Horizon Zero Dawn is Killzone developer Guerilla Games’ first foray into the world of RPGs, but it’s already generating some buzz within the gaming world and RPG genre. What it seems to captivate potential players with is its potential, of which is evident in every corner of gameplay and trailer footage. What is the sky for this action RPG, and what can it do for both the genre and gaming? Let’s take a closer look at where this new franchise can go.
Fans of the Monster Hunter series of games have long bemoaned the lack of a proper iteration of the franchise on the high powered consoles. With the Hunter Trials mode in the game, Horizon looks to offer players an extra gameplay experience, and although it may not wind up with the depth of a full Monster Hunter, still delivers on the thrill of the hunt. Repeatable big game experiences such as the Everfall in Dragon’s Dogma are addicting, boss rush modes that give players an opportunity to tackle baddies that are found only in boss fights. These are often the most memorable experiences of a playthrough, and having an opportunity to repeat the thrill with minimal barriers adds a longevity and memorable quality. Depending on how it appears at the game’s launch, future iterations would have an opportunity to expand upon the concept and develop a robust hunt mechanic that could keep players occupied for hours on end, especially if it’s well integrated with the crafting system. Kill, loot, craft, repeat. It’s a simple formula that is attempted by almost all MMOs and RPGs but one that seems so rarely nailed.
We can go beyond that and our glimpses at the itemization and crafting system that makes the gameplay much more immediate, especially in how you integrate the world and its various tribes and machines into your own appearance. We already know that itemization will be impacted by environment and tribal culture, so being able to integrate both the design and functional elements of the game’s mechanical enemies and diverse cultures can add a unique roleplaying dynamic. This sets the stage for unique interactions depending on how you present yourself, depending on what tribe you’re representing or how much tech you’re wearing and how an NPC’s cultural bias determines their reactions to those factors. We already know that similar projects like Cyberpunk 2077 are working on implementing this, and if Horizon pulls it off it will add an extra layer of immersion we don’t often see. Too often in an RPG, we can walk up to an NPC in nothing but tighty whiteys and a chest for a head and not receive a second glance or curt word.
Sony first party games are often at the forefront of pushing their current gen hardware to new frontiers, and with the PS4 Pro now here, Horizon Zero Dawn is looking to set the standard for the new hardware. The game was already looking phenomenal on the standard PS4 and now Guerrilla has made significant enhancements to take advantage of the PS4 Pro. When all is said and done, the game has the chance to be the most visually dynamic and evocative game on consoles. Furthermore the game is being pushed along developmental frontiers such as procedural environment creation that is so innovative, it’s spawned its own panel at GDC. These kind of benchmark tactics push the industry forward across all genres. If done right, these are the kind of technological advances that can really enhance the immersive of RPGs, which is the true goal of the genre. You want to feel like the world you’re playing in is a living, breathing, changing entity and that you have impact on it.
A possibility that is rarely discussed regarding Horizon is the potential for a new wave of RPGs from studios who have been afraid to try the genre. When someone mentions the word “RPG elements” red flags and alarms seem to sound instantly. The term has become taboo but it shoudn’t be. In the case of a developer like Guerrilla, who is making their first steps into the genre, and their fans who are used to the FPS experience of Killzone, a game like Horizon can be the gateway to deeper experiences. Guerrilla has stated the focus of the game will be on the gameplay and combat and the RPG core will serve the system, rather than be a complicated stat sheet to manage. This is not to say that future games in the series, if it indeed becomes one, or future RPGs by Guerrilla could not dig deeper, especially if the fan response is resounding.
This also sets the stage for other developers to try their hand at the genre, stepping out of their development comfort zone to craft a game in that similar roleplay vein. This is a good thing for the industry. We see the excitement for a game like Vampyr, when a studio like Dontnod Entertainment take the narrative strengths they polished in Life is Strange and move to apply this structure to an RPG. Alternatively, we see a studio like Platinum Games take their action background to the genre in the highly anticipated Nier: Automata. While these hybrids may not satisfy purists, instead of seeing them as watered down games they can be segues to deeper future roleplaying experiences. Stepping out of their comfort zones is a risk, and the RPG genre is made all the better for it if other studios follow their leads.
Thoughts on how Horizon Zero Dawn can impact the RPG genre? Sound off in the comments!
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