Every single action-adventure game comes with its own unique playing style baked in. Combat is intricately orchestrated; tools and weapons—from health boosts to special bombs and traps—are abundant. Many are designed with the intention that players will switch between melee and ranged combat, depending on the kind of fight they find themselves in. It's beautiful.
But for button-mashers, these carefully crafted systems are all but useless. For people who fight like me, gaming “strategy”—if it can be called that—is purely a mix of adrenaline, panic, and anxiety. If there’s a tool that needs to be used in a specific fight, you can count on the fact that I’m going to ignore it unless victory is impossible without it. When battle requires more than one button (maybe two, if we’re talking ranged combat), there’s a good chance I may never finish. If I can’t pound plastic to win, I pound the pavement to find another challenge.
This all changed a few weeks ago when I booted up Horizon Zero Dawn in New Game+. For those who may not know, this is the feature that allows you to start a whole new game, but with all of your equipment, skills, and other achievements from your previous conquest intact. It’s a terrible name, but a great feature—and when I started my refresher game (I’m preparing for Horizon Forbidden West’s 2022 release), it provided an entirely new way to learn how to play.
The first time I played through Horizon Zero Dawn, my fighting was not worthy of Aloy. I used melee a lot more than ranged (even though melee combat is one of the game's poorer features) and didn’t even bother checking out enemy weaknesses. Part of this was anxiety, but beyond that, Zero Dawn has a wonderful story and I was eager to know how it ended. Ranged combat just made it far too hard and time-consuming to get where I wanted to go.
Starting in New Game+, though, let me begin at level 55 with my Ancient Armor intact. I was practically invincible. As such, I wasn’t panicking when machines ran at me. And the armor’s protection meant I could take a few hits while trying out different tools and tactics. Oh, and because the New Game+ playthrough was much more streamlined (no tutorials), I was less impatient about getting through to the end.
It turns out that New Game+ was the perfect opportunity for me to really understand how to play Horizon Zero Dawn. The armor gave me the confidence I needed to actually figure out how a Tripcaster worked or use a Ropecaster to tie down some Glinthawks so I could defeat them in a timely manner (you have no idea how hard they are to kill if you’re reliant on melee combat).
If you’re a stickler for learning exactly how to play any game, this may seem ridiculous. But the fact is, Horizon Zero Dawn is a challenge even on the easiest settings. Getting the extra cushion of New Game+ helped me really appreciate the ins and outs of how the title was intended to be played.
This is why I’m such an advocate for immortality settings in video games. If you end up dying 20 times while you’re just trying to figure out how to use a tool, you're almost guaranteed to think “I’m just going to run in and start swinging!” instead of finding the art in this kind of combat. If you design an intricate fighting system and want as many people as possible to actually use it, then giving people an extra boost of confidence through immortality mode or New Game+ isn’t just a good idea—it’s a life-saver.
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