Review: Horizon Forbidden West

Guerrilla Games, best known for first-person shooter franchise Killzone, defied expectations in 2017 with Horizon Zero Dawn.A single player narrative-driven game featuring a strong protagonist, a great story, excellent worldbuilding and lush, vibrant visuals, Horizon Zero Dawn was a complete paradigm shift for the studio, allowing it to deliver not only one of the best new IPs of the generation, but also one of the best games on PS4.After such a hit, it’s no surprise that so many are anticipating the sequel, Horizon Forbidden West.Five years in the making, the sequel is finally here promising startling mysteries, an expansive world to explore and new dangers to fight.Is Horizon Forbidden West a triumphant follow-up for Aloy or should the Faro Plague have wiped it out?Horizon Forbidden West picks up six months after the events of Horizon Zero Dawn.Though Aloy put a stop to Hades’ plan to initiate an extinction event, the biosphere is still failing.Wild storms and an unstoppable blight ravage the land, propelling Aloy on a quest to find a solution to the deteriorating conditions.Her journey points her towards the Forbidden West, a wild frontier filled with warring clans, secrets of the ancient past and new deadly machines.To save the planet and all life on it, Aloy will need to put aside her lone wolf attitude, forge alliances and discover some of the Old One’s darkest secrets.By all accounts, Horizon Forbidden West’s story is engaging, deep, personal and revealing, balancing levels of drama and levity deftly.It does this by vastly improving on some of Zero Dawn’s more noticeable plot issues.Horizon Zero Dawn told a fascinating story about the downfall of humanity, but mostly dropped the ball with the modern-day story.Horizon Forbidden West tells a story that, once again, oozes with mystery and tension as Aloy pulls the curtain back on the Old Ones.Unlike the original title, however, the modern day story is beefed up, becoming more interesting as Aloy delves into the drama of Tenakth and other tribes whose customs are foreign to her.It’s easy to get swallowed into conversations and spend tens of minutes learning more about the plot and characters.Horizon Forbidden West accomplishes its excellent storytelling mostly thanks to its expanded roster of characters.Ashley Burch continues to steal the show, presenting Aloy as a stoic, sometimes annoying character at the start, but then sheds her outer shell as she learns that asking for help isn’t such a bad thing.In an improvement from Zero Dawn, the game’s story leaves more time for secondary characters to flourish.It’s a solid cast filled with quirky individuals from all the different tribes encountered throughout both games.Additional characters Aloy meets throughout the story are likewise better fleshed out, leading to a far more interesting tale this time around.As enthralling as Horizon Forbidden West’s story is, there are noticeable weak points.One of the antagonists, Regalla, feels out of place in the story and is quickly sidelined for more interesting plot threads.The ending also feels abrupt and comes out of leftfield.By the time the credits roll, it’s obvious that Horizon Forbidden West suffers from “middle chapter syndrome,” serving mostly to set up a third title rather than satisfyingly ending the current one.None of this diminishes how great Horizon Forbidden West’s story is.The journey to the ending is paved with thrilling moments, suspenseful discovery, and epic battles against deadly machines and humans.Lasting over twenty hours, there’s a lot to get out of Aloy’s second journey whether you’re diving into the ancient past or engaging with modern day adventures.Those familiar with Horizon Zero Dawn should be able to slide into Horizon Forbidden West with relative ease.Like the original, Forbidden West takes place in a vast open world where players explore, pursue story missions, or head off the beaten path to complete side quests and activities.For this map, Guerrlla Games has pulled from areas encompassing the central and west parts of the United States.You’ll gaze across vast deserts, climb snow-tipped mountains, bask under tall redwoods, and explore a lost city or two.It’s a vast open world that feels bigger than Zero Dawn’s map, but still contained enough to not feel overwhelming like an Assassin’s Creed map.Adding to that sense of scale is a focus on verticality, yielding a much more varied map than Zero Dawn’s often flat terrain.Side quests and activities have been overhauled in the sequel to be more interesting.While there’s still a lot of fetch quests, they often feel more engaging due to more lively interactions between Aloy and the NPCs.Outside of quests, there are numerous activities to pursue, including the returning Cauldrons, which test your combat and platforming skills.You’ll also step into ruins to solve puzzles, hunt specific machine parts to craft overrides and uncover special easter eggs.Horizon Forbidden West doesn’t lack for engaging content.Like the world and its activities, players who enjoyed Zero Dawn should easily slip into Forbidden West’s gameplay.Similar to its predecessor, Forbidden West is a third-person action-adventure game where players fire bows, slings and more, perform stealth, scavenge for resources and platform.Thankfully, Forbidden West keeps the original’s excellent combat that tasked players with juggling firing on enemies, performing successful dodges and swapping weapons on the fly.Taking on Machines remains as thrilling as ever.Ranging from small Watchers to towering monstrosities like the new Slitherfang, learning how to best fight the machines while dodging their deadly attacks is a thrill few other games can provide.Of course, Aloy has a tool belt full of new and returning tricks to help even the battle.You could choose stealth, and if you’ve completed the right Cauldrons, override machines to gain temporary allies.Want to go loud?There’s a handful of new weapons like the javelins that add powerful variety to the already meaty weapon roster.You’ll also fight humans, which are thankfully more entertaining this time around thanks to expanded melee capabilities.With different combos and powerful moves, melee is actually a viable option this time around.It’s nowhere near exhilarating as using your powerful bows and javelins against Machines, but it’s a major step up and overall adds to the gameplay loop.It’s unfortunate that there’s one element of the gameplay that’s gotten worse: platforming.In Horizon Zero Dawn, platforming was automated, similar to the Uncharted series.It worked, but felt archaic compared to the climbing and platforming seen in other 2017 open world titles.For Forbidden West, Guerrilla appears to have wanted to find a middle ground between Uncharted and The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild.Elements of platforming remain automated and obvious climbing spots are still legible, but there’s also cases where Aloy can supposedly climb wherever she wants.

The end result is a mess that’s more frustrating than not as you try and guess what Aloy will automatically grab, what you need to precisely platform on, and what’s climbable.New tools like the Pullcaster and Shieldwing help make platforming more exciting and varied, but they can’t fully negate the frustration of the built-in mechanics.In this case, Guerrilla should have picked one style or the other rather than melding both.Horizon Forbidden West is a fantastic game to play despite the hiccups with platforming.The mixture of third-person shooting, stealth and melee against both human and Machines is exhilarating.Exploring the world is rewarding, though frustrating because of the platforming.There’s no other game that provides the type of thrills Horizon Forbidden West offers as you take down the deadliest of Machines, it’s just a shame it also provides serious low points anytime platforming pops up.Guerrilla is one of those studios known for their technical prowess.Since the original Killzone on PS2, the studio has made a habit of releasing some of the most graphically impressive games each generation.Horizon Zero Dawn was a massive step up from their previous work, showcasing the studio’s artistic talent by creating a lush, imaginative world.Horizon Forbidden West may be a cross-gen title, but it’s still a breathtaking experience with immaculate attention to detail, extraordinary lighting and stellar modeling work.PS5 users get additional graphical details, 4K resolution or 60fps gameplay depending on the chosen visual setting, and fantastic DualSense implementation.While the game actually looks and performs well on a PS4 Pro, Horizon Forbidden West is best on PS5.Guerrilla turns in another graphical masterpiece with Horizon Forbidden West looking and sounding great, but it does launch with performance woes.Some examples include microloading that causes the screen to momentarily go black, Aloy clips through a lot of geometry and Aloy’s hair physics frequently freak out while in cutscenes.It’s not hard to find something distracting.Even with the Day One patch installed, many of these issues persist, though less frequently.Horizon Forbidden West’s presentation is fantastic.Guerrilla Games have put a lot of love and attention building out their world, modeling the fine details of each machine, and overhauling their lighting system to achieve a more cinematic and vibrant look.With some of these unfortunate technical issues, however, it just feels like it’s one patch away from complete excellence.Closing CommentsGuerrilla successfully shed its designation as the Killzone studio with Horizon Zero Dawn.With that title, they jumped into a brave new narrative-focused world and found momentous success.Following it up was going to be no easy task, but the studio has managed to mostly succeed with Horizon Forbidden West.The story is better told by splitting intrigue and suspense across both the modern day and Old Ones story.There are more interesting and better-developed characters, both friend and foe.The world of the Forbidden West is vast and filled with more entertaining activities than Zero Dawn’s world, and it’s bolstered by the same excellent gameplay fans have come to know and love.It’s disappointing that platforming is a major step back from the original title, creating frustration when trying to figure out what’s automated and what’s climbable.With a campaign that lasts twenty hours and plenty of side quests, it’s great that the presentation is as gorgeous as it is, though it could have used additional polish to iron out the technical bugs and glitches.Horizon Forbidden West is a great sequel that builds upon and expands what made the original so beloved, and though it takes some steps back in terms of certain mechanics and polish, it’s still a thrilling ride from start to finish.