Horizon Zero Dawn enjoyed three days of social media bliss before the Great Video Game Conversation moved on to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Such is the natural order of things for a fickle fandom: on Wednesday they are stunned by robotic dinosaurs and on Friday they are smitten with a handsome and optimistic fish-man. God bless ’em. But before Horizon and Zelda are usurped by the Next, Next Big Thing (it’s coming), I’d like to take a brief moment to catch our breath, dust off the old magnifying glass, and inspect what led to the arrival of these two very good and very different games in the very same week.
Many years from now, assuming we aren’t searching for dry land, the dual release of Horizon Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild will mark the decline of one dominant style of video game, and the ascension of another, a kind of baton handoff made in an unusually warm first week of March. Maybe this sounds strange, considering the many similarities of the two games, as if studios in Amsterdam and Kyoto built from the same source text.
Both titles take place centuries after a cataclysm, in lush worlds reclaimed by nature. Technology is no longer an aspirational goal for creative progress, but a tangible and mysterious relic of ancient civilizations. Massive, robotic beasts — originally built for good — roam the land, and must be extinguished or converted to the hero’s cause. Both games share an intense fascination with nature, encouraging players with a preservationists’ vigor to spend hours of their adventure harvesting the earth for valuable resources, traveling on foot to learn the land, and ultimately rely upon it for survival.