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Horizon Zero Dawn is visually stunning, but the world feels completely dead

Gamingtodaynews1f - Horizon Zero Dawn is visually stunning, but the world feels completely dead

First off, I'm still playing the game (right about to find Olin at the excavation site, did all the side missions and then some up to that point) and I'm loving it, even the open-world aspect which I see a lot of people complaining about, so this isn't really a criticism of the game itself. Frankly, it's hard to think of something I dislike gameplay-wise. However, after sinking so many hours on it, there's a lot of things that keep annoying me as I progress through villages, cities and people overall.

Simply put, I feel like I'm the only inhabitant of this massive but otherwise lifeless world.

The first thing I noticed is that, apart from some different lines of dialogues, people never react to you — ever. When I first started the game, I was afraid to walk through the Nora settlements because I thought people would throw stones at me or react in some way, and I thought of killing someone but I expected it to screw me up in some way. Nope. Later I discovered it doesn't matter what you do: you can jump on people, walk on their food, even throw bombs at them and watch them catch fire. They never bat an eye, at best showing a slight annoyance that has nothing to do with their whole bodies being engulfed in flames. Even when you do that in the middle of some "event", like a music/dance show, a lecture, or a religious ceremony in Meridian, they never even give some sign that you're doing something normal people wouldn't. Virtually nobody ever acknowledges my presence in a meaningful way.

The other major problem is that it's canonically established that Aloy's ability to tame machines is astounding and not something people see every day — and yet, again, nobody ever reacts when they see she getting into town or near them with that dangerous steed which often attacks everyone on sight. Again, I thought people would comment, get afraid or even attack the mount when I got closer, but nope: they don't react in the slightest, not even a different line of dialogue this time. Even inside missions, the only time someone ever reacted to the fact that Aloy is riding a machine is right after she's made seeker, and Varl asks in astonishment if he had really just seen her ride through the gate on a Strider or something like that. And even then, that scene was a bit silly because, even if you go through the gate mounted on the Strider, the dialogue rolls off with you on foot, which makes the exchange pointless.


The last one is more of a nitpick because it's not as immersion-breaking, but it's worth mentioning as it seems like an oversight in design: the fact that the guards in Meridian only ever react to Aloy and not to nobody else. It would make sense if they did it out of respect because Erend personally vouched for her, but they do that ever since the first time you step into the city whether you talked with Erend or not. So it's a problem in both ways: if they react to anyone passing, it makes no sense that Aloy is the only one that induces that reaction; and if they react out of respect for Aloy, it makes no sense that they started doing that even when they had no idea who she was.

The reason this annoys me is that it's all obvious small details that could've been added just to make the experience more immersive, yet they weren't. And it's not like there isn't some effort towards that: the bodies of fallen machines you sometimes find through the world, the (unfortunately rare in my experience) bandit ambushes, the hunting teams you sometimes find right in the middle of a fight with a machine and can help them or just people you find walking about, they are all little touches that add to the believability of the world: but then you walk into a human settlement and, apart from something like a bard or people dancing, it feels utterly lifeless. You didn't even need some God of War level of acknowledgement and immersion, I believe fixing the things I mentioned would've been enough, but they seem to have completely neglected it in development.

Someone might say this is a "bad vice" modern games gave us since we expect some kind of interactivity that old games didn't really have, but they at least compensated in some other way: everyone had a different line of dialogue, even if trivial, there were secrets to find and other things to do, the characters were unique and colourful. Every city in games like Breath of Fire IV and Legend of Mana and had a different quirk and characters that made it completely unique and different from the last, which gave a lot of vivacity to the world. HZD changes its cities and the structures are more and more visually impressive, but there's very little to be found amongst its walls and walkways.

edit: changed the second paragraph* because some people think I'm criticising the machines in the game. That's not what I meant.

*Before the change: Simply put, I feel like I'm the only inhabitant of this massive world crowded with machines.

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