Developer – Guerrilla Games
Publisher – Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform(s) – PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4
Release Date – February 18, 2022
Disclaimer: Thanks to PR for Providing a Review Copy
I’ll start this review off with a bit of a hot take depending on who you are, I didn’t necessarily love Horizon Zero Dawn as many others did. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the game and enjoyed my time for the most part but it wasn’t one of my favorite PlayStation exclusives such as God of War or Ghost of Tsushima. Also, this isn’t to discredit Guerilla in the slightest, I still can’t believe the leap they made from Killzone to the Horizon franchise.
The world, concept, and most importantly the gameplay were aspects I enjoyed immensely in Horizon Zero Dawn. My main gripes came with the story, characters, and the way it was presented overall. The beginning of Zero Dawn hooked me and Aloy’s origin and upbringing interested me immensely. Towards the middle is where the game started to lose me a bit and the story wasn’t as captivating as it was at the outset.
I had a couple of other minor criticisms but the reasons listed above are my main critiques. 5 years have passed and here we are with a full-fledged sequel to its predecessor that sold 20 million copies since its release. Horizon Forbidden West has been out for a month now and I’ve had plenty of time to delve in at this point. I didn’t want to rush through this game at all, I took my time and went at a steady pace from start to finish. Over 50 hours later, I’m finally ready to give my thoughts.
As per usual with fresh releases, I won’t go too in-depth with the story for those that wish to avoid spoilers. Horizon Forbidden West picks up 6 months after Zero Dawn after Aloy’s victory in Meridian. The planet’s world is deteriorating from a quickly spreading plague. Aloy embarks on a voyage across the Forbidden West in search of a GAIA backup to cure the land.
That’s the main synopsis for Horizon Forbidden West and your main goal throughout the game. I’ll be honest, I was initially worried in my first couple of hours with the game. As Zero Dawn hooked me in its first hours, Forbidden West wasn’t intriguing me at all in its first few hours. The pace felt odd at first, I went from a long tutorial section to a great Slitherfang boss fight back to a slower pace. It didn’t help that I initially wasn’t a fan of Aloy towards the beginning of this game and she came off as a bit unlikeable.
All of those first impressions changed when I got to a mission that involved an Embassy with all the tribes. This mission picked the pace up substantially and I felt it stayed this way for the rest of the story for the most part at least. A lot of criticisms I had with the story in the first game were how hard it went with the exposition towards the middle and end of the story. Some people enjoy that style of storytelling but the way it’s executed matters a lot and Zero Dawn didn’t do it for me. This story still has its exposition dumps but I like the way Guerilla illustrated it in this entry a lot more. The diversity, the different tribes, and the varied locations stand out.
I still don’t love the story and after two games, I think it’s obviously down to personal preference. The way Guerilla has told the story for both Horizon games is different but similar in many ways. I like the main narrative of Horizon Forbidden West overall and towards the end of the game, we get a ton of terrific moments. Personally, I’ve never been too invested in the characters throughout both games. There are expectations such as Varl, but for the most part, they don’t do it for me. Aloy is fine and Ashley Burch does a great job in her role, but as a character, I feel her writing is a bit dreary. As I stated earlier, it didn’t help she felt rude and unlikeable for a good chunk of this game.
Let me make this clear, if you didn’t enjoy the gameplay in Horizon Zero Dawn you won’t enjoy it here either. The core mechanics are more or less the same. It’s a good thing, I immensely liked the gameplay in Zero Dawn because I like it even more in Forbidden West. Fighting machines gets my adrenaline running each time and it remains one of the best aspects of the Horizon franchise.
I appreciate how many options you have to tackle each machine. You can target weak spots with your bow and weaken them quickly. Removing parts from enormous machines and using them as a weapon remains unmatched. I haven’t even mentioned the diversity in weapons with the Throwing Spikes, Ropecaster, Boltblasters, and Blastslings.
I’m disappointed that human combat isn’t all that great. This was a problem I had in Zero Dawn and it’s largely unchanged in this game. Hit detection feels so off when fighting human enemies and sometimes it feels like it takes an eternity for Aloy to get up when she’s knocked down. They did add a combo system but I feel like this aspect could’ve used a lot more work as a lot of the time they just don’t work. The fun between fighting machines and then fighting humans is night and day, I’m sure the majority who’ve played this game would agree with that.
Just like its predecessor, Horizon Forbidden West is a fully open-world game. I know many have grown to despise a ton of open-world games due to a lot of them following the same formula. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, so I’ll spare examples. I won’t get tired of an open-world game in the slightest as long as the activities in the world catch my interest and Forbidden West has a plethora of them.
Side Missions are so in-depth in their narrative and characters. While some may not be worth the reward sometimes, others have commodities that have considerable value to you in one way or another. The fact that I could’ve missed a weapon such as an explosive spike by not doing a certain side mission sticks with me.
There are other activities such as clearing out rebel outposts and earning collectibles. My personal favorites are Overriding Tallnecks and completing special dungeons built by machines called Cauldrons. Although, I had a bad glitch towards the end of one of the higher level cauldrons. I had died fighting the last boss and spawned outside the cauldron in a void. I literally couldn’t get back inside because if I moved too far, I would fall through the world, die, and proceed to spawn right back into the void. The only way I was able to get back in was to restart back the start of the cauldron through an older autosave. Cauldrons take a while to complete so I’d be lying if I said this glitch wasn’t a large annoyance.
I tried to enjoy other things such as Gauntlet Runs and Melee Pit Challenges but they both can be extremely wonky at times. Gauntlet Run Races are fine but it could be more fun if it wasn’t buggy and it feels like the Melee Pit Challenges don’t have the right inputs on screen in certain instances. For the most part, Horizon Forbidden West is a nice open world to explore and get lost in. When I thought about going back to the main quest, I was sucked back in by a random question mark on the map every single time.
On one last quick note, I can’t not talk about the visuals. If you want to talk about gorgeous, you can easily tell someone to look at this game. Horizon Forbidden West is beautiful in every sense of the word and to think this is a cross-gen game. The fact that we’re this early into the generation and games look this good is an excellent sign of things to come from other studios.
While a lot of aspects from the first game carried over to the sequel, I feel execution was the biggest factor here. You can tell Guerrilla took a ton of criticism they got from the first game and implemented it here. It’s not all perfect, as I said earlier, I feel the human combat hasn’t improved much over the first game. I haven’t even mentioned the climbing but it honestly feels worse than the first game. Climbing is so janky and Aloy doesn’t grab edges that she clearly should be able to.
Minor grievances like that aside, I enjoyed Horizon Forbidden West. I can’t deny the sheer effort and passion that was put into this project. So much depth was put into every facet of this game. Some of it doesn’t stick the landing but I don’t see how anyone can play this game and not see the devotion put into it over the past 5 years by Guerilla.
Horizon Forbidden West improves on many things from Zero Dawn. The franchise isn’t something that I love personally or have a deep relation to. On the other hand, I can’t deny its achievements and how much of a success it has been for Guerrilla and PlayStation. I don’t have to be a major fan of everything a game has to offer and still acknowledge its quality. I had a good time with Forbidden West for the most part and I don’t regret giving the game my time and attention.
Rating - 8/10