Sequels tend to dominate gaming. I’ve never had a problem with that because, unlike films, game sequels often feature fundamental changes compared to their predecessors. But that means a game of the year list doesn’t always have a ton of room for something truly new, which is why we have the Freshest Gaming Universe award category as part of our GamesBeat Rewind year-end event.

The Freshest Gaming Universe of 2017 is …

Horizon: Zero Dawn
Other finalists: Gorogoa, Torment: Tides of Numenera


Listen to us discuss this category in the audio version of the podcast right here:


Before it came out, I thought I could dismiss Horizon: Zero Dawn. It was a new property from Killzone developer Guerrilla Games, which had spent the last decade failing to make a “Halo killer.” But once you spend any time in its distant future world, you will quickly notice the work Guerrilla did to make Horizon: Zero Dawn special.

On the surface, Horizon’s sci-fi, 31st-century postapocalyptic setting seems pretty standard — even if robot dinosaurs rule the Earth. But Guerrilla didn’t just rely on a cool setup. The studio filled in the gaps of the world with fleshed out characters and a complicated political and religious landscape.

While you start your adventure with Aloy, an excellent hero, as an outcast to a matriarch-worshiping society, you’ll discover that Horizon’s world has a variety of tribes with varied beliefs and cultures.

Everyone you meet is aware of Aloy’s tribe and their beliefs. In particular, they know that your group is fearful of the city remnants buried underground. Aloy, once an outcast, doesn’t share that belief. That puts her into situations where someone is saying something dismissive about her people that she agrees with, but you can see her bristle at this outsider’s criticisms. You’ll find a lot of characterization like this as the cultures bump up against one another, and it brings Horizon’s world to life.