Horizon Zero Dawn is a gateway game into the Monster Hunter series. Now step back for a moment. I'm not saying that Horizon Zero Dawn and Monster Hunter World are the same game. Nothing like that. Horizon Zero Dawn is an open-world action-adventure game, while Monster Hunter World is an action game with a focus on hunting in discrete regions. World is much better at hiding those regions that previous Monster Hunter games, but it's not quite open-world.
They are very different games in the broad strokes, but there is a red line you can draw from the end of one to the beginning of the other. There are facets that allow a player to transition from one title to the next. In the same way you can get into Paradox' Grand Strategy games by following a line from Total War to Crusader Kings to Europa Universalis. Some players can start with Street Fighter, but some appreciate a title like Skullgirls or one of Capcom's Vs games as training wheels. There's nothing wrong with that.
Most of Horizon Zero Dawn plays out like a traditional adventure game, with Aloy's story being parceled out to player in the beginning via straightforward linear action sections. As she unearths ancient technology, it opens up a little bit more, introducing the combat and stealth mechanics that form the game's bread-and-butter. Then the hunting loop is introduced, with Aloy hunting or taming the machines that function as Horizon's giant monsters, tearing parts off of their bodies, and using those parts to build bigger and better gear.
As an example, if you want to craft the Nora Protector armor to increase your melee damage resistance, you need to take down the defense-heavy Shell-Walker first. The Heavy version of the Silent Hunter outfit requires one Bellowback Heart to craft, meaning you have to take down either the Fire or Ice versions of that machine. To craft the Shadow Sharpshot Bow, you have to have beaten at least one Sawtooth first.
Like Monster Hunter, your targets can be taken down bit by bit. Horizon is more explicit in its mechanics, with the machines having clear regions on their bodies that can be attacked to change behaviors and capabilities. If you're fighting the boar-like gravity-wielding Behemoth, taking out a section above the hind legs prevents it from lifting boulders with its power. To get at that though, you need to have a weapon with some heavy Tear damage to take off its outer armor.
In addition to Aloy's array of bows and her spear, Horizon Zero Dawn offers a number of weapons to exploit the weaknesses in each creature. The Rattler shotgun can fire elemental ammo, but Slings are better for dealing heavy elemental damage via bombs. Ropecasters keep enemies tethered around a certain spot. Tripcasters allow you to set up tripwire-based traps around the battlefield. The Tearblaster does next to no damage, but shreds heavy armor like it's nothing.
This is simplistic when countered with Monster Hunter World's 14 weapon types, extensive crafting trees, the versatile Slinger, the wide variety of mantles available, and more. But that's the point: Monster Hunter World has a dizzying slate of options stretching out in front of you, while Horizon Zero Dawn starts small and works its way out, while still keeping everything at a manageable level. You don't learn to start cooking with every ingredient under the sun; you start small and work your way up.
Likewise, the same is true for the machines themselves. While you can tackle weaker machines in a more methodical manner, most of the time you won't need to; all that's need is your weapon of choice and some time. (Similar to Monster Hunter World's smaller monsters, like the basic Jagras.) You'll start with the relatively easy and hyena-like Scrappers or the ram-like Chargers, but the fights start to get more difficult with machines like the lupine Ravager or Trampler. Near the end of the game though, you'll be fighting machines like the Stormbird, Behemoth, or Rockbreaker. These are the creatures that are the closest to Monster Hunter's normal play, pitting you against larger beasts where you have to use all of your tools to succeed.
The Stormbird flies high in the sky, raining down lightning on Aloy, requiring the use of the Ropecaster tethers to keep the beast grounded. The Behemoth can pummel you from range with its Force Loader, throw huge rocks in an attempt to crush you from range. It has a ton of health, requiring you to spend a great deal of time dodging its charges and damaging it with traps and weapons. The Rockbreaker is a highly agile worm-like machine that can burrow underground, making it impossible to damage until it comes up for an attack. It's susceptible to freezing though, keeping it stuck above ground, meaning a Sling is a great tool to have. And in The Frozen Wilds downloadable content, the fight against the Fireclaw was 10 - 15 minutes of sustained attacking for me. Imagine a large bear that breathes the flames of hell itself and is relentless in its pursuit.
Sure, veteran players can finish off these fights pretty easily now, but the first time the average player faces any of them, the scenarios offer that same feeling that Monster Hunter gives with many of its hunts. That satisfaction of having prepped with the right weapons, armor, ammo, and buffs, and executing your attacks with precision. Just because someone can finish the two Corrupted Rockbreakers in under 10 minutes now doesn't mean they aren't a challenge for the average player. If you're the kind of player that loves the preparation, struggle, and eventual success that underpins Horizon's harder hunts, then Monster Hunter will be ready to welcome you with open arms.
The connective tissue between both games wasn't even by accident. In an interview with 4Gamer (translated via NicheGamer), a developer from Guerilla Games acknowledged the Monster Hunter inspiration within Horizon Zero Dawn.
"In Japan, the giant monster hunting action genre seems to be popular, so if people ask us whether we've been influenced by a particular title, I tell them frankly that we've gotten inspiration from Monster Hunter," said the developer. "Horizon: Zero Dawn may serve as an example of a Western hunting game."
If you've picked up the PlayStation 4 version of Monster Hunter World, you can craft an outfit that makes you look like Aloy and a special bow from Horizon. There's also a Palico armor set that makes your kitty friend look like one of Horizon's machines. Guerilla Games and the Monster Hunter team worked together on the small crossover, a head nod to a game that wouldn't be the same without the Monster Hunter influence.
"We heard in the past that Guerrilla Games have said that Monster Hunter was actually one of the inspirations behind Horizon Zero Dawn which made us very proud to hear. We played Horizon Zero Dawn and we really love it and think it's a fantastic game. So both sides were just really positive about bringing this collab content out and thanks to the support of Guerrilla Games and Sony we've been able to successfully implement it," Monster Hunter World directors Kaname Fujioka and Yuya Tokuda told IGN.
In Monster Hunter World, the hunt is all; in Horizon Zero Dawn, it's another part of the whole experience. If Monster Hunter World is just meat, Horizon is a full course. If you're already hip deep into Monster Hunter World, keep going. But if you're on the outside looking in and it seems like it's a bit too dense and complicated, you might want to try Horizon Zero Dawn. It's a solid gateway into the world of Monster Hunter, with some great stealth action and a solid story to boot. They aren't the same game, but if you're used to other action-adventure games or open-world titles, Horizon Zero Dawn might give you taste of what makes Capcom's grand, long-running series great.