Horizon: Zero Dawn, a video game that hits the best notes of the “explore, kill, and collect” genre without becoming too leadened by busywork. It has a script on par with a fun sci-fi matinee, arguably the most polished visuals on a home console, and combat that amounts to more than shooting hundreds of dudes in the face. But I do wish I’d known more about the game’s idiosyncrasies before I played.
Despite a lengthy tutorial prologue, many of Horizon’s most useful tips and tools are buried in the game’s opaque menus or mentioned offhand in text blurbs that appear on loading screens. I think my time with the game would have been better with a handful of pointers. So without futher ado here’s a couple of tips to know before you start playing.
There’s An Unlimited Fast Travel Backpack
One thing you’ll notice early on about Horizon Zero Dawn is that weirdly, the game’s fast travel system is consumable based. Like we’re back in the days of Diablo Town Portal scrolls. This is uncomfortable, as you have to make choices about when it’s “worth it” or not to use a fast travel pack. Or whether you should just walk. But lo and behold, 12 hours into the game. I discovered that there’s an item that lets you fast travel infinitely like any normal open-world game.
I don’t know if this item appears from the very start, but talk to any normal vendor and it should be at the bottom of the materials list. The game never tells you this item exists, I didn’t even see it in a tooltip, and you have to dig deep into the store to find it. It’s relatively easy to trade for as it just costs a fox skin and some meat. You should seek it out as soon as possible so you no longer have to stress about fast travel for the rest of the game. I don’t know why this mechanic was even in the game in the first place, as it’s just more obnoxious than anything, but at least there’s a solution.
Learn To Find Health Plants Quicker
Speaking of obnoxious, we quickly arrive at the worst aspect of the game: the health system. There’s no life regeneration, so you have to seek out specific plants in the wild to fill a “medicine” bar. In order to heal you on the fly without using up consumable health potions.
This would be all well and good, except the bar fills very slowly, requiring five-to-six plants to fill up most of the time. The problem is that there are a bunch of other kinds of plants out there, elemental-based plants that are used to craft other potions. I spent the first half of the game running up to every plant icon I saw, only to be disappointed when half the time it wasn’t health at all.
Eventually I learned that health plants, for the most part, are taller and red. So if you see taller, red flowers, that is going to be a health plant. There are shorter red flowers which are some sort of fire root, and not health. And there’s one health plant that is short and blue in wintry areas, but for the most part, in most areas, tall and red is the ticket. I don’t know why the damn health plants couldn’t have just had a green icon or something, but hopefully this helps your hunt a little bit.
Reload For Instant Health Regen
Here’s one more health tip because that’s how screwed up this system is. You would think that the game would let you regenerate health in some easier way. Like every time you rested/saved at a campfire, but no. If you quicksave or manual save at a campfire, you don’t get any health back.
I wasted a lot of plants healing myself up after a battle, but I realized I didn’t need to do this because of an oversight in the game. When you’re hurt, simply walk or fast travel to a campfire and save. Then hit “restart from save” in the menu. You will spawn exactly on that spot with full health. This way, you don’t have to use any of your collected medicine plants or potions, and can save them for future battles. This is, of course, stupid. As it’s the exact same effect as if campfires simply healed you, but this is the workaround you have to use at the moment. I have no idea if they’ll ever change it, but hopefully someone at Guerrilla reads this and realizes how dumb it is.
The Game Really Opens Up With The Tinker Perk
There are some obvious perks you should sink points into. Like all the damage upgrades for stealth hits, critical hits and normal spear swings. But I’m telling you, the best perk in the game is the Tinker perk. The one that lets you swap in and out modifications to your weapons and armor. Rather than placing them and losing them if you want to put in a new one.
This allows for a huge range of build diversity in a way that just isn’t possible without the perk. If you’re like me, you will hesitate committing permanent slots to something you might lose later. But with the Tinker perk, you can craft your build to each battle because of how often you’re able to change things. Say you’re fighting a Thunderjaw, one of the most powerful monsters in the game. Well, you can slot two Resist Shock mods into your armor. Then socket your War Bow full of Freeze mods which the Thunderjaw is weak to. Or if you’re fighting a bunch of bow-wielding humans, build some Resist Ranged armor and give your bow all fire mods so you can set all of them ablaze instantly. Once you start getting the Very Rare mods later in the game, you can create some truly awesome loadouts that can conform to any situation you find yourself in. The road to get to Tinker is a little arduous and requires a lot of skill points, but it’s honestly the most interesting, useful perk in the game.
A Few Perks You Can Avoid Entirely
Most skills in Horizon Zero Dawn are worth getting at some point, but some you can avoid altogether because they really just are not that useful at all.
I never, ever saw an opportunity to use the perk that lets you shoot while balanced on a rope. Not once. For as stealthy as I was, I never seemed to need the “quiet sprint” perk. I usually upgrade “cheaper ammo crafting” in most games. But Horizon overloads you with so many materials I was actually wanting to use more to make space in my inventory by using craftables. Increased hacking time for machines sounds useful, but it lasts decently long as is. Honestly, there are usually better tactics during battle to use. Increased scavenging from machines just gives you these useless materials boxes. You will have a zillion mods and items, way more than you can use, even without those perks. That’s why it’s also pointless to get the disarm traps ability, although it is on the path to Tinker. I never once assassinated someone from below a ledge, so that perk is useless. But late in the game, it is worth it to get the perk below that, which lets you stealth kill elites.
Quickly, a few more useful ones are all the ones that give you increased concentration time/faster reload speed in concentration. The multiple arrow ones aren’t great but they stack elemental effects faster so that’s helpful. But yeah, get all stealth, damage and concentration ones, plus Tinker. Then you can pick and choose from the others or outright avoid the ones I mentioned.
There’s A Giant Hidden List Of Weapon Quests For Bonus XP
This is yet another thing the game sort of hides away. Every time you buy a weapon there is a tutorial for that weapon that will give you a few thousand bonus XP for completing it. It’s easy to miss because the quest never activates unless you manually select it the moment it appears after you buy the weapon. Inside your menu, there is an entire list of these tutorials, one not just for each weapon. But each class of weapon, as in a Normal hunting bow will have a tutorial but so will a Very Rare hunting bow, and so on. Do all of these, and it’s probably at least a level or two of bonus XP by the end, and the challenges are usually much less hard than what you see in the hunting lodges.
Understand How Elemental Effects Work
This is a pretty basic tenet of the game, but I never saw it explicitly explained as I played and I just had to figure it out as I went. When you hit someone with an elemental effect, say Freeze, an icon will appear above them. It may do a little damage, but the point is that you need to fill that icon from bottom to top by continuing to apply that effect with your weapon. Once you do, the circle will be full and a little countdown will appear that shows how long the enemy is under that effect.
So for example, when you fill the fire icon, your target will catch fully aflame and take a lot of burn damage. For cold, the enemy will be frozen solid and be less mobile and take much more damage. For shock, the enemy will become stunned briefly and vulnerable. For corruption, the machine will turn against other enemies once the icon is full.
This is where mods come in. If I have two Very Rare fire mods in my bow at 40% each, that means my fire arrows are filling up the fire icon nearly twice as fast. Combine this knowledge with the Tinker perk, and you can tailor these mods to the specific weakness of whatever enemy you’re fighting, racking up elemental effects quickly. An enemy vulnerable to an elemental type will have the icon fill up faster as well, but if the element is a strength, it will be almost impossible to have that status effect work on them.
Fire Is Your Best Friend
One more important point about elemental effects. For the most part, fire is going to be your go-to element in this game. It is way, way more useful than the others in almost every situation. Which may be why the game has it be the first elemental ammo type you use, and it’s on your standard bow.
Why is fire so good? Because any corrupted machine is vulnerable to fire, no matter what its weaknesses normally are, and you fight tons of corrupted machines in story missions. Also, all human enemies are very vulnerable to fire. Meaning practically all of those encounters can be solved by fire arrows as well. Plus there are normal machines like Glinthawks and Ravagers that have fire as a base weakness even if they’re not corrupted. On top of all that, fire is the only elemental type that does significant active damage, unlike freezing, shock or corruption. You can easily chip away a quarter, half or all of an enemy’s life by setting them aflame. In short, fire is OP.
“Campfire Farm” For Hearts And XP
Many items in the game require you to get a specific type of machine heart, including most of the top-tier Very Rare armor and weapons. Depending on your level, this can be tough. In the wild, you will usually not just encounter one powerful enemy, but a group of three or four of them that will get riled up and possibly destroy you. You can slug it out with all of them and hope one of them drops a heart when the dust settles (if you manage to live), but there’s an easier way to do this.
Simply find a campfire near the site of the enemy you’re trying to hunt, Bellowbacks, Snapmaws, whatever. Sneak up on the first one for a surprise strike. After that, do a few follow up heavy swings to hopefully knock it over, then critical hit. If you get this combo off once or twice, usually you can kill at least one of these enemies before the others have a chance to mob you. See if it has a heart, if not, reload the game and do it again, as the enemies will reset. This is easier than that epic prolonged fights fighting three or four of these things at a time.
Similarly, you can do this for easy XP farming too. There are a number of “grazing” machines that are pretty non-lethal, and almost all can be one-shot by stealth kills. If you have decently good stealth and stealth strike damage, you can one-shot an entire herd of these machines for 400-600 XP per pop. So do almost the same thing here. Kill a herd, save at a campfire, reload the game, kill the same herd. I will say this is a game that you do not need to XP farm for. Because you will get a ton of XP just from playing the game normally, but I’m just putting it out there as an option.
You Can Easily Miss Important Places of Interest Entirely
This is something I mentioned in my review, but you can actually miss a lot of important stuff in Horizon Zero Dawn if you’re not careful. The game will walk you through your first Tallneck, which reveals the map, your first Cauldron, which lets you hack machines, and your first bandit camp, which lets you kill bandits, but after that? Seeking out the rest of those is up to you.
These are not very noticeable icons on the map, faded light blue symbols with no description when you hover over them. With Cauldrons and bandit camps especially, many are easy to miss. You are never sent directly to these places, and the quest to complete each will only appear if you’re very close to them. Cauldrons are essentially dungeons, and some of the best content in the game. But I played for 20 hours before I realize I was missing most of them. I figured they would be integrated into the story or sidequests, but they never were. You must seek them out yourself.
Speaking of sidequests, that’s another hidden thing. When you go to cities and villages you will see those familiar exclamation points appear above people’s heads to get quests. That’s well and good, but Horizon pulls a bit of a Fallout where there are some mini-settlements the game never has you go to for any reason. They just sit as faded icons on your map. Again, you will have to travel to them specifically, unprompted and most will contain at least a sidequest or two. Given that Horizon’s sidequests are more involved and interesting than most, pretty much all of these are worth doing. Make sure you go to every settlement at some point to ensure you’re getting the most out of the game.