Hunting giant robot dinosaurs, and ripping off their components to use as weapons would have been enough for me. Horizon Zero Dawn could have stopped there and I think it would have been a decent enough game. Thankfully, developer Guerrilla Games chose to introduce us to Aloy and a world overrun with the consequences of humanity’s best, worst and brightest. Horizon Forbidden West picks up where the first game left off, aggressively throwing you straight at the answers to its burning questions.
“Fans of the first entry should have no trouble slipping back into Aloy’s shoes in Horizon Forbidden West.“
Horizon Forbidden West’s gameplay is exactly what I wanted from a sequel. The introduction level provides a sizeable environment to explore, with new machines and tools to discover. Here, players get their first experience with the blight, patches of dying land that sap the life of the living. The area features a solid balance of action and exploration while offering a fantastic amount of freedom. These new additions add enough variety to keep this refresher course from being a choir. Fans of the first entry will have no trouble slipping back into Aloy’s shoes in Horizon Forbidden West.
Picking up six months after the events of Zero Dawn, we find a lone Aloy searching for a backup of the Gaia AI. Immediately confronted by Varl, he expresses everyone’s surprise when Aloy disappeared after the battle. After explaining her mission, the two set off to check the last facility, with unsatisfactory results. If I had to name Forbidden West’s biggest flaw I would say it starts here. As the story plays out relating to Aloy becomes easier, but her emotional state remains extremely vague early on. Aloy makes comments alluding to her disposition but this fails to communicate her flaws effectively. Essentially, you are to carry over the emotions from the end of Zero Dawn as though it was much more recent than 2017.
“Everything in Horizon Forbidden West looks breathtaking and feels alive, even as nature, ruins, and metal merges into astonishing landscapes.“
Aside from this missed beat, the story is fantastic. I’ve never experienced a game that can so readily be translated into a show. As you take on both main and side quests, you watch Aloy develop meaningful relationships, while struggling with her reluctance to depend on others. Aloy has learned to connect with people. Although, knowing what she must do, Aloy fears the loss of her friends in the same way she lost Rost. As such, she ignores this trauma by fixating on her task to save the world. However, it only becomes more apparent that she cannot solve this issue alone. Consequently, Aloy slowly develops a support system, even having a group of allies aide her from a central base as she travels these new lands. NPC’s are reintroduced as you explore new locations, strengthening their bonds with Aloy and each other.
The Forbidden West lies in the territory of the Tenakth, a group of war-loving tribes with harsh feelings toward the Carja. Here, Aloy must search for Gaia and her sub-functions to rectify the problems with Earth’s ecosystem. Each tribe calls a different biome home, offering vastly different areas and environments to experience. Everything in HFW looks breathtaking and feels alive, even as nature, ruins, and metal merges into astonishing landscapes. Similar to the first game, each tribe holds different beliefs, with a culture based around their means of survival. Quests explore this beautifully, while the visuals add a layer of depth that echoes the MCU’s depictions of Wakanda.
“Hence, groups and larger machines require cunning tactics if you expect to survive an encounter.“
Combat remains thrilling and introduces many much-needed improvements in this installment. Horizon Forbidden West gives each weapon type a defined playstyle opening up a ton of potential against its enemies. The sizable number of weapon options makes trying out new things easy. As such, the necessity for resource gathering further encourages this. Special ammunition and elemental states return, with new types like purgewater adding more variety with compounding effects. Valor surges and weapon techniques also make an introduction, giving Aloy access to powerful attacks and buffs.
Though Aloy’s use of the spear fit thematically, I found melee combat to be a bit clunky in Horizon Zero Dawn. The sequel makes many strong improvements by providing useful melee combos and tying your bow into the action. This keeps combat feeling fluid and refreshing. That being said, the game is not so simple that you can mow down enemies with ease. Hence, groups and larger machines require cunning tactics if you expect to survive an encounter. I especially enjoy how Tenakth rebels will comment on your combat skills as you slaughter their camp.
“Even diving underwater feels amazing, providing opportunities for an alternate approach to stealth.“
Exploration is expected to be top-notch within an open world and Horizon Forbidden West delivers this in spades. The ruins of the old world offer countless opportunities while the passage of time has left them looking absolutely breathtaking. An abandoned facility might have bloomed into gorgeous forests or devolved into cramped caverns. This helps to make each discovery feel unique and memorable. Even diving underwater feels amazing, providing opportunities for an alternate approach to stealth.
Climbing offers many enjoyable platforming scenarios, while simply being outright fun. The addition of the grappling hook and glider offers greater control over your vertical movement which is enjoyable to play with. Sadly, these tools are not as effective as they should be in combat but they do open up some new opportunities for puzzles, which is always welcome. The Focus is also a tad underwhelming as I’ve yet to see any improvements with the system. To be fair, at 60 hours in, there is still a ton more to be seen. Perhaps something of this nature is waiting to be discovered.
“On the negative side, special inputs can occasionally be a bit frustrating to pull off.“
Having only recently managed to get my hands on one, playing on the PS5 is insanely engaging. The resistance applied to the trigger when prying open doors or chests is consistently pleasing. The controller audio is phenomenal as well and really helps to sell the atmosphere in all manner of situations. I have been playing in a gaming chair with built-in speakers, and not once have I thought about using it until writing this article, just to give you an idea. Additionally, the music and sounds of machines, weapons, and nature also earn my resounding praise.
On the negative side, special inputs can occasionally be a bit frustrating to pull off. Trying to get into position to activate a campfire only to roll off a cliff is annoying. Not performing a critical strike in lieu of a regular attack is just as bad. While not game-breaking, it makes the list of features from the first game I would have liked not to experience.
There just isn’t a good reason I can name not to add this game to your collection. Aloy can be a bit frustrating in the beginning if you are not current with the story, but this clears itself up before it becomes a problem. This also is mostly nonexistent in side quests. For those who never played the first game, Horizon Forbidden West is a fantastic starting point. For returning players, the action feels nostalgic and is easy to jump back into. Just when I think there couldn’t possibly be more, Horizon Forbidden West manages to surprise and win my heart all over again. If you aren’t thinking about picking this up, I’d highly suggest you rethink your options.
You can purchase Horizon Forbidden West now exclusively on PlayStation 4|5.