Ok I finished it. Wow the final ‘bit’ is quite boring and anti-climactic imo. The story is kinda cool, though the way it sets up the next game is a bit unsatisfying.
Man, this game squandered SO much potential. It looks beautiful, the very very base of the combat loop is decent enough, the world is mostly interesting and varied (though the sharp lines between the biomes is very videogamey), but the game’s systems just don’t work together at all.
Let’s break some things down. First everything that makes it super videogamey / not like a real place:
- Nothing is more immersion breaking than the crates and chests of loot *everywhere*. There is no plausible in universe explanation for them, they’re full of meaningless nonsense like digital watches or arbitrary crafting materials and it’s just visual noise from the first minute of the game. The game also uses them to direct you to points of interest in open areas or mazes in a really crude and obvious way. I genuinely think removing them entirely and rebalancing the loot without them would be a substantial improvement.
- The wildlife ‘hunting’ also falls in to this bucket in a different way. Each area has 1-3 animals that spawn there in a very predictable and unnatural way. They only exist to fuel the cooking and ammo pouch systems. Two things that the game would be better without (more on that later). They do somewhat add to the feeling of ‘life’ in the world, but only in the most basic way. E.g. every bird you see roosting and then it flies away when you approach. No flocks of anything, etc.
- The way the dinosaurs all cluster in packs if they’re small->medium or are solo if they’re large is not horribly ‘unrealistic’ but the sizes of the groups and the fact they’re all pre-marked on the map and never move is clunky. More on this later too.
- The way the campfires are so evenly distributed including in places like: inside an office block that ostensibly has been locked for 100s+ of years
These things, as a start, make the world feel absolutely and entirely not like a real place. Compare to my favourite open world game ever - RDR2. The landscape, the way it enforces moving through the world, the hunting / animals / biomes / weather, the way towns and settlements are built. You basically never hit something which shoves: this isn’t a real place in your face. It’s just a genuinely beautiful and realistic feeling place to hang out. H:FW never ever feels like this. I think even with the heightened colours and somewhat cartoony affect, it could still feel 100x better. World of Warcraft is super biome-y, super videogamey but still feels more like a real place to me than H:FW.
Then let’s talk about the game systems:
- Climbing: this is straight trash. Somewhat of a personal opinion because people seem to like Uncharted and the climbing system is the same: push forward until you’re at the top of the thing, following the pre-set route. Either do it properly like Assassin’s creed, Zelda or even Halo Infinite, or don’t do it at all. I think I fell down twice in the entire game from missing the angle on something with that bizarre jump directly backwards move.
- ‘Puzzles’ like when you have to move crates or railway cars or pull things with your ‘pullcaster’. Boring and terrible. I genuinely resented every second the game made me do these sections and they’re made worse by Aloy talking about what to do 100% of the time. I did 1 Relic Ruin before consciously deciding never to do any others. Why are these in the game. Removing the pullcaster, firegleam and metal flowers from the game would just make it straight up better. Why did they feel like they needed to have metroidvania like systems (which again, personally I don't like even in those games !)?
- Combat: certainly the best thing about the game but still very average. Firstly, fighting almost all enemies is the same. You hit them with the appropriate elemental damage and then burn them down with your Stamina/Valor abilities. You tear off any parts you’re looking for first. You certianly don’t need to do anything else and I completed the game this way. Melee combat is pretty underpowered / hard work (even with most of the upgrades).
But the real kicker is the combat loop itself. The enemies can leap/fly/jump incredible distances and have quite serious air control to steer towards you as they do so. Same with their projectiles. They have loads of weapon systems and can fire lots of things continuously such that a well timed roll isn’t enough because the next shot will hit you. So you end up rolling rolling rolling. Maybe I’m bad at the combat but I got hit a LOT, especially by the tougher enemies. The way they balance this is the absolutely ubiquitous berries which you’re stuffing your face with constantly, and the skills that allow you to survive and do more damage on low health such that you can’t really be one shot. So I never felt cool or badass in almost any fight. I felt like I just wore down the baddies while stuffing my face with berries which isn’t something the baddies can do. So you just always outlast them. Maybe the answer is to set a higher difficulty, but I would expect the game on 'Normal' to play in a rewarding way.
- Related to that: weapons, armor and upgrades. There are far far too many. It might be ok if the different systems were more fun, but they... aren't? Apart from the shredders, the others are mostly slower than the bows which means standing around more, which means getting hit more. I started using the spike thrower a little bit in the late game (when I didn't have anywhere to spend my points anymore) but until then I just put everything in to Hunter and Sharpshot bows because specialising is effectively forced on you.
How? Look at this way: the whole core of the game's combat is: weapons, ammo, upgrades and the skill trees. Harvesting parts to upgrade weapons to make them viable is time consuming. Fun to an extent but also lends the feeling of: oh look a cool new weapon... I can't use because it needs 2-3 levels of upgrade to compete with my current load out. This is just bad game design. Then you have the skill points which it also makes sense to go deep with rather than wide. And the armors are also all focused on one thing: bows, trapping, melee, etc. And these are also hard to swap because of the same upgrade lockout. And there's no skill point respeccing either.
I got enough points in the arena for a legendary weapon, bought one, found it needed Apex-something parts for even it's first tier upgrade (and it wasn't competitive to my 4/5 upgraded purples) and re-loaded the game from before buying it. This is not good game design. I then completed the game with said purple gear because the legendary gear is absolutely not worth the work to bring it online anyway.
Compare to Halo Infinite where every weapon combo has pros and cons and feels fun to mess with and there's 0-switching cost. I'm sure different people enjoy different things in games but personally I love exploring the variety of a game's systems. H:FW is explicitly designed to kill that fun by locking you in to early weapon and skill choices via: skill trees, armor, ammo, upgrades and everything else.
I would solve this in one of two ways:
1) Either: have 0 cost in switching weapons/styles so that I can use bows one fight, traps the next, a mix of melee and warrior bow the next, etc. etc. This would be super fun for me and turn the world in to much more of a fun combat sandbox. Maybe I *could* have still done this, but it feels bad when I know my bows are 2x the damage of my other unupgraded weapons with no techniques, etc. Personally, I think you could also entirely remove the upgrade/crafting system from the game and... it would just be a superior game.
2) Make weapons hyper specialised: bows are about impact/tear, slings are about elemental damage (fire, frost, acid), traps are needed for debuffs/control, shredders do something else, etc. and make it so the optimal way to play is to have one of each weapon type on the ring.
- Fast Travel. This is so hard to get right and almost no games do. Again, I'd look to RDR2 as the exemplar here. Fast travel is convenient but can immediately break the sense of geography in a game. The wider-core-game-loop in H:FW is look at the quest log (tip: if your game has 14 types of quest, it has too many), teleport to the nearest fire, follow the prompts, repeat. Whether it's main quests, side quests, or personal decisions to hunt rabbits or clawstriders for that next upgrade. In RDR2 you have to venture out in the wilds on your horse, often camp a night on the way. Eat and drink. Strike camp, etc. It feels like a real adventure in a real place. H:FW could feel so amazing if they'd replicated this.
I could go on, but finally I just want to mention how disjointed all the games systems are.
There's a fully realised weapon upgrade system and hundreds of weapons. But the combat design doesn't need most of them and locks you out of exploring it almost immediately (see above). There are legendary weapons and armour that there is no point in earning and that are super hard (make work) to upgrade.
There's the cauldron and override system that's totally outside the main game too, and they added the thing where you don't even get all the unlocks and have to do more collecting on the side. Overriding machines is cool, but it's underpowered and serves no real game purpose anyway. See also targetting arrows and all that stuff too. Also do we agree that Cauldrons are about the least fun spaces to be in in the whole game? I always dread them.
There's the tallnecks- ok these are cool - they're more integrated in to the world in this one and there aren't too many of them, and the reward IS relevant to the core game.
There's the sunken caverns or whatever? I literally never did any of these and don't know what they are.
There's the relic ruins. I did one of these, realised it was pullcaster nonsense with 0 reward and didn't ever do another.
There's the metroidvania metal flowers and firegleam (and sunken caverns which you need the rebreather for) that seem to reward some random materials and that's it.
There's the rebel camps - fighting humans is boring and they're all the same
There's the Oseram camp things - I don't know what these are, I never did any of them
There's the cooking system - why, just why? I don't want an upgrade that lasts a few minutes. Make it last a few hours in real time and then maybe. Didn't cook a single thing in the game.
There's the potion crafting system - NOPE. They seem worse than berries anyway?!
I'm not even trying to be exhaustive here and I could go on.
It's far far far too much. I would've stripped 50%+ out of the game and limited fast travel and even the size of the world (30% of my map was unrevealed when I finished) and made the core combat much more varied.
But I still finished it. Why? Because it has a decent-enough story and good-ish characters. I'm a sucker for this. It's not great, but the writing is passable, the acting and casting is good and the overall plot is moderately engaging. So I at least wanted to know what happens. The game itself isn't bad either, it's just so so much wasted potential.
Compare this to Halo Infinite which is the opposite: possibly not even enough stuff to do in the game, a TERRIBLE incomprehensible plot with bad writing and average acting... but a compelling combat loop. I finished that too because the fighting was always fun and flexible.
And again compare to my favourite open world game ever, RDR2. The world is way better, more realistic, more involving. The writing, acting and plot is insanely good. The gameplay loops around hunting, crime and the core story are all much more tightly interwoven and 'realistic' (though I agree with the criticism of the main story missions being way too on-rails (tho no more than H:FW, it's just we expected more given how free form some of the other stuff is in RDR)), etc. etc.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed my dissertation. Now on to Elden Ring...