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Horizon Zero Dawn: Tips & Tricks for new mecha-hunters

horizon zero dawn beginners guide beginner s
Sony Interactive Entertainment
Horizon Zero Dawn can seem like an intimidating proposition at times. While Aloy’s adoptive father Rost shows her the ropes of hunting in the very beginning of the game, the hand-holding ends once she leaves the Sacred Lands. Fortunately, like Lewis and Clark we blazed ahead through this vast wilderness, and have returned with some starting tips and tricks we picked up during our time with the game. 

Basic hunting tips

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Get the lay of the land

With prey as deadly as machines, patience and planning can make all the difference between life and death. Whenever possible, start every encounter by scoping out the surrounding area, ideally from higher ground. Note the landscape for things like cliffs to be wary of or choke points you could use. Use your Focus to scan for not just your targets, but also any machines in the surrounding area that might be drawn in by the scuffle. You can tag enemies that you want to keep tabs on, like your particular prey or tricky predators like cloaking Stalkers that may try and get the drop on you in the scuffle.

Set traps

A well-placed trap or two can end an otherwise dangerous encounter very quickly. For easy harvesting of parts from Herders, Grazers, and other machines likely to flee from trouble, set explosive trip wires and then drive the herd into them. Against more aggressive predators, set up a kill zone with different types of traps in combination and then guide them back into it. If it doesn’t kill them outright, it will usually stun them enough for you to finish the job with your spear.

Pick them apart

When you use your Focus to highlight machines, look for glowing orange components, which mark are the functional, removable parts of the machine. In addition to disabling special attacks or their ability to call for reinforcements, knocking these special components off your enemies does substantially more damage than body blows. Fluid canisters can be knocked off with hardpoint or tear arrows if you want to collect them, but they can also be used against the machine and its neighbors by blowing them up with an arrow of the same element (e.g. flame arrows for blaze canisters). Projectile weapons mounted on the backs of larger predators can be knocked off and used against them, which is always a good idea. They have limited ammo, but are extremely powerful. One of the best ways to start any fight is to use a tear arrows on a sharpshooter bow from long range to knock off the component or two that will give you the most trouble before switching to your hunting bow once they close range on you.

Float like a butterfly

As is often the case in action games, dodge rolling gives Aloy some precious frames of invulnerability. This can be utilized much like you would in Dark Souls, such as aggressively rolling into the charging attack of huge enemies to neutralize the damage and set up a few spear-blows on their flank.

When in doubt, run

Aloy is a badass, but she can easily be overwhelmed by even just a few machines. If a fight starts to get too chaotic it’s often best to just run away so you can break line of sight to re-establish stealth and come in again with a level head. They have size and strength, so planning is Aloy’s best asset.

Hunt real animals early and often

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Robot megafauna may be the main attraction, but Horizon‘s world is still populated by lots of small, organic game. Aloy needs their parts as well, primarily for upgrading her ability to carry ammo and crafting components, as well as for crafting health potions and, later in the game, higher tier weapons. Get in the habit of picking off animals whenever you see them in passing. As with collecting herbs, developing the habit of grabbing everything as you run by will save you a lot of headache later on when you might need a critical resource. You can always find particular machines on the map, or just buy the part you need in the city, but you just need to run into the right animals, which can be frustrating at times — we found fox skin and bone were our biggest resource choke points in the mid-late game. Fish parts can also be especially annoying–tag them first with your Focus to make bow-fishing much easier.

People are just boring machines

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Fighting human enemies is not nearly as complicated as fighting machines. Often you just need to find cover and pick them off with headshots. The Double and Triple-Shot skills are especially useful for taking out elites with a well-placed hardpoint barrage to the head. If they get into melee range, keep in mind that a heavy strike will knock them down and a light strike to finish them off once you’ve unlocked the critical strikes. That one-two punch will efficiently take out virtually every human you encounter.

Go west

horizon crafting merchant
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As an open world game, Horizon Zero Dawn  doesn’t force you to progress through the story, so it’s entirely possible to spend a lot of time hunting and questing around the Nora Sacred Lands before going into the wider world. Even if that’s your plan, we recommend you follow the main story just far enough that you get to a place called the Daytower, a Carja fortress that marks the edge of Nora territory, opening up into the rest of the world. You’ll have to brave a boss fight with a Corrupter, but as a reward you’ll be able to access more advanced gear from the merchant inside. The crucial upgrade is the Shadow Hunting Bow, which gives you access to hardpoint arrows, a more powerful neutral arrow that deals more damage and is much better at knocking off components. Hardpoint arrows alone can get Aloy through most of the game, and they make taking on larger machines much more viable.

If you want to go one step further, following the story a little further west along the road brings you to Meridien, the game’s biggest city. There you’ll have access to most of the best shops and gear, including all the specialized merchants who accept collectible sets. After that go wild and do whatever you want–the main story will be there waiting for you.

Help strangers in need

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Running around the world, you’ll occasionally run into random NPCs being attacked by machines. If you stop to help them out, be sure to check in with them afterwards, since they will repay your kindness with a reward box.

Scan every new machine

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Scanning every new machine you encounter with your Focus unlocks their encyclopedia entry, which is full of useful intel about strengths and weaknesses to read at your leisure instead of while stalking live prey. Just be sure to make sure you scanned them in your current save — several times we found ourselves lacking entries on machines that we’d encountered before because we had died and re-loaded after scanning the first time and forgot to do so again.

Know your tools

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Aloy has a lot of tools at her disposal, so knowing how and when to best use them is critical. Fortunately the game helps you in this with slightly non-obvious tutorials. The bottom category of quests are tutorials that unlock whenever you get a new piece of equipment, which task you with challenges like using elemental arrows to take down machines that are vulnerable to them. These can basically just be free experience for what you should already be doing.

One important thing to keep in mind: Unlike other quests, you need to have tutorials actively selected in order to complete them, so be sure to check the list periodically to see if there are any that you could easily knock out.

Be thorough in ruins

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Feared by the other Nora, the ruins of mankind’s fallen civilization are dangerous, but rich with secrets. It’s possible at any time to get back into virtually any location you’ve previously been to, but save yourself time by being thorough the first time through, especially in ruins that can be a little more tedious to access than other locations. Two things to note in particular are that Aloy can break through some barriers of stalactites/stalagmites  with her spear, and to keep a special eye out for Power Cells, which are scattered throughout ruins and help Aloy get a particularly powerful item once you’ve collected enough.

Hoarders anonymous

horizon crafting junk
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Horizon Zero Dawn features a LOT of loot to drive its crafting economy, which could potentially pose a problem for serial item hoarders in games. Upgrading your crafting components pouch will only bring it up to 100, which fills up surprisingly quickly if you grab everything you pass. Since you will never need more than one or two of any given machine component, you can confidently sell off any that overflow a single stack without worrying that you’ll miss it later. There is also a merchant in Meridien that sells all of the machine eyes and lenses anyway, so you will never be lacking as long as you have some metal shards to spend. As for crafting components like ridge-wood and blaze canisters, keep a few extra stacks for a rainy day, but you won’t need nearly as many as you find if you’re a thorough hunter-gatherer.

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Will Fulton
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Will Fulton is a New York-based writer and theater-maker. In 2011 he co-founded mythic theater company AntiMatter Collective…
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