The highly anticipated Horizon Forbidden West has finally been released and, to my surprise, it’s not exactly what I had expected. Not to say that the work Guerrilla Games put into this beautiful piece of art will go unnoticed, because it hasn’t, but it’s not exaclty all I was expecting. This is what happens when expectations are too high and your eagerness to gain a new experience leaves you a tad blindsided.
First off, let’s start with the story. It’s a direct continuation from Horizon Zero Dawn (because why wouldn’t it be?) where Aloy is first being seen six months after the battle at Meridian where she defeated HADES. She’s been searching for a backup of GAIA, the AI that helped to terraform and repopulate Earth after it was destroyed by FARO’s matter-eating machines. In order to do this, she must travel to the Forbidden West–a volatile place controlled by brutal Tenakth tribe.
However, after breaching the threshold of Tenakth territory, Aloy quickly finds herself in more trouble that she initially anticipated. Of course, I’m not one to fully spoil plots for people, so you’ll have to spoil it somewhere else.
When it comes to how Horizon Forbidden West actually runs, it typically does well–but it doesn’t always reach the mark. I’m playing on a PS5, with HDR rendering on in Performance mode and frame drop is still apparent at times. Flashes also dart across the screen (although it’s not too often), Aloy’s legs twitch when standing on slightly raised surfaces, environmental collision issues, as well as some other minor visual errors.
Outside of the aforementioned visual problems, Forbidden West has an absolutely beautiful world. I missed the wandering herds of Lancehorns just doing their business in a grass laden breezy field or the group of Scroungers who are guarding their piles of junk. There is something gratifying about seeing this universe; about seeing sophisticated machinery surrounded by desolated structures of the past that created them. Same can be said for the contrast of native wooden architecture literally intertwined with pieces of buildings from the Old Ones.
Since this title takes place in the west, there’s also plenty of biomes for Aloy to traverse through. This includes desert areas with dunes, tall rock formations with plenty of shrubbery, and even the Las Vegas strip. Then you’ve got the trips to the beach and the leisurely swims you can take in machine-infested water. There is also the frozen mountain tops to scale, and massive, lavish underwater zones to explore.
As a side note, character models have also been refined with excellent detail, including affects like beads of sweat on flushed faces from being in the hot desert.
Combat in Horizon Forbidden West plays exactly the same as Zero Dawn did–containing melee, ranged, elemental, and stealth styles. Players can use a number of weapons, traps, and potions to aid them in taking down the aggressive machines–plus it’s simple to change up styles once equipment is obtained to do so. I found myself easily falling back into the same routine I had in the previous game, and because the controls haven’t changed..as the saying goes: it’s like riding a bike.
While the combat basics remain the same, the Skills have been completely reimagined and it is refreshing to see a new tree layout, as I found Zero Dawn’s rather humdrum. Each section revolves around one aspect of combat, like stealth, melee, and ranged, just to name a few.
These sections can be customized to an individual player’s style, with each portion including several different skills made up of the two new Skill types. Weapon techniques and Valor Surges are those new types and they make taking down the stronger enemies far faster than before. Obviously, this is a plus, as the larger machines require a decent amount of time to takedown.
Weapon Techniques are the less powerful of two additions, but can still pack a punch. These are tied to specific weapon types, such as a Hunter Bow or a Boltblaster, and they provide the weapon with a unique attack. Only one Weapon Technique can be equipped at a time. Valor Surge is like an ultimate ability, giving Aloy a hefty attack or passive ability that greatly improves one aspect of combat. For example, I’ve been switching between Radial Blast–which provides a powerful shockwave from the Aloy’s spear that damage enemies within a certain radius–and Powershots–that bolster damager by a percentage for a number of shots.
Personally, I find these Skill changes to be what Horizon needed to freshen up the combat and make it a bit more lively.
When it comes to the open-world aspect of Forbidden West, there is so much to explore and do. It can honestly be overwhelming at times. it feels like every camp you pass has another side mission for you attend to, on top of the already long (but important, informative, and necessary) main quests. I’ve even been to the same settlement several times, just to have the local gossip give me another rumor to follow up on.
I enjoy having plenty to do in a large open-world game like this one, but it seems a tad chaotic when actually working through the vast map. Also, a portion of the locations are clustered together, making it frustrating to just search an area for a collectible or fight off a Rebel camp without a herd of machines interfering with the battle. Other than that, every new addition made in Forbidden West, from small customization options to massive machines and gear, have really elevated the experience. Variety is always appreciated in a large open-world game.
If you’ve played Horizon Zero Dawn, I would recommend getting Horizon Forbidden West just to see the continuation of the story. It’s just as spectacular and spellbinding as when I first learned the truth about GAIA and FARO, who Aloy really was. It was an exhilarating experience, one that is replicated in Forbidden West.
The game is beautiful with exploration and the additions of small things like armor dyes and face paints goes to show that Guerrilla focused on all elements of the sequel. Aloy’s Focus is now a more integrated tool and she gets more interactive with her environment, such as being allowed to grapple onto objects and swim underwater indefinitely with a diving mask. These additions, plus all the adjustments made to the Skills, have given Horizon Forbidden West just the right amount of oomph–making it a compelling sequel.
On a side note, I was not a fan of how the DualSense controller was used. I just felt that that could have implemented more tension when pulling on a bow string, or different types of vibrations for elemental damage types. I still believe Housemarque took this prize when they made Returnal which, in my opinion, has made best use of the DualSense.
If you own a PlayStation 5 and you’ve played the previous title, when you get the chance, grab a copy of Horizon Forbidden West.