Tips for Horizon Zero Dawn I Learned from My First Playthrough

Horizon Zero Dawn is the best PlayStation game of 2017. I recently finished my first playthrough and have spent a lot of time just thinking about what an incredible game it really is. Let’s talk about it.

Before we get into that, however, I want to make something clear: this isn’t a guide. This isn’t a “how-to play Horizon Zero Dawn.” I just want to talk about the game and propose some things to consider for your first (or next?) playthrough, as well as throw some tips out there that I wish I would’ve realized earlier on.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Easier Difficulties

I remember when Horizon was first shown at Sony’s 2015 E3 keynote—I wasn’t all that impressed. In fact, I figured this was a game that I’d be passing on, because it just looked like too much was going on.

But then my wife got it for me for Father’s Day. Honestly, I think she was tired of watching me play The Last of Us over and over (and over), and Horizon reviewed really well. So that’s really the start of how a game I thought I wouldn’t enjoy became one of my favorite games of all time.

And that’s one of the first realizations I had about Horizon: this is a game that anyone (everyone?) can pick up, play, and have a great time. Even if you’re the most casual gamer on the planet, Guerrilla Games recently updated it with a super easy mode called “Story,” which makes the game incredibly easy to play. I love that.

If you love open world games, Horizon is for you. If you love story-driven games, Horizon is for you. If you love action games, Horizon is for you. If you love to customize weapons, armors, characters, and the like, guess what? Horizon is for you. It brings so many great video game elements into a single game, and does so in a way that still makes it easy to understand and play. It’s a masterpiece.

Take Your Time and Explore

I’ve talked to a few people who said they just “played the main storyline.” That means they skipped all the side quests and errands. No real exploring, no time learning more about Aloy’s story. And honestly, it’s a shame.

This isn’t a game you should just rush through. It’s a beautiful, immersive world full of adventure and mystery, and a lot of that is actually told through the side quests and errands. These optional activities drive you into the new parts of the land that you may otherwise have no reason to go to if you just focus on the main storyline. You’ll fight more machines, earn new weapons and armors (the most powerful of which can only be found in a side quest), and learn so much more about the magnificent world Guerilla created for the game.

I was level 49 (50 is the max) by the time I hit the final quest. So not only did I spend more time exploring the landscape and hitting the side quests/errands, but Aloy was stronger for each mission. I was generally five to ten levels higher than the recommended level on many of the quests, and most of them still provided a solid challenge.

As an aside, you should definitely explore Photo Mode. The textures and environments are so surreal, and there’s no better way to capture those moments than with Photo Mode. In fact, there’s an entire subreddit dedicated to Horizon screenshots. It’s that good.

Take Advantage of the Coil Upgrade System

When it comes to actually playing the game and fighting machines, there are plenty of weapons to choose from. Finding the “right” tool for the job is up to each individual player, and there’s no real answer. If it works for you, it works. Period.

Personally, I used some variant of the Hunter Bow most of the time during my playthrough, but I realized something pretty early on: using coils fundamentally changes the way you use the weapon. So, if you haven’t explored using coils to beef up your weapon, you’re missing out.

There are different coils for different things, so using those coils in a meaningful way is crucial. For example, let’s say you put a Fire Coil, Damage Coil, and Handling Coil on your Hunter Bow. That’s cool—you’ll probably get a bow that’s decently strong and can do a lot. But it’s not as powerful as it could be.

Instead, buy three Hunter Bows. Put three Fire Coils on one—the strongest ones you have, of course—and use that for any fight where you’ll need lots of fire power. On another, put three Handling Coils—these increase Aloy’s reload, aim, and release speed, making it a much faster bow. I find that to be perfect when fighting human enemies, where Hardpoint Arrows are much more efficient than Fire Arrows. Plus, I can unload a storm of arrows at breakneck speeds when needed. Finally, build the last bow up with three Damage Coils. That one will just be generally strong—slower than the bow with Handling Coils, but generally stronger than both the Handling and Fire bows.

The same rules apply for armor. Since the various armors are all strong against specific elements, use coils to strengthen those specialties.

You know, horses for courses and all that.

Stock Up on Blaze, Because Fire Power is the Best

All that said, the one tool you’ll likely use the most is fire. Be that fire arrows, the Blast Sling, or Blast/Fire wires from the Tripcaster, anything that burns machines is a good thing—even if the Notebook says the machine is “strong” against fire (like Fire Bellowbacks, for example).

Thus, any weapon that uses fire or blast ammo will likely end up being your go-to weapon for most of the game. That brings me to the most crucial piece of advice I think I can give: stock up on Blaze. Seriously, you will run out so quickly it’s insane—I actually ran out during the final fight, where I needed it more than ever. It was rough.

It doesn’t occur naturally in the wild like other elements do—It can only be harvested from machines. And of those machines, Grazers are easily the best to get it from: they’re docile, easy to find, and pack four blaze containers per machine. Since most Grazer sites have four machines each, that’s 16 blaze containers for very little effort. So yeah, farm those every time you get a chance. Every. Time.

Seriously, I’m ashamed to admit how long it took me to figure out that farming Grazers was the best way to keep stocked up on Blaze (I spent way too much time trying to farm Chargers and Broadheads when I needed Blaze). My second playthrough should be much more successful than the first.

Pick Your Skills Thoughtfully

One of the main questions I’ve been asked by people who are just starting the game is: which skills should you get? The good news is that by the time you reach the maximum level of 50, you’ll have all the skills. But the order in which you pick them is, of course, important.

Basically, some skills are more important than others…by a pretty large margin. For example, how often are you going to need to shoot something while balancing on a rope? Not very. Or do you really need to sprint around machines without them hearing you? Probably not.

As a result, those are two skills that are best left till the end of the game since they’re not all that useful. While I won’t tell you how to allot your skill points in any sort of meaningful order (there are plenty of guides online for that), I will definitely clue you in on some skills that I wish I would’ve gotten earlier in the game.

  • Double and Triple Shot: Seriously, having the ability to load up two or three arrows in one go is incredible. It gives a great extra boost at the start of a big fight—with the proper fire coils, you can easily set a machine on fire in one shot with the Triple Shot feature.
  • Knock Down and Critical Hit/Critical Hit+: Big machines are hard to knock down, but with the Knock Down skill, you can ground beastly machines like Stalkers instantly. Pair that with the Critical Hit and Critical Hit+ skills and you’ve got a great skillset for melee combat.
  • Tinker: This skill allows you to remove and reuse coils. It’s invaluable once you start adding coils to weapons and armor. Get it early.
  • Combat Override/Combat Override+: Once you gain the ability to start overriding more machines by exploring Cauldrons, you’ll start to use this feature more and more—especially in areas dense in machines or other enemies. The longer a Sawtooth or other heavy machine can stay overridden, the better it is for you. You can effectively use these machines to clear areas for you.

Finally, Just Have Fun

I know, it should probably go without saying—but have fun with this game. Honestly, this is probably the most genuine fun I’ve had playing a game in who knows how long. The Last of Us is my favorite game of all time, but it’s a different sort of fun—almost a “stressful” kind of fun, if that makes any sense at all. The same goes for Red Dead Redemption, which easily comes in at number two on my favorites list.

But Horizon is just different. The things that make The Last of Us and Red Dead Redemption great are still there—great story, excellent combat system, etc.—but it feels more “relaxed.” While I’m constantly on the edge of my seat during The Last of Us (regardless of how many times I play it) because of the sense of urgency, those moments are rare in Horizon, and I love it for that. All of the quests can be done at your leisure, so there’s no need to run through them. They’re not going to go away or expire—they’ll just be there until you get around to them. You could easily play this game for hours without doing a single quest, because exploring is a huge part of what makes it special.

Basically, what I’m saying is this: if you’re looking for one of the best games you’ll ever play, get Horizon. It’s fun, it’s beautiful, and it’ll easily go down as one of the best PlayStation-exclusive titles to ever hit the console. I’m super excited for the Frozen Wilds DLC that’s set to release in November, and I’m glad that Guerilla has already committed to long-term support for Horizon. I can’t wait to see what the future brings for this game.

Cameron Summerson is a die-hard Android fan, Chicago Bulls fanatic, metalhead, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at HTG, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, spinning legs on the bike, chugging away on the 6-string, or being disappointed in the Bulls.