Horizon Forbidden West Overview
The original Horizon managed to deliver an experience that sounded insane on paper. Taking down massive machines with a bow and arrow seems like a concept reserved for a game much less grounded than the serious world of Horizon. Yet, Zero Dawn absolutely nailed its combat in a way that most games could only dream about.
You can find a video version of this review on my YouTube Channel.
However, Zero Dawn was a mere glimpse into what could be. For every strength it had, there was also a flaw to match it. But the groundwork was laid, and its inevitable sequel had a limitless potential to improve.
Forbidden West takes place immediately after Zero Dawn ended, following Aloy in her quest to save the world from ecological collapse. Her journey into the Forbidden West brings her into conflict with a huge variety of terrifying machines and an incredible number of colorful characters.
Does Forbidden West improve on the original? Yes, and no. Forbidden West does expand on its strengths. But I was disappointed to see how many of my complaints about the original remain completely untouched in the sequel.
|Gideon’s Bias||Horizon Forbidden West Information|
|Review Copy Used: No||Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment|
|Hours Played: 90+||Type: Full Release|
|Reviewed on: PlayStation 5||Platforms: PS4, PS5|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Open World, Third Person Shooter|
|Mode Played: Very Hard||Price: $70|
In the wake of the events that occurred in Zero Dawn, Aloy finds herself confronting the end of the world, and she’s the only one who can stop it. A sentiment she seems quite fond of repeating. I mention that because I found Aloy difficult to like in Forbidden West, and this is largely due to how she treats her friends and the lack of coherence she exhibits when interacting with strangers.
Friends, old and new follow her into the Forbidden West, which should be no surprise given the weight of her task. Her reaction to old friends is really cold, almost like she resents them being around at all. Initially, she constantly gives them the slip, and when that’s no longer possible she sticks them in one location to study. For pretty much the entirety of the game.
They appear in an occasional quest, but it’s far and few in-between. You can go, and talk to them in a way that’s similar to talking to your crew in Mass Effect, but with none of the payoff. It mostly boils down to her asking “how’re your studies going?” like she’s about to grade a class of high schoolers. Which’s ironically how she treats her entire circle of friends that are all accomplished warriors.
The game tries to frame it as her keeping them safe, but her coldness makes that difficult to reason, especially given how often she says she’s the only one that can save the world. She’s actually right, she is, which makes her keeping her friends safe while she spends day and night going toe to toe with fifty varieties of mecha Godzilla even dumber. Aloy isn’t expendable. It’s not self-sacrifice when her death would mean everyone dies. Let people help you Aloy!
There’s also major whiplash in how Aloy interacts with the plethora of characters she meets. Sometimes it’s amusing. I criticized Zero Dawn in that it was difficult to care about the various beliefs and histories of tribes because we, the player, knew it was all horse crap. In hindsight, I was too harsh on that aspect, but Aloy seems to disagree.
She straight-up treats the inhabitants of the world like ignorant fools, as she has pretty much all the information about the real earth that the player does. In fact, she has a very arrogant attitude in general. She even goes so far as to threaten a Tenakth warlord, in his own throne room.
It’s like damn Aloy, I know you’re good with a bow, but like, you’re the only one who can save the world remember? Chill! When she’s not exhibiting her impatient disdain for other humans, she does a complete 180. She is kind, warm, and understanding to others during side quests. A deep contrast to how she treats her friends.
There’s one point in the story where she meets a complete stranger, and at that moment decides she and this woman are now BFFs. She invites her to come with her 10 minutes after meeting, saying “we’re in this together”.
Sorry to everyone who aided Aloy in the first game, you get to stick to school work. To some degree, the game tries to frame this as Aloy learning to accept help. But it knee caps it by allowing something bad to happen to her friends when she finally caves in.
The worst thing was, that I couldn’t even be sad about it. Because although they repeatedly asked to be part of her story, Aloy continually gave them the middle finger. So, I had far less emotional attachment than I should have.
Aloy also does another 180 and treats a character literally born into slavery as complete garbage because she doesn’t have the same drive to risk herself that Aloy does. All because the girl fears being recaptured by her slavers. Later on, they become incredibly close over a single bonding moment.
Altogether, these factors combined make Aloy difficult for me to like as a character. It also hampered the emotional impact and connection I should have had with many of the other characters.
Story High Points
Complaints aside, there are a lot of high points to the game’s story, world, and dialogue. The facial animations are incredibly well done and really help paint the emotions of the various characters quite well. Characters are often animated during dialogue where they move around, fidget, and otherwise act as people do. It’s a massive improvement over the stiffness that the first game had. Plus, every single character is piloted by excellent voice acting.
The world is full of vibrant and unique tribes with their own cultures, backstories, and appearances. While it’s still true that we the player know ahead of time that what they believe is false, it’s handled a bit better in Forbidden West. It’s generally interesting to see how they view the earth’s past, and how it caused them to arrive at their beliefs and cultures.
That’s in large because of the lengths that Forbidden West goes to elaborate on these cultures. It comes off as a serious consideration of what knowledgeless humans would ascertain from modern technology. It is a lot less cringy than Nora Matriarchs going bananas over a steel door that says access denied believing it was a goddess speaking.
Every side quest is front-lined by colorful characters and the only downside is you will want to see more of them because of how interesting they are. Many side characters from Zero Dawn appear as side quests as well, and you will be confused if you weren’t a completionist because Forbidden West treats those quests as canon.
It’s actually refreshing to see so many side characters reappear in the sequel. It really gives the world shared between both games more weight instead of treating the side quests as filler activities with no relevance beyond that.
Where Forbidden West improves the most is the combat. This is impressive because combat was already the strongest point of the original. There’s a variety of difficulties and accessibility levers, and I will point out that accessibility and choice are great. But I need to make something clear. This is a game you’re going to want to play on the highest difficulty that you can tolerate.
The magic of the combat disappears if you can just spam basic arrows and topple mechanical giants. The higher difficulties incentivize you to utilize your entire bag of tools and tricks, and that’s where it really shines.
Aloy is a badass warrior, but she’s still human. She is fighting against machines with two sticks and a string. Each fight can feel like a boss battle where Aloy turns into batman prepping traps and forming a plan to take on foes she should have no reasonable chance against. Stealthily taking out threats beforehand, laying traps, or overriding a machine to fight for you are all potential strategies, but the thinking doesn’t stop when the arrows start flying.
Rapid firing and frantic rolling will quickly result in Aloy being flattened by heavy metal. The trick is to stay calm and dodge carefully with deliberate intent. You need to use specific weapons and ammo based on your foes, the situation, and the goal of the fight. For example, if you just want to win, feel free to use explosives. But if you need specific parts of a machine to upgrade your gear, you need to be more conservative as explosives can destroy the parts you need.
While combat can look chaotic, it’s the uncontrolled chaos that can kill you. You want to manage the flow of the fight so that it feels much more like an intricate waltz. Albeit one where when you mess up, it’s a fifty-foot-tall metal T-Rex stepping on your toes.
If you are overwhelmed, tie-down a machine with the Rope Caster and focus on another, for example. Slide behind cover to block a ranged attack, or deploy a smoke bomb and dive into some high grass to get some breathing room and reinitiate on your own terms.
You have a ton of tools at your disposal, and every machine has its own weaknesses. You can strip out troublesome parts that can eliminate a dangerous attack. In addition, you can even blast off and use the machine’s weaponry against it.
Aloy has a much larger skill set this time around, allowing her to rain arrows, chain shots across multiple enemies, activate a forcefield, and more. Her melee combat is still on the simple side but includes new combo attacks and a resonator blast she can stick on an enemy and detonate.
The combat manages to be the same as the original, but also different. Overpowered tactics from the first game have been leveled out with the rest of her arsenal. Forbidden West requires a more methodical approach in general. Spamming the dodge roll makes Aloy stumble. So you need to time your dodges rather than mashing the button and hoping for the best.
Aloy has a much bigger set of abilities than in Zero Dawn but one of the biggest factors is the sheer number of machine types. Half of Zero Dawn’s roster felt like variants of the Grazer. In Forbidden West, the variety is much greater, and there are subtypes within each one.
The combat and enemy variety is leaps and bounds better than in the original game. Yet, there was a single aspect that constantly caused me issues throughout the whole game.
In the wild, there is an invisible force field around every set of machines that spawn. Going outside this field causes the AI to completely break. They will run around frantically at the threshold of a zone they can’t cross, or stand there and spam the same ranged attacks at you. If you wanted, you could cheese any non-scripted fight by standing outside of the zone. I accidentally did it with a Tide Ripper, which is when the issue became most apparent.
Tide Rippers are massive water machines, and as I lured one to shore to fight it, it completely broke. The first time it swam back and forth, and occasionally sprayed a water beam at me. The second time, I managed to get it onshore, and it sat there in one place while I pummeled it because it wasn’t allowed to go beyond some invisible barrier.
It feels extremely janky, and you can’t be sure where the zone ends. You only realize it when the AI starts losing its marbles.
Overriding machines to fight alongside you is a ton of fun and a great strategical move. However, the invisible wall issue completely shatters the mechanic.
You can unlock a skill where you can set an overridden machine to be aggressive or defensive. A defensive one will follow you around, and you get arrows that can direct it to attack. The problem is, that non-mountable machines have a time limit. However, there are armor sets that allow you to override them indefinitely.
When I first found one in a store, it detailed that you would feel like a commander on the battlefield, directing machines around like you were playing machine strike (an in-game board game). My excitement was through the roof. When I finally got the resources to claim my prize, I practically skipped over to a Thunder Jaw.
Once I forced it to be my bestie. I prepared to grab some popcorn and watch it beat the hell out of a Slitherfang as payback for the many deaths the stupid snakes caused me. Except, overridden machines won’t go past the barrier either. I felt physical pain at this realization.
Out of desperation, I went into denial. Some spawns were close enough together that I could surely get something out of my time investment from getting that armor. I overrode a Plowhorn near the Slitherfang spawn, not my first choice, but that snake was gonna pay one way or another.
The Slitherfang flung me around the desert like a chew toy while my Plowhorn ate my now stale popcorn at the edge of its invisible barrier watching it all happen.
Keep in mind, overrides are locked behind long dungeons that end in a boss fight. Then many of them have to be crafted after that. The armor sets that give you unlimited override are expensive legendaries, and you need special arrows to command an overridden machine.
What is it all good for? Absolutely nothing. You can override creatures present in the spawn or a scripted encounter, but that’s it. There are occasionally epic moments, like where I was able to have a Ravager shoot a Thunderbird out of the air. But only because the game anticipated that as a potential player action. You get your wrist slapped for attempting to go beyond that, in an open-world game, where the ability is locked beyond multiple gates.
Yes, I’m mad.
The Open World in Forbidden West is a mixture of good and bad. The world itself is huge and varied with a variety of locations and biomes that are all incredibly beautiful.
There’s a ton to do, and the side quests in Forbidden West feel like main quests. They are well written, well designed, and fun to play. The colorful cast makes each one memorable, and they are simply a joy. Characters in the world make comments on your past deeds as well and that’s really cool.
Side activities almost always reward you in some way and rarely ever feel monotonous or grindy. Over 90 hours in, and I’ve yet to grow bored of playing thanks to the combat and how well all the gameplay-oriented content is designed.
At the same time, just like in the first game, the world is incredibly static. There aren’t really emergent or random events. Sometimes you will go to a machine spawn and find that rebels have already killed it, but that’s as far as it goes.
This makes travel boring, yet fast traveling can make you run out of resources since you really do need to hunt machines on your path. Hunting machines is also really fun, so you don’t want to skip it.
With the previously mentioned invisible walls. The machines resemble MMO mob spawns and that feels really bad in a single-player game. Aloy also has the habit of pointing out solutions to environmental puzzles, within ten seconds of entering the area, and that is incredibly odd. It makes me wonder why the game bothered to include puzzles in the first place.
I enjoy Forbidden West, I wouldn’t have sunk 90+ hours into it if I didn’t. I love the combat, and how challenging the hardest difficulty is. The world and its characters are interesting, and the quests are fun.
A lot of the negativity in this review stems from how blatantly bad some of its issues are, and how much I wanted to enjoy it even more than I already do.
I loved the side quests, but the main story fell flat due to Aloy’s inconsistent personality and the way she shuns her friends. I love the combat, but the jankiness of the invisible walls came up constantly to the point I couldn’t ignore it.
Not to mention the bugs, for example, some quests couldn’t be completed. And the fact that a two-hour dungeon glitched me out of it, and I had to replay the whole thing. Those are fixed now, but it definitely had an impact on my enjoyment.
Once again, Horizon wins me over due to its combat. It really is one of the best action games out there. I love that it really requires a lot of preparation, planning, and thought if you choose to play on the harder difficulties. I simply never get tired of hunting machines to upgrade my weapons and armor. I’m going for 100% completion and even after that I kind of want to play through it again, with a few extra restrictions. That’s how great the gameplay is, despite my complaints.
Forbidden West also included a full-fledged playable war game called Machine Strike. That is totally cheating because I’m a big board gamer so that automatically wins points with me. Machine Strike is pretty good too!
Verdict on Horizon Forbidden West
The simplest way to put this is if you enjoyed the first game you will enjoy Forbidden West, and if you didn’t, it’s not going to win you over. While there are improvements, they are practically the same game with a new coat of paint. That might sound obvious, but I mean that. Forbidden West doesn’t feel like a sequel.
The combat is tighter, and the game is prettier. But it failed to iterate on its open-world at all, which is an essential part of the game. It feels dated, and the invisible force field that surrounds the machine spawns feels extremely janky. The most important addition is the wide variety of machines you can now fight, and that makes the game worth it alone.
It’s always disappointing when a game’s sequel retains the same flaws I complained about in its predecessor. But incrementally improved is still an improvement and Horizon Forbidden West is a better game than Zero Dawn when Zero Dawn was already pretty good. Yet, I’m once again left imagining just how much better it could be.
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Pick Up Horizon Forbidden West From These Stores
- Large Enemy Variety
- Massive Meaningful Skill Tree
- Stellar Combat
- Difficulty Settings Present
- Great Cast of Colorful Characters
- A Giant Tool Kit of Weapons and Abilities
- Great Side quests
- Nice Variety of Environments and Cultures
- Machine Strike is pretty cool
- Tons of content
- Aloy’s Personality is Inconsistent and Somewhat Hard to Like
- The Haphazard Treatment of Aloy’s Friends is Poor Writing
- The Invisible Walls Surrounding Machine Spawns is Janky and Annoying
- Overriding Machines is Extremely Neutered Due to the Invisible Barriers.
- The Open World is Static and Dull
- Aloy is Far to Eager to Give You Hints About Puzzles
Who Would Like Horizon Forbidden West
- If you enjoyed Zero Dawn, you will enjoy Forbidden West
- People who enjoy games such as Assassin’s Creed, Spider-Man, or Ghost of Tsushima will also like this
- If you want a long game with a ton of content to take your time with
- If you enjoy playing harder difficulties, Forbidden West shines on them
- You’re looking for a game with a thoughtful and deep combat system
Who Would Dislike Horizon Forbidden West
- If you generally play games on easier settings, a lot of Forbidden West’s gameplay falters on them
- If you generally dislike open-world “checklists” you probably won’t like Forbidden West
- Hunting down machines for rare parts if a large portion of the progression, if that doesn’t appeal to you. Pass
- You can’t max the skill trees just by playing the main story, they are also linked to side quests. If you aren’t open to playing side content, you will have a lesser experience