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Horizon Zero Dawn guide: 9 tips for the apocalypse

The little things will save you time

Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

As we mentioned in our Horizon Zero Dawn beginner’s guide, Horizon Zero Dawn is great at guiding you through its mechanics and nuances. There’s not much that isn’t explained for you right there on the screen. That doesn’t mean that you’ll have an immediate or innate understanding of every mechanic or system, though. There are still things you’ll forget, ignore or struggle with.

Let’s talk about some habits to form to make you more effective and some questions you might have about playing. (We were going to call this section “Seven habits of highly effective Nora,” but then we wrote eight points and it didn’t work any more.)

Hunt animals

You can look for animals with your focus and tag them to make hunting easier.

Given the option of hunting a bunny rabbit or a school bus-sized robot bison that breathes fire, we know what you’re going to choose. But after you’re done with the bison, don’t forget about that rabbit. Animals provide very useful items — meat for health potions and carry capacity upgrades, skin and bones for capacity upgrades and various talismans (talismen?) that can be sold for cash.

It’s tempting to ignore hunting animals, but you’ll eventually find yourself in dire need of a rat bone. If you get in the habit of collecting animal resources, you’ll be able to afford upgrades without a lot of running around.

Pick up everything

Everything. Everything. Expand your resource satchel so you can pick up more. Everything in Horizon Zero Dawn is useful, and picking it up will save you time.

You’ll constantly be making ammunition with more and more rare components, selling things for cash and trading things (and cash) for new outfits and weapons. If you have a healthy inventory, you’ll save yourself from running around collecting stuff as a reaction to a need.

Here’s why: sometimes you’ll find yourself needing one specific thing (let’s say a fox skin) and that thing is a very rare drop. You can go out and start killing foxes until you get one — and there’s nothing wrong with being reactive like that — but you’ll be relying on random chance to get that rare drop. Instead, though, if you both hunt animals and pick up everything, there’s a good chance you already have a fox skin, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

Create jobs for stuff you want

That fox skin is a real example. It’s become our white whale.

Every crafting item and every item for sale at merchants has the option to “create a job” for it. This turns the cost of that item into a quest (you’ll find it under errands in your quest menu.) This new quest’s objectives will be to collect everything you need to purchase whatever you’re looking for. This is a great way of remembering things like “Did I need three fox skins or four?” and “How many rat bones did I need again?”

Well, now my inventory’s full. What should I do?

Let’s assume you followed our earlier advice. and collected everything. Before too long, you’ll end up with an inventory full of stuff and no room for more. So what do you now?

  • Spend it. Check for capacity carry upgrades for both your resource satchel and every other satchel, quiver and pouch you have. These can be expensive and eat up a lot of resources. Make some potions and traps and top off all of your ammo. This will likely clear up a couple more slots.
  • Sell it to a merchant. First, check for things that only list “selling for metal scraps” under the used for section. These items are just money in your pocket. Then, take note of what resources are required to buy your next wishlist item. Check your capacity upgrades and see what’s required. Chances are, those things aren’t going to require 17 watcher lenses. Sell them.
  • But don’t go crazy. Don’t sell every single thing you’re carrying in some Fight Club-esque statement about the things you own owning you. It’s probably smart to keep one or two of most things for a rainy day. But if you find yourself with four slots full of strider hearts and you haven’t spent a single one yet, it’s probably safe to get rid of them.
  • Drop stuff. If you’re in the middle of a hard quest and you can’t get to a merchant, you’ll have to make a hard choice. Look through your inventory and think about what you actually use. If you’ve got two slots of fire kiln root, but you’ve never drank a single flame resistance potion, you can probably free up a slot or two. Or — and we speak from experience here — it might be time to admit that 2,500 sticks is probably too many and you should pare it down.
  • But be careful selling (or dropping) anything that can make ammo. The most powerful weapons eat those items up fast. When you have 1,000 blaze canisters, it’s tempting to think you’ve got too many. But then you’ll find yourself with a new weapon that eats through blaze like crazy, and you’ll regret your sale. (Again, we speak from experience here.)
  • Learn the meaning of icon colors. The icons that pop up on your screen marking resources and the resource (and weapon and outfit and modification) icons in your various menus are color coded based on the rarity of the item. White is common, blue is rare and purple is very rare. If you’re pressed for inventory space, purple very rare items should probably take precedence over uncommon green ones.
  • Don’t forget about the buy back option at merchants. Every merchant will offer you the option to buy back (at a cost) the last several things you sold to any merchant. This is how you get out of O. Henry situations — accidentally selling a part that you needed for cash, then realizing you needed that part for trade as well.

Use modifications (and make sure they’re the best you have)

Some modifications have multiple effects.

Modifications come in two flavors — coils for weapons and weaves for outfits. They add an effect — some type of extra damage or resistance — to whatever you install them in. That’s the deal with modifications.

Don’t forget to go back occasionally to make sure you’ve got the best mods installed. You’ll pick up a ton of them and sometimes you’ll forget that you only have common modifications installed in that outfit you rarely wear.

As you get more and more powerful modifications, it starts to make sense to have multiple versions of the same weapon or outfit, each with different mods installed. You can have a hunting bow that also deals an insane amount of freeze damage as well as one modified to tear through armor.

I keep dying. What can I do differently?

First, check your outfits. Do you keep getting burned to death? Do you have an outfit that has high flame resistance (either by design or through the mods you installed)? Looking good is important, looking not-on-fire is more important. If you haven’t bought any extra outfits yet, take the time to expand your wardrobe.

And don’t forget about your potions. Use them to buff your resistance to elemental damage and to supplement your medicine pouch.

When all that fails, just run away. You can abandon quests until you get better gear or a higher level. You don’t actually need to fight that bus-sized, fire-breathing bison robot. Get out of there and regroup. Find a few side quests and errands to earn some XP before you tackle the fight again.

Fights can be slogs or ridiculously easy

As you find bigger and meaner machines throughout the game, they become bullet sponges for your standard arrows. You can spend 20 minutes running for your life and taking pot-shots while you slowly erode the machine’s hit points, or you can use the information from your focus and end the fight much quicker.

Those weak points that it highlights aren’t just for show. Pay attention to them and use your weapons accordingly. A well-placed fire arrow or three into blaze canisters can take out an entire herd of grazers. And remember that, once you scan a machine, this information is stored in your notebook.

Or, like in the video above, smart use of ammo can take out a charger with just three shots. The first shot is a fire arrow into a blaze canister. The second two are high tear damage arrows into the horns (plus one shot that went wide). Instead of a lot of dodging and spear swinging and frustration, the fight is over before it begins.

Don’t specialize in the skill tree

There are useful and indispensable skills in every category. Don’t feel like you have to specialize. Mix and match the skills that best suit your play. And remember that there are plenty of side quests and errands that reward you with a skill point on top of XP —so you’re not really constrained by the price. (By the time we reached level 40, we’d purchased 29 out of Horizon Zero Dawn’s 36.)

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