In 2017 the world was introduced to Aloy. A headstrong orphan who became the saviour of Meridian. Horizon Zero Dawn was an ambitious game. Blending storytelling, giant deadly machines and a unique combat system into one exciting journey. It was a good game. I enjoyed it but I didn’t necessarily ‘love’ it. It had issues with cinematics, some clunky parkour and the world felt a bit samey from time to time. Given that it was a new IP, it could have only gotten better from there and Horizon Forbidden West is proof of that.
Watch the full Horizon Forbidden West review
[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I was immersed, focused and obsessed with meeting everyone around me[/perfectpullquote]Horizon Forbidden West, as a package, is an exceptional game. It is bigger, tells a better story with deeper, more touching character moments and exploration feels more exhilarating than ever. Most importantly, Zero Dawn built the foundations where Forbidden West has grown from. Everything has been improved. Parkour is fluid, easier and feels more natural than ever. Character interactions have all been brilliantly acted out with mo-cap animations and backed up by fantastic voice work. However, the biggest gem in Forbidden West is the West itself. It is absolutely gobsmackingly gorgeous and you have to truly experience the sheer scale of the world around you to believe what I am saying.
The mountains shoot high up into the sky as Aloy ventures through the valleys beneath them. The coastline runs blue with clear water crashing into the shore. Even the dullest areas in the game like the deserts come to life with obscuring sandstorms that turn the sky orange and the distance foggy. There was one particular moment very early into the game that I will never forget. Aloy ventures into the border of the West and takes a lift down to the bottom. I was taken back by the beauty of this scene and sat in disbelief by the sheer scale of the world around me. Little did I know that it was just the start of the game and this feeling was going to happen a few dozen times over the next few weeks.
While Zero Dawn had a great world to explore, Forbidden West feels more alive and the verticle size of each area really made Aloy feel like a small human exploring an overwhelming land. It also helps that the game sets this up for you very early on with a lot of talk about the West being more dangerous, bigger and deadly than anywhere else.
So while the West is an achievement in-game world design, Forbidden West also excels at its storytelling and general gameplay. A lot of the game’s focus this time around is on the whole Tribe setting as various groups of people control different parts of the West. Aloy, while being on her own mission to save the world and stop this red blight, among other things I won’t spoil here, being the Nora warrior she is, unwillingly gets roped into all the drama taking place in the West and with all these tribes.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]New elements like Plasma and Adhesive add new ways to take machines down[/perfectpullquote] Thankfully, these tribes all contribute to the game’s pace in a positive way and not only grow the game world, thanks to their presence across each region, but also throw in some memorable quests and characters to meet along the way. Guerrilla Games managed to create some excellent characters in Aloy’s journey and even the side quests, which are often handed out by some random tribe member, resulted in a deep and meaningful interaction and conversation that I wanted to dive into.
The production values behind each and every line of dialogue in this game blew me away. Not one single conversation I had in Horizon Forbidden West felt disjointed. Instead, everything is acted out with superb facial animations and even the smaller details like the NPC cooking or fiddling with an object made the chat feel authentic. I was immersed, focused and obsessed with meeting everyone around me and it was all thanks to the exceptional attention to detail in these chats. I never ever skipped a line of dialogue either because why would I want to? It looks magical on-screen.
Aloy also gets up to all sorts of things throughout the game and quest design is top-notch here too. Every quest pushed me further into the West’s lore and tribes. If it wasn’t helping out the Utaru, a nature-based tribe that believes the machines are gods, it was choosing a side, and possibly starting a war, during a dispute between members of the Desert Clan. These tribes also mean business but their stories and lives became part of my day.
Their presence in the West has also been carefully moulded into not only the world but also the game’s story and lore too. The region oozes this theme in every scene and it also helps carry the exploration. Every turn had a new settlement to walk into, people to chat to and some drama Aloy had to help out with. Never mind her own quest, you know, the one that really matters. She was also trying to deal with Regalla who was slowly building an army of machines to take over all these tribes.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I often shouted “what the f%#@ is that” as a massive machine popped out from behind the mountain.[/perfectpullquote]For the most part, Horizon Forbidden West’s gameplay loop remains much the same here. Deadly machines live across the land and Aloy needs to either dismantle them by tearing off parts or kill them for other parts. The West has brought with it some new exciting machines but they are also deadly and switch up the combat too. New elements like Plasma and Adhesive add new ways to take machines down. Plasma builds up a large explosion if you deal enough damage over time. Adhesive creates a glue stick lump across the machine if you shoot it enough.
Of course, Aloy can also be affected by these elements so I had to keep that in mind too. There are also new weapons and traps to equip to help in the fight. The Spike Thrower is literally a throwable spike that explodes on impact. The new weapons combined with new coils, new elements and new machines gave me a lot of room to experiment with different playstyles and builds. I mostly used a Hunter Bow and a Sharpshot Bow with a bit of Blastsling and Boltblaster here and there. I also tried to use an outfit that gave me buffs in melee combat because using close combat in the game felt so great and looked amazing too.
The skill trees mainly revolve around whatever type of approach you want to take. I maxed out Warrior for melee, Hunter for bows and Survivor for resources. I didn’t touch Trapper at all because I didn’t use traps. I didn’t want to sneak around this time and plant stuff. It was a loud and guns blazing approach I wanted in Horizon Forbidden West and it was pretty fantastic to see come to life.
It also let me focus on upgrading my gear and constantly being on the lookout for a machine I needed and a certain part I had to tear off to make this upgrade possible. There was always a hunt I had on my list even if I had never seen the said machine before, I wanted its eyeballs and sacs to improve my bow.
The machines leave a lot to be discovered too. I really don’t want to spoil any new ones for you but there are dozens of new builds to fight and even mount. If you think the Thunderjaw is the coolest and most powerful then you have a storm coming. I often shouted “what the f%#@ is that” as a massive machine popped out from behind the mountain. I then sat there for a few minutes scanning each of its parts to see what I could get from hitting off what piece, planned my attack and dived right in. Let’s not forget that all this happens on land and in the sea now.[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]It is absolutely gobsmackingly gorgeous[/perfectpullquote]
Speaking of which, exploration in Horizon Forbidden West has expanded above and below. Aloy spends a lot of time underwater discovering locations and even coming into contact with machines. Getting around is easy enough. She can dodge and swim up and down. I won’t say it is perfect and it can get a bit cumbersome but hey, swimming away from a machine isn’t easy in the first place.
Aloy can also climb seamlessly across specific surfaces now too. Scanning a hillside reveals yellow lines and dots where she can climb on. This made getting up a large mountain cliff easy and it also felt great. I did have some issues with her missing jump interactions and overjumping a pole or rope. A common issue in games with this sort of parkour.
Her glider also comes in handy a lot. Given the game’s sheer scale now, I spent a lot of time high up on mountains and trails. The glider made it easy to leap off and slowly float down without dying. It is also a nice way to take in the game’s beauty on the way down. You also get other story-related gear during the game but you can discover that yourself.
I also want to mention Machine Strike – a fully-fledged board game in Horizon Forbidden West that has been designed with some incredible detail. In the game, Aloy gets Strike Pieces that move across a board with certain elements. They can then attack the opponent’s pieces and deal more damage if you move them to a certain terrain. Each Strike piece has also been designed with specific weak points on different sides of the wooden carving. Mastering each piece, its terrain buff and weak points are the keys to beating your opponent. You can also buy new Strike Pieces and take on different opponents through the West. You may overlook this mini-game but it is very fun and just another fantastic thing to experience in this brilliant game.
Horizon Forbidden West is a gem. I knew it was going to be good but I had no idea it was going to be this good. The world is beaming with beauty. The characters are exceptionally written and Aloy’s quest is an unforgettable one that has some dark twists and surprising turns. It all feels so much more focused this time around. Aloy is especially great to be around and watching her grow in this game was another heartwarming experience on its own. Simply put, you don’t get games like this every day making Horizon Forbidden West one of the best games on PlayStation.
This Horizon Forbidden West review was based on a code sent to us by Sony Interactive Entertainment. You can grab the game here.
Horizon Forbidden West
Story - 9.5/10
Gameplay - 9/10
Presentation - 10/10
Value - 9.5/10
Horizon Forbidden West is an exceptional game. It expands on Zero Dawn in every possible way while also delivering some of the best interactions I have ever seen in an open-world game. Its world is breathtaking, the people are memorable and the gameplay is industry-defining.
Parkour has times where it doesn’t listen
Doesn’t do a great job explaining the past game which might be an issue for some