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Horizon Zero Dawn is among the most complicated PlayStation-exclusive games for me. While I appreciated the new direction that Guerrilla Games went in, I was not a fan of that game. Playing it when it first came out in 2017, it arrived a bit outdated already. Besides graphics, it was held back by older gameplay mechanics.
Horizon Forbidden West is the second chance for Guerrilla to sell me on this world. It is a much more positive outing, improving on what came before. While there are some problems that still remain, I enjoyed Forbidden West. It does not set the world on fire but it gives me immense hope for the future.
Bottom Line Up Front
Horizon Forbidden West does what a sequel should do. It takes several of the problems from the original and improves upon them. It engages with more interesting side content. Forbidden West also improves the design of its stunning open world. The story is more intriguing with a deeper connection to side characters.
However, it does not fix everything. Climbing is still problematic and melee combat still feels like a waste of time. And Aloy herself is the least compelling character in the entire game. That said, this is a much better game than Horizon Zero Dawn. It gives me high hope for a future third entry in the series.
Gameplay Changes Leave Much to Be Desired
Among the changes that exist in Horizon Forbidden West, one of the most complicated situations is the gameplay. On one hand, this sequel leaps forward in some areas while remaining behind in others. It almost feels like Guerrilla knew that the bow is the most important part of the gameplay.
As such, there are refinements to make Aloy and the bow feel faster and smoother. Without a doubt, the bow in this game is one of my favorites ever. As I upgraded and got more experienced with the bow, I felt like I was almost playing Call of Duty, popping off quick shots over and over at enemy weak points.
Focus helps with this, too, allowing slowdown to aim for the perfect shot. This is enhanced by the expanded skill tree in Forbidden West. There are six main tracks that players can unlock at their leisure. Each of them focuses on a different aspect of the game, from bow skills to melee to traps and more.
Players can upgrade what they like and enhance that aspect of gameplay. What is strange is that many of them overlap with one another. For instance, Resonator Blast is a major early melee ability. However, although it falls under the melee category, the skill itself is partially a bow one.
The point of it is to charge up the spear with the melee attacks to create a weak point for a high damage bow hit. This is strange since the skill itself falls under melee. This combination idea sounds nice but, in practice, I would prefer more standalone skills.
This is especially because the bow gameplay is so brilliant in this game while the melee is absolutely horrible. I say with the strongest disdain that melee is not even worth using. It seems no better than the 2017 iteration that was already not feeling great.
It looks like Aloy is just flailing around when using either the light or heavy attack, and it is so unreliable. This would be fine if the melee was not crucial but it is a major part of the gameplay in reality. This is true since some enemies will charge at you and make bow attacks difficult.
Stealth does help with this but this aspect is not as deep as everything else. So, most fights involved me trying to keep as much distance as possible to win once I was found. Enemy variety is pretty good with a mix of familiar mechanical foes and a few new ones.
The human enemies are still the weakest part but there are additions with foes similar to Aloy in being able to ride the robot dinos. While I’m not a huge fan of certain parts of the gameplay, there is no doubting that the bow gameplay is among the best in gaming.
Unmatched in Art Design and Style
Where the gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag, I cannot say that about the presentation. Horizon Forbidden West is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. It is a case for why it would be nice if everyone could have a PS5 who wanted one as it would benefit so much from being a new generation exclusive.
The world is so vibrant and varied, containing multiple environments. The Forbidden West is a terrifically designed location with a blend of biomes and cultures. There is a rich and detailed style to this world and you can tell that Guerrilla really tried to thoughtfully craft every inch.
Foliage is everywhere with dense detail packed into every corner of the world. Even still, the game runs like a beautifully smooth rollercoaster all along the way. In performance mode, Aloy moves so quickly and flexibly. Well, minus some rare frame rate drops in major battles and Aloy’s poorly animated hair. Overall, every town and region that she visits have such color and detail to it.
Forbidden West is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played. It shined so brightly on my PS5 and had me in awe of the various vistas that you can discover. The way that it blends the Old World and the new is fantastic, and an example of what is possible on the new consoles.
Aloy’s Story Is Much More Interesting Even If She Isn’t
Another improvement that I appreciated in this sequel was the story. I thought that the plot in the original was fairly derivative, despite the amazing twist about the world. The backstory of Horizon Zero Dawn was arguably more interesting than what actually happens with Aloy.
Fortunately, this changes in Forbidden West with a more riveting story, even if the lead is not that great. It starts out slow and prodding, trying to usher in new players to the unique setting. While this restricted opening is a trudge to get through, the rest of the game is paced nicely.
The journey of Aloy to the Forbidden West with a goal in mind is a great one. There are twists along the way and unexpected allies and enemies that she encounters through her adventure. The cast in this game is so varied and interesting, both the companions of Aloy and her enemies. This includes the sadly brief but utterly riveting appearances of Carrie Anne-Moss’ Tilda van der Meer and Angela Bassett’s Regalia. A special note to John MacMillan’s Varl, too, for bringing such heart to Aloy’s journey.
There is a BioWare-like spin on companions and conversations in this game. Aloy is able to occasionally make conversation choices on a wheel, choosing between different responses. You also have plenty of optional conversations and paths that you can take to learn more info.
While these conversation choices do little to change the general storyline, it does add some depth to the characters that Aloy meets. It also feels like an experiment for what is to come in the future. It helps, too, that these characters are fantastically written and well-acted.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Aloy herself. Somehow I think that she is a worse character than in Zero Dawn. She is a one-note person to a frustrating degree. She believes that this is her mission and that only she can do it. She accepts no help and is stubborn in the worst way possible to the point of being a brat.
Becoming a hero has really gone to her head and I did not enjoy her eye-rolling speeches. It is unfortunate since voice actor Ashly Burch is so talented and has proven that in other games. Here, though, the script does her no justice as the frustratingly one-dimensional hero. Thankfully, the story is carried by the supporting cast who all manage to be more interesting than her.
The Forbidden West Feels Alive and Worth Exploring
From the sandy red crags in the east to the rich grasslands in the west, the map of Forbidden West is alive with content and places to explore. Though it takes a few hours to unlock the entirety of the Forbidden West region, it is well worth the effort.
After the opening hours, the world swings wide its gates for the player to explore. Unlike Zero Dawn, it legitimately feels like most of the content is worth checking out. There are plenty of icons and question marks dotted across the landscape to discover.
Some question marks will lead to side quests while others might be a relic ruin to explore. Besides the standard camps, I enjoyed every bit of the side content that I did in Forbidden West. It is worth noting that I was not able to do everything since I switched gears to the main path partway through.
However, what I did of the side content in the world was engaging and rewarding, something I cannot say for the previous game. This is especially true for the side quests in the world. These are short-bursts of an optional dungeon or mission with fun characters along the way.
The interactions with their stories are fun enough on their own but there are items and experiences to gain as well. There are also the ruins of the Old World, where you can explore a ruined building or house. Through this, you can find some unique items and find out more about the lore of the world. It just sucks that the horrible climbing returns from the first game. I thought this would at least improve some, and it technically did, but not enough. There were far too many times that I fell because Aloy would not register the grip onto a marked climbing point.
Some elements return like the Tallnecks for revealing more parts of the map. Traversing the map is fun, too, with the various mounts that exist in this game. It is still a joy to sneak up on a machine and hack it to let you turn it into a mount for use. While some mounts are still a bit lackluster in movement controls, it is a neat alternative. This is especially true for the new Shieldwing glider. With the main story done, I can’t wait to get back to the game and start clearing out more of the map.
Finding the best alternative for Horizon Forbidden West is an interesting scenario. If you’re in it for the story and world, I would go for something like The Witcher 3. It has a similarly fantastical nature to it, though they differ quite a bit in terms of timeline. The Witcher 3 is another game with an engaging story and plenty of high-quality side content.
Besides The Witcher 3, here are a few more recommended alternatives to Forbidden West:
- God of War (2018)
- Breath of the Wild (I know, I know)
- Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (or Odyssey or Origins)
- Far Cry 6 or Primal
- Ghost of Tsushima
- Elden Ring
Horizon Forbidden West is one of the games that demands it to be played on PS5. The world is so vast and wondrous, containing tons of interesting characters and engaging content to explore. It is a beautiful game with only a few minor performance and visual hiccups along the way.
It helps, too, that Forbidden West has an exciting storyline that thrills with a cliffhanger that sets up the next in the series. While Aloy is, unfortunately, a worse hero than in the last game, the story is anchored by everyone else who is well-acted and written. Though many aspects of gameplay, outside of the bow, feel outdated and useless, Horizon Forbidden West is a markedly better game than its predecessor. It sets out to do what a sequel should do, being bigger and better, while setting up an even more exciting future.
- Brilliantly designed and beautiful world. There are few open-world games out there that have impressed me visually like this one.
- Tons of optional content worth playing.
- Some of the best bow gameplay of all time.
- Fascinating characters who carry the story with excellent acting at every turn.
- Outside of the bow, the exploration and combat mechanics are severely outdated. The climbing mechanic should not be this bad and unresponsive in 2022. And it was almost not fun at all when I was using anything other than the bow.
- Aloy is somehow a worse protagonist than in Zero Dawn.
- Conversation options and branching dialogue gives the illusion of choice. In the end, it is just light touches to spruce up the same words and scenarios.
Question: Is Horizon Forbidden West worth it?
Answer: I think that Horizon Forbidden West is worth it for a vast majority of players. Though I might have come off rather negative, I enjoyed the game quite a bit. The time with Aloy and the Forbidden West was much more fun and intriguing than the first game.
In the end, though, it comes down to you. If you liked Horizon Zero Dawn, there is seriously no reason that you should not play this game. It is a much better experience overall and will be absolutely worth your time. If you were like me and did not love Zero Dawn, it could be worth a try at least.
I think you should watch some gameplay videos to see how the combat is before picking whether to pick it up. But if the idea of a better open world format has you interested enough, then I think you should go for it.
Question: How long is Horizon Forbidden West?
Answer: With an open-world game like this, it will vary depending on your playstyle. For me, it took about 28 and a half hours to get through the main story. However, it is worth mentioning that I did do the main path mostly. At the start of the game, I stuck to doing just about everything I could in the first couple of areas.
But, unfortunately, to get this review done, I had to stick to the main story from there. For the average person, I see it taking roughly 35-40 hours to beat it with some side content. If you’re a completionist, though, I can definitely see your time be double that for everything there is in the game. It basically comes down to your playstyle and preferences.
Question: Do I need to play Horizon Zero Dawn before Forbidden West?
Answer: This might seem controversial but I do not think you need to play Horizon Zero Dawn before Forbidden West. As mentioned in my review, there is a good bit of hand-holding in the beginning. During this time, the game does beat you over the head, so to speak, with the events of the first game.
It acts as if you did not play that game and it is all pretty much unskippable. It is not the best at introducing you to all of the characters from the previous game but I don’t remember them anyway. I was still able to enjoy my time with the game and I don’t see any reason why you can’t, either.
And then there is the fact that Horizon Forbidden West is just a much better gameplay experience. I still think there are some outdated parts of this game and it is even an improvement over the original. Unless you really want to see how much it has improved, I think newcomers should just jump straight into Forbidden West.