Horizon Forbidden West is a sequel to one of Sony’s most successful open-world games – Horizon Zero Dawn. Forbidden West has been one of 2022’s most anticipated games as gamers have been waiting with bated breath to get their hands on the game, especially since the State of Play dedicated to the game showed off not only new machines but also some incredible new combat mechanics. We’ve been playing Horizon Forbidden West for quite some time now and we can tell you this, if you are a fan of the franchise and are waiting for Aloy’s next adventure, then this is definitely a game for you. It isn’t without its flaws but the overall package on offer is one that will definitely keep you hooked for a very long time.
Horizon Forbidden West Story
The story of Horizon is… well… complicated. If you haven’t played the first game, then I highly recommend you watch this quick 20-minute recap of the game and if you are enticed by the premise, then this deep dive into the lore of the first game will be more alluring to you.
Horizon Forbidden West takes place 6 months after the events of the first game. The world is engulfed in some form of Red Blight that’s killing all the vegetation and will eventually lead to the extinction of humanity until our hero Aloy can put a stop to it. Here is where your knowledge of the first game comes into play to get a better grasp of the story. Without spoiling too much, on your journey you realise that you need GAIA, the AI developed by scientist Elizabeth Sobeck to save the world during the first rise of the machines (if this is too complicated, go back and watch the videos recommended above).
As always, through your journey, you will encounter a new threat which I will not spoil here, but I will tell you this, the roots of this new threat are present in the first game. It’s like when the developers were writing the story of the first game, they knew exactly where they wanted the story of the sequel to go. The twists and turns that ensue will at times keep you at the edge of your seat while at other times you will know the obvious plot twist is around the corner. It’s a very well woven story and does justice to the deep lore the first game laid the foundation for.
In addition to the overarching ‘save the word story,’ there are a lot of small stories you will encounter related to the various new tribes in the game along with expanding on the stories of key characters found in the first game. This time there is a new foe in the form of Regalla. She has an immense hatred for the Carja tribe and her origin story is also something you come across in the game adding weight to her motivation. She is a very well written villain and it’s easy to understand how her hatred has blinded her to all reasons to the point where she also loses some of her followers during the course of the game.
Not only Regalla’s story but even the side quests you encounter in the game are extremely well written with each small story trying to have an impact rather than being a simple fetch quest or a “bring me these resources” kind of quest. The only downside to the depth of the lore is you need to be invested in it. While it’s easy to get a grasp of the overarching story, I found myself skipping some of the conversations in the side quests, as I’d honestly, lost the plot.
Without spoiling anything, the story of Forbidden West will definitely appeal to those that were invested in the lore of the first game. It has some truly wow moments when certain new key characters are introduced, especially when you come across Tilda (played by Carrie Anne Moss) and others like her. Safe to say, the story is one of the game’s best highlights and I highly recommend you check out the story recaps mentioned above to get up to speed with what Forbidden West has to offer.
Horizon Forbidden West Gameplay
Those that have played Horizon Zero Dawn will know that even though taking down a Thunderjaw was a lot of fun, the game had its fair share of problems. Traversal was limiting, inventory management was a pain and taking down human enemies became a chore after some time. If you have seen the GDC talk ‘Horizon Zero Dawn: A Game Design Postmortem’ then you will know that the developers were aware of these issues. So, it is natural that we have seen improvements here.
Let’s start with human foes. They are as complex as taking down a machine. A lot of them have armour plates you need to take out before you can deliver the killing blow. The human foes also ride and control machines, mixing up the fight each time. Add to it the fact that they are more aggressive and strategic in their approach and you have a diverse encounter each time.
When it comes to machines, they are more varied than the first game. Not only are the machines varied, but you almost never have a single type of machine to encounter at a single time unless it is a boss fight. Each group of machines has their own strengths and weaknesses that you must exploit, forcing you to not only change your tactics but also the arsenal you have. This is kinda like what we saw in Doom Eternal (review) where each enemy was vulnerable to a different weapon. The implementation isn’t to the same level of strictness here but it pays to use machines vulnerabilities against them using the right weapon.
The diversity of machines is also well spread out throughout the map so each new area adds a new machine to the mix, offering something fresh for you to take down with each new area you explore.
Add to it new traversal mechanics like the Pullcaster that can get you out of a sticky spot with ease and the Zelda inspired glider to cover long distances, and the fighting mechanics are far deeper than the first game.
I’m not going to talk about the big underwater sections as those are to be experienced spoiler-free!
Just like any open-world game, there are a lot of side quests and activities to do. Speaking of the activities, in addition to the hunting grounds you also have melee pits where you can test your melee combat abilities and a chess-like board game called Strike. Strike will appeal to those that enjoyed Gwent in the Witcher 3. Strike is a lot like the Harry Potter version of chess where each machine piece that you have has a special move set and the board.
Inventory management has changed too. You no longer have a limited case of inventory that you carry. In fact, inventory management has become quite smart. It’s not unlimited like Breath of the Wild. You can carry a limited number of health regeneration berries and other resources, and once your on-hand inventory is full, all your resources are sent to your stash. You have access to this stash at multiple points on the map which makes restocking a breeze and takes away the cumbersome inventory management from the first game.
Crafting and finding upgrade resources has also become simple. You can “create a job” which highlights the area of the map where you can find the resource for the weapon or outfit upgrade making it easier to track. If you need a specific machine part intact, you can highlight it on the machine and ensure you detach it from the machine with a well-timed shot before taking down the machine. This adds another layer of mini-game to the full game and is a welcome distraction if you want to spend a couple of hours hunting for resources before returning to the main adventure.
The way the map is laid out, the cauldrons where you learn to override the machines, fast travel and more are just extremely well placed on the map. Travelling is no longer a chore but more like a strategic move from one point of the map to the other.
The way the side quests are laid out also reminds me a lot of Ghost of Tsushima (review). Each quest is a small story and there are times when AI companions will accompany you as well. Side quests this time around also have meaningful rewards in the form of new weapons, upgrades and more.
Last but not least is the upgrade and skills tree. There is an extensive skill tree that can be used to unlock new skills, upgrade some abilities and enhance some of the firepower at your disposal. Let’s break it down. While there are familiar and new weapons at your disposal, each weapon now comes with a unique ability that can be unleashed by pressing L2 to aim and R1 for the special fire and R2 for the regular fire. This special fire is unlocked in the skill tree. You also unlock ‘valor’ surges which give you some enhanced abilities. So, you can enhance stealth takedown, increase the power of your weapons, or increase your resistance to damage, etc. these ‘valor’ surges are upgradable. Overall, while the gameplay will feel familiar to those that have played Zero Dawn, the depth of combat, upgrades, and skills has been expanded upon to offer players a diverse gameplay experience.
Horizon Forbidden West Graphics and Sound
Horizon Forbidden West is playable in two modes – performance and resolution. While resolution lets you play the game in 4K, it limits the frame rate to 30FPS. The second mode reduces the resolution and gives you a 60FPS experience. While I did notice some lag and stutter in the game, these were tied to very specific sections. So even when the action gets intense on-screen, the game maintains its target 60fps 95% of the time. There are some game-breaking bugs I encountered like getting stuck behind an invisible wall or getting stuck looting a crate till I rebooted the game. While these bugs do detract from the game, they didn’t happen at every turn but happened often enough to annoy me. The game also randomly crashed a few times on me.
With the annoyances out of the way, Horizon Forbidden West is a stunning looking game with vivid colours and punchy environments. The character model of Aloy looks a lot more detailed and has ever so slightly more realistic movements. One of the biggest improvements to the game is with cinematics. No longer are cutscenes just a closeup of two people talking to each other. There is more animation and expressiveness in it. And while character models look detailed and stunning there is the occasional blip here and there which can be ignored.
A special mention to the design of the machines you encounter. Each and every one of them has a unique design, stance, special ability and more. Their movement and the overall quality of animation is very good, especially when you encounter some of the machine boss fights.
Another impressive feat is the diversity in the environment. From the minute you enter the “Forbidden West ” you take this long elevator ride that gives you an expansive horizon and this horizon sets the scale for the environments you will encounter. From open deserts with dense rainforests to San Francisco and some locations which I won’t spoil here, the game is truly breathtaking in scale and design especially when you play it on a PS5 (review). A special mention to the design of the underwater levels, but I won’t spoil that here.
Another immersive factor is your ability to control the HUD. You can have a detailed HUD as we saw in Zero Dawn or a minimal God of War (2018)/ Ghost of Tsushima style HUD which gives you basic information, but you can pull up more information as and when you need it with a simple click. The minimal HUD does add an immersive experience to the game.
When it comes to the sound, let’s get obvious out of the way. The voice acting in the game is marvellous with key characters from the first game reprising their role for the second and newcomers like Carrie Anne Moss donning key characters. Let’s just say the developers have “upped” the cinematic experience of storytelling in the game.
Even your weapons have very distinct swishes and thuds. And the roars of the machines and even the background score during an intense battle add a level of immersion. If you play with headphones, know that the 3D audio implementation is also very good, giving you a surround experience. But I do recommend playing the game using a home theatre if possible because adding to the surround experience is the speaker on the DualSense controller which adds sounds like the swish of a bow being fired or the tightening of the string as you pull an arrow, so on and so forth.
Horizon Forbidden West isn’t without its issues. There are invisible walls you can get stuck behind and the game has glitched out on me on multiple occasions. A patch for the same has gone live since I started playing so it is possible you will not encounter these issues. But the package on offer can be defined as a sequel in the true sense of the word. The expansion of the story, gameplay mechanics and the overall experience feels like the same generational leap we felt when moving from God of War 1 to God of War 2 on the PS2, or when moving from Jak and Daxter to Jak 2 or the leap which one felt going from Uncharted 1 to Uncharted 2 or even Assassins Creed 1 to AC2. The leap is truly one that will appeal to fans. Ubisoft open-world games can also learn from the quest design and open-world nature of Horizon Forbidden West. There is a lot to do here which is optional and there is a lot to do without it feeling like bloatware. If the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is my favourite open-world game ever, then Horizon Forbidden West is most definitely a very close second!
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PS4, PS5
Price: PS4 – Rs 3,999. PS5 – Rs 4,999
We played a review copy of Horizon Forbidden West on a PS5.