I hate it when games contain a myriad of redundant weapons. They may serve a purpose in the design process — I can only guess the mentality is to give the player more choice as they might get bored — but I can’t be alone in thinking that you regularly select your favourite two or three and upgrade them to the hilt, leaving the duds to gather rust. A lot of the time this is because baddie #1 is an adult male who is just as susceptible to bullets from an AK-47 as baddie #2, who, surprisingly, also happens to be an adult male in similar garb. By the time you get to baddie #619 your strategy is locked down.
Horizon Zero Dawn doesn’t overwhelm you with 16 different pistols or 28 variations of an automatic rifle; it offers up a manageable number of weapons that all serve a purpose and benefit you in different situations. Your bow is your best friend — in most cases, that’s the ideal weapon to nail weaker enemies — yet when taking on something like the crocodile-inspired Snapmaw or jaguar-like Stalker, you’re going to have to add to your arsenal. Like Pokémon, each robot has specific weaknesses and strengths meaning you’re on a hiding to nothing if you depend on Freeze Bombs when trying to take down a mechanical adversary that’s weak to fire. Airborne foes like those bastard Glinthawks are nimble and can dodge even the most adept of archers, regardless of whether they’re flinging arrows like Phil Taylor in his pomp. Basically, there’s a lot to be considered when coming up against one of these zoobots, making every weapon count.
The scorpion-cum-alien Corrupters are spritely, leaping over large structures at a rate of knots to try and end pesky protagonist Aloy’s plot to murder every maniacal machine. The Ropecaster becomes the equaliser in this scenario as it ties the robot to the ground while you lay into their weak points (highlighted by the bluetooth headset, or Focus as it’s known in-game) with Sticky Bombs from your sling. Tackling each anidroid is an exciting test of skill and wit as you lure them into an explosive trap you set down, or a trip-wire that, when set off, will short their circuits.
Humans rarely pose the same threat that the robots do, meaning those battles lack the same type of urgency, variation, or ability to try new things. Horizon Zero Dawn doles out diverse beasts as you progress, ensuring that you stay on your toes and don’t become comfortable in your approach to offing hunks of metal. Weaker enemies like the raptor-resembling Watchers become easier to kill as you travel across the expansive map, but only because you become more proficient thanks to the game’s ability to teach you how to dispose of a Ravager or a Sawtooth.
My first encounter with the aforementioned prehistoric cat-like Sawtooth resulted in horrific death after horrific death because I was remaining stubborn; I had just acquired the Tripcaster, but I was a dab-hand with my bow so why change things up now? That fucker might as well have sprinkled some salt on my bones and devoured me like he was having a quick takeaway before heading to the pub to discuss the merits of Justin Timberlake post-N*Sync, because I was merely sustenance to him. Horizon masterfully forces you to adapt to the situation and use the tools that are given to you rather than a select number of them. I used that Tripcaster; let’s just say that Sawtooth won’t be bothering anyone anymore… because he’s dead.
You can modify your weapons to be more powerful in particular elements: tear, fire, corruption et al; as well as purchase better quality slings, bows and the like from merchants that are scattered throughout. But unlike similar titles, you’re never overcome with the volume of arms because the variation in the key few is minute. The ammunition might have different elemental properties and the damage attributes may skew one way or the other, but if it’s a Ropecaster, it ties enemies to the ground and that’s that. The range comes in the form of you turning your hypothetical baseball cap backward and doing your best Ash Ketchum by figuring out the best way to rid the world of these not so pocket-sized monsters. Less catching ’em all and more killing em’ all in this one, though.