Horizon Zero Dawn’s Opening Sequence Is Still Narrative Gold

Horizon Zero Dawn is not the most immediately gripping game around town, but that’s why it’s introductory sequence is so brilliant. When you first boot up the game, you’re put in the boots of Aloy, a Nora warrior who was exiled from her tribe at birth. As you beeline along the region’s notorious Brave trails, you learn about a kind of ritualistic gauntlet known as the Proving, which could provide Aloy with a unique route towards becoming a Nora Brave – and, as result of that, a Nora citizen once again.

This doesn’t seem too unusual for a video game story – when you remove the Horizon-specific jargon, you’re just another outsider who has been given their first proper glimpse in. Simply playing as Aloy is enough to convince us that the Proving should be a walk in the park for somebody this gifted, and so most people’s impression of what happens next is probably just, “Pass the Proving, become a Brave, embark on a quest based on your new important position in society.” Oh, how wrong we were, eh?

Spoilers for Horizon Zero Dawn obviously follow, so if you’re only planning on jumping in now because you reckon Forbidden West looks good, go read about biotic whips in Mass Effect instead.

Still here? Nice one. If you’ve played Horizon Zero Dawn, you’ll know that the Proving doesn’t exactly go according to plan. Aloy plays a stormer, making all of the little runts who are mean to her look as ridiculously twattish as they are, but the whole event is compromised by an invading terrorist organization known as the Eclipse. At this point, we have absolutely no idea what’s going on – Aloy’s just done her Proving and should have a long and fulfilling life ahead of her. Now all her mates are dead and a vile man named Helis is about to slit her throat. This is still the prologue, mind. In about two hours, we’ve gone from Tarzan sequences – as in girl Aloy becomes woman Aloy mid-jump – to Nora teens being murdered by a cult. It’s extreme intensity that erupts out of left field and leaves said field defeatingly bloodied.

Still, it’s the beginning of the game, so Aloy’s got access to some mighty thick plot armour. Her guardian, Rost, sacrifices himself to save her. However, there’s very little left worth being saved for – her guardian and friends are dead, and she’s still seen as the cursed Nora baby that was expelled from the tribe all those years ago. It’s a devastatingly sad start to a story filled with further miseries, and yet it exudes a kind of power and motivation that’s unlike most other stories of its ilk. Yes, everyone you know is dead and you have nowhere left to go. But that’s exactly it, isn’t it? Everyone you know is dead and you have nowhere left to go, which means you need to carve out a new path for yourself through legions of Eclipse.

What’s most impressive about all of this is that it’s fairly grandiose, at least conceptually. It’s an enormous set piece, creating a ritual as revered as the Proving and then subverting its authority by having almost everyone involved killed. Everything the prologue builds up to is a red herring flopping about on land, a grim sight not long for this world. By the time the actual game starts directly after the prologue, we’re firmly on team Aloy because we consecutively experience her highest high and lowest low with no tractable gradient in between. It’s a phenomenal way to begin a compelling story, and to this day, it’s one of video games’ boldest and bravest (eh? eh?) intros.

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