April 17, 2024

Guerrilla Games made a stunning shift from the Killzone series’ FPS format to the open-world RPG with Horizon Zero Dawn in 2017. The title impressed critics with its technical prowess, engaging gameplay, and captivating original story. While the world of Horizon Zero Dawn seemed near-perfect, its sequel, Horizon Forbidden West, manages to expand and improve upon the formula in new ways.

After two years of PlayStation exclusivity, Horizon Forbidden West triumphantly arrived on PC in March 2024. This sequel to the highly-praised Horizon Zero Dawn picks up Aloy’s story as she ventures westward into a breathtaking yet perilous new frontier. Towering, majestic machines roam these overgrown lands, remnants of a lost civilization that Aloy must unravel.

The PC port boasts a plethora of enhancements to take advantage of your powerful rigs. Expect to be blown away by stunning visuals – imagine the vibrant bioluminescent foliage and the intricate details of the mechanized beasts rendered in crisp detail. Horizon Forbidden West on PC also promises unlocked frame rates for buttery smooth action, and a host of graphical settings to customize your experience.


AT A GLANCE
GENRE: Action, RPG
DEVELOPER: Guerrilla, Nixxes Software
PUBLISHER: PlayStation PC LLC
FRANCHISE: PlayStation Studios, Horizon
RELEASE DATE: 21 Mar, 2024


Story

It’s important to note that in order to understand the world and lore of Forbidden West to the fullest, playing Zero Dawn is mandatory. Even though the game recaps the prequel’s story with a short movie right at the start, it cannot come close to the amount of enjoyment that you would get from playing Zero Dawn from start to finish yourself. It’s a great game and has held up pretty well, so I highly recommend giving it a spin before dropping in.

Set right after the story of Zero Dawn, about six months have passed since Aloy became the savior of Meridian, by stopping HADES. However, and just as the end of Horizon Zero Dawn suggested, the threat was delayed but not stopped entirely. A strange disease known as Red Blight is spreading around the world, causing the entire biosphere to collapse and threatening living beings with a new mass extinction event.

Seeing that the only possible way to stop the spread of the Red Blight is through GAIA, Aloy begins an unprecedented search for the whereabouts of the artificial intelligence that could hold the answer to restoring the entire planet’s biosphere. After certain events unfold and familiar faces are met, Aloy finds that the key to saving the world lies in the west, forbidden land that is inhabited by several other tribes, and machines, that pose a threat unlike any our heroine has faced before.

The way Guerrilla expanded on the lore of this new franchise is truly impressive. Almost every moment is a very important revelation and the way political machinations and conflicts are handled in the game, the world gives you the feeling that it has existed long before these two installments. Each quest, regardless of whether it is part of the main quest or not, is beautifully crafted with enjoyable storylines.

Of course, Aloy serves as the central axis of the entire experience and throughout the adventure, we see an important transformation of her personality. Also, it is important to mention that she is not the same as she was before the end of Zero Dawn. In Forbbiden West, Aloy’s name has become a legend. Meridian’s savior is no longer an outcast who used to be discriminated against by every one. No, she is now a famous warrior who commands respect and even fear.

The storyline is a real roller coaster of emotions and full of great moments and memorable characters, both new and old acquaintances. By the time I had completed the main story and some of the sizeable side quests, I had almost 40 hours of play, and I still had a lot left to do.

Aloy’s journey continues in the Burning Shores DLC, a volcanic archipelago bursting with new content. This expansion picks up after the main story, beckoning Aloy to the treacherous ruins of Los Angeles.

Burning Shores delves deeper into Aloy’s character. She encounters Seyka, a fellow outsider, and their dynamic adds a new layer to the narrative. The expansion delivers both quiet moments and thrilling action sequences as Aloy explores the remnants of LA’s past, uncovering forgotten secrets and confronting a charismatic, yet slightly cliché, villain.

Gameplay

Beyond its original concepts one of the biggest reasons why Horizon Zero Dawn succeeded in garnering such a huge fan base, had to do with how fresh its combat system felt and the challenge it presented. Encounters with devastating machines were dramatic and highly spectacular. Horizon Forbidden West doesn’t make any huge changes to the core gameplay but refines it in many ways to deliver an equally compelling experience.

The combat within Horizon Forbidden West combines a healthy dosage of ranged attacks using bows and gadgets along with melee attacks. Utilizing traps and other skills at your disposable are absolutely necessary to win against the more dangerous machines.

Starting with the arsenal that Aloy now has at her disposal, her huntress bow, precision bow, fast action bow, trap shooter, and the rope caster are back, some with variations. There’s a wide range of approaches that you can take, similar to its predecessor and the versatility has only improved with the new additions.

Speaking of machines, you’ll be happy to know that Horizon Forbidden West sports an impressive array of them, and just like last time, they are based on real-life organic creatures. Ranging from models seen in Zero Dawn like the Bellowback, Snapmaw, Ravager, and of course, the mighty Thunderjaw, to brand new species like the Burrower, Widemaw, Clawstrider and the gigantic Tremortusk. It is very important to emphasize that the vast majority of machines that we see in Forbbiden West require new tactics to master and that even the old ones have very interesting tricks up their sleeves.

There are a couple of new tricks that Aloy acquires over her adventures outside of the traditional weapons and traps. The first is about his new valor bar, which represents a series of different abilities that Aloy unlocks as we level up. These special powers can be activated once the valor surge bar fills up, and offer a wide variety of advantages such as letting Aloy’s arrows generate much more damage than normal or letting her become completely invisible for a certain amount of time.

Aloy can now also highlight any one of a machine’s parts individually while scanning them with her focus allowing you to attack them to extract them from the machine in question to make improve equipment or weapons.

Aloy’s movements feel much more fluid, landing hits with the spear feel much more satisfying, and new skills such as the Resonator Blast spice up melee encounters substantially.

As you’ve probably already realized, the combat in Horizon Forbidden West is an evolution of what we saw in Zero Dawn but doesn’t take too many risks or reinvent the wheel. Guerrilla Games perfectly understood in which areas the sequel should improve what was seen in its last installment and which others to leave basically intact.

The progress that has been made over the years when it comes to open-world design is substantial, especially with games like the legendary Breath of the Wild and the impressive new Assassin’s Creed games, which unfortunately outshine the attempts made by Horizon Zero Dawn, which despite its large open-world design was limited due to the lack of options in terms of traversal and mobility. Now, with Forbbiden West, Guerrilla Games makes new efforts to give players more freedom when exploring their world.

The Shield Wing, one of the biggest game-changing additions in the sequel acts as a glider allowing Aloy to jump from a great height to fly towards any other point on the map. Along with the so-called Pull Caster, which is a kind of grappling hook or hookshot that at certain specific points on the maps, allows us to pull ourselves to reach new points, you can be much more creative when it comes to traveling the huge overworld.

The open world of Horizon Forbidden West feels much more alive as well. There is a lot more activity in the cities and there are quite a few different activities not related to combat as such. For example, Machine Strike is a completely original strategy board game set in the world of Forbidden West similar to Gwent of The Witcher III. There are also mount races and a whole lot more to do in the game this time around.

Burning Shores offers a fresh challenge as fiery eruptions and violent seismic activity have reshaped the iconic city into a series of treacherous islands. It isn’t just a pretty (albeit fiery) landscape – it injects excitement into the gameplay. New enemies like the buzzing Stingspawn and the acid-spewing Bilegut will test your combat skills. Aloy has a few tricks up her sleeve too, with a powerful new weapon and a skill tree brimming with strategic abilities.

Visuals, Audio and Technical Performance

Guerrilla Games’ DECIMA engine remains a very impressive piece of technology and the way the game manages to look stunning despite being a cross-generation release is quite applaud-worthy.

Horizon Forbidden West isn’t merely a game; it’s a visual odyssey. Towering redwoods, sun-scorched deserts, and snow-capped mountains create a breathtaking tapestry of biomes. Each boasts its own character, from the bioluminescent glow of forest floors to the colossal machines that roam the plains.

These creatures are marvels of design, striking a balance between terror and wonder. Towering Thunderjaws inspire awe with their deliberate movements and earth-shaking tremors. Every machine is meticulously detailed, blurring the line between monstrous creations and works of art.

The world is haunted by the past. Crumbling skyscrapers adorned with vibrant flowers stand as testaments to a lost era. Rusted vehicles lie abandoned, their skeletal frames silent reminders. This juxtaposition of decay and life creates a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere.

The amount of fidelity and detail in terms of the world is truly awe-inspiring, and the PC port is well-optimized and can run on most modern gaming PCs. High settings will however require a powerful GPU with at least 10GB of VRAM.

The port boasts support for several upscaling technologies, including DLSS, FSR, and XeSS. These technologies can significantly improve performance, especially at higher resolutions, allowing you to enjoy smoother gameplay without sacrificing visual quality. While not perfect, with a few bugs present, the developers are likely to iron these out with future patches.

Audio is another of the most impressive aspects of the Horizon Forbidden West experience. It is super immersive to be walking through a dense forest and hearing a rushing river in the distance, a storm approaching or a herd of machines stalking you. Similarly, all the sound effects when you are in battle, for example, the impacts of your arrows on weak points of a machine, resonate better than ever and give you a feeling of power that is difficult to describe.

Burning Shores bathes Horizon Forbidden West in a fiery new palette. Gone are the lush greens and vibrant blues of the Forbidden West, replaced by a breathtaking spectacle of scorching reds, ominous oranges, and the inky black of volcanic ash.

The centerpiece is, of course, the burning ruins of Los Angeles. Imagine the iconic skyline, once a testament to human ingenuity, now transformed into jagged silhouettes against the smoke-filled sky. Crumbling skyscrapers pierce the ash clouds, their metallic sheen warped by the heat. Pockets of molten lava flow like malevolent rivers, casting an eerie glow on the twisted wreckage.

But Burning Shores isn’t just about devastation. The volcanic activity has also created dramatic new landscapes. Fields of cooled lava solidify into a treacherous terrain, dotted with obsidian-like formations that glint ominously in the harsh sunlight. Lush vegetation, adapted to the scorching environment, clings to the volcanic rock, offering splashes of vibrant green amidst the fiery hues.

The skies themselves are a marvel. Billowing smoke plumes create an ever-shifting tapestry, tinged with the orange glow of volcanic fire. Streaks of ash occasionally streak across the sky, a constant reminder of the volatile nature of this new environment.

Even the machines take on a fiery edge in Burning Shores. Their metallic shells are often scorched and blackened, hinting at the intense heat they’ve endured. Some may even sport glowing red accents, powered by the geothermal energy of the region.

The quality of animation that Horizon Forbidden West, especially with how the faces of the characters are expressed is a huge improvement from the stiff character models of the last game. It is impressive how they transmit all kinds of feelings to you with the movement of their eyes or gestures on their faces.

Final Thoughts

Score
10 / 10
10/10

Summary

Horizon Zero Dawn brought us one of the best-looking and original settings in a video game, and Forbidden West continues to build on it. With gorgeous visuals and excellent storytelling, Horizon Forbidden West is a worthy sequel. Now it is finally here on PC with a strong port that delivers a stunning visual experience. Just be prepared to invest in a capable graphics card if you want to unlock the game's full potential.