Horizon: Zero Dawn throws you into a world of mechanical machines and primitive tribes, the main weapon being your trusty bow and arrow of differing sizes and elements. Guerilla Games could have taken many approaches in establishing a weapons system in the game — from a side scrolling weapons dock to a scavenging system where you use what you pick up — but the format they chose and what seems to flow best with the game was the weapon wheel format.
Using a fluid motion of a simple button press and an ease of selection using the joystick, you can choose your desired weapon. Even during high action and adrenaline pumping fights, you can easily switch weapons due to a time slowing mechanic allowing for quick selections and minimal UI time away from the action, similar to Dishonored. This mechanic is also used to quickly craft ammunition for the bows, as you only need to press and hold a button to craft arrows from the weapon wheel menu.
The Wheel That Wasn’t Big Enough
The system for the weapons themselves has a bit of complexity to it which affects what appears on the weapon wheel. You start the game with a standard bow and equip this bow in one of four spots on the wheel, wherever feels most comfortable. You may also notice that there is only one type of ammo available for use. The game starts you out with a mission to collect components for fire arrows, which establishes that there will more than likely be other types of ammo throughout the game.
This begs the question: how will they display the ammo types and how will you select them? Up until now you haven’t really had a reason to open the weapon wheel other than to craft arrows. After crafting the fire arrows, you now see that whichever of the four slots the bow is equipped now has another arrow type labeled Fire Arrows that can be selected. The fire arrows are neatly slotted next to the regular arrows and can be selected by moving the cursor over them when using the weapon wheel.
This kind of mechanic for selecting ammo and bow types creates a problem in and of itself in many ways. The most prominent and noticeable problem is that there aren’t nearly enough slots on the weapon wheel to accommodate every weapon you can purchase in the game, meaning some of the ammo types could potentially go unused or even undiscovered. By no means do you have to buy different ammo types though, as it’s possible to play the entire game with only two ammo types and one bow. In fact, it could be said that other ammo types and bows are simply for convenience since they’re used for taking advantage of the machine type weaknesses.
The way the ammo is stored on the wheel is also an issue. The bows that can be purchased at a later date can house up to three ammo types. When equipping these bows allows for multiple ammo types to become available, it also clutters the wheel. Frustration ensues when selecting ammo types as now you have to be rather precise with your cursor placement or you could use an ammo type you didn’t intend to use.
Ol’ Faithful – The Resource Killer
The idea that you can play the game with only two types of ammo and one bow can detract from multiple systems in the game since other ammo types become completely optional and may never be used. This creates a problem for the resource systems in the game. There are many kinds of resources to collect and use to create ammunition, but with only having to use one bow, it eliminates the need for just about every resource in the game but the three used for regular and fire arrows.
Playing through the game, I ended up with enough materials by simply walking around the starting area to create hundreds of regular arrows without even realizing it. It may take longer to defeat enemies, but the concept of playing the game with only one bow is plausible as Horizon: Zero Dawn equips you well.
Conclusion — Player-Driven Freedom To Experiment
These issues that are created with such a system by no means detract from the gameplay. Guerilla Games seems to have assumed that the player would be interested and curious enough during the game to explore all the options, so there was not much need to walk the player through each ammo type and what they do, but rather simply offer the idea that there were other arrow types and entice the curiosity of the player to explore their options and create a strategy for hunting prey. Horizon: Zero Dawn never lets us forget that at any moment the predator can become the prey, and so while the weapon wheel may be limiting and clunky at times, it’s an accessible system that gives us the freedom to remain viable in combat.
Shawn’s Further Considerations
As Shane stated, the weapon wheel system was the best system Horizon: Zero Dawn could have chosen. While the problems described are potential design flaws that should be taken into consideration, it’s important to further consider how the game’s systems interact with each other.
The weapon wheel allows for quick selections between weapons and ammo types in an elegant and quickfire manner. The weapon wheel can be customized based on whatever feels most comfortable, including if switching ammo types does become a hassle for the player. Being able to scout out an area or a situation beforehand and then equip the necessary equipment adds a sense of strategy and planning that benefits the experience, rather than being an overall inconvenience.
Although it is possible to only use standard (and fire) arrows, it ends up being rather difficult to explicitly refuse using the countless number of bows and ammo types that take advantage of the different enemy types. The difficulty inherent to different enemy types encourages experimentation, rather than sticking to one bow and arrow type.