Witcher 3 VS Horizon Zero Dawn – Battle Of RPG’s
When you pick up and play Horizon Zero Dawn, it’s hard not to compare it to the Witcher 3, which came out two years prior. It’s clear that Guerrilla Games was inspired by CD Project Red’s latest game. But we’re here to see in which ways Horizon surpasses their inspiration, and where Witcher 3 remains king. Note that I loved both games, but Witcher 3 remains one of my favorite games ever. That being said, I’ll try to be as unbias as possible.
Let’s begin with the worlds themselves. Witcher 3 provides a number of maps, and each provides its own character. Velen and Novigrad are found on the same hub, but both are quite different. Novigrad is the bustling city, while Velen is the rural countryside. White Orchard is a small, sparse map, and Kaer Morhen mostly serves as the stage for a few important set pieces in the main quest. My problem is that much of these countries seem to share many assets. If you took a screenshot of any given place, I wouldn’t be able to say where it was because it probably had the same shrubs, trees, or color palette as many other locations. I don’t mean to disparage them, though, the maps are massive and provide forests, valleys, fields, bogs, and rocky islands, not to mention cities, villages, and old ruins. Skellige, in particular, really delivers some fantastic scenery.
But Horizon Zero Dawn really packs some stunning vistas. The map is interconnected, but clearly divided into three segments: Snowy, deserty, and foresty. Each map remains stunning and beautiful in its own rite, but as you find yourself peering over the next landscape your punched in the gut with a completely different world. And you may notice the color filter itself change as you move into the next map, providing an even more characterized feel. The game knows how good it looks, and they even provide collectible vistas for you to look out over the world and take it all in.
Verdict: The problem is that Witcher 3 is going for a realistic approach. But unfortunately, vibrant style beats out the quieter approach every time. Horizon Zero Dawn wins.
The difference between the last category and this one is that this one will be studying smaller scenes, and how an environment tells a story. I’m sorry to say that The Horizon doesn’t stand a chance here. In Witcher 3 you’ll constantly be stumbling upon massacred village, or s sunken ship, or a hunter’s body near a monster’s den.It’s this that really makes you feel like the Witcher’s world is a real one, not just a video game. Buried treasure always comes with at least tiny backstory, where you’ll discover bandits who had turned on each other or a bride’s dowry lost at sea. Not to mention the wartorn fields where a battle had just been held, or the men hanging in trees that show the cruelty of the land’s monarch. A big part of many missions is to find environmental clues that will lead Geralt to understand what had transpired before he’d come along.
The Horizon has some of this, usually seen in large ruins. These mostly appear in the vistas that I’d mentioned before, where you can see what used to be a research facility or a football stadium.
Verdict: While The Horizon has some stellar mysteries hidden in the environment, they are few and far between compared to the ubiquity of the Witcher’s world, so full of history.
Many things from the last category spill into this one. Once again, the NPC designs in most of the Witcher 3’s maps are similar to each other, with the exception of Skellige. While you almost never see repeating NPCs, their drab peasant clothes or guardsman armors never stand out. Clearly, the true character design went to the main characters. Geralt, Triss, Yennefer, Ciri, and everyone else is unique and true to the books from which they were inspired. Yennefer always wears all black, Geralt is mostly scar tissue, and Dandelion is as vibrant as a peacock. Their designs tell you something about their character, and are also quite badass.
But again, it is Horizon Zero Dawn’s powerful style that really grabs attention. Aloy looks great, with huge, wild red hair that stands out and somehow blends in with the tall grass. She looks powerful, too, her back and arms looking like they really could climb cliffs all day long. But its the NPCs that really win Horizon this category. Every character looks like a main character, if you know what I mean. And the remnants of times past being used as clothing material and religious talismans not only tell you about the life of the NPC, but the mythology of the world and beliefs of the region. The Sun King looks outstanding and kingly, Rost looks resourceful and pragmatic, and Sylens clearly shows his fascination with the robots, weaving cable inside his own skin. And the inspired use of robotic skulls as armor is doubly cool, forcing players to think of the Native American beliefs of respecting the animals that you kill, and even worshiping them.
Verdict: While Witcher’s main characters have impressive and intentional design, it’s Horizon’s variety of NPC design that truly wins out.
Witcher 3 has some great voice acting and some terrible voice acting. It’s a mixed bag, though I appreciate that almost everyone has their own voice, even the NPCs. But they all have this nowhere-accent, all trying to sound like a peasant from Middle Earth, which just become white noise. While the main cast is good, many lack enthusiasm. Though witchers are believed to be incapable of emotion, I still don’t see why Geralt’s inflection never changes, even when he’s being possessed by a rambunctious ghost.
This is where Horizon shines. I think a great deal of the charm of Aloy comes from Ashly Burch’s performance. I’m always pleased when Aloy mutters something to herself because it’s so full of character. You really feel her exhaustion or excitement at every turn. This is often shared by the actors surrounding Aloy. While many can seem one note, they still feel quite different from each other. Rather than them all having the same peasant voice, one might sound clearly like a warrior man’s man, or a put-upon mother, or a condescending scholar.
Verdict: While the main and side cast of Horizon exceeds Witcher, it’s really Aloy’s Ashly Burch who won this category out from Geralt’s Michał Żebrowski.
The Witcher has a fun storyline with a clear goal from start to finish: find Ciri. This quest puts Geralt on a mission across several nations (and even dimensions), meeting kings and sorceresses and malicious spirits alike. The Wild Hunt is an intriguing group of villains, though you don’t really know what their deal is for most the game, and you still don’t quite care even when you do. At points it seems clear that many escapades are fun but unnecessary detours from the main goal. Several times you will be helping someone so that they will give you information to get to the next bread crumb. All in all, the main quest is really just a nice satisfying excuse to explore the world and meet its denizens.
Horizon, once again, impresses players with its high impact storytelling. From the start you are intrigued by the world. For most of us that was true before we even pressed the ON button. But Aloy’s origin becomes a surprising mystery, and her unfortunate exclusion from the Nora is an engrossing and emotional hook. And unlike the Witcher 3, the main quest changes or alters several times. There’s the mystery of the world’s origin, Aloy’s origin, the need to protect various tribes from various threats, and of course, destroy HADES.
Verdict: I’m surprised with how much I’m giving to Horizon, but here we go again. A lack of change in Geralt and a simple “Find Ciri” objective that doesn’t change for forty hours makes Horizon a shining beacon. Aloy’s character arc is satisfying, and the twisting main objective and powerful central mystery keeps the story fresh.
Okay, I’m just going to say it up front. There’s no way anyone can compete with Witcher 3’s side quests. Not only is the world full of side quests and witcher contracts, but each one feels as if they were ripped straight out of the Witcher books, each one ending with a tragic or ironic twist. You almost never find the monster your looking for, or when you do you discover it was defending itself, or it has loved ones, or it was actually a human changed into a monster. In many cases I found the side quests outshining the main path. You’ll topple kings and slay forest demons that reigned supreme for centuries. And they often provides choice that alters the fate of several individuals, if not whole villages.
You almost never find the monster your looking for, or when you do you discover it was defending itself, or it has loved ones, or it was actually a human changed into a monster. In many cases I found the side quests outshining the main path. You’ll topple kings and slay forest demons that reigned supreme for centuries. And they often provides choice that alters the fate of several individuals, if not whole villages.
Horizon Zero Dawn was directly inspired by Witcher 3 in this regard, and you can tell. The interactions with the quest givers feel similar, describing a monster, and where, and when, and what they were doing, and how scared they were. This is far superior to simply reading a quest off a bulletin board and then collecting ten chickens or whatever other games do. But once the quest begins, it clear Horizon falls short of Witcher 3. You track down your beast, then you slay it. That’s where it ends. No twist ending, no choice (usually), and while the monster design in Horizon is quite cool, the monster is usually something you’d seen before.
Verdict: Witcher 3 wins this one by a landslide.
This one’ll be tough because we’re pretty much comparing apples and oranges. While Witcher 3 is a melee focused game, Horizon is a 3rd person shooter. But here goes.
Witcher 3 has some great combat. Mixing light and strong attacks along with bombs, crossbows, and signs, you’ll find a surprising amount of depth to the action. The dance-like quality to his swordsmanship keeps the action light and fast, and preparing for battles with oils and potions allows for some good strategy, making you actually feel like a witcher. But the action fails to develop as you go along, and I found myself mostly performing thoughtlessly by the halfway point, carrying conversations with my girlfriend as I dispatched another nest of drowners.
Horizon Zero Dawn, however, keeps the pace engaging throughout. I often found myself starting battles I could easily avoid, simply to catch the adrenaline high the game provides. The variety of opponents, including humans, keeps you on your toes and makes you change your strategies, often mid-fight. The machines are often faster than yourself, leaping across a battlefield in one bound, or spinning to hit you within a large radius. Flying and swimming baddies are even tougher than the invisible ones that leave mines in their wake. And I having even pointed out the various bows you’ll be using, which can be upgraded so you can use different materials with different effects.
Verdict: The terrifying strength, speed, and firepower of Horizon’s machines keep players alert and engaged, switching in and out of different attack patterns to keep up, while Witcher 3 has you find your preference and just repeat for the rest of the game.
Some smaller things I’d like to address. Geralt’s Witcher senses, though more nauseating, is more fun to enact than Aloy’s Focus. The Focus visual is pretty, but, usually amounts to purple pixel triangles that lead you forward.
Horizon’s crafting is more immediate and fun than that of the Witcher, even though the Witcher’s crafting helps make the witcher’s lore more relevancy to the game.
Choice is more important and impactful in Witcher 3. People’s lives will be in your hands, and you’ll often find yourself struggling with one of the many non-binary moral dilemmas. In Horizon, choice usually amounts to whether or not you’ll hear Aloy get emotional, angry, or “clever”.Aloy get emotional, angry, or “clever”.
And finally, DLC. While Horizon Zero Dawn will be coming out with “The Frozen Wilds” story DLC, which sounds like it’ll give players a new map, story, and machines to face, I doubt it will hold a flame to Witcher 3’s “Hearts of Stone” and “Blood and Wine”. Story DLC aside, CD Project Red has given us a crap load of free DLC, including weapons, armor, character design for NPCs, and Gwent expansions.
I love both of these games. I know I gave Horizon Zero Dawn more wins, but I still can’t tell you which game is truly better. Witcher 3 has stuck with me longer, with masterful storytelling bleeding into every inch of the map, providing over a hundred hours of fun for myself, while Horizon gave me a very fun main quest that I finished in less than thirty hours. But you can’t quantify the value of a game by the hours played or the number of categories won. So you decide.
What do you think? Which game is better, and why? Or what categories did I leave out that should have been included? Let me know in the comments.