Let’s take a trip back to 2017. As anyone who was into video games at the time will tell you, it was one of the industry’s finest years. We got the Nintendo Switch, the beginning of the battle royale explosion, and enough stellar games to make you weep over your backlog. If you’re still playing catch up, you’re probably not alone.
It’s easy for one of the dozens of standout games to get lost in the cracks, but Sony is making sure players don’t forget its best game from the cluttered year.
Sony is now offering Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition for free to all PlayStation owners via the Play at Home program, whether you’re on PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5. If this game was still kicking around your “I’ll get to that eventually!” list, it’s time to kick it to the top.
Horizon Zero Dawn could be the best new IP in the past five years, and it’s definitely one of best games of the PS4 generation. The post-apocalypse open-world game takes place in a future where machines have reduced society to rubble. Robot dinosaurs roam the Earth, and humanity has reverted to a more primitive lifestyle. Players control Aloy, a bow-wielding hunter who begins to slowly uncover the mystery of what exactly happened.
The game was a hit when it launched in February 2017, but it was very quickly overshadowed due to some unfortunate timing.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released just one week later, almost entirely eclipsing the game’s spotlight. If Horizon Zero Dawn had released in any other year, or even a few months before, it would have been the talk of the town and a game of the year contender. The timing could not have been worse.
What especially worked against Horizon Zero Dawn was that Breath of the Wild was universally praised for the way it retooled open-world design. It resisted the usual pitfall of the genre by keeping its map clean, instead of offering a laundry list of icons players had to chase down. On top of that, it featured more fluid exploration thanks to the ability to climb any surface or handglide off any height. BOTW felt like a breath of fresh air (pun intended) and opened up a conversation about the exhaustion of “map games” like Assassin’s Creed.
By comparison, Horizon Zero Dawn is much more traditional. The map is littered with objectives. Movement is also fairly standard. It became a direct point of comparison for Breath of the Wild due to its close proximity, showing exactly why Zelda’s formula was an improvement. Rather than innovating and improving upon a well-established genre, Horizon Zero Dawn perfected the status quo in familiar ways.
Now with some distance between the two games, it’s a perfect time to revisit Horizon Zero Dawn and appreciate it for what it is. Yes, it’s a more traditional open-world game, but it’s one of the very best that the subgenre has to offer. The world is gorgeous and filled with little bits of environmental storytelling that provide clues as to what happened to humanity. Exploration is genuinely rewarding as it frequently leads to narrative intrigue. You might be chasing down icons, but you’ll rarely be disappointed by what you find when you reach your destination.
With Horizon Forbidden West on the way and Breath of the Wild 2’s release date nowhere in sight, 2021 could be a better moment for the franchise. The runway is clear for the series to shine without a genre-defining titan looming over it. Sit back and enjoy some robot dinosaurs without the 2017 baggage.
Horizon Zero Dawn is free for all PlayStation owners via Sony’s Play at Home program.