Horizon Forbidden West Review
It’s War on the West Coast
Since Horizon Zero Dawn‘s release back in 2017, the game’s story and its heroine Aloy have resonated with many people. The game’s sequel, Horizon Forbidden West, takes her story and Guerrilla Games’ fascinating world to new heights, with a bigger world to explore, more sci-fi at the forefront, and new challenges for players to overcome. With Zero Dawn already an incredibly strong title, Forbidden West builds on it, all while expanding on the world’s lore, characters, and combat mechanics as players follow Aloy’s new journey on a futuristic Earth dominated by robotic creatures.
It’s nigh impossible to talk about Horizon Forbidden West‘s premise without spoiling part of its predecessor. It’s been six months since Aloy has defeated HADES and left Meridian in search of a backup of GAIA. Knowing that the backup would be able to restore the world, Aloy travels west with her companion Varl, but their quest to find it comes up short. Varl suggests that, despite their most recent interaction, they would be best off contacting Sylens. Learning that Sylens has gone deeper west, Aloy tracks him down. Reuniting with the Carja tribe before heading into the Forbidden West, Aloy learns of an ongoing civil war that she has no choice but to get caught up in, as well as a further threat to the planet.
There is a lot happening in Forbidden West’s story, and all of it is engaging. The main storyline leans heavily into sci-fi elements and happily takes its place as a direct sequel to build upon Zero Dawn’s story in new and exciting ways. All of its varied beats make for interesting additions to the narrative. There is a lot of care put into Forbidden West’s story, as it challenges players to reflect on themes of climate change and capitalism, while never denying that hope exists. Hope is such an integral part of the story, and it’s fitting that it is something all the characters possess to some extent.
Aloy’s personal growth from the first game is also impressive. Her shining development comes from the time she spends befriending a variety of companions and assisting local tribes. She learns that she doesn’t have to carry the burden of the world ending all on her shoulders, and possesses empathy for all living creatures in a way that wasn’t fully developed in the first game. Character development in Forbidden West is leagues better than its predecessor, as players learn more about returning characters such as Erend and Varl, but also completely fall in love with Alva, Kotallo, and Zo, who offer differing viewpoints about the world and its transformation.
While the main quest is truly an epic experience, Forbidden West also has a ton of amazing sidequests that are equally as memorable. From assisting the Daunt and finding out who brought the Bristleback to the east, to assisting the Arrowhand Tenakth in finding a commander who will keep their people safe, to the struggles of finding food in a climate-devastated world in Plainsong, there are many engaging quest chains to encounter, and many of these side stories offer the same amount of investment as the main quest. Doing sidequests also offers great boons for Aloy, whether it’s improved equipment or unique machine parts which can help build better gear.
On top of the multitude of side stories, cauldrons return to the game, which allow Aloy to learn new overrides to help fight the machines roaming the world, structural relics that provide puzzles with unique rewards upon completion, and rebel camps and outposts to destroy. There are also hunting grounds and melee pits to help players build Aloy’s combat skills, but the newest addition is the flying missions, which involve using aerial mounts to assist people in need. Mounts, both flying and land-based, are easy to use providing Aloy has the correct override, and are essential for travel given how huge the world is. While some of the content still feels like busywork, there is a bigger and welcome focus on storytelling this time around.
Combat in Horizon Forbidden West remains mostly unchanged with some new additions, as Aloy continues to use primitive weapons against large machine creatures, each with varying strengths and weaknesses. With the help of Aloy’s Focus, players can quickly scan each beast to determine what they are weak against. Aloy has a variety of different weapons in her arsenal, such as longbows, slings, and traps, as well as tripcasters to knock enemies down and the primitive machine-gun-like boltcaster. New to Forbidden West are the shredder gauntlets, which allow Aloy to get much more up-close and personal, and explosive spears, which can deal heavy damage but are slow to reload. Upgrading weapons and armor is important to success in combat, as adding coils and weaves allows for extra bonuses, such as more elemental damage, better concentration, or more physical damage. Targeting different machine parts with the correct element or ammo will cause them to detach, and those parts can be collected to create better gear. The more parts are torn off the enemy, the more damage Aloy can hammer into it. There is also Aloy’s classic spear, which can be used for combat as well as overriding machines.
Encounters are a huge part of what makes the game’s combat so engaging, especially given there are so many new machine types to battle, from the Tiderippers that resemble Loch Ness monsters to the large Tremortusks, which have no problem stomping Aloy into the ground. Each machine type has its own unique movements and patterns that players must adapt to on the fly, providing tons of challenge and excitement; there is nothing more satisfying than taking these larger creatures down in the heat of a tough battle.
Returning to the game as well are skill trees, with six skill areas that players can pour points into. The Warrior tree focuses on damage boosts and a more aggressive playstyle, while the Trapper tree allows Aloy to craft and exploit traps on the battlefield. The Hunter tree focuses on ranged combat, mainly for players who prefer to keep their distance and use skills to defeat the enemy. The Survivor skill tree is fantastic for players who need health boosts, while Infiltrator is for players who prefer to take their prey out using stealth. Finally, the Machine Master tree is all about using Aloy’s override mechanics, which are great for difficult fights where there are multiple enemies to pay attention to. While the skill trees are interesting, none of the skills themselves feel truly unique or special, which is a bit of a letdown. While the goal is to offer specific playstyles, Forbidden West could have gone further to make those playstyles feel a bit more distinct. In fact, there’s no good reason to focus on one tree for character build purposes, as many of the skills play the same. One of the new additions that come from the skill trees is Valor Surges, passive perks that can help Aloy in combat. These skills are incredibly helpful, from having increased toughness to better concentration for long-ranged combat. Valor Surges require filling a gauge through different combat actions and can only be used when the gauge is full.
Exploration is a huge part of Forbidden West, and the world is full of chaos. There is nothing more exhilarating than investigating an area plagued by sandstorms and then moving into another ravaged by torrential rainfall. The environments are constantly changing, exemplifying what climate change has done to the world, what humans have done to destroy the world. Habitats for animals have changed to the point where there are fewer areas for them to inhabit, while the remaining humans have less and less farmland left to cultivate. It’s amazing to also see how parts of the United States have transformed, from bright-lit metropolises to desert ruins, even though there are still shadows of the different locations’ former selves scattered throughout the environments. The way in which Guerrilla Games has visualized its environmental storytelling is a testament to how much care they put into crafting this post-apocalyptic world.
The game is not without a few technical flaws, especially for those playing on PlayStation 4. Since the game was clearly built with PlayStation 5 in mind first, there is some noticeable sacrifice in graphical quality. There are also the odd stuttering and loading issues, with a noticeable one being Aloy falling through the floor in the player’s base after a discussion with GAIA. The game has received several patches to clean up most performance issues, but there are still moments of graphical clipping and the odd texture load-in. Fortunately, none of these issues are detrimental to the overall playing experience.
Even on the PlayStation 4, Horizon Forbidden West is a stunning game. From the gorgeous environments to facial expressions, exploring the world and uncovering new and breathtaking areas is part of the enjoyment. There is an amazing amount of graphical detail throughout, from the machines and their various parts to diving underwater and seeing all the aquatic lifeforms going about their day-to-day. Entering the world of Forbidden West is a feast for the eyes, and how the environments help shape the gameplay and story make for an exhilarating experience overall.
Even the sound production is impressive, with amazing cast performances from every actor. Ashly Burch reprises her role as Aloy and continues to provide the right amount of both empathy and sass-mouth that players have come to love, while Lance Reddick returns as the stoic Sylens, providing great moments of clap back against Aloy’s stubborn nature. There’s fantastic chemistry between all the voice actors, making the story in Forbidden West feel organic from the start. The sound production is also great, and the soundtrack has moments throughout the plot where it truly excels, from frantic combat sequences to some of the game’s more tender moments.
It’s clear that Horizon is something Guerrilla Games hopes to return to, especially after the end of Forbidden West. After pouring fifty hours into the game, I truly didn’t want to stop playing it. The difficulty can be adjusted on the fly when it gets too difficult, but the challenges that comes from the new enemy types offer incredibly enjoyable moments. I found myself connecting with Aloy and her companions throughout the story, and wanted to see it through to the end, hoping for their success. Horizon Forbidden West embraces everything about its predecessor and makes strides in producing an even more compelling world to explore, with intense combat and story moments, and shiny new robo-dinosaurs to punch in the face. I cannot wait to see where Aloy and her companions’ story goes next.
The story and world are compelling
Combat is satisfying
Sidequests are engaging
Skill trees don't feel fully rewarding
Performance issues aplenty on PlayStation 4