Horizon: Zero Dawn has a lot in common with a lot of other games. It’s a big, open world game loaded with main quests and side quests and other errands. It’s an open world filled with dangerous monsters, in this case the residents are deadly robots designed to resemble Earth’s wildlife (if you include dinosaurs). Playing it feels very familiar. It’s feels a little like Far Cry and Tomb Raider. I haven’t played the new Zelda game yet as way of comparison, but I am sure it’s similar. The game with which I have spent countless hours is The Witcher 3, and Horizon reminded me a lot of my time with Geralt the Witcher. Both Horizon and Witcher are excellent games, but The Witcher needs to take a lesson from Horizon. Specifically, if you’re going to make a game about a hunter, make hunting fun.
To be clear, The Witcher is a great game, but hunting monsters is a chore. Generally you have to figure out what kind of monster you’re looking for and then plan accordingly. Planning, in this case, generally meant drinking the correct potion and applying the correct oil to your sword. You might also choose the best bomb to use as well, but generally those are your options, and none of them are terribly fun. Figuring out which monster you’re hunting means browsing your massive monster directory. Finding the right potion and oil means searching through a ridiculously enormous inventory for the one specific item you need. Despite some updates, digging through your inventory is still painfully slow as you generally carry dozens of items, potions, and oils that all look somewhat similar. Finding the right oil and potion for each battle feels like finding a book in a library that doesn’t use the Dewey Decimal System.
Horizon, in contrast, lets you set traps, plant bombs, and attack from either near or far depending on how you want to play it. You can dismantle an entire herd of animals without their ever discovering you, or you can charge in with a mix of arrows and melee. Fights are intense and fun, and choosing the right strategy depends not only on the type of monster but variety of monsters you’re battling. You can scan your prey, explore the environment, and pick the approach (or combination of approaches) you like the most. The Witcher, in contrast, makes you hunt down the one specific potion or item most useful for one particular monster. It’s more irritating than fun; digging through your backpack for your monster manual and then rummaging through your potions until you find the right ones. Geralt is a bit of a pack rack, and he’s pretty terrible at organizing.
The Witcher is already a great game, but I can’t help but feel that it could be an even better title by making the monster hunting a little more engaging. Sure, Geralt’s job is not supposed to be a fun one and his obligation to be a Witcher is often depicted as more of a curse than a passion (though that choice is really up to you). But even if he doesn’t like his job, it doesn’t mean the gameplay can’t still be fun. What if he had some traps to play with, tripcaster lines to lay, or ropecaster lines to employ. There’s not much I’d ever change about an experience as perfect The Witcher, but making hunting a little more varied and engaging would make a perfect game a little more fun.