It’s only April, but I feel confident enough to say that Horizon: Zero Dawn is the best new IP of 2017, and will remain my favorite game of the year. When you hear “open world, post-apocalypse RPG,” your eyes start to glaze over these days. But the way Horizon: Zero Dawn handles its RPG and open world elements is a breath of fresh air. The biggest thing that sets it apart from other such games is the set-up.
You probably know by now that Horizon is a game set a thousand or so years in the future, when most of humanity was wiped out by deadly robot dinosaurs. But that’s all the game tells you up front, the ‘why’s’ and the ‘how’s’ of this world you have to find for yourself out in the wild. Even something as simple as telling you where on earth the game actually takes place is something you have to discover for yourself. It’s never told to you in the story, you’ve got to go looking for it yourself, one area at a time.
So for this list of the most awesome places to see in Horizon: Zero Dawn, I feel the need to add a spoiler warning right now. There’s a lot of fun to come from finding these places yourself throughout your playthrough of the game, and some of these locations will spoil where the game takes place. If you’re fine with that, then okay. The rest of you, enjoy playing the best game of 2017 (so far).
A lot of the coolest places in Horizon are real world locations that go completely unmarked by the game. One such place is the Delicate Arch, a natural rock formation that, in real life, is located in Arches National Park, Utah. The arch, made of sandstone, was formed over thousands of years of erosion, along with other arches and rock formations in the park.
The arch has been called many things over the years, its most recent name “Delicate Arch,” coming from newspaper editor Frank Beckwith, leader of the Arches National Monument Scientific Expedition. The expedition was sent by the US government to map the area in 1933. Beckwith called it “the most delicately chiseled arch in the entire area” and the name stuck. Previous names include “the Chaps,” named after the cowboy leggings, and “the Schoolmarm's Bloomers,” which means a strict teacher’s underwear.
Being a rock formation, the arch is vulnerable to further erosion. Since Horizon takes place about 1,000 years in our future, it’s tough to say if the arch would actually still be standing then, especially with giant robot dinosaurs wondering around. Maybe we should take in the beauty while we still can.
Horseshoe Bend does what it says on the tin. It’s a horseshoe shaped curve in the Colorado River near the town of Page, Arizona. It’s only a few miles downriver from the Glen Canyon Dam, which actually isn’t in the game.
There’s a small side quest that takes you to the rock in the middle of the bend, but otherwise, this is another completely isolated location that the game is more than not happy to tell you about. It also shows you how much smaller the in-game map is compared to the real world location. Horseshoe Bend and the Delicate Arch are about five hours apart and that’s driving time.
Horseshoe Bend is also only seven miles away from the Grand Canyon. There’s a walking path between the two, something that’s a little less obvious in the game, but it’s there if you look for it. It’s a great place to take some screenshots at different points throughout the day.
Hallett Peak is located in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It stands at 12,713 feet (3,875 m), making it one of the tallest points in-game. It's located in the far north of the map, which not only gives us a beautiful, snowy vista of the world beyond, but it also shows us one of the game’s more mysterious cultures.
The Banuk tribe is one of the more interesting in the game because we rarely actually see them. They’re spoken of in a lot of the data points you’ll find throughout the world and, of course, there are the Banuk figures that you can collect near the paintings on mountain-sides. But just outside Hallett Peak is a campsite full of Banuk refugees who are trying to escape their homeland. This is the only time you get to directly interact with members of the tribe throughout the game.
Their quest takes you up to the top of the mountain, but it’s a pretty remote place and this is a quest that’s easy to miss. Make sure you don’t, so at the very least you can check out the great views from the top of the peak.
It’s not just a video game anymore. Monument Valley is as radically different from Hallett Peak as you can get. This time it’s a desert valley located on the Utah-Arizona border. The area is known for its sandstone rock formations, similar to the Delicate Arch and those are on display in Horizon. Despite being in a desert, there’s plenty of lush green here as well.
The valley is also part of the Navajo Nation Reserve, located near the “four corners,” the name given to the intersection of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico’s border. Given how much of Horizon is influenced by Native American culture, it’s a fun place to visit, though you would expect to see more of that influence in this region in particular.
You might also recognize Monument Valley from Hollywood films, as it’s a popular stand-in for any scene calling for “The American West.” Some of the films shot here include 2001: A Space Odyssey, Back to the Future III, and Forest Gump.
This memorial is our first located within a city, specifically Colorado Springs. I’ll let you guess which state it’s in. The Pikes Peak Range Riders Memorial was featured in an early trailer, which unfortunately gave away to many where the game was set. Still, it’s pretty haunting to stumble across the memorial when you’re stumbling through a completely ruined city and find it standing in one piece.
The statue is of two Rangers on horse-back, one of whom is excitingly pointing at something. It was dedicated in 1988 and was made to honor the Range Riders of Pikes Peak. Were these Rangers rough and tumble law-bringers like the cowboys of yore? No, they’re an organization (still active to this day) that likes riding around Pikes Peak on horseback and want to draw attention to the old ways of the American West. That’s literally it, as stated on the memorial plaque. It’s a bit anti-climactic, isn’t it?
Still, imagine what Aloy and the people of her world must think when they come across this. I’m sure it definitely sends that message.
Despite the name, the Cheyenne Mountain Nuclear Bunker is not located in Wyoming. Instead, it’s located just outside the city of Colorado Springs, where we found the cowboy cosplaying memorial. It is a great name though, very inviting, and definitely something that screams “come check me out” in a video game.
The bunker is exactly what the name implies, a military instillation and nuclear bunker for military and government personnel. This is where the famous NORAD, otherwise known as the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is located. It’s also where the United States Northeastern Command is located, which is to say it’s a pretty damn important place.
Sadly, you can’t walk around the bunker itself and check out all the top secrets of the American government, but you can land yourself some pretty powerful armor if you have enough power cells. It is a pretty fun journey getting down though, as hundreds of years of decay and neglect (and probably some explosions) ripped a hole open in the top of the bunker, allowing you to jump hundreds of feet down into a pool of water.
This might sound strange, but an estimated two million people visit Lake Powell every year. If that many people go to visit a body of water, there must be something pretty special there, right? Well, there are a couple of interesting things about this lake on the Utah-Arizona border.
It’s the second largest man-made reservoir in the world (second to Lake Mead, which you can visit in Fallout: New Vegas to complete your tour). It’s 108,335 square miles across and holds more than a few gallons of water. It was named after John Wesley Powell, who served in the American Civil War, and explored vast regions in the American West with only one arm. There’s somebody who needs a monument.
Lake Powell also has several large rock formations dipping in and out of it, and looks more like a river in most places than a lake. Imagine if somebody filled the Grand Canyon with water and you’d have a pretty good idea. Or, you could just visit this majestic place for yourself in the game.
Red Rocks Amphitheater is one of the coolest venues in the world. Located just outside Denver, Red Rocks is a natural outdoor theater. It’s a rock formation in the shape of a bowl, with a gradual hill inside. In other words, it’s a stadium created by Mother Nature herself. Seats have been placed on the hill and a stage erected at the base of the hill, and it’s become a popular venue for bands for years.
Before the area was converted to a theater in 1906, it’s believed it was used by the Ute tribe in the area for more or less the same purpose: to tell stories, sing songs, entertain, or even hold meetings. Again, this fits in pretty well with the Native American themes of Horizon.
The amphitheater is a location of one of the corruption zones if you’re looking to clear them, but there are also a couple of data points here if you’re looking for more backstory on the Old Ones. It seems as there a kid was having a rough time during a show when things got even more rough, to say the least.
At one point in the main story, you go to a place called “Denver Stadium,” a futuristic looking coliseum of sorts as you track down some bad dudes with your boyfriend. The stadium has a very strange, almost alien look to it, which might make you think it’s one of another of futuristic buildings in a city that’s full of them.
But that stadium is actually real, almost exactly as it’s presented in-game, too. Denver, Colorado (or “Devil’s Grief” as it’s known) is home to Sports Authority Field, an American Football stadium home to the Denver Broncos. The stadium began construction in 1999 and cost over $542 million in today’s money. Sports Authority, the company who bought naming rights to the stadium in 2011, has gone bankrupt in recent years and hasn’t paid the Broncos organization since 2016, yet their name is still used, for now.
Not much remains of the stadium in Horizon. It’s mostly a ruin used by a group a psychotic death cult as a staging area for attacks, and a training ground for their corrupted machines.
When you’re making your way to Meridian, you may catch a glimpse of a derelict mansion up the side of a mountain. It’s tucked away towards the middle of the map and there’s a steep (but weak) waterfall next to it. That waterfall is actually Bridal Veil Falls and the mansion on top of the summit is a hydroelectric plant.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to get to the mansion or climb to the top of the waterfall, you can only look at it lovingly from a distance. There is a vantage point that lets you see what the falls and the power plant used to look like however.
In ye olden times (or today), the hydroelectric plant provides 25% of the nearby town of Telluride’s power. It was built in 1907 by a mining company and operated up until 1953. It was restored in 1991 by Eric Jacobson, but just used to power the house so that he could live there. In 2010, Jacobson sold it to the Idarado Mining Company, who sells the electricity to Telluride.
Kings Peak is an important late game location, so we won’t spoil too much for you. What we can tell you though is that Kings Peak is the highest point in the state of Utah. Its high point is 13,528 feet above sea level, making it one of the tallest locations in the game.
The peak was named after Clarence King, who worked as a surveyor in the area and was the first director of the United States Geological Survey. King was the Rachel Dolezal of his time, as he passed himself off as African American during the last ten years or so of his life. He did so because he met and married an African American woman, and because mixed race marriages were frowned upon in the 1800’s, he just convinced people he was a black man named James Todd. King continued living as Todd whenever he was with her, but used his true race and identity when he went back to work. He didn’t tell his wife the truth until he was on his deathbed in 1901.
When you’re exploring the north of the map, it’s entirely possibly you’ll come across a strange building that’s made of several diamond shapes and mirrors. Much like “Denver Stadium,” you may assume that this is a place that could have only been made in the future, but again, you’d be wrong. That building is actually the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and it looks exactly like that in real life too.
More specifically, that strange looking building is the Air Force Academy Chapel. Built in 1962, it serves as the main religious institution on the academy’s ground. The Air Force Academy itself is just like a regular college, sort of. It was built in 1958 for the US Air Force, which was only established nine years prior. Kids who wish can apply there, and if they’re accepted, they’re trained in flying military aircraft, and can even compete in major college sports.
The chapel itself has multiple floors, with each floor containing its own place of worship for different faiths. There’s a level for Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and an outdoor area called the “Falcon Circle.” This area is a recent edition for people of “other faiths,” such as Paganism, Druidism, and even Atheists.
This next location is pretty difficult to tell what its real life counterpart is, even impossible if you don’t find the right data point. Around the mid-point of the game, you’re sent to a place called the Faro Building, which is another futuristic building towards the north of the map that actually was built in the future. It’s located in the back of a town, but there are no distinguishing features as most of the buildings are collapsed.
It turns out that this town is Salt Lake City. With that knowledge, it becomes even more obvious how much developer Guerilla Games has shrunk the real-world down into Horizon’s map. In real life, Kings Peak is located about 80 miles from the city. It’s about 580 miles between it and the US Air Force Academy.
Most of the city is in ruins, and any recognizable features like Union Pacific Depot or Sugar House are either destroyed or just weren’t put into the game at all. If it weren’t for a data point in the area explicitly stating the area was Salt Lake City, it’d be hard to believe.
Here’s yet another location in or near Colorado Springs. Somebody at Guerilla Games must have taken a real liking to the town. This time, its Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, which itself is on the American National Register of Historic Places.
The museum is home to over 60,000 pieces, ranging from Native American artifacts, to pottery and paintings. Outside of the museum there are several statues and memorials and an old fashion street clock which didn’t make the cut in Horizon. The most striking feature, at least in the game, is the massive clock tower and ornate dome that you can see from miles away. It seems totally out of place in a futuristic, yet run down and overgrown setting.
Unfortunately, the building lacks an interior and everything’s probably destroyed anyway. Such is life in the post-apocalypse. Everyone’s so busy trying to survive they can’t stop and enjoy some pottery every now and then.
As mentioned above, Denver is in the game and you don’t have to wait long to see it either. At least, whatever remains of Colorado’s biggest city. It’s located on the far east of the map and it isn’t far from the starting area either. Aloy and her tribe know it better as “Devil’s Grief,” which means you’d think they’d call the stadium “Devil’s Arena” or something catchy like that, but no.
Denver is easily the biggest ruin in the game, as there are dozens of streets and destroyed buildings to explore, not the least of which a giant dilapidated skyscraper that you can climb to the top of and look out over the city. But there are several buildings you can climb up and scale down if you’re up for it.
Again, most, if not all of the buildings are completely destroyed. The most you’re going to find are four walls that may or may not have been skyscrapers at one point. But it’s a pretty powerful moment to walk through the streets of a once big, thriving city full of people and to see it empty, completely taken over by Mother Nature. Plus there are multiple lore related data points that fill out the backstory that are worth the trip all on their own.