If one were only an Indian, instantly alert, and on a racing horse, leaning against the wind, kept on quivering jerkily over the quivering ground, until one shed one’s spurs, for there needed no spurs, threw away the reins, for there needed no reins, and hardly saw that the land before one was smoothly shorn heath when horse’s neck and head would be already gone.
The Wish To Be a Red Indian, Franz Kafka
Horizon Zero Dawn is my first proper open world game. The closest thing I would have played to it would have been Gravity Rush on the Vita, but it had nowhere near the scale that Horizon Zero Dawn. What they both have though is fun methods of traversal. Gravity Rush has Kat suspending gravity to hurtle around in the manner of an ever so slightly clumsy superhero and Horizon Zero Dawn has the riding of robot horses. And robot buffaloes. And robot mountain goats. Although why I’m not allowed to ride the robot sabre tooth tiger is anyone’s guess.
One of Horizon Zero Dawn’s unlockable skills is the ability to override machines. Located around the game’s world are places called cauldrons where the robots are made. Players can override these, allowing Aloy to commandeer more machines. Initially the override lasts for a limited time, but subsequent skill upgrades increase that time until it becomes an infinite override. When you are at the appropriate level, for your own sense of fun, override a Thunderjaw. It is a jolly bit of fun. But the main joy of these overrides is the access to mounts. These are Striders (robot horses), Broadheads (robot buffaloes) and Chargers (robot rams/goats/sheeps).
Once the mechanical fauna has been subjugated, it’s now available as a mount. Preferably it’s somewhat away from the rest of the herd ensuring a clean get away. Now Aloy is free to ride her new pack animal around Horizon’s vast and beautiful world. First things first, the animals are really responsive and nice to control. The steering, if I can call it that is really smooth and a nice simple turn of the analogue stick will send your mount nicely in the intended direction. You can speed up said mount with a quick tap of the X button and speeding past a pack of startled Sawtooths (said robot sabre tooth tigers) is a great amount of fun. And the varying riding speeds work nicely. It is a great little feeling to slowly trot along to a setting sun, or to idly clop along under the vast star fields that the night brings.
The little things add a lot to the experience of galloping across the world. How the mount turns its head when riding past machines or people. Or in some cases, over people, like a bandit who doesn’t see Aloy coming. Little shakes and ticks as it dutifully waits for Aloy to fill up her medicine pouch or scrape some resources together. The sound of metal hoofs pounding the earth. How it kicks out when under threat, and when it bounds over when called upon. Almost like a metallic puppy. It all comes together to make this beast of burden an actual companion, a friend on long journeys across and through forests, deserts and mountain ranges.
Clarence was a Broadhead I found early into the game. I had found some Striders before him, but I either lost them or they succumbed to the local wildlife. Clarence was different though. He survived a tough battle, kicking some Striders and Watchers (surveillance raptors) to death. I loved him after that, and did my best to keep him safe. I hid him behind tall rocks when I went out fighting. Clarence scaled some of the tallest cliffs. He ran through a bandit camp trampling a good few of them, before kicking the rest as I threw in some arrows for good measure. He alone killed 3 watchers on a mountain side. I loved Clarence. Some of my first Horizon Zero Dawn photo’s where of Clarence and Aloy.
And then I happened upon a side quest, which involved getting jumped by a Longleg (robot Emu). I immediately thought of Clarence, but it was too late. He never had a chance. I stood over his corpse for a good while. It was heart rending. If I could I would have buried him. Other mounts followed, but they weren’t Clarence. Although there as a Charger who did some sterling work.
But, there has to be a bright side. And there is. Every new mount leads to a new adventure, and a new companionship. Each one will have its own story to tell. Some will be more memorable than others, but that’s the peaks and the troughs, and what makes all of this so special. So, sometime just ignore the fast travel, grab a mount and go for a ride. Re-enact that montage from Django Unchained where Django and King Schultz ride off into the mountains. Sprint from the Meridian badlands to Mother’s Embrace. Idly trot through a ruined city, taking the whole thing in.
Riding across the map to a quest goal can feel really dramatic when one is speeding across the ground, galloping at full speed, the land melting away leaving just you and your mount, galloping under the shrinking sun. So go grab a mount, and embrace the wide open space.
All video game footage recorded by me. All gifs made by me from my own video footage.