Horizon Forbidden West Review (PS5)

Horizon Forbidden West Review: Peak Refinement

Forbidden West

Many people use the term more of the same as a derogative, but it isn’t always. It would be very easy to describe Horizon Forbidden West as more Horizon, and you wouldn’t be wrong to do so. The team at Guerilla Games offered an excellent start to this series in 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn, and they haven’t invented the wheel in the follow-up. If you really disliked Zero Dawn, Forbidden West isn’t likely to massively change your mind.

That would be damning the game with faint praise, though, because Horizon Forbidden West is so much better, and offers so much more than its predecessor. Admittedly, it starts a bit slow, but once you get a few hours in, the game opens up and shows just how far Guerilla were able to expand Horizon’s core.

 

Our Story So Far

 

Forbidden West

Be thankful for recaps, because Horizon Forbidden West quickly picks up the seeds laid down at the end of Zero Dawn and runs with them. Aloy defeated evil AI HADES and saved the city of Meridian, completing her journey from outcast to savior. Zero Dawn teased that this was far from the end for Aloy, and the far future Earth Horizon is set on, and those threads quickly bear fruit. Aloy quickly learns she needs to restore GAIA, the AI that was created in ancient times to manage the world and whose destruction twenty years ago sent the planet into turmoil. That requires finding a still working backup, something which proves extremely difficult to find.

This journey takes you far beyond the realm of the original game. Outside of a brief pit stop in Meridian, you’re in all-new territory here, heading to the Forbidden West, an area featuring the remnants of places like Las Vegas and San Francisco. This territory is controlled by the Tenakth, a tribe split into three groups who are known for their ferocity, though it quickly becomes apparent that this has as much to do with their history with the tribes we’re familiar with as it does anything inherent in their makeup. Their culture is based on strength, but there is also room for kindness among them. Huge portions of Horizon are spent in their lands, as Aloy is drawn into their civil war, and they’re some of the strongest sections of the game.

 

New Developments

 

Forbidden West

Aloy’s journey finds her needing to change and grow, and while she doesn’t become an entirely different person, I immensely enjoyed seeing her learn to open up to others. Her entire dynamic has changed from the first game. We first met her as an outcast of the Nora tribe, but she enters Forbidden West as the Savior of Meridian, famous wherever she goes and with respect from all. It’s an uncomfortable transition at times, but an interesting one as I can remember few games with quite the same dynamic. Forbidden West opens up with some twists relatively early on that I simply didn’t see coming but which I enthusiastically endorse. While I liked Aloy in the original game, Zero Dawn’s story was never its strength. That’s changed in Forbidden West, which offers one of my favorite tales in a recent game. As her task grows larger, she has to learn to accept help. For a character who is such a dedicated loner, she sure does put together quite the team by the time the credits roll.

Ashly Burch carries the story, delivering a powerful performance as Aloy, but she’s not alone. The entire supporting cast, filled with many familiar faces and also tons of new friends to fall in love with, does a wonderful job with even minor characters feeling memorable and allowing you to connect with them instantly. I ended up completing more of Horizon’s side content than I intended to on my initial run, both because it often offers moving stories that are far better developed than anything in Zero Dawn, but also because the characters did such a consistently wonderful job of pulling me in.

 

Two Become One

 

Forbidden West

Combat was a strength of Horizon Zero Dawn, but I’m glad to say that fighting both human foes and the giant mechanical dinosaurs running around has improved drastically in Forbidden West. The already excellent bow-based combat is stronger than ever with a wide variety of new weapons, upgrades, and even weapon types to give you more ways to stop these behemoths from taking you on. Scanning enemies at the start of combat allows you to divine their weak points quickly and elemental weaknesses so that you can craft the proper response on the fly. Realizing a machine’s best attack is with its tail and then realizing you can sever that tail, making it much less dangerous, doesn’t get old. It’s more important that you do sever things, too, because a lot of the loot you’ll get from your machine foes is only available if you tear it off them before finishing them off. Don’t worry if you prefer to just beat on opponents, though. You can turn this off in the settings.

Melee combat, however, is where Forbidden West shows the most growth. In the last title, it didn’t quite seem to have the impact it should have, but your blows have a lot more weight and impact this time. New combos give you options against turtling foes, and the new resonator blasts are perhaps my favorite part of combat. The more you hit your enemies, the more you’ll build up your resonator meter. After doing so, you’ll unleash a serious attack, with room for more. A glowing spot will then appear on your foe, which you can shoot with an arrow to do even heavier damage. It does an excellent job of bridging the two sides of the game’s combat, requiring you to use them in sync for best results.

 

Into The West

 

Forbidden West

You have to get to that combat, though, and exploring the Forbidden West is a highlight as well. In Zero Dawn, I often just went from point A to point B, but here I found myself constantly wanting to see everything the world had to offer. There’s so much variety as you’ll journey through deserts, jungles, giant cities, and underground tombs. This massive open-world looked overwhelming when I first saw the game’s full map, but smart decisions by the development team make it a joy to get around. Riding around on a robot dinosaur is still satisfying, but fast travel is incredibly well implemented. You still have fast travel items that you’ll have to craft or buy, but while I always carried a few, I rarely felt a need to use them. That’s because you can fast travel for free form any of the game’s many campfires. Not only are these a great place to save, but they also allow you to fast travel for free. You’re rarely more than a minute or two away from one, so it’s easy to avoid crafting a ton of those packs.

The world of Forbidden West may be impressive in its variety, but what most surprised me was its verticality. Learning some lessons from Breath of the Wild, which came out right after the original Horizon, Aloy is now able to get much more vertical. No, you can’t climb everything like in that game, but handholds are far more common, with many cliffs offering you a way to scale them with ease, and seeing where you can climb is always only a button press away. That’s not the only way Aloy gets into the air, though. A new Pullcaster tool acts as a grappling hook as well as a means of manipulating the environment and can quickly get you out of trouble. An electronic glider is perhaps the most directly ripped off element from Breath of the Wild but is welcome as it lets you quickly get off huge peaks with ease and makes travel that much easier. There’s a late-game twist that opens things up far more, but I’ll let you see that one for yourself.

You can go lower than ever, too, at least into the water. Aloy not only swims this time around, she now dives. Though you have to work with a limited air capacity early in the game, you’ll eventually find a way around that restriction, letting you swim around like a fish as long as you need to, exploring huge underwater areas. This may be some of my favorite underwater movement in a recent game. It feels tight and easy to control while still capturing the feel of swimming.

 

Talk Less, Listen More

 

Forbidden West

If I have any complaint about the exploration in Forbidden West, it’s that Aloy never shuts up this time around. Her voice work is always excellent, but she comments on everything she sees or does. That’s not helped by the fact that what she sees and what you see aren’t always the same, and while this can help point important things out, it often just leads to her commenting on something and you having no idea what she’s talking about. This dialogue is repetitive as well. Even late in the game, she was still telling me every time my pack was full, and items had to be sent to the new stash. I liked having a way to keep gathering, but thirty hours in, I didn’t need the reminder anymore. Aloy also likes to think aloud about how she might solve a puzzle, and while there were a few times I was grateful for the tip, other times I really would have liked a bit longer to figure things out. She’s awfully quick on the draw, and not just with her bow.

There’s just so much to do in this world, though. Around every corner, there’s a new side quest, or a collectible to gather, or a contract to fulfill, or a relic ruin to hunt down an ancient artifact in, or a side quest with an interesting story. I found almost all of this content satisfying, but if something isn’t hitting for you, none of this is mandatory. You’re free to pick and choose the activities that best suit your play style.

 

One Opportunity

 

Forbidden West

Perhaps the biggest opportunity for Horizon Forbidden West though was to fully take advantage of the PS5. While many will play the game on PS4, for a game pushed as a flagship for Sony’s latest system, it does surprisingly little to utilize its most interesting features. DualSense support feels nice, especially when using your bow, but it certainly doesn’t stand out. The game also has surprisingly long load times. Not so much when running around the world where everything is smooth, but when fast traveling or booting up. It’s worth noting that these are still quite fast on PS5, and I’m definitely judging the game on the PS5 curve, but they’re far more prominent than in any other recent Sony first-party titles.

Glitches also show up, because, of course, they do in a modern open-world game at launch, but they’re not overwhelming. I did notice more of them as the game went on, but thankfully a quick reset seemed to clear things up. Still, at times I got stuck in a wall, into a weird glitchy spasm, and for a stretch on a late mission, all sounds made by Aloy ceased. Music still played, but my attacks had no impact. I gave it time to fix itself, but it never did until I restarted the game.

The one place Horizon Forbidden West really takes advantage of the PS5’s power is graphically. While the clips I’ve seen on the PS4 look nice, on PS5, it’s on another level, especially in resolution mode. With stunning detail in the environments and perhaps the best facial animation I’ve ever seen in a game, this one definitely has its impressive moments. I do wish the cost of that weren’t a lower framerate than playing it on performance mode provides, but you can always switch back and forth as suits your needs. At least the game has a consistent framerate in both modes.

 

Conclusion

 

Horizon Forbidden West improves on its predecessor in nearly every way, offering a stunning follow-up to an already excellent title which shows just how much a game can improve through refinement. Fans of the original will feel immediately comfortable, but they’ll find a far better adventure waiting for them. If you disliked the original game, Forbidden West won’t change your mind, but this is a must-own for everyone else.

 


Final Verdict: 4.5/5

Available on:  PS5 (Reviewed), PS4; Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment; Developer: Guerilla Games; Players: 1; Released: February 18th, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $69.99 (PS5), $59.99 (PS4; Includes free PS5 upgrade)

Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Horizon Forbidden West.

Andrew Thornton
Andrew has been writing about video games for nearly twenty years, contributing to publications such as DarkStation, Games Are Fun, and the E-mpire Ltd. network. He enjoys most genres but is always pulled back to classic RPG's, with his favorite games ever including Suikoden II, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and Phantasy Star IV. Don't worry though, he thinks new games are cool too, with more recent favorites like Hades, Rocket League, and Splatoon 2 stealing hundreds of hours of his life. When he isn't playing games he's often watching classic movies, catching a basketball game, or reading the first twenty pages of a book before getting busy and forgetting about it.

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