Bottom line: Horizon Forbidden West is superior to its predecessor in almost every way, and Zero Dawn was already a fantastic game. Guerrilla Games takes huge narrative risks that pay off big time, setting up Aloy's greatest threat yet and further developing her relationships. The gameplay is likewise just as excellent, with incredibly responsive and fun combat alongside a vast open world to explore.
- Gorgeous, vibrant open world
- Diverse machine catalog with unique playstyles
- Unexpected and mind-blowing story
- Engaging combat
- Regalla could have made more of an impact
Coming from a studio mostly known for Killzone, a first-person shooter series, Horizon Zero Dawn had no right to be as amazing as it was when it released in 2017. Guerrilla was certainly no stranger to sci-fi, but Horizon's gameplay was such a departure from the developer's usual work it would have been understandable if it had its fair share of issues. Instead, it became one of the best action-RPGs to come out in recent memory. Its sequel Horizon Forbidden West continues that legacy.
I knew going in that I was going to have a blast with it, but I was surprised just how hard it was to put the controller down, even for a moment. I had picked up Pokémon Legends: Arceus a day after receiving a code for Forbidden West, and I've only played 30 minutes of it. Even after beating Horizon Forbidden West, I can only think about Aloy's latest adventure.
It's easy to sink 30 or so hours into it just for the main story and some side missions, and there's so much to do in Horizon's world. Discovering new machines and exploring ruins was always fun, but I think the main narrative is where Forbidden West truly shines.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by PlayStation. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
Horizon Forbidden West: Story and characters
|Category||Horizon Forbidden West|
|Title||Horizon Forbidden West|
|Publisher||Sony Interactive Entertainment|
|PlayStation Version||PlayStation 5|
|Play Time||45 hours|
Horizon Forbidden West does an admirable job at recapping the events of its predecessor, but for those who may be unfamiliar, I'll set the scene. Horizon Zero Dawn is set in the 31st century after a technological plague caused war machines to wipe out all life on Earth around the mid-21st century. Project Zero Dawn was created to restore life and teach future generations, though it was sabotaged and as a result, people came to live in tribes with little knowledge of the past and a surface level understanding of technology. While people in the 31st century tended to live with these machines in peace, an unknown signal caused them to become deranged, attacking tribes all throughout the lands. Aloy set out to stop this corruption. Forbidden West takes place a few months after Zero Dawn ends.
Leading up to its release, much of Horizon Forbidden West's marketing emphasized how Aloy was traveling into the Forbidden West to combat a blight that was destroying the lands. That's not inaccurate, but I wasn't exactly sold on the severity of the threat. In actuality, it isn't just a simple blight that's plaguing the west and killing crops. Aloy's up against an extinction level event that threatens the entire world. In order to fix it, she needs to find and restore GAIA to its fullest capabilities, repairing the terraforming system of Zero Dawn.
GAIA is a benevolent artificial intelligence powered by nine subroutines that were meant to perform specific tasks within Project Zero Dawn. The subroutine Apollo, for instance, was meant to archive human knowledge and teach new generations about humanity's history. In Horizon Forbidden West, GAIA is left without its subroutines, so Aloy is in a race against time and some unlikely foes to collect them. That's not all Aloy has to worry about, though. Hindering her progress is Regalla, an outcast Tenakth soldier who leads a group of rebels against the tribe.
Around midway through the game, I was a little worried that these seemingly disparate plot threads wouldn't come together in a cohesive way, but they ended up tying together nicely. Between Regalla, imminent extinction, and some mysterious outsiders, Aloy certainly has her hands full.
Though I felt that Regalla's character was a little under-baked — a byproduct of not having many meaningful interactions with her, instead hearing much of her backstory through other characters — she was far from insignificant. Her story served as a catalyst that would affect how Aloy approached the final battle.
Then, there's Sylens, who we learned at the end of Horizon Zero Dawn had betrayed Aloy. His role within most of the game is severely diminished from what I expected, so much so that I questioned the role he played at all until nearly the very end. He mainly plays a part in connecting all of the narrative threads together and supplying the tools Aloy needs to take down their mutual enemies. He and Aloy may not see eye to eye on a lot, but their goals are the same: saving humanity.
In general, I thought I knew what to expect going into Horizon Forbidden West. Nothing could have prepared me for what exactly Guerrilla had in store.
Guerrilla masterfully subverts expectations and challenges what you thought you knew. There's a lot more about the Old World and Far Zenith than I could have possibly imagined before finishing Horizon Forbidden West. Just as Aloy was kept in the dark and lied to, so are we. But instead of feeling like its plot twists came out of left field, they make so much sense once the full picture is on display. Every reveal feels earned and satisfying — barring one during a particular late game mission, but that's more of a reveal that didn't happen that left me disappointed.
While I can't say what exactly happens — nor do I want to spoil anything — there is a much bigger threat at play that no one could have seen coming. Guerrilla swung for the fences and hit a homerun with the story in Forbidden West. I have to applaud the team for not playing it safe, which it easily could have done. It almost makes me question what surprises the studio even has left up its sleeve for the inevitable third entry. If Horizon Zero Dawn hinted towards a sequel, Horizon Forbidden West sets one up decisively.
Horizon Forbidden West feels like Mass Effect 2, in a sense. Through all of its twists and turns, Horizon Forbidden West puts its characters and their relationships at the forefront, specifically Aloy's friends. She can't save the world without help, after all.
There is one particular relationship that I'm not allowed to discuss in detail that forms the core of the game, affecting much of Aloy's interactions and decisions. After growing up shunned from her tribe and only having Rost by her side, it's nice to see her form stronger bonds with other characters. While her past never left her cold, she didn't have a lot of meaningful relationships in the first game. Aloy is still her no-nonsense self, but she's not alone anymore, opening up to more people even if it goes against her initial instincts.
Not that her friends would let her run headfirst into danger by herself anyway, as Erend and Varl continually offer their help even when it's explicitly turned away. It's endearing how much her friends care for her. The heart of the game truly is the relationships that she forms.
This is a game that has things to say, not only about connections but humanity as a whole. Human greed and egotism ended the world once, and it's clear after 1,000 years that these problems still persist, haunting a world that's never fully recovered. But just as they persist, so does humanity's tenacity. Even in the face of insurmountable odds, as Aloy puts it, they have the strength to fight for a better future. It's encouraging to see such a hopeful tone given the past few years, even if on the surface it means people never really change.
Horizon Forbidden West: Gameplay
The combat is still just as satisfying and familiar as fans remember. Aloy has access to an arsenal of weapons like boltblasters and spike throwers, which are all useful in different scenarios, but her trusty bow is what I always fell back to. Being able to craft elemental ammunition made them incredibly versatile, especially when all Forbidden West machines have weaknesses or strengths to certain elements, like frost or fire.
These elemental attributes, along with the sheer number of different types, helps to make combat varied and engaging. Where one machine might jump into the air and lash its tail at Aloy, another may burrow underground and pop up behind her. All 43 machines bring different playstyles to the table, keeping players on their toes and forcing them to think through their attacks instead of blindly firing away.
Depending on the level and size of the machine, Aloy may or may not be able to silently take it down in one hit. Usually, this is reserved for smaller machines like the Burrower, but as you level up you can take down the likes of Bristlebacks and Scroungers with ease. That's not going to happen with a Thunderjaw or Tremortusk, though, nor the Slaughterspine, a new machine that resembles a Spinosaurus. You might be able to approach and get off a good first strike, but you'll need to use some heavy firepower to take them out.
That's where your traps come in. You can set up traps (Blast, Acid, Shock, and Purgewater) that can unleash devastating amounts of damage when a machine walks into them without hesitation. These traps were crucial in taking down some of the larger machines. The best part is that like ammo and medicine, these traps can be crafted on the fly during combat (provided you have the necessary materials). The machine catalog in the menu can also be used to view a machine's specific strengths and weaknesses (along with their loot), so you don't have to keep rescanning them.
Upgrading weapons sometimes takes rare or even legendary resources, and Forbidden West makes them convenient to track. You can create a job for any upgrade or purchase you need, which then always shows up in your quest menu. If you've discovered a machine site that has the correct parts, the map will mark where to go. It took me way too long to figure out I could create jobs instead of constantly finding a merchant in Thornmarsh to view the prerequisite materials for purchasing the one legendary outfit I wanted.
New to Forbidden West's combat is the Valor Surge system. Each skill tree has active abilities called Valor Surges that you can access by unlocking the surrounding skills. These Valor Surges can be activated to provide a multitude of effects, like your very own shield or health buffs. Only one Valor Surge can be equipped at a time, but you can swap them out as you see fit once they're unlocked. I found most of them didn't suit my playstyle, so I ended up sticking with the Toughened Valor Surge, granting me extra health and damage resistance.
When it comes to its six skill trees, you'll find what suits you best. Not only does leveling up reward you with skill points, but completing missions usually does too, making it easy to unlock most abilities in all skill trees: Trapper, Warrior, Hunter, Survivor, Infiltrator, and Machine Master. Because I liked taking out machines quietly, I invested heavily in the Infiltrator tree, buffing my stealth capabilities. For battle I chose the Survivor tree, increasing my defense and medicine capacity. ,
Rectifying what many thought to be a glaring omission from Zero Dawn, Forbidden West finally has flyable mounts. Aloy can take to the skies on a Sunwing, though this mount can't be unlocked until a particular story quest near the end of the game. You'll be on foot for a majority of your time, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Guerrilla does a great job at keeping exploration feeling fresh, whether that means running into new machines or discovering an old world ruin. Not only that, but the world is so beautiful that it just makes you want to walk around through it. That said, flying around on a Sunwing is almost incomparable, and it can help you reach areas that may have otherwise been inaccessible.
And just like Aloy can now soar through the air, she can also dive deep underwater with the help of a rebreather. This is another item earned through the main campaign, and it's well worth the effort. Combat underwater may be non-existent — a missed opportunity — but being able to explore sunken buildings is a treat. There are certain collectibles like Black Box recordings or Greenshine fragments that are sometimes only obtainable with the rebreather, and these can be traded for rare resources at special merchants.
Other additions to Aloy's new equipment are the Shieldwing (a type of glider) and a grappling hook. Both of these are necessary to complete some puzzle platforming sections, and it allowed Guerrilla to be more creative in the level design. I found the Shieldwing particularly useful because there were more than a few times where I missed a jump, and instead of falling to my death I gently glided to a lower level.
Where Aloy's weapons help with combat, the aforementioned tools are all about exploration — and there's a lot to explore in the Forbidden West, from snow-capped mountains to arid deserts and tropical beaches. They don't always have the most interesting secret locations hidden away, but it's nonetheless fun to stumble upon an old world ruin or cauldron.
Horizon Forbidden West: Performance and graphics
Much of my time playing Horizon Forbidden West was before its day one patch was available. During this time I encountered frequent black flickering where the screen would take a moment to load, texture pop-in, and a few crashes. The day one patch was made available before publishing this review, so I was able to see just what exactly was fixed.
All of the aforementioned issues appear to have been fixed, so players likely won't have to deal with them. I encountered a bigger issue at one point during a story mission where I couldn't fast travel that I was locked out of a room and couldn't progress. I ended up loading up an earlier save and losing about 30 minutes of progress (Horizon Forbidden West is thankfully generous with autosaves).
Aside from some of those hiccups before the day one patch was released, Horizon Forbidden West looks and runs exceptional, no matter if you decide to favor fidelity or performance in its graphics modes. At least where it concerns Forbidden West on PS5, players should have little complaints.
Horizon Forbidden West: Should you play it?
5 out of 5
From its story to its gameplay and its jaw-dropping world, nearly everything in Horizon Forbidden West is so expertly crafted I constantly want to describe it as perfect. Any complaints I have about Sylens' or Regalla's potential melt away when I look at Forbidden West in its totality.
Anybody who was a fan of Horizon Zero Dawn owes it to themselves to play Forbidden West. And for those that haven't played its predecessor yet, Forbidden West stands on its own as an outstanding action-RPG that players will be talking about for years to come. It will undoubtedly be an early game of the year contender and go down as one of the best PS5 games out there, even this early in the console's life.
Horizon Forbidden West
Bottom line: Horizon Forbidden West is the pinnacle of what a good sequel should be. Not only does it challenge players' beliefs about the world, but it delivers a poignant story and engaging combat to boot. Throw in its gorgeous world, and it's easy to fall in love with.
Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life. You can find her posting pictures of her dog and obsessing over PlayStation and Xbox, Star Wars, and other geeky things.
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