Release Date February 18, 2022
Genre Action/Adventure
Platforms PS4/PS5
Developer Guerilla Games
Price $59.99 (PS4)/69.99 (PS5)
ESRB Rating Teen
Players 1 Player

Guerilla Games was primarily known as the Killzone developer for many years before stumbling onto a new gem in Horizon Zero Dawn. It came at the perfect time in the PS4 life cycle when people were clamoring for something new and exciting. They got it with this brand new IP. It quickly became a fan favourite. Aloy became a beloved main character and the world around her captivated audiences everywhere. As word of a sequel quickly spread, I wondered whether or not this was a game that needed a sequel with so many games being yearly affairs these days. This wasn’t one of those quick cash-ins with this game launching nearly 5 years after the first game. Guerilla crafted a lush world with a compelling story that builds upon every foundation that the first game set up.

Horizon Forbidden West is set 6 months after the conclusion of the first game. The world is set for mass extinction and it’s our protagonist Aloy’s job to prevent that by any means necessary. An unusual red plant is growing and spreading across the land killing every living piece of vegetation that it touches while there are storms stirring up in the skies. It’s all very ominous and gives that game a very perilous feeling making everything that you’re about to go through feel that much more meaningful. This all leads to Aloy heading into the titular Forbidden West, a dangerous region dubbed that way because it’s home to the volatile Tenakth tribe (amongst many other less volatile tribes you’ll meet on your journey). Just when it seems like the Tenakth will be your main foe, it’s revealed that there’s an even more dangerous Tenakth rebel named Regalla who is waging a war from within with an army of tamed machines at her disposal. It’s a really compelling new development to have an enemy coupled with machines to add to the difficulty level and even the playing field against Aloy’s ability to override her own machines.

The story is such a fascinating one to me because it develops so much with every side mission, errand, and main mission that you go through. You go in thinking certain tribes may be enemies only for them to become allies. It’s a very complex story and it takes elements of the past game as well as the conflicts going on between and within tribes in the present-day Forbidden West. Sequels rarely live up to the story of the original but I really felt like the story in Forbidden West rivaled Zero Dawn in terms of quality. There is no shortage of jaw-dropping moments including one revelation that made me gasp that I won’t go into because I’m trying to stay away from spoilers. I appreciated the fact that the story was presented in a much more organic way than the original game. A lot of the story comes from your interaction with characters and cutscenes. There are still text and audio logs but they seem to be less imperative to listen to and read than they were in the first game. They’re still important but it’s more to get backstory than the main pieces of the narrative.

I was happy to see that a lot of the NPCs are a lot more personable in Horizon Forbidden West. Merchants and characters that give you quests have so much personality behind them. It’s not just talking heads this time around, they’re much more animated and varied. I especially liked the characters that would tell you rumors who would make you sit down a listen to a tidbit of information. These characters always made it seem like they were giving you a top-secret tip that no one else had. There are some weird facial animations here and there but most of the time, everything looks pretty polished and it was some of the best interactions I’ve had in gaming with NPCs in an RPG.

Once again, fighting the many robotic creatures that roam the land is an enjoyable, if not intimidating at times, experience. There’s just something about stalking and then being able to take down all these machines on your own that is endlessly satisfying. the different weapon types that you can now equip make things even more fun. The Spike Thrower allows Aloy to toss an explosive spike into an enemy and helped me take out some of the more difficult machines while the Shredder Gauntlet launches discs that work kind of like boomerangs. Utilizing all your tools available and figuring out how to take down different types of machines is endlessly satisfying whether it’s by using stealth, one of the new weapon types, or tearing off components. There’s always a better way if you’re having trouble. The monkey-like Clamberjaws that climbed up trees were one of my favorite foes. The Slitherfang is another one that looks like a Cobra and spits venom. It’s found pretty early in the game and it looks pretty cool when you first encounter it. You can also use Aloy’s spear to attack which is most effective against human foes. This can be upgraded in the skill tree to be even more useful as you go through the game. There are even Valor Surges which are special abilities that are designed to quickly turn the battle in your favor and are best used when you’re in a bind. The combat is much more diverse as a whole.

I was enamoured by the visuals in this game. I loved what I saw from the pre-release trailers and screenshots but it’s taken to a whole new level when you actually step foot in these environments. The setting is so diverse with snowy mountaintops, dusty deserts, deep jungles, and vibrant shorelines. I never get tired of the environment because there’s such a variation in things to see everywhere you go. To be fair, a lot of the indoor environments feel very similar but, with how big this game is, it’s pretty incredible to have as much variety as there is. Even the different tribes have very distinct outfits, outposts, and personalities. The new underwater environments are equally as stunning with machines roaming around and lights gleaming through the water. It’s everything I could ask for in a video game environment and leaves me wondering why we can’t expect this type of environmental quality from all AAA games.

There is something to be said about the mission structure of Horizon Forbidden West. There are a lot of different things to do in this world and what I noticed was that I felt the need to do all of it as much as possible, no matter how small. None of it feels like filler, it all feels like it serves a purpose. It’s not like many of the traditional Ubisoft games for example where you’re just doing meaningless tasks over and over again. Even if you are doing mostly the same things in this world, it feels like you’re making some type of difference all the time. On top of the traditional quests, errands, and side quests, you’ll have plenty more to do. Hunting Grounds return, Melee Pits are introduced, there’s an Arena for bigger challenges, there are Gauntlet Runs which are races (admittedly not my favorite). This is all in addition to the collectibles and environmental puzzles. Everything feels more cohesively tied to the story and everything matters.

Traversal has seen an improvement in this sequel with a few new tools at Aloy’s disposal. She now has a glider that can allow her to float down from a mountaintop much like Breath of the Wild. There’s also a special diving mask that allows you to breathe underwater that you can obtain about a quarter of the way through the game. Forbidden West walls off certain areas behind new special gear like the Pullcaster that pulls things towards you or pulls down walls. The ignited destroys Firegleam flowers which also takes down walls. The Vine Cutter destroys Metal Flowers. It’s a simple way of cutting off areas to revisit later and it’s not something I enjoy a whole lot but it works pretty well here. The one part of getting around that constantly caused me to utter expletives was climbing. Climbing is pretty restricted and you can only climb on certain areas, there’s an option to highlight those areas in the options menu and I highly suggest using it. The main problem I had was that Aloy just wouldn’t move at times when she had a clear point to grab onto. There were other times where she’d just jump off to nothing despite tons of grab points nearby. This is mitigated a little bit when jumping backward by using the O button to jump backward (which works so well that I think every game should use it) but just climbing up or to the side can be an exercise in frustration. It’s not often a problem, but when it is, it’s incredibly annoying.

Minor issues aside, Horizon Forbidden West was a joy to play through and something I’ll be coming back to explore every nook that I have yet to see. It’s a fun world of machines and humans to interact with and defeat while having a story that kept my attention all the way through to the end. This game improves on practically every aspect of the first game and should be a worthy contender for Game of the Year.

Pros Cons
Diverse and beautiful open world Climbing can be finicky
Good plot and characters Some pop-in
Refined combat  

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