Horizon Zero Dawn

I’m not a gamer. I just play games I like, a lot. Usually it has to involve a specific type of gameplay, a good story, and archery. I like to joke with friends that I don’t like a console game unless it involves archery. So far, some of my favorites to date are Tomb Raider, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Far Cry Primal. So you can imagine that when I saw someone sharing their screenshots of Horizon Zero Dawn, and heard it compared to Tomb Raider and Far Cry Primal, I was intrigued. I grabbed the game on Friday last week at Bullmoose, and proceeded to spend most of last weekend playing it.

Horizon Zero Dawn has captured my interest not only with its singular fantasy/sci-fi/speculative/dystopian story, but with the level of mystery as well. Often you’re helping Aloy solve all kinds of weird mysteries surrounding her birth, her world, why there are Machines everywhere, and how the different peoples of future Earth interact. The cut scenes are gorgeous and filled with information. You can talk to almost anyone in the world, and choose your response to people in complicated situations.

Aloy, the playable character in Horizon Zero Dawn

You can make Aloy someone who is kind, and helpful, or someone who is terse and bitter because of her status as an outcast.

The cast of unique characters is remarkable. Another thing I’ve noticed about this game is its intense diversity. It’s great to see peoples of every color in every tribe. The nations are not established by race, but by tribal groups, rituals, and laws. It’s incredible the detail that the developers have put into all of the non playable characters. It really make the game worth the interaction with others. You never know what clues you can pick up from the NPCs.

The detailed landscapes and topography in Horizon Zero Dawn.

Landscapes

The landscape is another thing that has struck me as absolutely stunning. At any point in the game I can stop and look at the world around me. It is rich with different kinds of wildlife, different Machines in different environments, and all kinds of topography. Some of the landscape is reminiscent of the landscape that crawls along the Sierra Nevadas, as you can see in the background here. Other locations look like Utah, and the Arches. Still other places remind me of the Southwest and the Northwest. Since it’s “future Earth” and everyone speaks English, I’m assuming I’ll eventually discover where she’s supposed to be. I can’t wait to find out.

Machines

The Machines are pretty damn cool. I still don’t know how they came into existence, but there are huge machines that “match” different real life animals that aren’t in the world any more. There are machines that behave like velociraptors, rams, giant cats, giant crabs, roadrunners, longhorns, horses, and even more. The farther I get into the game, the scarier and larger the Machines become. Aloy can hide in tall bushes when a large herd is nearby, but it’s tough to avoid a group of five or six Machines that are all hunting her. It’s really interesting when a new Machine comes into play. Yesterday I discovered a Machine that is like a giant hawk. I didn’t even realize there were flying Machines!

Aloy crouches behind a tree and observes some Watchers.

Aloy can also “override” Machines, which is another creative feature in the game. Get her close enough to the machine, override it, and ride it through the lands. It’s a lot faster than running. The Machines don’t stay “loyal” for long, but in the game Aloy will become more capable of overriding bigger machines as I play. I’m excited to try to ride a Sawtooth (giant cat, basically) at some point… If that’s possible.

Gameplay

Reviewers weren’t kidding when they said it plays like the new Tomb Raider and Far Cry Primal put together. It’s definitely an adventure game, and definitely a story game with some really long cut scenes and conversations. But it’s also a hunter-gatherer/survival game, which is what I enjoy about the aforementioned titles. I like the idea of slowly building up a character’s capabilities and personal growth. It’s more like “real life” although I don’t have to survive nearly as hard as Lara, Takkar, or Aloy. It adds adventure elements to the story that don’t just involve battles and bloodthirst. Sure, I want to kill some bad guys. But I’d rather do it cleverly, than do it bluntly.

I’m about 16% into the game according to the PS4, but I’ve also missed a lot of training quests I need to go back and do this next weekend. I haven’t checked out Hunting Grounds or Cauldrons yet, and I know both of them will help me level up and be able to handle some of the Corrupted Machines I’m having a hard time with now. Right now I’m with Erend in Meridian, trying to figure out what’s going on with his potentially dead sister Ersa. (That’s not really a spoiler because I don’t know much about what’s happening anyway)

Thanks for reading! Have you played Horizon Zero Dawn? What kind of games do you like to play? Got a favorite console? Or are you more of a Fruit Ninja person? (I am too, even though that game is “outdated” I think it’s a classic) Tell me your story in the comments.

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Ammona, Part 5

Bunk Room 942 wasn’t quiet for long.  Ammona scrolled through a media feed on her PTD while she lay on her back, left arm behind her head. She tried hard not to listen to the conversation Hian and Barrett were having, but it wasn’t easy.

“So, where you from?” Barrett inquired, while he attempted to play Tetris with his belongings and the locker he had chosen.

“Not really from anywhere,” said Hian, “My parents were military when I was a kid.”

“Not anymore?” Barrett asked, pushing a dark jacket into his locker.

Ammona scrolled past a news video about the Prime Minister of Celestial Affairs. The caption said there will be more restrictions on civilian spaceflight after a series of passenger craft accidents. They no longer seemed like accidents, said the caption. Of course millions of people were commenting on the video. Ammona kept scrolling.

“Nah, they’re retired now. That’s one thing military gets you: early retirement,” Hian answered Barrett.

you make it to the ship? A message from Drea popped up on the PTD. Ammona closed the media feed and flipped to her messaging app.

totally. stupid dude in my bunk room tho. truly hope i have 0 classes with him. She typed back, and tapped the Send arrow. saw some cool magnorcycles in the cargo hold. She added, and hit Send again.

“That sounds like a good deal.” Barrett was busy replying to Hian. Ammona heard the computer voice outside acknowledge someone else, and moved to sit up on her elbows. As always, she was curious about who the last of their bunk mates was going to be.

“Sometimes,” said Hian, and then fell silent as they also realized someone was coming through the door.

“Hey there folks,” a dark-haired person stepped through the door. He was tall, probably over six feet. He looked like a boy that Ammona had been to high school with, but she didn’t think it was him. This person’s face was narrow, his eyes set back, his nose like a beak. Ammona thought he looked like a very intelligent bird, though the way he stood reminded her of a cat. She shook off her initial judgments and sat up all the way.

“Well, hi!” Barrett greeted him warmly. “What’s your name?”

“Romero,” he replied, pulling his backpack off his right shoulder where it had hung carelessly a moment before. With one fluid motion, he flung it up towards the other top bunk, across from Ammona. The bag landed on the pillow, perfectly cushioning its fall.

Show off. Ammona thought. Her PTD buzzed, and she realized she still had it in her hand. She looked down at the screen to see a reply from Drea.

the journey won’t be long. find stuff to do, you’re good at that. you’ll barely see him. 

She’s right. Ammona admitted to herself.

“I’m Hian, and that’s King,” Ammona heard herself being introduced.

“Hi,” she looked up. “Nice to meet you.” Romero met her eyes, something she wasn’t used to.

“Nice to meet you, too,” he said. “I think we’re about to take off.” Ammona looked down at her PTD. She quickly typed a reply to Drea.

you’re probably right.

Ammona closed her PTD.

“It’s about time,” said Hian, “I got on board way too early.”

“When did you get here?” Asked Barrett, as he shut his locker and returned to his bunk.

“Pretty much first thing this morning,” replied Hian. Romero climbed up to his bunk and sat against the wall.

“I didn’t know I was going until the last minute,” said Romero. “I’m pretty sure they held the ship for me.” There was laughter in his voice, and he chuckled to himself after he spoke, like he had made a joke. Ammona could see something behind his eyes, boldness, and entitlement. For a moment she thought to herself that this was very much like her, when she was younger and she had not yet experienced the crushing weight of adulthood and brokenness. She shook off the feeling and focused on what he had actually said.

“They held the ship for you?” Ammona couldn’t help herself. Who is this dude? She wondered.

When Romero laughed, his whole face became a laugh. The laugh wrinkles near his eyes compacted into a sea of future crow’s feet, high cheekbones raised themselves when he grinned into the full laugh. Hian and Barrett laughed too, seemingly for no reason. There was something catching in it. Ammona was annoyed and intrigued. “I’m just kidding,” said Romero, “Well, half kidding. There was another kid they were shuttling down here, but it was just he and I left when we got on board.”

“I see,” said Ammona, “Lucky you made it.”

“Luck doesn’t have anything to do with it,” said Romero, grinning. Ammona didn’t know what he meant. She looked down at her PTD. No reply from Drea yet. She wondered what her best friend was doing.

The sound of an electronic bell rang on the console attached to the wall, near the door. Ammona looked up, and so did everyone else.

“This vessel will depart in 5 minutes.” Said the panel’s speaker. “Please remain on your bunk or in your bunk room until it is safe to roam about the ship. Do not delay in returning to your bunk.” Another bell played on the console, and the screen flashed red with words in white. Ammona couldn’t read it from her vantage point on the top bunk, so she assumed it said the same thing the panel had just said. The bell played again.

“This vessel will depart in 5 minutes,” the speaker began the recording again.

“Oh, hush,” said Hian, “We all have ears.” Barrett laughed, and Romero grinned.

“…or in your bunk room until it is safe to…” the speaker continued. Hian rose from their bed and went to the panel. Barrett followed and stood behind them. Nosy as always, thought Ammona. They both tapped the red screen in a few different places. Hian tried some gestures.

“Do not delay in returning to your bunk,” the recording insisted.

“I don’t think that’s something you can disable,” Romero began, “I’m pretty sure the security on an Academy transport ship is pretty tight.” The recording faded away after the last bell sound, and Ammona laid back down on her bunk.

“Don’t count on it,” Hian said, and the two of them kept trying.

I hope this thing takes off soon. She thought, and checked her PTD for the time. I should’ve checked what time that recording played. I don’t even know if it’s been five minutes yet.

The other two had still not returned to their bunks, but Ammona said nothing. Romero was also quiet. He had fished out his PTD and was typing on it. Habitually, Ammona pulled out hers and checked it again. Still no message from Drea. Maybe that was her fault.

“What about this button on the side of the panel?” Ammona heard Barrett ask.

“Either non-functional or the functionality’s been shut off,” Hian’s voice replied.

The whole ship moved suddenly, and Hian and Barrett both almost lost their footing.

“Don’t delay in returning to your bunks,” said Barrett, as he lowered himself to his bunk.

The whole world was moving then, as the spacecraft lurched out of the Orb’s docking station. Everything shook uncontrollably, as if the planet gods had turned the craft into a tuning fork and tapped it against a celestial object. Vibrations, that was all Ammona could see. She had to put away her PTD. Her whole body was shuddering. Everything she saw looked a little fuzzy, moving back and forth through a million tiny iterations of itself, quivering like a child in a snowstorm. Yet nothing was cold to Ammona.

Forgot what this was like. She thought, and noticed that all her bunkmates had fallen silent. Something, something about being hurled through a canister into the darkness and hoping it all works out. Ammona thought of Drea, of the funny things she said sometimes. She thought of how she might not see her for years. She thought of how Drea hated space travel. She’s scared of so many things. Ammona thought, and she tried not to be angry with Drea. She knew in a way that Drea felt abandoned, but something in Ammona felt abandoned, too.

Sure, she thought, as she became used to a shuddering world, as the vibration became normal and her physical components chose to accept it. She’s the one who is too scared to go out on adventures. She’s letting her fear trap her. That’s why she feels abandoned. But I feel abandoned by her, because she chose a safe cage over me. We are so weird. Ammona shook off the thought and looked at the ceiling several feet above her.

The world still shook as the spacecraft took off, and Bunk Room 942 was quiet for a moment while its inhabitants waited patiently to travel through a starry void.


Previously, with Ammona:

Ammona, Part 1

Ammona, Part 2

Ammona, Part 3

Ammona, Part 4

Collage and story created by Corissa Haury


Glossary of Acronyms

PTD – Personal Tech Device

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Hiking Up Douglas Mountain

Getting to the mountain

Days off together are a precious commodity for Nick and I, since he works retail and I have a 9-5:30 job during the week. We never know when we might get a day together, so we try to take advantage when it happens. Yesterday was just such a Sunday. We slept in together, and headed up to Douglas Mountain in Sebago after we stopped off at DD so I could get my coffee.

The drive up to Sebago
The drive up to Sebago

The drive up was cloudy at the outset. Nick said that even if it didn’t get brighter or warmer, the view would still be worth it. He has already hiked to the top of Douglas Mountain a few times. The sun came out as we ventured further north and wound around the lake. We took Route 114 North up through Sebago to Douglas Mountain Road, past picturesque farms and bright green hills. The Maine countryside looked fresh from numerous April rainstorms. We saw no more signs of winter.

Peaceful green Maine countryside
Peaceful green Maine countryside

We arrived at the parking lot around 12pm, and prepared our backpacks with water and some snacks. This time of year the forest is busy composting millions of leaves, and recent rainwater helps to turn everything into a useful mulch. So we started out carefully, stepping around the thick mud and ankle-deep puddles at the bottom of the hill.

Nicholas climbs Douglas Mountain
Nicholas climbs Douglas Mountain

The hike out to the peak and back, using the Eagle Scout Nature Trail (map here), is about 3 miles. Both of us had brought our Apple Watches, but we forgot to “start” the hike digitally at first, so we both ended up tracking 2.65 miles there and back. Though muddy and full of many puddles that looked like mass mosquito nurseries, the trail up the mountain was gradual and provided many rocks and roots to step on during the climb. It was steep enough that I had to catch my breath a couple times on the way up.

 

At the summit

The 16-foot stone tower at the summit was originally named for Dr. William Blackman, a surgeon who had purchased the area in 1892 and built the structure himself. Later it was purchased by a nature conservancy organization, and given to the town of Sebago for all to enjoy. Thanks to Dr. Blackman and the kind hikers who passed before us, we made it to the summit.

A bridge over the Eagle Scout trail
A bridge over the Eagle Scout trail

By the time we reached the Blackman Tower, the sun had come out and the sky was a rich blue. It was gorgeous. We spent some time atop the tower, hanging out together under wide skies. We looked out at Maine, and west to New Hampshire. There was a sign which showed the different distances to at least 20 different hills, ponds, and mountains all around. It said the tower looked out over several hundred square miles. Nick said the sign was new to him, though he’d been here a few times last summer.

We were there for an hour, snacking on jerky, saying hello to other hikers, and reading aloud the playing cards we have that show edible wild plants on them. The wind was wild but not cold, and the sun shone warm for a long time. The mosquitoes were decidedly fewer at the top of the tower. Nicholas kindly offered me his warm sweater, because he’s a gentleman like that.

At the top of Dr. Blackman's 16-ft stone tower
At the top of Dr. Blackman’s 16-ft stone tower

Soon enough we decided to go back, and ventured down the Eagle Scout trail the way we had come, to the parking lot. It took us a little less time to get down than it had to go up, but that is only natural considering the 480-ft elevation gain we had climbed. It wasn’t a long ride home, where we both promptly relaxed after consuming a delicious home cooked meal (thanks Nicholas) and I took a nap. Here’s to more hikes, and seeing more of the Northeast this summer.

Blue skies over the Blackman Tower
Blue skies over the Blackman Tower

 

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