Horizon Forbidden West review – A triumphant sequel in familiar territory
With show-stopping visuals, epic machine battles, and vastly improved world-building, Horizon Forbidden West is a masterclass in making a video game sequel the right way.
As one of PlayStation’s premier characters, there are huge expectations for Aloy’s latest adventure. With Horizon Zero Dawn considered one of the PS4’s defining games, can that success be recreated for a new generation? The short and simple answer is a definitive yes.
Rather than a complete reworking, Guerilla Games have taken everything great about Zero Dawn and improved upon it – and while that does mean it feels a little too familiar at times, there’s more than enough fresh content to keep players entertained well beyond the blockbuster main story.
Horizon Forbidden West: Key Details
- Price: $69.99 / £69.99
- Developer: Guerilla Games
- Release date: February 18, 2022
- Platform: PS5
Horizon Forbidden West trailer
Welcome to the grand Forbidden West
Horizon Forbidden West feels impossibly big at times. While your first few hours with the game will be linear and confined, as soon as you’re out into the fabled Forbidden West, the world is your oyster – quite literally, as you’re given the option to tackle the game’s three major chapters in the order you like, at the pace you want. Whether you want to take on side missions to quench your completionist nature, defeat machines to stock up on parts and max out your gear, or just rush straight through to the finish line, it’s really up to you how you navigate the world of Forbidden West.
And what a world it is. Where some open-world games are crammed full of repetitive quests and dreary locations that feel rehashed, Forbidden West gives you plenty of reason to explore every nook and cranny it has to offer, be that new machines to battle or Relic Ruins with secrets to uncover. Roaming Tallnecks return, forcing you to stop and think about your best line of approach to climb to the top and unveil parts of the map. So do Cauldrons, which are the game’s sprawling, futuristic take on classic dungeons that reward you with the ability to override new machines.
It’s in these dungeon-like areas that the controls can feel a little clunky and unresponsive. On more than a few occasions, while climbing up to high places or jumping between platforms, I found myself missing landings that should have stuck, meaning I’d have to start the whole traversal section again. It’s a minor qualm in the grand scheme of things, especially as many of these sections are optional, but I’m still a little frustrated thinking about it now.
Machines remain the core of Horizon Forbidden West, and they’re as unforgiving as ever. Taking them down is a bit like solving a puzzle: Scan them, figure out which elements they’re weak against, and detach pieces of armor to leave them vulnerable enough to be defeated. Each one has its own movement style and attack pattern to learn – from the kangaroo-like Leaplasher’s jump attacks to the Clawstrider’s debilitating screams – and taking them down requires careful planning, not just blunt force. On more occasions than I’d like to admit, I found myself running away in shame after failing to defeat a new machine that I’d severely underestimated.
In your efforts to take down these hulking mechanical beasts, you’ll once again have Aloy’s traditional weapons – various bows, traps, and slingshots with elemental ammo – but there are some new additions to her inventory that are a lot of fun to use. Boltblasters are Horizon Forbidden West’s quasi-machine guns, unloading waves of electricity and frost onto your enemies, while Spike Throwers are powerful long-distance projectiles that are slow but rewarding. I did find myself constantly going back to the bow and striking from a distance, as it remains the most effective way of farming parts and emerging relatively unscathed, but it’s always fun to try out new ways of defeating your enemies.
A world full of life, with jaw-dropping visuals
It’s not just the size of the map or the vast array of machines that give Horizon Forbidden West such a grand scale, either; the people that inhabit the land all have their own unique stories and personalities to discover, from major characters down to minor NPCs, which helps the world feel alive. You’ll care about the tribes that are starving because of the spreading blight, and the snap decision to save travelers being attacked by deadly machines in the wild or leave them to their fates feels like a weighty one – and I’m not just talking about the heavy parts you’ll be salvaging as a reward.
The writing, the visuals, and the acting – with standout star turns from Angela Bassett and Carrie-Anne Moss opposite the talented Ashly Burch as Aloy – are some of the best I’ve seen in gaming so far. When you’re meeting hundreds of characters along the way, that consistent level of quality is pretty darn impressive.
Speaking of visuals, Horizon Forbidden West is undeniably stunning; the kind of stunning that makes you stop and take in the view as the sun sets in the distance, or snow falls across a vast mountainscape, then rush to take a screenshot before the moment passes you by. It’s hard to think of a game that looks better than this, which really makes you appreciate the power of the hardware you’re playing on. Seeing how Aloy’s post-apocalyptic world has weathered places like Las Vegas and San Francisco – as well as their landmarks – is especially cool.
Story-wise, Horizon Forbidden West leans quite heavily into sci-fi territory, even more so than its predecessor. There’s not much that can be said without risking spoilers, but Aloy’s got another huge mission to undertake in order to save the land and the people that thrive off it, as well as a new set of mysterious enemies to deal with. It’s not the greatest narrative you’ll ever experience, but there’s more than enough here to keep you invested – familiar faces, plenty of twists, and more discoveries about the ‘Old Ones’ – particularly if you remember Zero Dawn fondly.
Never short of things to see or do
There’s a frankly mind-boggling amount to do in this game, from melee pits that test your might to the countless side quests and errands you can run. One thing I didn’t expect to take away from my time with Horizon Forbidden West was a new board game hobby, but Machine Strike is surprisingly addictive. It’s a strategy game you can play in various settlements that loosely resembles chess; you choose from a range of collectible machine pieces – each with different stats, movement abilities, and weak spots – and attempt to clear out the board. For such an incidental feature that could easily be ignored, it actually offers a lot of depth and you could easily spend hours on it. With the cost of video games slowly creeping up with each new generation, it’s extras like this that make it worth splashing those hard-earned dollars.
For all the things that Horizon Forbidden West gets right, it must be said that it never quite matches that awe-inspiring feeling of stepping into Aloy’s post-apocalyptic world for the first time back in 2017. There’s definitely a small sense of ‘been there, done that’ that bubbles up every now and then, particularly in the game’s early stages. Whether that’s the inescapable side-effect of being a sequel or a sign that something is missing, I’m not quite sure, but Guerilla Games have done a great job of making it feel fresh while staying true to the vibe of the original – just be prepared to retread some old ground in the process.
If you loved Horizon Zero Dawn, you’ll no doubt love Forbidden West as well. It’s a glorious sequel that improves on the foundations laid by the original in pretty much every way, with an unbelievable amount of content to discover and some of the best visuals I’ve ever seen. It’s a must-play for PS5 owners looking to get the most out of their console.
Reviewed on PS5