In this Horizon: Forbidden West Review we’ll be sharing our impressions on the sequel to Guerrilla’s Horizon: Zero Dawn. Having enjoyed over 2 weeks with the game and had plenty of time to explore and experience everything it has to offer, we are ready to answer the question: Should you Play this? This will be a story spoiler-free review, but the game is a direct sequel to the original so there are some unavoidable spoilers for Zero Dawn.
Horizon Forbidden West Review
Developed by: Guerrilla Games
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release date: February 18th 2022
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 5 (Reviewed on Playstation 5)
Price: Standard Edition $69.99 USD
Horizon Forbidden West Review: Story and Setting
Horizon: Forbidden West picks up shortly after the endgame of its predecessor, Zero Dawn. Six months have passed since Aloy dealt with the Hades threat, and she is now attempting to track down a Gaia kernel to attempt to re-stabilize the biosphere. If you have not played the first game, you will have some troubles and confusion figuring out what is going on and why, but fortunately there are many such summaries online and a quick look at a 10 minute video should set you up well enough.
If you want my very short summary of the first game (spoilers for Zero Dawn):
Click to Show Horizon: Zero Dawn Story Summary
Humanity faced utter destruction due to a war against AI machines, and where the rich and powerful took to the stars to begin anew in a galaxy 300 light years away, revolutionary Elisabet Soebeck engineered and coded “Project Gaia”. This supercomputer AI was developed for the single purpose of restoring the biosphere and repopulating the planet with flora and fauna, including humanity. Thus the rebirth of life on earth was enacted by machines controlled by the conscious and benevolent AI GAIA, that carefully resuscitated the planet. Unfortunately, shortly before the events of the first game, an extraterrestrial signal caused a sub-function of Gaia to go rogue and become focused on the destruction of all life on earth, which made Gaia abort all functions and attempt a hard reset by creating a clone of her developer, who would have DNA-based genetic access to all program admin rights. So the first game takes you through the story of this clone, Aloy, and her path to understand her origins and fulfill her mission of defeating the rogue program, Hades.
In the sequel, your battle with Hades seems to be over but your search for the Gaia program branches out into ever more complex missions that take you far into the Forbidden West and the lands of the fierce Tenakth and secretive Utaru tribes. The story progresses at an excellent pace and is well distributed to encourage map exploration without becoming a tedious “run to point x” thanks to the fast travel and mount systems. It is also very well acted, which is a salient point throughout the game.
Unfortunately, not everything is perfect in the story department, and I shall disclaim that I am a rather avid reader of sci-fi, fantasy and overall fiction, so I may be a bit more exacting on my standards than the average gamer. Initially, I had a lot of troubles with the suspension of disbelief needed to tie together the story of Horizon: Zero Dawn, as the idea that “machines are killing us all so let’s create machines to save us all” seemed rather like doubling down on a bad take. However, I eventually got over it and enjoyed the delivery of Horizon’s other emotional moments. With Forbidden West though, I found myself shaking my head more often than I wanted to, right to the very end.
While the main plot points are far-fetched and do test your capacity to ignore logic to “just have fun with it”, it was the hollowness of the supporting cast, companions and adversaries that actually let me down. The game almost lured me into a feeling reminiscent of Mass Effect or Dragon Age, where conversations with your companions reveal information about their background, the world’s lore and events, ultimately triggering their quests. The amazing voice acting brought me along to the point where I really wanted to care about these people, but I just couldn’t…
I struggled to clarify to myself why, but eventually it became apparent that it was simply their lack of humanity. Your companions don’t have opinions on your actions, or any strong motivations of their own, and are largely along for the ride, deferring to your “superior judgement” in every possible way and never changing from what they are. This may seem logical given you are privy to so much more than they are, but it simply isn’t human nature for everyone to just accept dangerous situations without even being told the full plan. It may seem like I’m being overly critical here, but many other games have done companions so much better, and Horizon: Forbidden West didn’t need to add this aspect for their game to be good.
Besides your Companions, my other issue was with the villains. Almost a caricature of “evil” in comic-book terms, the main antagonists have illogical motives that are poorly explained and were simply unconvincing to their alleged goals. While I can’t get into more detail without revealing major plot spoilers, just imagine you’re facing a Bond villain from the 1970s and you’ll have some idea what I mean.
In summary, Horizon: Forbidden West has a decent story that is excellently told, but falls short of being good as the simplistic nature of the characters involved fails to justify their actions and objectives, and thus the plot. Thankfully, the story is, for me, the weakest part of the game and it only gets better from here.
Horizon Forbidden West Review: Gameplay
There are many fun additions to Horizon: Forbidden West that improve the gameplay experience and show that the developers took criticisms on board. Players will be able to customize Aloy via six different skill trees: Warrior, Trapper, Hunter, Survivor, Infiltrator and Machine Master. Each of these trees provides passive bonuses, active skills and a “Valor Surge” that is an “ultimate” mode that significantly increases your performance. The skill system is simple and easy to follow, and given the amazing amount of content, it is possible to max out all trees, and you aren’t locked into one path or the other. The skills themselves can be fun and make a difference to your combat, particularly when it comes to your spear and melee combos.
The game has a loot system that is nearly identical to Zero Dawn, with the classic rarity levels of “Uncommon, rare, very rare, legendary”, and an upgrade and socketing system very familiar to most action and rpg players. The gear customization isn’t as deep as a hardcore rpg, but it’s entertaining enough to encourage you to tinker and experiment with the game’s elemental synergies. You will also be able to craft traps, tripwires, smoke bombs and use a variety of ranged weapons, giving flair to your combat experience.
Horizon: Forbidden West’s combat is an interesting experience that made me think of Monster Hunter more than a few times. As you encounter machines, you’re encouraged to scan them and cycle through their parts to identify weak spots and elemental weaknesses. You are also informed of machine parts you can detach by attacking in order to harvest materials, which encourages a tactical approach to ensure you get the best goodies.
Making full use of “Concentration” to slow time as you aim your bow, you can hit specific canisters or spots with specific elements to trigger a reaction for massive damage, while laying down traps to prevent other enemies from swarming you.
If you are looking for a challenge, the game has plenty to provide as the default settings put Aloy in a quite vulnerable position. The combat can feel clunky at times, and the camera angle took some getting used to, but I made full use of the stealth options to sneak up on machines and get the upper hand whenever I felt the knockdowns were getting too annoying.
The game features many combat and accessibility settings if you just want to cruise through, and given the scale of exploration many people may opt to reduce the difficulty to be able to tick more boxes faster. But I’d advise against going that route right away, so you can at least get into the customization and looting systems, and enjoy the satisfaction of energizing an enemy and getting one excellent shot into its glowing spots.
Games with such massive, living worlds invite the player to lose themselves in exploration. This is by far the best aspect of the game and one that fully appeals to the completionist in me. The map will look very familiar to both new and returning players, with easy to understand icons, markers and “fog of war”. You can dissipate the fog by climbing up giant machines called “Tallnecks” that help you survey an area, but there’s a second layer of fog that will only dispel as you travel and explore each region, helping you figure out where you have and have not been.
The many corners of the world are packed with activities, and the main quest does a good job of bringing you along from one region to the next, then allowing you to pick up local sidequests and errands, that range from your usual fetch-quests to deeper emotional missions that reveal lore of the area, relationships between tribes, and the state of the world at large. The sidequests are both engaging and interesting, and are better than you’d expect them to be for a genre that typically emphasizes quantity over quality.
There are a good range of activities so you don’t have the Ghost of Tsushima effect of forever chasing foxes or climbing up a shrine. You’ll get objectives to salvage contracts for merchants, enter melee pits or a challenging machine arena, take on rebel camps and outposts, puzzle out relics from old ruins, visit cauldrons and do gauntlets. There are, of course, also a variety of collectables to find including photograph alignments, survey drones and black boxes from the last battle of the Old Ones.
In order to complete all these activities, you will need to progress the main story to unlock special tools that give Aloy access to new areas, so there can be some backtracking to previous zones if you are looking to 100% the game.
One special note here, there is a new mini-game called Machine Strikers that plays out like a combination of Chess and a TCG, and is quite entertaining. And while it might be overwhelming when you are first getting started, it quickly becomes addictive and every game is a ton of fun. I doubt it’ll spawn a stand alone game like Gwent, but you will lose countless hours playing it.
Horizon Review: Audiovisual and Performance
The graphics of Horizon: Forbidden West are simply amazing. This is a beautifully designed and amazingly rendered world, that looked stunning on my 4k TV. The game features “fidelity” and “performance” modes, where one has sharper textures and the other stabilizes framerate. I was able to enjoy the whole game with fidelity mode, but if you are attentive to FPS you will likely enjoy performance more. Both of them provide a really immersive experience regardless, with only some minor distance popup.
Performance-wise I have some minor complaints that the developers said would be addressed with the day one patch, such as a random blackscreen or loading that appears for a few seconds when moving around the world. I also had some minor issues with clipping, getting out of bounds (I was fortunately able to jump back in) and getting stuck in first person from odd camera angles. All of these can be annoying but are really rather minor when put into perspective with the scale of the game at large.
The game’s overall visual performance is remarkable and the Playstation 5’s improvements in reducing loading times to almost nothing continues to impress.
Horizon’s music score is, for me, underwhelming. While the idle and exploration music was subtle enough to be entertaining, I found the crescendos on cauldron exploration to actually be annoying, and overall I found myself trying to put the volume down more than once. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the outstanding music scores of other games, but it simply didn’t do it for me and the only time I noticed it was when it was irking me.
The lower points of the music score are, however, completely rectified by the outstanding Voice Acting. The cast of Horizon: Forbidden West delivers an amazing interpretation of the characters and story, and its some of the best voice acting in gaming. Every sidequest and NPC interaction is voiced, and voiced well. The talent behind each character has been perfectly casted, and I very much enjoyed the depth this added to each interaction that I had in the world.
Horizon Review: Scale and Replayability
Open World and exploration games do not offer a good deal in terms of replayability, as you won’t be going through the game again with a “different build” or to make different choices. That said, the game’s scale is large enough that you are looking at over 100 hours if you want to complete all objectives and gather all collectables. This is a massive world with plenty of activities, climbables, destructible secret walls and interesting quests.
Discovering each type of machine, finding all the relics, and collecting the many data points of the many areas can become addictive and fun, because it can be both relaxing and exciting depending on the tempo of your own approach. I quite enjoyed this aspect of the game, even if in the end it is generic and common in the genre, because I enjoy exploring and ticking boxes.
Horizon Forbidden West Review: Final Thoughts and Pricepoint
When I started Horizon Forbidden West, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As a direct sequel, it was clear that many things would carry over, so it should feel familiar, but what could be done to improve on the critically-acclaimed original? As it turns out, there was quite a lot: from better climbing, exploration and tools to interesting skills and improved melee fighting, to expanded activity ranges and deeper NPC interactions.
As I jumped into endgame and “post game”, I had found my groove for combat, progression and exploration, and got into a relaxing rhythm to uncover all secrets on the map and finalize my collections to fill up all my datapoint entries from my notebook. At this point is usually where I consider, is this worth the price? And it gets a little tricky.
On the one hand, I found the story cliched and wasn’t overly impressed with it. On the other hand, the game has truly amazing production values and the gameplay is solid. But is this enough to make you spend USD 70 on this game rather than on Elden Ring, that comes out a few days later? In my opinion, no…
Horizon: Forbidden West while phenomenal in many ways is also decidedly average in others. The game doesn’t do anything new or groundbreaking, and in many ways it’s just more of the same sort open world game we’ve seen done over and over again with Assassin’s Creed, Ghost of Tsushima, and even games like Skyrim and Red Dead Redemption. And while that is fantastic company to be included in, those games simply do the same things better.
There is certainly a fan-base and market for Horizon: Forbidden West, as Zero Dawn sold well and had outstanding review scores. And there aren’t a lot of games that compete in terms of sheer size and production value (except the ones I just mentioned). So I think if those are some of your favorite games you will enjoy Forbidden West, and this will likely be a day one buy. However, if you’re new to the franchise or you’re wondering if it’s worth getting a PS5 just to play it, I’d hold off until after Elden Ring or until the price comes down a bit.
So what are your thoughts after all this: Do you have this on preorder already or are trying to decide if you want to get it? Let us know in the comments!
Summary: Horizon: Forbidden West is a gorgeous and highly polished experience that takes full advantage of the Playstation 5’s superior hardware. And while a dream come true for explorers, the sub-par story just prevents it from being a true masterpiece. Recommended for fans of the genre.
Story & Setting (7)
Design, Visual & Audio (9)
Scale & Replayability (9.5)