Review: Horizon Forbidden West

 Rise above our ruin.

Console: PlayStation 5

And so came an end to a nearly 4-month journey. When I started playing Horizon Zero Dawn (HZD) back in February I didn't think I would be stuck in the world Guerrilla games created, but here we are! I enjoyed Horizon Zero Dawn so much that I immediately dove into its expansion, The Frozen Wilds, the moment the credits rolled. Once that was over with I started the Forbidden West (HFW), the brand new sequel for both the PS4 and PS5, the very next day!

So, how was it? Is it a worthy sequel or does it buckle under its own weight? Horizon Forbidden West borrows more than it adds but it's an excellent experience nonetheless.

Let's dive in.

 

Six months after the battle against HADES, a rogue A.I. that was formerly part of the terraforming system GAIA that rebuild the Earth after the apocalypse, Aloy, the Nora huntress and clone of GAIA's creator Elisabet Sobeck is on a quest to rebuild GAIA and bring an end to all the damage the out of control terraforming system has done. This quest brings her to the edge of the known world: The Forbidden West. In The Forbidden West, Aloy quickly runs into more than what she bargained for when new and old enemies rear their heads.

Luckily, she's not alone this time as a band of new and old friends join her in her quest to save the world once more.

I´d say that the story is just as good as its predecessor. It's once again a story that puts its characters first. Where HZD was about Aloy finding herself and understanding her place in the world HFW sees her grow by shining a light on some of her flaws, then gradually putting her into a situation in which she has to overcome these flaws. HFW focuses on Aloy opening up to others. About learning that she doesn't have to carry the burden of the world on her own. To accept the help of others and, not only that but become a leader.

Once again this approach, together with the excellent world-building, works wonders. It also has the added benefit that this means Aloy has to interact with other characters more and thus Guerrilla has a chance to develop a supporting cast. Old faces return and new faces are introduced, some of whom are memorable, some of whom are not.

HFW leans a lot more into the sci-fi aspect than its predecessor. If HZD was Star Trek, HFW is Star Wars. It's not a 'jumping the shark' thing like I've seen some call it, but it is a noticeable shift. I do feel that perhaps Guerrilla went a bit too far into sci-fi with some of its decisions but it doesn't ruin the narrative or world established.

Gameplay-wise, HFW is not much different than HZD, just with some added bells and whistles. I can't think of any mechanic or type of side quest that hasn't made it into the sequel! HFW is an open-world game with a nice balance between exploration and combat. You can freely explore, doing everything from stalking and hunting the machines to finding collectables to helping out the people through tons of side-quests. You gather resources so you can exchange them at shops or for crafting, which has become a lot easier now with the near limitless storage and can turn off pickup animations.

The sense of exploration and discovery is still excellent. The Forbidden West, the land of what used to be the Western United States, was and still is a more populated land so you get to visit more settlements and more ruins to explore. The latter of which changed its focus from exploration to puzzle solving. Neat. There are also new traversal and movement options, like swimming and gliding, that make running around the world a lot more fun. I can't even imagine playing HZD and having to miss the glider!

Horizon Forbidden West introduces a bunch of new machines like the Burrower.

Aloy's focus, the little communication device that started it all for her, seamlessly marries the divide between UI elements with the narrative, the game's world. With the ability to scan for data, reveal the path of machines and X-ray the best tool in your arsenal now with the ability to send out a quick pulse and highlight climbable areas it remains a remarkable UI tool.

The combat has been given quite a bit of attention. HZD did an excellent job of making you feel like a hunter. Running in bow blazing, even if you are double the level of the machine, is not going to work out well for you. Well, initially at least. To take them down, you have to be smart about it. Use the game's stealth mechanics to sneak up on a machine for a surprise attack or try and take them over. Use your bows to snipe from afar and lay bare weak spots. Plant traps such as bombs in a machine's set path etc.

However, I think HFW combat is not as well-paced and more unbalanced than in HZD. The game introduces many more different weapon types and status effects. From acid that eats away armour to plasma that, after a while, explodes and more. A few too many, if you ask me. Some weapons I've got a hard time finding a use for, same with the status effects. Even with the increase in the weapons you can cycle through since the functionality of each weapon type is so splintered, it didn't help setting up a balanced load out at all. You still have to menu dive regularly.

On a higher difficulty, they might prove more useful but on normal, you can just get away with a basic setup of a bow, some special ammo and your spear after getting to a decent enough level. More isn't needed.

The sluggish melee combat, a big gripe of mine with HZD, is addressed here. It's reworked to a combo system where you chain together your light and heavy attacks to different effects. Your spear now also builds up energy which, once 'attached' to enemies, you can make explode for massive damage. The skill tree now lets you unlock 'Valor surges', powerful techniques that help with both combat and traversal and there are more skills here to boot.

The game improves a lot over what came before but one thing hasn´t changed: it borrows more r than it introduces. The glider, the dyes and even the mini-game strike: all stuff that it has borrowed and/or mimicked from other titles. Unlike some other gamers/reviewers, I'm perfectly fine with this, not every game needs to be innovative, but if you've played a handful of other open-world titles like Breath of the Wild and The Witcher 3 you'll notice the borrowed elements quite easily.

Performance-wise, the game runs, looks and sounds excellent. The recent patch has turned HFW into quite possibly the best running game on the PS5. In the looks department, well, the game is stunning. High-fidelity models and textures that make up a breath-taking landscape.

Since this game also has a PS4 version I thought a quick graphical comparison shot between it and the PS5 version would be a good idea. Credit: IGN.

One of my big criticisms of HZD, the poorly done lip-syncing is completely gone. A bit uneven but the scenes the cast, whose performances are once again excellent, it's the best and most realistic facial animation I've ever seen. I found the music to be more memorable this time around, more 'present' if that makes sense and the one vocal song, ‘In the Flood’, is a pretty nice song.

Conclusion

Horizon Forbidden West is, just like its predecessor, a darn good game. A game that gives you more of the same: a well-crafted AAA open-world game that is thoroughly enjoyable with its well-written narrative and breath-taking world. Perhaps a bit too samey but it's up to you if you take issue with the lack of innovation or not. Even so, with the quality of this game and the advancements the game brings, the improved exploration and combat and the lovely performance and visuals and you have the PS5´s second killer app right after the launch title Spider-Man: Miles Morales.

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