Guerrilla Games’ transition from the FPS genre with Killzone series to the open-world space with Horizon Zero Dawn was sensational. The number of achievements that the 2017 title managed to achieve not only on technical and gameplay level but also managing to tell a great original story was impressive. But while the world of Horizon Zero Dawn left few rooms for improvements, the sequel Horzion Forbidden West is bigger and better on almost all fronts.
AT A GLANCE
Release date: 18 February 2022
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
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.
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.
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.
The amount of fidelity and detail in terms of the world is truly awe-inspiring, and on the PS5 the audio and visual experience is truly on another level.
Horizon Forbidden West offers two display options. The quality mode renders the game in native 4K at an extremely stable and surprisingly smooth 30 frames per second. On the other hand, the performance option, allows you to play at 60 frames per second, sacrificing the visual quality. The base PS4 runs at 1080P 30 FPS and frankly, I’m quite astonished it runs this well.
Audio is another of the most impressive aspects of the Horizon Forbidden West experience. The application of the three-dimensional sound mix that the PS5 is capable of can be seen in every corner of the game, especially if you are playing with a good sound system or with Sony’s Pulse 3D. 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.
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 the way in which they transmit all kinds of feelings to you with the movement of their eyes or gestures on their faces.