, when it is suggested by whatever you’re experiencing. Lots of authors will tell you that reading is vital to writing, and that’s probably true if you’re trying to learn style and grammar and flow and whatnot. But if you’re looking for ideas or trying to add a twist to an existing idea, you can safely look beyond books to movies and even video games. (Some would also say going outside to experience life is worthwhile, but whatever.)

In my experience, after the fourth or fifth novel, just the small, blissful moment of having a new idea, is the best feeling in the world. 

Oh Yeah, The Game

At the current price, HZD is definitely worth the money. I’ve never played a game before where I’m using a bow and arrow to take down a mechanical horse. And after a while, the uncertainty of how society fell and how this new primitive society emerged begins to weigh on you. You want to know how it happened, and that’s just good storytelling.

How good? I’ve been staying up until midnight or later to play it… instead of working on my book. Instead of reading. Instead of sleeping.

And I guess that’s the final comment: If the choice is between Horizon Zero Dawn and sleep, I’m choosing HZD. As the father of an 18-month-old, I can think of no higher compliment.

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