Few could have expected that a developer known for their FPS franchise Killzone would not only move on from their primary genre successfully but would do so by creating massive open world games instead. Still back in 2017 the team at Guerrilla Games surprised many by bringing Horizon Zero Dawn to the PlayStation 4 and introducing everyone to a new post-apocalyptic sci-fi world. Now five years later the team has returned promising an even bigger and better entry in the series in the form of Horizon Forbidden West, but does Aloy’s journey to new lands manage to meet expectations?
Set six months after the events of the previous game, Aloy is continuing her journey to find a way to save what is left of humanity as powerful storms continue to ravage the land, new machines continue to appear and remain almost always hostile towards humans, and a strange new red blight that slowly kills everything it touches creeps cross the land. In this journey she learns that the answer to many of her questions lies out West, in a land even more wartorn and ravaged than what she has grown to know.
In an effort to avoid spoiling anything, we won’t go into detail here but it can easily be said that Horizon Forbidden West tells an engaging, albeit a bit rough around the edges storyline that not only reveals more about how the world ended up like it is by building upon the mysteries that were laid out in the first game while also goes into much deeper detail regarding the world Aloy is actually living in now by forcing her to interact with more characters and dealing with conflicts beyond just the machines as there are other dangers, including rival tribes, living out in the West and balancing tensions may play a role in how well Aloy can accomplish her mission.
By focusing more on the current world and its inhabitants Horizon Forbidden West does an excellent job building up side characters that Aloy will interact with for lengthy periods of time. These side characters grow, especially if players take on various side-quests, and develop as the story progresses which is a delight, especially since Aloy herself is a bit of a letdown this time around. Players will occasionally get the opportunity to select dialogue choices for Aloy but these do not change the story and often barely change the tone of the conversation and even when interacting with some of the most delightful of NPCs, Aloy will often bring the entire interaction down on her own, something that feels oddly strange for a main character to be doing, even if she slowly does get a bit better over time.
It is worth noting that, while once again we cannot go into detail, Horizon Forbidden West suffers heavily from “middle game syndrome.” Not only are some of the final events in the storyline questionable at best, but the finale leaves plenty of questions left unanswered as fans are left to wait for a third game in the series. That isn’t to say that the story told here isn’t interesting, far from it as this is still a great sci-fi tale filled with action, mystery, and an oddly dull lead, but those who are hoping for a fulfilling conclusion will be a bit disappointed.
After a brief linear start that serves as mostly a tutorial/refresher course for players Horizon Forbidden West quickly begins to open up into the massive open world sandbox that fans of the first will be quite familiar with. Players can choose to simply head towards their next story objective if they so wish but the map is densely populated with side-quests to take on that have some solid variety and often great rewards, ruins to explore where players can solve puzzles for loot and upgrades, challenge arenas focusing on certain skill sets or combat arenas, and of course tons of machines to hunt down both for the aforementioned side-quests, upgrades, and of course for fun. If fans of the first game can think of something, Horizon Forbidden West has managed to do it bigger. There is even an in-game board game that players can sink time into should they please.
Combat has been enhanced as well thanks in part to the expanded skill tree system. Players now have six skill trees that they can allocate points into as Aloy levels up or completes side-quests and these not only make it so players can build Aloy’s skillset a bit closer towards their playstyle but also makes nearly every aspect of combat viable. Choose to stay at a distance and shoot apart a machine’s tearable pieces until a well placed shot at a weakpoint brings it down, place a trap in a marked machine’s patrol path and wait for it to be weakened for the killing blow, or simply rush in and tear them apart with Aloy’s staff. All of these feel viable this time around and combining these mechanics makes for some of the best parts of the game’s combat, especially with how satisfying breaking apart a machine for upgrades feels.
Another element that has been modified is platforming and climbing and unfortunately these changes have made exploration a bit rougher. For the most part climbing and platforming still works fairly well as some elements remain automated and highlighting climbable locations with Aloy’s Focus still makes climbing most areas fairly simple, especially since Aloy quickly gains access to a new movement tool at the start of the game as well as a number of other exploration tools later on, including one that opens up a whole new world of swimming areas, however actually climbing these areas and platforming can feel far more random than players would expect. Aloy can either completely miss a climbable ledge, randomly leap off restarting player progress, or even grab handholds that were previously out of reach. This isn’t too much of an issue but it has led to some frustrating moments where Aloy may randomly choose to climb certain distances from one moment to the next.
As for the various effects added to the DualSense controller, Horizon Forbidden West makes the best of what the controller has to offer. The tension of drawing back Aloy’s bow for a vital shot or launching her pullcaster at an object feels great while navigating the world, especially around extremely large machines and while swimming, makes great use of the haptic feedback.
Visuals & Audio
The linear beginning of Horizon Forbidden West only provides players with a small sample of what Guerrilla Games has in store for them as, once they manage to hit even the smaller open world and, eventually, hit the main area of the game players will find themselves in for a real treat. The world and landscapes of Horizon Forbidden West are expertly designed and are gorgeous to look at and travel through. Ruins of the old world and the new mechanical beings that roam the lands serve as a stark contrast from one another, especially with there being even more robotic creatures this time around. Even the designs of the characters have been handled better alongside making sure that various outposts and settlements feel more lived in as well, giving the world of the game extra life even while the actual expressions of the characters themselves are a bit too stiff and odd looking at times.
Ashly Burch has once again returned to reprise her role as Aloy and handles the character well throughout the course of the story as her initial coldness towards others eases as the story progresses. It is also nice to note that, alongside the fact that side characters have a bit more time to shine in the story this time, the voice acting for the rest of the game is handled very well. The soundtrack features a solid enough mix of tracks that work well when exploring the world and during important cutscenes as well.
Aiming to go bigger and better in almost every regard and managing to nail it in almost every regard is quite an accomplishment and that is what Guerrilla Games has managed to do here with Horizon Forbidden West. From increasing the amount of combat options and enemies to fight to expanding the open world to an even grander scale it is easy to sink hours into this game simply exploring side paths and seeing everything it has to offer. That being said, while this sci-fi tale is a strong one that balances the Old Ones and current world far better than the first game, it is clear that things are being left for an eventual third entry rather than satisfying players here.
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