Horizon Forbidden West nail exactly what a sequel should do, expand and improve upon what the first installment had to offer. It is a crowning achievement meticulously crafted by the geniuses at Guerrilla that fully showcases the power of the Playstation 5.
I have fond memories of playing Horizon Zero Dawn on my PS4 Pro back. I remember having a lot of fun navigating through that gorgeous open-world and bringing down death machines with my trusty bow and arrow. However, I kinda don't really remember much of the main story or the characters apart from Aloy and the semi-antagonistic Sylens. I remember that in the end, I stopped HADES, a rogue AI, from exterminating all life on Earth, but that's about it, everything else is a blur. What I want to say is that while I enjoyed the game a lot, the story wasn't really that memorable for my silly mind to keep roaming around in its neurons.
Well, I am sure that I will remember Horizon Forbidden West's incredible sci-fi story, the excellent cast of intriguing characters, and the insane level of world-building that is present in this glorious sequel. Set mere months after the events of Zero Dawn, Aloy's journey in saving the world is far from over. In fact, you might say that stopping HADES was just one tiny goal when compared to what she has to do to truly save the world. Earth is dying. Massive storms, pollution in the water, a deadly blight is killing crops, and, of course, all of the machines that still roam freely around the world are set to ultimately end all life on the planet in just a couple of months. The key to salvation? Well, it lies deep in the Forbidden West.
Aloy has to travel to the west coast, deep inside the Tenakth territory. One of the Forbidden West new tribes, the Tenakth are rumored to be bloodthirsty and aggressive, but as you'll learn throughout the game, rumors usually are just that, rumors. Alongside the Tenakth, Aloy will interact with many more people from many different clans and tribes, both old and new. It goes without saying, but Guerilla has done an incredible job with the world-building this time around. With open-world, you usually hear "living breathing world", but in Forbidden West that is truly the case. Each tribe has its unique culture from the way they see life, death, the world itself to how they live or interact with you, each other, and the other tribes. This, in my opinion, is the best part of Forbidden West.
Spread out in this gorgeous open-world, more on that later, you will come across large settlements where people live and each one of these locations is just stupidly filled with details that add a lot to this incredible world. Plainsong, the Utaru's settlement, for example, resides on top of massive satellite dishes that have been weaved together with wooden bridges and is a sight to behold. The Utarus have a deep appreciation for nature as their shtick is agriculture and it is wonderful to see that reflected not only in the architecture of their settlement but also in the way they live. Each Utaru clansman holds a little pouch filled with seeds so when they die, the seeds can grow and they can give back to nature. The Sky Clan of the Tenakth, strong as a rock, have set up shop in the Yosemite mountains high from the ground and safe behind a massive rock wall called the Bulwark that again, is a sight to behold.
Every settlement and for that matter all locations and landmarks Aloy visits in her journey are absolutely gorgeous. Horizon Forbidden West is by far the best-looking open-world game yet. The amount of details and incredible artistry that the Guerilla designers have put in every nook and cranny of this world is mindblowing. Gorgeous landscapes with phenomenal vistas, lush jungles, sprawling deserts, snowy mountains, and beautiful beaches, all filled to the brim with an insane amount of details make this game a feast for your eyes. The same level of attention to detail is applied to the characters and machines that inhabit this world. The humans you meet, talk to or fight are, again, the best CG characters I've seen in a game so far. From their incredible, unique and often vibrant armor and clothes to their beautifully rendered faces and hair... man I can go on and on describing how good everything looks in this game. You know bullshots, the heavily doctored "in-game screenshots" publishers generally released until a few years ago to promote their games? Yeah, those ones. Well, Horizon Forbidden West actually pulls that look all the time both in the 30fps resolution mode or the smooth as butter 60fps performance mode.
Going back to Aloy, like in Zero Dawn she starts this journey alone and wants to save the world again, alone. But she quickly realizes that this task is far too big and greater for just one person to achieve and she might need the help of others. Joining her in this epic quest are some old and new faces. Erend and Varl from Zero Dawn join to help you along with newcomers Zo, an Utaru, and Kotallo, a Tenakth, and some other ones which I will definitely won't spoil here. The writing is fantastic, the voice acting pretty much flawless not just from the main cast, but from everyone in the game, and the facial and body animations are basically life-like. Gone is the awkward "stand in one place with dead eyes" dialogues. Now, during conversations characters will emote and move around you know, as real human beings do.
Eventually, you will unlock a home base where you can talk to your companions and learn more about their needs, wants, and motivations, and build stronger relationships with them. While the home base starts as very sterile lab-like, as you progress through the story, it becomes more homely as your companions start to bring their own stuff, their own cultures inside it.
While the main plot goes places as it goes so hard with high sci-fi elements, to me it is a story about doing whatever it takes to unite people towards a greater good and how Aloy is treated by the different clans as you help them and how the home base evolves perfectly convey that. It's a great main story with even greater side stories. The world is littered in the best way with tons of side missions, errands, cauldrons, challenges, ruins to visit, tallnecks, and a ton of other things for you to go through that will keep ypu busy for many hours. And unlike many other open-world games where they just copy-paste side content to pad out the playtime, that's not the case with Forbidden West. Side missions here are excellent and honestly, they feel like an extension of the golden path. Let's say you save someone during a side mission, that person will return to their settlement and the next time you visit said settlement, they will be there to greet you. Additionally, other characters will reference stuff you did during dialogue building even more upon that living breathing world as everything seems connected and your actions truly change and affect your surrounding. It's truly astonishing, to be honest, how good the "side" missions are.
Gameplay, mainly combat, is another thing Guerilla has improved by a lot. The Forbidden West is filled with new and even deadlier machines for you to take on and that whole loop is better than ever. Aloy's arsenal has also been expanded with new weapons and ammo types to help you deal with all these new threats. The explosive spear is a highlight, incredibly satisfying and a weapon that I never unequipped. Scanning the machines with the Focus has also been expanded and improved. You can highlight each machine's part separately, check its strength and weaknesses so you can strategize better on how to bring down these massive new machines. Human enemies have also been improved where now, like the machines, they have armor you need to shoot off before you can deal some actual damage to them. Melee combat has also been drastically improved with new combos for you to execute, block breakers etc. The skill tree, again, has also been expanded where along with the usual passive buffs like more damage, resistance, concentration-time, etc. you can unlock special attacks for all weapon types and ultimate abilities you can trigger once the Valor meter is full.
As I said there are a ton of new gameplay additions that make combat a lot of fun. Each encounter with any of the machines is a lot of fun, incredibly satisfying and it never gets old as there are a ton of things for you to try. Traversing through the world has also been expanded, but note how I am not saying the world "improved". Fairly early in the game, you will get access to a glider which is a great new tool that makes ascending from high up easy and fun. Later you will get access to a breathing mask that allows you to dive underwater indefinitely so you can explore large beautiful underwater caverns and whatnot, but the controls can be a little finicky. Aloy has also a new grappling hook, but you can only attach it to specific anchors so there's not much room for experimentation. Climbing is back and now you can climb many rock faces, but unfortunately, it's still a lot janky and is the only part of the game that I did not like. Most of the time, you can easily climb stuff. But often, you just can't. You'll fight against the controls as the "magnetism" of a climbing part will not work properly and you will miss a jump and fall down. Other times while climbing you might want to jump to one side, you will jump backward. I know that this might sound a little nitpicky, but when everything else in the game is so meticulously crafted, experiencing small issues like this one is so noticeable and annoying.
When all things are considered, combat is *chef's kiss*, graphically it is the best looking game ever (yet), and the insane level of attention to detail in practically everything you see, hear or do, makes Horizon Forbidden West a masterpiece and an absolutely essential purchase for all PS5 owners. Now stop reading this review and go play Horizon Forbidden West, cause you probably have already bought it. Thanks for reading!
The game was reviewed on a PS5 using a code provided by the publisher. Horizon Forbidden West is out now for Playstation 4 and Playstation 5.