Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild were both released within four days of one another. As two massive, open world, action-adventure games it was inevitable that they would be compared to one another. People have spent far too much of their lives trying to argue which game is better. The truth is, that while they are both very similar to one another, the approach they take is very different. So, it is hard to definitively say which of the two games is better overall. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their individual strengths and weaknesses.
Each game has things that it excels at. One is better at character personalities while the other has stronger character designs. One game is obviously superior to the other for a few of the categories. In other cases, it is practically a tie. Overall the differences between them are —for the most part— extremely small. So most of what is listed below is nitpicking.
Both Horizon and Breath of the Wild are excellent games. There is no disputing that fact. Nor am I trying to claim that one game is better than the other. In reality, they are extremely close in quality. But I want to celebrate what each game did better and highlighted the strengths of both games. Below I list ten things that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild did better and ten things that Horizon: Zero Dawn did better.
20 Horizon: Enemies
Let’s be honest. Most of us picked up Horizon because of the giant robot dinosaurs. Just the idea of running around with these monstrous mechanical nightmares strewn about is a dream come true. When it comes to robots, Horizon absolutely delivers. There are a total of 25 different machines, and that isn’t included their corrupt counterparts. Each machine has a different weakness and requires a different strategy in order to beat it. Some of the machines wander alone, others like to pair up. The rest live in herds.
Horizon doesn’t just stop at machines. It also offers a series of human antagonists to fight. Bandit camps and various missions pit you against mobs of other humans. It is an unfriendly world in Horizon.
Of course, Breath of the Wild has its own slew of enemies. It does offer a wider selection than Horizon. But most of the enemies are familiar. We’ve seen them before. They can be challenging. Variations on location and strength help to keep things fun and interesting. But Horizon’s baddies absolutely outshine anything Breath of the Wild can throw at you.
19 Zelda: Combat
This is a point of contention for a lot of people. Many will argue that Horizon has the better combat system. The varied enemy types combined with the diverse weapons and ammo types make it so that each kind of machine requires a different strategy. There is a heavy emphasis on stealth, but you can go in guns blazing if you’re good enough. Although it’s limited, there are some spots that let you deal environmental damage by having logs fall onto machines as they run by. Except, the controls are a bit of a mess. It takes a lot of time to get used to the system. Plus time slows down while you switch weapons and ammo type, but it doesn’t stop completely. So it’s easy to get bulldozed while trying to change or craft weapons.
Breath of the Wild also has a variety of enemies and weapon types. Granted, the enemies are all very familiar, and many have similar weak points. However, Breath of the Wild actively encourages players to strategize. Food will give you different buffs, and there are over a dozen different armor sets that have their own, unique abilities. Weapons break, and you can’t just craft more ammo. That means you have to learn to utilize what’s around you. Boulders can be pushed down cliffs to crush enemies below. Shock arrows can stun a bunch of enemies at once if they are in the water. Opposite elements can be taken advantage of for one hit KOs. Plus, just about every weapon type is available right from the start.
18 Horizon: The Challenge
One of the biggest differences between Horizon and Breath of the Wild is the difficulty. Longtime Zelda fans tend to agree that Breath of the Wild is one of the harder Zelda titles. Not the hardest, not by a long shot. But it is at least harder. However, that doesn’t actually mean the game is hard. It offers some challenge here or there, but otherwise, it’s a breeze.
Horizon, on the other hand, is a very different story. Getting your can creamed is part of the experience. It takes on a Dark Souls-esque feel as you desperately try to roll out of the way of a rampaging robot. One of the harder dinos, the Thunderjaw, is a robotic t-rex with an attitude. This monstrosity is armed with a cannon and laser disks for long range attacks. It is capable of charging at high speeds and has a tail that can send you flying. Not to mention the insane amount of armor and health it has. Nowhere is safe when a Thunderjaw is near.
Dying in Horizon is easy. One wrong move and it’s the end for you. However, it isn’t unfair. Horizon just requires a lot of practice and skill to play well.
17 Zelda: Details
The devil’s in the details and Horizon just doesn’t pay enough attention to them. I’m not talking about how many leaves are rendered on a tree. The details I’m referring too are the little things: tiny secrets or minute changes.
For example, wild animals will run away from you in both games. However, in Horizon they’ll just run in a straight line. In Breath of the Wild, they will zig and zag, changing direction at random intervals to avoid getting caught. Fish will even try to flee from you. In Horizon, you can just swim right through the fish without them ever taking notice. In Breath of the Wild ,different items will float or sink in water. Whereas in Horizon, they will always sink. Arrows will react to surfaces differently in Breath of the Wild. They’ll sink into the ground or wood, but bounce off of stone or walls. In Horizon, they will always impale themselves in whatever medium they are shot at.
Horizon is meant to be a more realistic game, but if anything, this attempt at realism only hurts the game. The lack of attention to detail breaks the illusion that Horizon tries to create. It’s those same tiny details that make Breath of the Wild feel more alive.
16 Horizon: The Main Character
This one is a bit unfair. Link is still the same character we know and love. He has a bit of a snarky side to him and he looks killer in girls clothes. Nintendo did work to give him something of a personality, but in the end, he’s still a silent protagonist. There isn’t a lot we can work with. Link, as a character, is pretty flat. He’s that way by design.
Aloy, on the other hand, has personality leaking out of her ears. She’s courageous, daring, blunt, and has empathy in spades. She has little respect for authority and will break any rule in a heartbeat if she doesn't think it's fair. Plus, she is given a chance to grow throughout the game and evolve as a person. Aloy is a well-written, three-dimensional character. Yet, you can still make her your own through the various dialogue options. Players can choose to emphasize her compassion, intelligence, or brute strength. Compare her to Link, and there is no contest. Aloy is just a better lead.
15 Zelda: Crafting
The crafting systems in Horizon and Breath of the Wild are difficult to compare. In Horizon, you can craft ammunition for your various weapons and more slots for your pouches, potions, and traps. You can also upgrade your armor and weapons by filling slots with modifications. It is all fairly standard. Horizon’s crafting system, while useful, isn’t very unique.
Crafting in Breath of the Wild is a little more limited in terms of variety. The only thing you can truly craft are potions and food. There is also an upgrade system for your armor that requires item collection. Once you have the ingredients, you can stop by the nearest fairy fountain for a maximum of four upgrades per piece of armor.
The biggest difference between the two games is in the presentation. Crafting in Horizon is done through the user interface menu. You press a button, and it's done. Crafting in Breath of the Wild requires a pot over a fire or a fairy fountain. While it may seem tedious, it’s actually a lot of fun. There are tons of recipes, and many of them have subtle variations that give different status effects. You select your ingredients and Link will toss them into the pot, humming while they cook and drooling when the food is ready. With the armor, each level has a different animation that ranges from a simple peck on the cheek to the fairy grabbing Link and dragging him into the fountain as he screams. It’s hilarious.
14 Horizon: The Map
Both Breath of the Wild and Horizon have incredible maps. There is no doubt about this. However, Horizon’s map is just a little bit better.
Breath of the Wild went for a topographical design. It is easy enough to read and looking for clues or landmarks in the map is actually kind of fun. It isn’t overly busy and has a wealth of fast travel points. You can mark the map with pins or stamps to your heart's delight. However, it is pretty bland to look at. Most of the map is one shade or another of brown. There just isn’t a lot of color to it and it isn’t exactly nice to look at.
Horizon’s map, on the other hand, is astounding. It has a three-dimensional look to it and a level of detail that needs to be applauded. There is a lot of color and variety to it. It also shows what kind of machines can be found in certain locations and maps out every campfire location. But the detail is a double edged sword. The map gets too busy at times and if you buy a few maps from a trader, it will point out the approximate location of every major hidden item in the game. But overall, the map is very strong.
13 Zelda: Polish
Bugs are a fact of life. Video games will always have glitches, for better or for worse. This has always been the case and will always be the case. Except, the trend in recent years for a lot of games is to not bother fixing the worst and most common bugs before launch. Day one patches are almost to be expected.
Horizon is no exception. It only took me a few hours of gameplay to experience my first crash. There are a whole host of game breaking bugs. Many people have reported that main quests won’t spawn or that random, invisible walls will appear where they aren’t supposed too. Sometimes, the character animation will glitch out during cutscenes, making everyone look like they are having seizures.
Breath of the Wild is a lot more polished. I’m not saying there aren’t any glitches. But they are few and far between. This is especially true for game breaking bugs. I only encountered two minor glitches after playing over 100 hours of Breath of the Wild. I’ve lost count of how many bugs I’ve come across in Horizon, and I haven’t even spent a quarter of that time with the game.
12 Horizon: Quests
Both Horizon and Breath of the Wild have main quests and side quests. The side quests in Breath of the Wild also include shrine quests to help you locate the shrines. However, the side quests can be fairly generic and unimaginative. Many are simple fetch quests and they don’t have any bearing on the overall story. Almost all of the quests are found in villages or stables.
Horizon has an insane number of quests that fall under several different categories. There are main quests, side quests, errands, bandit camps, Tallnecks, hunting grounds, corrupted zones, and cauldrons. Most of these tie into the main story in one shape or another and are scattered throughout the game, not just in villages. They really add a sense of depth to the world and help to reinforce the events that occur in the game. Many offer important decisions and can be very unique. Not all of them follow a predictable pattern, so the resolutions to the quests can be a surprising treat.
11 Zelda: Mounts
Alright. Admittedly, riding mechanical horses and cows is pretty cool. However, the mounts, while faster that walking, are sometimes not worth the effort. You also have to override a rideable machine first (there are only three). You can’t heal your mounts, so don’t get too attached to them. They can’t enter towns, and if you die, they despawn. A special skill will let you call a mount at any time, but it’s not always the same one. Plus, the mounts don’t maintain their speed. They automatically slow down after a time.
Breath of the Wild has a variety of mounts available. Horses are the first and most important kind. If you can catch one and tame it, you can take it back to the stable to be registered. You can even give your horse a name. It costs 20 rupees for a saddle and bridle, but once you do that horse is yours. Horses can die, but there is a way to revive them. As an added bonus, the horses can indefinitely maintain three of their four speeds. Other animals like bears, deer, stalhorses, the Lord of the Mountain, and even lynels can be ridden for a short period of time. You can’t register them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try! It’s actually pretty funny to see the stable master's reaction when you try to register something other than a horse.
10 Horizon: Unlocking The Map
Breath of the Wild and Horizon are both open world games. Each game has an enormous overworld that is split into smaller, more manageable chunks. As such, both games require players to unlock one area of the map at a time. The maps are unreadable until that section is unlocked.
Breath of the Wild takes the standard tower approach. It honestly reminds me of a Ubisoft game. All you have to do is climb a tower and place your sheika slate onto the pedestal. The information will be “distilled” so that area can be viewed freely on your map. Some towers offer a few challenges. One or two are covered in thorns. Another resides in the middle of the lake. One is surrounded by guardians while another is a pure stamina test.
Maps in Horizon are also unlocked using a tower mechanic. However, the developers of Horizon chose to do their towers in one of the most unique ways possible. The “towers” move! The giant, giraffe-like machines are called Tallnecks and they function as living towers. A player has to map out the route each Tallneck takes in order to find the most optimal way to climb it. Once on top, you can override the Tallneck to receive the geographical information it had been gathering. From there, you take a leap of faith off of the Tallneck and grapple your way safely to the ground.
9 Zelda: Color
This might seem like a silly point to bring up. However, color palettes are incredibly important in video games. They help to set the mood or inform players about the time of day. Color can also be used symbolically or help players identify key points of interest.
The color in Horizon is well done. There are good set pieces with excellent colors. Players have taken full advantage of this in photo mode. However, as good as they are, Horizon’s color looks washed out when compared to Breath of the Wild. Plus, there are situations where the contrast is fairly low. It can be difficult to spot climbable ledges or hidden items.
In Breath of the Wild, the strength of an opponent can be determined just by looking at what color they are. It lets you instantly pick out the strongest member in the group. All pieces of technology are labeled with glowing blue or bright orange. The color of a horse, if it is spotted or solid, lets you know how strong that horse will be and how hard it will be to tame. There are many more examples.
Breath of the Wild utilizes color a lot more effectively than Horizon. The colors are crisp and bright. Honestly, the sunsets in Breath of the Wild have taken my breath away. I’ve stopped playing on more than one occasion to simply take in the view.
8 Horizon: Better Characters
Earlier, I talked about how Horizon had a better protagonist than Breath of the Wild. But it isn’t just Aloy that is better. In fact, all of the characters in Horizon are more complex and well-rounded than anyone running around Hyrule. Each character has their own motivations. They have something they treasure or despise. Many carry prejudices towards outsiders or other clans that can muddle the narratives they tell you. They exist in various shades of gray instead of the good vs evil narrative the Breath of the Wild characters follow.
Some of the Breath of the Wild characters do have personality. Some have their prejudices and can be well rounded. But the vast majority of the characters, including the main characters, are one trick ponies. They are given one or two defining characters trait. Otherwise, they are flatter than cardboard. However, Breath of the Wild’s character design is better. While the personalities maybe are lacking, each character does have a unique and instantly recognizable look. Plus, a lot of them are just plain fun. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to beat Horizon.
7 Zelda: Style
It's hard to compare the overall visual style of Horizon and Breath of the Wild. Most would argue that Horizon has better graphics, but the reality is that Horizon just looks more realistic. There is nothing wrong with realism. The level of detail is impressive. However, there isn't much to differentiate Horizon from every other realistic, third-person shooter. Take away the robots and you might as well be playing Far Cry.
Comparatively, Breath or the Wild’s visual style is overflowing with a unique personality. The character designs are memorable and many can be identified by their silhouette alone. Breath of the Wild has a more cartoony look than Horizon, but it isn't entirely divorced from reality. Nintendo merged the more detailed designs of Twilight Princess with the cell shading from Windwaker. They did they same thing with Skyward Sword, but it wasn’t nearly as detailed.
6 Horizon: Photography Mode
An interesting addition to Breath of the Wild and Horizon has been their unique photo modes. Breath of the Wild lets players take pictures using the sheika slate. This serves several purposes. Not only can you take some really cool pictures, but you can use them to fill out the Hyrule compendium. The compendium documents all of the animals, plants, weapons, and monsters in the game. It gives you unique little blurbs that offer some information and lets you track whatever you have archived. You can even use the camera to take fun selfies. Link has a couple of different silly poses he can strike.
Horizon’s photo mode puts Breath of the Wild’s photo mode to shame. Photo mode pauses the game and lets you move the camera freely (so Aloy doesn’t have to be in every picture). It lets you alter the depth of field, the time of day, the tilt of the camera, the colors, the exposure, and the contrast. You can make your picture black and white or add a border to it. Even the size of the picture can be adjusted. The list just goes on. Players have taken photos that could put a professional to shame. Guerrilla Games, in response to these amazing photos, recently made a patch that added even more options to photo mode.
5 Zelda: Physics Engine
The physics engine in Breath of the Wild should be applauded. It is not only detailed, but consistent. Fire will spread through tall grass and onto trees. The wind direction will affect how the first spreads. If you shoot a fire arrow into the water, it will become extinguished. Conversely, you can set water on fire in Horizon. All you need to do is shoot it with a fire arrow. Plus, grass and trees don’t catch on fire in Horizon.
Another example of where the physic engine shines in Breath of the Wild is in the falling mechanics. Rocks will bounce down steep cliffs. Link will roll down hills if he falls. Apples can be carried downstream. Again, in Horizon, throwing a rock against a straight incline will cause it to stick to the surface and maybe slid down at a snail's pace.
Breath of the Wild does take advantage of its complex physics engines. Lightning strikes and updrafts from fires can help you gain the upper hand in combat. Many of the puzzles require you to manipulate your environment using the physics to your advantage. It helps to really diversify the shrines.
4 Horizon: The Apocalypse
Interestingly enough, both games take place after the apocalypse. Breath of the Wild takes place 100 years after the fall of Hyrule. Ruins are everywhere. The kingdom has fallen. Most of the villages have become isolated from one another. Several locations are familiar to long time Zelda fans and seeing them in ruins is heartbreaking. Plus, just about everything is overrun with monsters. But, there are large stretches of land where there is no sign of any world ending disaster. Some of the ruined areas contain only a broken wagon or forgotten statue. It can be easy to forget that a great calamity struck the kingdom just 100 years ago.
Horizon never lets you forget that the world has ended. The ruins of skyscrapers and massive buildings litter the world. Caves are an amalgamation of rock formations and labs that have been out of commission for too long. Heck, the very start of the game has you exploring one of these caves and makes you walk among the calcified remains of the people who lived there. Vistas are devoted to showing you what the world once looked like. The dichotomy between the advanced technology and the primitive nature of the society is like a slap in the face. Heck, even the machines act as a reminder that you are in a post-apocalyptic world.
3 Zelda: Verticality
Vertically is extremely important in modern video games. Horizon allows players to scale mountains and climb cliffs. There are brave trials that act as vertical runways through the mountains and forests. They even have ropes that you can slide down like ziplines! Except, you can only climb on specifically marked ledges and anything with yellow rope. If it isn’t part of a trail, it’s off limits. Even rocks half Aloy’s height give her a hard time. Plus, climbing doesn’t require any skill. You just have to push the analog stick in the right direction and away she goes.
In Breath of the Wild, nothing's off-limits. You can climb anything. And I mean, anything. Mountains, walls, trees, and even buildings! There is a stamina meter that limits how long Link can climb for. But the meter can be expanded, and the climbing armor set gives you bonuses to let you climb faster. It really opens the world up and gives you a sense of freedom that runs throughout the game. Certain kinds of food can help you regain your stamina. So climbing requires the player to carefully monitor their stamina while planning their path. This challenge makes reaching those high peaks all the more exciting. The only downside is that climbing in the rain is nearly impossible.
2 Horizon: The Story
Breath of the Wild’s story isn’t bad. In fact, I’d say it is quite good. It has a lot of emotion and weight to it while operating on a grandiose scale. Link has to save the world from Ganon. Again. But Breath of the Wild doesn’t do anything revolutionary with its story. It is just another, typical Zelda story. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but it doesn’t compare to Horizon’s tale.
Horizon goes all out with its story. The narrative starts out small. It’s a deeply personal story about the origins of Aloy. It gradually spreads out into revenge until it dives headfirst into the mystery of what happened to the world. The story itself can be hard to predict at times, and many of the side quests help to feed the narrative. Horizon’s main focus is on its plot and conveying this plot in the best way that it can. The story is the strongest part of the game, placing it leagues above Breath of the Wild’s narrative.
1 Zelda: The Open World
Both games are excellent examples of open world games. The areas they offer vast and diverse landscapes to explore. Horizon follows closely in the footsteps of Skyrim and the Far Cry games. It is clear that those games had a huge influence on Horizon’s design. Not to mention the fact that Horizon easily stands equal to them. But, while Horizon sought to reach the standard set by the likes of Skyrim, Breath of the Wild sought to revolutionize it.
Breath of the Wild set a completely new bar for open world games. It isn’t just big, it’s alive. Animals roam the world and people travel along the roads. There are little secrets everywhere! Breath of the Wild actively encourages exploration. There are tons of hidden gems that are never labeled on the map, so you have to go searching for them if you want to find them. Exploring is a lot of fun too. There are callbacks to previous games for die hard fans. Plus, it’s okay to just goof around. The game is intentionally designed to allow players to go at their own pace and in any direction they want. There is no set path.