I was on the edge of being tired of open world games, I have played a lot of them. Don’t get me wrong, games like The Witcher 3, The Arkham series, GTA V and others were awesome but the time investment to complete these type of game is immense and to start another one felt like a big ask.
So Horizon Zero Dawn was released a few weeks ago and I can’t put my controller down.
If you own a Playstation 4 you owe it to yourself to play it, it is one of the best new IP this console generation. The game looks utterly beautiful, the combat is fun and the story is very well told, But talking about the game in general is echoing what a bunch of people already said. So being a UI designer I am going to talk about the UI instead.
These are my thoughts on it, some may disagree with my views but these are my personal opinion based on what I have experienced playing the game so far.
A bit of sugar before the salt
The HUD elements looks great in general, the layout is good, the graphical elements looks sharp and have character without coming across of trying too much. The size of the elements feels correct, the health bar is thick enough so that it is easy to glance over during combat, having a compass versus a minimap allowing larger real estate to see the game world and The weapon/ammo icons are nicely sized so that you always know what is equipped especially during intense combat moments.
However there are some things in there that does not function the way that I thought it would. For example, the healing and item buttons are assigned to the d-pad and because the HUD elements is designed to look like a d-pad I instinctively believed that by pressing on the right and left d-pad would result in consuming the displayed item but not so. The left and right d-pad acts as a carousel control and down as the assigned button to consume or perform a certain action, which can be a little bit confusing at first.
The way pointer is also a little confusing. Generally way-points in other open world games are locked to the point in the world where the player needs to go, it is the accepted behaviour gamers would expect a way marker would function. In Horizon, the way marker will pins itself to a main path and updates regularly as you follow it very much like the ones you see in a corridor shooter. The problem arises when you are venturing off the beaten path because the way marker and the compass UI on top of screen often points you at a different point in the world which resulted in you circling on yourself countless times.
In horizon you can only play one quest at a time, be it the main quest, side quest or other quests like a weapon tutorial quest. This is not a problem as much as an annoyance because even when you perform ‘ Trip three enemies using a Tripcaster’ during another quest you won’t be able to complete it because you have another quest selected. It certainly keeps the HUD clean because you only need to have one displayed at any time.
Button configuration are mostly great but there is one sequence of button presses in the game that feels a little bit odd. An important part of combat in Horizon is the ability to craft ammunition on the fly and most often you will need do this during combat. You do this by pressing a sequence of button presses starting by holding the Left shoulder button which freeze time and will open the weapons/ammo wheel. You then need to select what to craft using the right analog stick and then releasing your right thumb to press down the X button to craft. I personally feel that a better control choice is by having the left hand analog stick for the weapon selection because not only that the left hand analog is the natural interface for navigation but also the motion of letting go of your right thumb away from the right stick to press the X button does not feel natural.
A game of 2 halves
If you are playing the game you will know that the game have two types of UI, the one for the player and a diagetic one; the one that the game character sees in her world. The two have very distinct styles, one has a tribal look and the other is straight up sci-fi. I don't see this marriage in many games because they will either have one or the other. In the case of Horizon having both is the only option if you look at how the gameplay works and more importantly how the narrative plays out early in the game. Still one would argue that some HUD elements displayed in the world belong to the wrong camp artistically, for example way point markers and pickup markers should aesthetically belong to the diagetic UI since it is firmly placed within the world.
I love the map in this game, 3d map in video games is nothing new Elder Scrolls: Skyrim have 3d map as well although it is much bigger than the one we see in Horizon. The great thing about the map in horizon is that because the camera is set at a steeper angle you dont get areas that are obscured by tall topography while still providing information about verticality within the map. I also like the map being very colourful, so that it is a lot easier to know where you are in the world, the colours of the area that you are in reflected very well in the map.
The HUD in Horizon is customisable to a degree, you can leave them on and take them off individually. So you can’t argue that the game have too many HUD elements because you can take them right off or set it to dynamic where it comes on and off depending on certain situations like when in combat. The options provided for customisation is limited to only show, hide and dynamic but having the option to choose is welcomed.
I still love it
In general I like Horizon’s UI, it looks clean and super polished. The style is pretty consistent through out and it is easy enough to navigate through the menus. I have already stated some of the things that I don’t like about the UI but to be honest that is nitpicking because in the enf of the day the UI serve its purpose very well; it competently allow its players to interact with the game world and what a trully awesome world it is.