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Horizon Zero Dawn quest guide

How to spend your time in the post-post-apocalyptic future

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.

Horizon Zero Dawn is full of things to do. Sure, there’s the main story and its associated quests, but the world offers hours and hours of additional, optional distractions. And some of them are just that, distractions (in the best possible sense). Others are there to earn you XP, fill in your map or increase your fighting abilities.

We’re going to describe the types of quests you’ll encounter as you play, the rewards you’ll get for completing them, and which ones you should focus on.

Table of contents

There are some minor spoilers below. A few of the quest sub-menus are not available at the start of the game and will be revealed as you complete main storyline quests. You’ll unlock them all within your first few hours playing, but we’re going to discuss them all here.

What quests should I do?

Let’s talk about the advice we’re about to give. There’s a lot in this game to love and, assuming you love it as much as we did (and as much as Phil did), you’re going to want to do every single thing. And you totally can and should if you want to — we’re going to go back and do every errand we can find just to have more time in the world. This means the “should I do them?” advice in every section isn’t for you. Your answer is always yes and we totally support that.

There’s a lot going on in the world of Horizon Zero Dawn.

If you’re not interested in obsessively collecting every thing or seeing every corner of the map (like we were), you’re the person our advice is for. Horizon Zero Dawn follows the rules of open-world games: You’re not going to hit the level requirements for the main storyline by just playing the main quests, so you’ll supplement them with side quests and errands to boost your character level. But you also don’t have to worry about every single thing that comes up. We’ll talk you through where to spend your time.

Trying to find a balance between these two styles might make our advice sound a little dismissive of the not-main-storyline activities the game offers, but that’s not our intent. We’re just tempering our “OMG DO EVERYTHING AND WALK EVERYWHERE SO YOU DON’T MISS ANYTHING AND NEVER STOP PLAYING THIS GAME” fanboying against reality. Our advice is going to be geared toward the best returns (XP) on your investment (time), so you can level up and get to the end of the game. (But there also wasn’t anything that was a complete waste of our time.)

With all of that out of the way, let’s break down each type of quest and talk about what’s worthwhile.

The quests menu — you can see all of your unlocked quests and completed quests here.

Main quests

Main quests advance the overarching story of Horizon Zero Dawn. They’re big chunks of the game that expand the areas you visit (and, later, send you ranging back and forth all the way across the map). There are 22 main quests ranging in level from zero (you start the game already in your first mission) to 34.

Getting to Meridian as part of a main quest.

The free-roam portion of the game ends after the 21st main story mission, “The Looming Shadow.” During the 22nd mission, you’ll be prompted with a very clear option to either play through the game’s ending or wander off to rescue more kittens from trees.

If you choose to continue along the main story path and complete the game, you’ll still be able to go back to the side quests, errands and various other tasks you didn’t get around to completing. After the closing credits (and post-credit stinger), the game world will be restored to right before the ending — which is necessary because [SPOILERS]. With the world restored, you can wander around picking up every collectible and rescuing every whiny soldier in distress.

Should I do them?

Well, yeah. Of course you should. Obviously. You kind of have to.

Just keep in mind that, it’s really, really easy to get distracted by all the stuff to do in Horizon Zero Dawn. Like we said in our beginner’s guide, if you find yourself way ahead of the level of the main quests (like we did), it’s probably time to stop focusing on side quests and errands and move the story along.

Side quests

Side quests are constantly springing up in response to the people you meet and the places you visit. A lot of them are favors for people in power.

Side quest fill out the story of Horizon Zero Dawn.

All side quests give you a decent XP reward and most give you a resource box of some kind. Some side quests give you a skill point when completed. Four of them give you more tactical benefits:

  • In Her Mother’s Footsteps increases your spear’s damage
  • Weapons of the Lodge gives you the hunting lodge version of three weapons (see the hunting grounds section below)
  • Hunter’s Blind is the only way to get the tearblast weapon (a high-tear, low-damage, shotgun-like weapon)
  • Ancient Armory gets you the shield-weaver outfit (which offers incredible damage protection)

Should I do them?

Yes, but don’t feel like you have to do every one.

Check the rewards before you decide which side quests to do and prioritize the ones with skill points or high XP rewards. Side quests tend to be more exciting than errands, with more fighting (both humans and machines) and political intrigue. This means they’re a little longer. You’re going to put some time (a half hour, give or take) into each one, so make sure the reward is worth your time.


Errands are the “kittens in trees” quests (well, “quests”) we keep joking about. They’re not there to move the story along like main quests or even fill out the story like side quests. They’re there to fill out the world.

Errands are more like favors for people. They involve a lot of following tracks.

The vast majority of Horizon Zero Dawn’s errands follow a formula: Go here, examine this, follow a trail, machine ambush!, follow a trail, talk to someone, then go back and talk to the person that gave you the errand. That’s not a complaint — we did a dozen or more of these — it’s more of a warning. Errands are time-consuming, and the XP rewards are generally only worth the time early on in your playthrough.

Should I do them?

Sure, if you want to, maybe.

Do some — especially early on. They’re a great way to explore areas you wouldn’t otherwise see, and you’ll get some experience fighting machines which will help you in the long run. Errands also give you some XP and the occasional reward box (with resources inside).

But know what you’re getting into. As you become a nigh-unstoppable, machine-terrorizing warrior and can knock down snapmaws with one swing of your spear, following a pig through a forest is going to seem trivial and boring.

Bandit camps

Dotted throughout the world of Horizon Zero Dawn are six forts full of bandits. When you find them, they are marked with a helpful level (difficulty) marker on your map and your quest menu, so you can make sure you’re not getting in over your head.

Bandit camps give you a lot of practice with headshots.

Bandit camps are a great place to practice stealth and planning — you can work your way around the outside of the camp, silently assassinating bad guys until there’s no one left standing. Alternately, bandit camps are good stress relief if you want to just Rambo your way through a bunch of redshirts.

Should I do them?


After you clear a camp, non-bandit settlers will move in, giving you a bonfire, fast travel location and merchant. Those last two things make clearing bandit camps worth your time.

They’re not the only bonfires or merchants you’ll find, though, so don’t feel like you have to take on a super tough bandit fort just to reap the benefits. Wait until you get a few more levels, and then go back to clear them out.


We suspect that the pitch for this game was just “robot brachiosaurs wearing UFO hats” and then it got greenlit.

Tallnecks are mobile observation platforms that look like brachiosaurs wearing UFO hats. The point of the five tallneck quests is to find a tallneck, find a way to climb up to its head and then override it. This will fill in a bunch of information on your map.

Should I do them?

Yes (probably).

Overriding a tallneck fills in a lot of information on your map — things like new settlements, bonfires and machine sites. Sometimes, you’ll use this information to find new places to explore and bonfires to visit (and those open up fast travel options later). Other times, you’ll use it to avoid places (like glinthawk sites — we hate glinthawks).

That said, if you’re hellbent on just following the path on the map while running from main quest to main quest, maybe these aren’t for you. They usually take a minute to figure out — where you need to stand to climb up the tallneck’s neck — and some of them are well-guarded by human or machine sentries. If you’re not interested, they are optional, so you don’t have to go.

Hunting grounds

There are five hunting grounds around the world of Horizon Zero Dawn. Each one features a theme and presents you with a variety of timed trials that are variations on that theme (this sentence was brought to you by Ira Glass).

Hunting grounds time trials are a great way to challenge yourself and prove your abilities.

There’s a trick to each trial that will ensure your success. Usually, the trick is doing exactly what the task is and nothing else. This sounds silly, but it’s actually harder than it sounds. We tried to outsmart trials with all of our hard-earned, real world experience, but this will only work some of the time. It’s better to stick the the letter of the law.

As an example, one of the first trials you’ll undertake is shooting blaze canisters off of grazers. We spent a ton of time carefully laying out elaborate traps to try to funnel the machines into some hypothetical perfect location for an ambush. And it never worked. Then, out of frustration, we had a “FINE! How about I just walk up and shoot the canisters off!” moment. We equipped our hardpoint arrows and just unloaded as we marched up to them out in the open. And we got a perfect score.

Should I do them?


Hunting grounds are difficult and expensive. Getting the very best time usually requires a lot of practice and the use of your more resource-intensive weapons.

And what’s the payoff for all the work you put in? If you get good enough scores in all 15 hunting trials, you can unlock additional weapons. These weapons are only marginally better than the shadow weapons you can buy from merchants, though, so don’t expect a BFG 9000 for your trouble.

Where hunting grounds are useful is in cementing tactics in your Horizon Zero Dawn vocabulary. To do well, you’ll have to master 15 different things that you can use in any fight — from stealth to shooting off parts to your various weapons. Hunting grounds reinforce good habits.


Cauldrons are machine manufacturing sites. At the heart of each of the four cauldrons, you’ll find a computer core with information that allows you to override a new selection of machines.

Generally, the path to the core is a bit of a maze, but they aren’t overly difficult. They just take a little time to get through and a few seconds to figure out where to go — like finding the right path to climb or the right conveyor belt to leap onto.

Aloy recreates the doors scene from Monsters, Inc.

The entrance is usually guarded, but you’re not going to be fighting your way through a swarm of machines. You’ll only encounter a few machines along the way to the core. There is, however, a tough fight against a new(-ish) or uncommon enemy at the end.

Should I do them?

That depends.

Do you like overriding machines? Then yes, yes you should. Do you never override machines? Then no, don’t bother.

Because that’s the point of cauldrons — to learn to override new machines. There are some material rewards — resources and the like — and XP for every one you complete, but there are so many side missions and errands that you’re not going to be hard-pressed to level up.

Corrupted zones

Over the course of the main Horizon Zero Dawn story quests, you’ll learn about the corruption that’s been appearing in Aloy’s world. You’ll clear two corrupted zones as part of the main story, but there are nine more scattered around the map.

Corrupted machines have been driven mad and their corruption can damage you as well.

The corrupted machines that patrol these zones are tougher and meaner than their relatively more docile cousins, so these aren’t even an easy fight. Clearing a corrupted zone will earn you a substantial XP reward, and corrupted machines tend to have better loot.

Should I do them?

When you have to, but maybe don’t seek them out.

Beyond the required two, if you stumble across a corrupted zone, the reward makes the effort worth it. Just know that the fight is hard (and therefore expensive) so don’t go looking for trouble unless you’re prepared.


Each weapon you get in Horizon Zero Dawn comes with a related tutorial quest. These are usually things like “tie down X machines with your new ropecaster” or “shoot X machines with your new bow.” And when you do those things, you get an XP reward.

Tutorials are like low-stakes hunting ground trials.

Should I do them?


You’ll get an XP reward if you do what the tutorial asks, but it’s usually relatively small, and completing the task will take a little bit of work. You’re going to be pretty well-versed in your arsenal by the time you pick up most of these quests, so it’s hard for us to recommend doing them.

That said, if you’re looking for a challenge or want to get better with a specific weapon, these are a great way to practice.