My strongest memory from my 100-hour-long first playthrough of Horizon Zero Dawn was the first time I took on a Thunderjaw. A colossal T-Rex-esque machine with powerful legs, twisted metal horns, and artillery cannons strapped to its back, it loomed larger than any other enemy I'd seen so far in the game. My first thought as I crouched behind a nearby rock and surveyed its chromium splendour was: "I am definitely not yet ready to fight this thing."
My second thought came quickly after the first, when my cover was blown by a nearby Watcher that immediately reared back and emitted a shrill noise that alerted the Thunderjaw to my presence. "Oh shite. Here we go."
You know those far-too-good-looking gameplay trailers that big-name developers and publishers put out? The ones where everything looks so shiny that your PC would never be able to run it, and so exhilirating that it must have been scripted? Yeah, that's what the Thunderjaw fight was like. I don't think I've ever had such a cinematic boss fight in any game. And the best part is that it was the joint effort between the astonishingly good looks of Horizon Zero Dawn, and the brilliance of its combat and movement systems.
The fight felt like it simultaneously lasted half an hour, and half a minute. I began by scanning the massive behemoth, which highlighted ten (ten!) independent body parts, each of which could be targeted to incite different consequences. Then I opted for Tearblast arrows to tear off its artillery disc-launcher. The launcher fell to the ground and after some quick dodges around the Thunderjaw's furious charge attacks, I reached the launcher, picked it up, and blasted the beast with its own weapon, taking off perhaps a quarter of its enviable health bar.
Next, I surveyed the immediate vicinity and found a useful cluster of rocks that seemed to force me down a fairly narrow path. I slid past the Thunderjaw as its maw closed in, reached the end of the rock path, and then started firing tripwires from point to point as fast as I could. The Thunderjaw roared a terrible roar and charged again. Its enormity meant the first tripwire's massive explosion barely slowed it down. But together the many tripwires took its toll, blasting plates of armour off the underbelly of the beast and exposed the more delicate parts of its chassis to my arrows.
The battle raged on and on in this manner, with my hastily constructed plans paying off almost as often as they were spoilt by the Thunderjaw acting in a way I hadn't expected. There were a great many close calls. Dear Aloy was on the cusp of death when she fired the final arrow straight through the Thunderjaw's glowing red eye. It dropped to the ground, sending a final crash throughout the valley that had become the dojo for our impromptu encounter.
The moment of the Thunderjaw's collapse was the best part of it all. This incredible fight, this cinematic, climactic, nail-biting experience, it wasn't a part of any quest or mission. It wasn't scripted. It just happened because I went off exploring in the most beautiful open-world landscape I've ever known, stumbled across an incredible new creature and was forced to defend myself.