the Elden Dust has settled, Mouthful Mode has been deactivated- and so i wanted to take this opportunity to briefly close the loop on the thread i started at the end of Jan. this is also partially an attempt to publicly call-out resident staff Horizon enthusiast @rorie to get his thoughts on HFW...jkjk...kinda ;)
my short version- HFW has its flaws (most of which i would ascribe to scope vs. quality), but i thought HFW was an absolutely rock solid continuation//escalation of the franchise- and i think with some refinements Guerrilla could produce something TREMENDOUS. i'm super-stoked for the hypothetical 3rd game- perhaps moreso than i was for HFW.
for those who care- some more specific, bulleted thoughts below (goes without saying ):
(you could say i'm something of a fan; it was a PS5 system-seller for me, giant grain of salt, etc.)
- visually HFW is an absolute stunner. i know the super-saturated color palette isn't for everyone, but hearing some people say it looks like a slightly uprez'd version of Zero Dawn is some serious rose-tinting. there's been significant progress made on the visual fidelity and animation of humans (seriously- revisit baby Aloy from HZD)- to the extent that Guerrilla may have outdone Naughty Dog for best-looking video game humans. and jesus, the world just POPS with splendor.
- a recurring thought i had as i played: the Horizon franchise has fully supplanted Mass Effect as my favorite dialogue-driven//action RPG-ish thing. they both suffer from pretty dumb PLOT (destined heroes with escalating Big Bads...see also: video games)- and Mass Effect might have a slight edge when it comes to breadth of interesting characters (ride or die Garrus//Thane//Tali); but i am ALL IN on Erend, Kotallo, and Zo. the character writing is PRETTY SOLID- and in particular i continue to enjoy Erend's reflections on grieving his sister, Kotallo's veteran-trauma and his search for purpose, and Zo reconciling her beliefs in the face of conflicting info. i also VASTLYPREFER a protagonist with its own damage (Aloy) vs. a player avatar (Shepard)- the conversation with Beta re: Rost was particularly touching.
- admittedly the game can get pretty cheesy, and yes some of the costuming is ridiculous and yes some side quests land-the-plane better than others- but all-told the writing and characterizations felt equivalent in consistency to something like a Star Trek: The Next Generation season, and i found that INCREDIBLY ENDEARING. some high highs, a few low lows, a ton of 'just go with it' energy- and i kinda love that. and generally speaking i found the dialogue (particularly Aloy's sarcasm) pretty sharp.
- there's a decent diversity of storytelling outside the main questline- both in stories themselves and the characters involved. elders falling victim to senility, Kotallo's journey, Dekka and her grandson getting radicalized, Regalla and her enormous presence. also i'd like to state one more time- so nice to see significant efforts towards representing humans in a more varied spectrum of experience than just grizzled/attractive hetero white dude/dudette.
- one generalized critique: the game does feel like it lost some of the excellent melancholic tone found in HZD. it was great to have a complete understanding of everything that went down by the end of the first game- but in HFW i really missed the deeply sad, read-between-the-lines audiologs of academics and scientists desperately trying to secure a future they'd never see. (though the secret area in the mountain base does have a taste of this emotional resonance...for all the bemoaning of icon-barf and dragging the player by the wrist...there are bits of humanity tucked away to be found)
- i do wish we got more Sylens- every time Lance shows up he's the best.
- i still find the combat really satisfying- and while the stealth can be a bit simplistic/binary, this might be my favorite 3rd person action system. yeah, it sucks they made ammo expensive- but god DAMN that spike thrower and plasma damage. generally i found the status effects more fun to engage with this go-around as well. enemy design continues to be on point (Tideripper, Shellsnapper, Slitherfang, Tremortusk, and Slaughterspine were all rad additions). and i had a pretty good time with the arena! (though i wish you could build your own encounters)
- soundtrack is a banger. love how they incorporated themes/vocals from HZD and cranked the arpeggiated synths. sure the Landgods reboot tune/hymn is a bit cheesy, but it deeply appeals to the Oneohtrix Point Never fan in me.
- GRAPPLING TO A SUNWING MOUNT WILL NEVER GET OLD. i just wish you got it a bit sooner (maybe game 3 will solve this?)
-brief aside: i really appreciate the way Guerrilla acknowledges death and grieving in this franchise. while Varl's death felt a bit by-the-numbers- his memorial is very touching, the way character interactions change afterwards feels real (Erend and Zo are noticeably kinder to eachother after)- and even the in-game memorial to the Guerrilla producer that passed away is legitimately touching. this game has a lot of heart!
-for as dumb and cliche as the ending is (an EVEN BIGGER BAD, etc.)- i do deeply appreciate that the root of all 'evil' in this universe remains steadfastly techbro hubris and ego. plenty of games have bosses to defeat, but it still feels kinda rare to have them rooted in contemporary, non-Manichean issues.
so yeah! speaking as a fan, and for game i never expected to take huge narrative risks (it's a popcorn story, really)- i think the game over-delivered! and i'm very much looking forward to what i hope is in inevitable conclusion in part 3!
anyone else have thoughts?
(still the best photo mode in the biz, btw)
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