Horizon Forbidden West – Review

Horizon Forbidden West is the follow-up to 2017’s surprise hit, Horizon Zero Dawn.  I say it was a surprise because up to that point, Guerrilla had largely been known for the Killzone franchise, which is obviously completely different than what the Horizon games have been.  Guerrilla delivered a great game then though and with Horizon Forbidden West the adventure is even better.  Aloy is once again the main protagonist of the story which picks up pretty soon after the events of the original.  Going through Horizon Forbidden West on a PlayStation 5 the game looks absolutely stunning and also runs really well.  There are a number of different settings in the game that you can toggle to make sure you have the best experience for your particular setup and it is something I really appreciated.

The accessibility options Guerrilla has put in this game should make it easier for a wider range of people to enjoy it.  I really am enjoying the trend we have seen the past few years of companies really taking this seriously and putting in a host of different options to make it more accessible to a wider audience.  For starters, there is the difficulty setting ranging from “story” where combat isn’t very challenging and you can focus mainly on the story all the way to “very hard” where combat will be a punishing experience and you will need quite a bit of skill to survive some of the bigger machine encounters.  There are also contextual reminders you can turn on and off, you can turn quick-time events on or off, you can choose whether your mount follows the road without guidance and more.  You can also control the vibration intensity, the sub-title size, the audio mix, motion blur, camera positioning, the trigger effects for weapons with the DualShock controller, and more.  There is a wide range of options here for you to choose from to customize your experience as you experience Aloy’s story. 

As I mentioned, Horizon Forbidden West picks up a few months after the events in the original.  The planet (and life on Earth) is still very much in danger and it is up to you to find the data and the artifacts that can not only save the planet but potentially reverse the damage that has been done since the extinction signal was sent out many years ago.  I’m not going to go into any more story details as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but if you enjoyed the story from the first game, you should definitely enjoy the continuation of it.  With that said, if Horizon Forbidden West is your first entry into the Horizon franchise, you can certainly go through it and enjoy everything the game has to offer, but I would go back and play Horizon Zero Dawn first.  While it isn’t required you will have a much better appreciation and understanding of the events that are taking place if you have gone through the Zero Dawn story prior to playing Forbidden West.  Then of course you have the cast of characters, some of whom you meet originally in Zero Dawn so to get the most enjoyment out of your time with Horizon Forbidden West, be sure to go through the original game first.

Horizon Zero Dawn is a game I had a lot of fun with but Forbidden West is a nice upgrade in pretty much every aspect.  The power of the PlayStation 5 console makes sure this is the best Horizon experience yet with the almost instantaneous loading, sharp visuals, and the game simply running overall better than its predecessor on the PlayStation 4.  During the review period, there were two graphics options to choose from with one favoring resolution and the other favoring performance.  If you are someone that favors higher fidelity you can go that route which will most likely be at around 30fps with 4K graphics.  If you favor performance though, the game will run at 60fps.  I couldn’t find if Sony stated what the resolution is in performance mode so I assume it is around 1080p.  With that said I personally went through the whole game favoring performance.  The 60fps allowed it to play so much better than Horizon Zero Dawn and the world itself looked amazing.

The overall menu layout in the first game worked pretty well but this is another instance where I think Forbidden West did it a lot better.  It is really clean and I didn’t have any problems navigating it all.  You have your “inventory”, “skills”, “map”, “quests”, and “notebook”.  All of it is very straightforward, which I appreciate.  If you go to the Quests tab you will immediately notice that there is a lot of content in this game.  The vast majority of it will be hidden to you when you first start out but you have your main quests, side quests, errands, jobs, camps, outposts, tallnecks, cauldrons, and much more.  As you get farther into the game more of these categories will become available to you.  I also appreciate that each quest has a recommended level by it so you aren’t biting off more than you can chew.  Fairly early on in the game, I received an errand to do, however, it recommended that I was at least at level 32 to do it.  As such I simply ignored that particular errand until I was at the appropriate level.  It will also tell you how far away from these quests you are.  For example, if you are in a city that is in the middle of the map, it might say that you are 2,000 feet away from where you need to be to advance in your next mission.  I appreciate this as it helped me decide at times what I wanted to do.  If something is nearby at only 200 feet away or so, I might do that instead of taking all of that time to travel the 2,000 feet.  For that reason, and simply because the world of Horizon Forbidden West is so massive, there is a fast travel system that I used whenever I could.  If you find a campfire somewhere be sure to get close enough to where you “discover” it.  Not only is that a point where you can save your game but you can use the fast travel system for free to travel to other campfires you have previously discovered.  Be sure to make discovering these campfires a priority when you are exploring, just in case you need to get back to that spot later in the game.  You can also fast travel in this game by buying a pack from a vendor.  This obviously costs money which is something you don’t have a lot of in the beginning.  Using one of these packs you can pretty much fast travel from anywhere, as long as you are outside.  Fast traveling for free at a campfire is the best way to do it but there were a few times when these packs saved me a significant amount of time.

The skill tree in Horizon Forbidden West is similar to what you saw in the original but it has been upgraded and works better in my opinion.  There are six different categories with “warrior”, “trapper”, “hunter”, “survivor”, “infiltrator”, and “machine master”.  You will want to look at which category suits your playstyle the best and then focus on that first.  For me personally, I went through and unlocked everything in the “survivor” category first.  When that was done, I went and unlocked everything in the “infiltrator” category, and then I just went down the list in terms of what I thought was most important for how I liked to play the game.  There isn’t a wrong way to do this and I do believe there are enough points for you to unlock everything if you decide you want to do that.  Each category also contains some “valor surges” which can help you on the battlefield.  Once you have unlocked and equipped those, it will give you a bit of an edge that might be the difference between whether or not you are successful on a mission.  For example, there is a “Ranged Master” surge that will bolster your resolve and deal more damage with ranged weapons for a limited time.  I found these to be pretty cool personally but you will have to decide which one is best for the situation that you are in or the quest you are about to try and complete.

The map category should be fairly self-explanatory.  Tallnecks are still roaming around the land so you will want to find them and then override them so that more of the map opens up for you and you can see what is out there.  Inventory is where all of your stuff is kept, you can equip weapons and outfits, and more.  The inventory system is something that received a really nice upgrade in Forbidden West with the addition of your stash.  In different towns, you will find a box that has your stash in it so that you can refill your inventory at any time.  When your pouch becomes full, anything you pick up automatically is put in your stash.  So, for example, if you can only carry 14 medicinal berries and all 14 slots are filled, any berries you find after that will be automatically put in your stash and that is the same for pretty much everything else.  This is a welcome change from Zero Dawn where if you were already carrying the maximum amount then you simply couldn’t collect anymore.  With this new stash system, as long as you are always harvesting when you are exploring the world, it can be hard to run out of items, which I appreciated.  You then have the “notebook” which simply keeps track of the collectibles you have found in the world, the machines you have scanned, character bios, and things like that.

As you progress through the story you will be able to get better weapons as well as better armor for Aloy.  The combat in this game is still refreshing and fun, although if you charge into a battle with a lot of machines and no plan, you will quickly realize the error of your ways as you are staring at a loading screen while you wait to reattempt whatever it is you were trying to do.  You want to always take a moment and survey the situation.  Use Aloy’s Focus to scan all of the machines that are in your path.  By doing this you can see what they are weak against as well as where to shoot them for the maximum amount of damage.  Additionally, you can see the path that they walk so if you are in stealth, you can plan to be hiding in some flowers and then let the enemy come to you and, if you are powerful enough, you can take them out before they even know you were there.  This is a strategy that I tried to employ a lot as you really don’t want to get into a battle with a bunch of machines focusing on you, especially in the later parts of the game.  Preparation is key and that also includes harvesting the scrap from the machines you take down so that you can upgrade your weapons and armor.

I mentioned earlier how beautiful Horizon Forbidden West is on the PlayStation 5.  It is by far one of the best-looking games I have seen on the console.  It also comes with a loaded photo mode so, for those of you who really get into that sort of thing, you should have a lot of fun here.  I spent a few minutes myself in photo mode when I got to a particularly beautiful location to play around and see what kind of picture I could get.  You can change Aloy’s facial expressions, her pose, and a number of different things.  Needless to say but you can get some decently wacky pictures by fooling around with this.  I was in the desert once and taking a picture of this one thing that I thought looked pretty cool and had Aloy make a heart with her hands in the picture.  In another one, I had just taken down a pretty big machine and there was an option for me to take a picture there with Aloy in a victory pose.  Other than that you have your different lens presets, depth of field, brightness, time of day, border, and pretty much everything else you would expect in a photo mode these days.  The beauty of Horizon Forbidden West isn’t just seen in the graphical department though.  There is a pretty amazing soundtrack to accompany it and if you have a pair of the 3D audio headphones from Sony, even better.  In my opinion, they did a great job with this soundtrack putting in the right music at just the right moment so that you were feeling whatever emotion the designers wanted to be having.  I also enjoyed the voice work of the cast, which you will hear a lot as there is a ton of information to learn in Horizon Forbidden West if you want the complete story.  Some of that is optional and you can completely skip it but I went through everything I could and I believe I was able to gain a better appreciation for everything that was happening as a result.

During my time with Horizon Forbidden West, I came across a few issues that while they didn’t detract from my experience very much, could be annoying when they would pop up.  The first one was the GPS in the game.  At times, the GPS seemed to be confused about which way I should go.  This certainly didn’t happen every time but there were some instances when I would select a location to go to and the GPS seemed to be confused about whether I should head north, south, east, or west.  I had to run around for a few moments while it figured itself out and then I could be on my way.  There were also a few times when it seemed like Aloy took far too long to get up after being hit.  This cost me a few times as I battled stronger machines and bosses and for the quicker ones, it meant there were a few battles I had to try more than once.  It was a bit of a frustrating experience when that happened.  There were also a few instances where when I was trying to climb something Aloy wouldn’t reach up to grab something even though it was right there.  None of these issues I came across really hindered my experience that much and the vast majority of my 60+ hours with the game were absolutely fantastic.  It did happen at least a few times though, enough that I remembered it and thought I should mention it in this review.

Overall, I believe Horizon Forbidden West is another hit from Guerrilla.  In my mind, it is better than their first effort, which is ideally how a sequel should turn out.  Everything seems a bit more refined, the game runs and feels really well on the PlayStation 5, and you should enjoy some of the surprise moments that you will encounter in the story.  If you played the original you largely know what to expect here from a gameplay standpoint.  They didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with that and I’m happy with that because they got a lot right with Horizon Zero Dawn, so why change it?  When it comes to the story itself and the way they chose to conclude it, I think Horizon Forbidden West takes the cake as well.  It feels grander and more of a big deal.  I’m sure that has to do with what is at stake in the story but just the environment, the enemies, the locations…they are all a nice upgrade from the original.  I think you’ll see what I mean once you finish this story but I’m not going to go into any more detail than that.  If you enjoyed Horizon Zero Dawn, be sure to pick up Horizon Forbidden West.  If you aren’t familiar with this franchise but you enjoy open-world games, be sure to give Horizon Forbidden West a try as well.  This is a really great franchise in Sony’s first-party stable and is something everyone should play.

Score: 9/10

Originally posted oGaming Target

Note: Sony provided us with a code for Horizon Forbidden West for review purposes.

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