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Horizon Forbidden West is the latest PlayStation 5 exclusive to hit the in demand console. The first game was loved by so many and produced raving scores that some titles can only dream of.
PC players had to wait 3 years for the original to launch, it may be as long before we get to enjoy the sequel on keyboard and mouse. But, if you have played the first game on PC, it could be enough to tempt you into buying it on PlayStation to save the wait.
It comes at a time when the gaming market seems to be ramping up its releases fast with a jam-packed period that has seen the likes of Pokemon Legends Arceus, Rainbow Six Extraction, Dying Light 2, Apex Legends Season 12, Warzone/Vanguard's Season 2, Destiny 2's The Witch Queen expansion and plenty more.
So is the game worth your time and money or is it better to look at other options?
Here's my review of Horizon Forbidden West on PS5.
What Is Horizon Forbidden West?
So what is this game all about? If you didn't play the original (you're in good company as admittedly I didn't play it either). So lets run down what has happened up to this point as fast as we can. If you want a fully detailed explanation, go here.
Guerilla Games' action-role playing game follows a girl named Aloy, a young hunter in a world overrun by robotic creatures. This post-apocalyptic setting sees humans living scattered across the land in primitive tribes with varying levels of technological development.
Given this is set in the 31st century, there's an alarming contrast between the amount of futuristic technology and the primitive lifestyle many live. Their technologically advanced predecessors are remembered as the "Old Ones". Large robotic creatures, known as "machines", now dominate the Earth.
How did we get to this point? Back in the 2030s, Global Warming was causing havoc on the earth forcing humans to try and combat it. The world's top minds came up with solutions, including advanced robotics and AI to slow and even reverse the effects. Dr. Elizabet Sobeck is recruited by Ted Faro (Head of Faro Automated Solutions) to help with this.
Unfortunately, Ted Faro decides he can make more money by investing in automated military operations instead (hardly helpful at this time). Faro introduces a line of machines known as 'Chariot', which are self-sustaining and even self-replicating that can consume biomass to refuel; the nightmarish creatures also lack any security measures.
Having spread across the earth to major armed forces, one of the swarms goes rogue in the 2060s. A Horus unit, capable of producing more machines, is included in this rogue sequence of events. So now there are a scary number of machines walking the earth consuming all biomass in their wake (including humans).
With just months left before the end of the world, Faro funds 'Project Zero Dawn' an effort to ensure the future of the Earth. This scheme is led by ultra-advanced AI named 'GAIA' who presides over nine other AI entities to help restore the earth once it has collapsed. This project is not a means to save the earth, it is a way to restore it once it is done.
Minerva, the AI working on the code to shut down the robo-swarm, finally cracks it after 50 years. The AI can then start restoring the world, taking almost 200 years to make the planet inhabitable. When humans are reintroduced, they are forced into the wild new world to fend and learn for themselves; hence the bizarrely primitive lifestyle you see in the game whilst also seeing plenty of advanced technology.
In 3020, GAIA receives a strange signal that robs her control over the AIs, including HADES, which is an AI programmed to essentially destroy all living things in order to start Zero Dawn again if necessary. HADES wants to control all terraforming programmes to kill everything off, but GAIA instead blows up the Zero Dawn facility sacrificing herself and any dangerous tech HADES could have used. HADES creates a virus to free it from GAIA and all other AIs and then puts out a signal to help it in its plan.
HISTORY: Forbidden West is about restoring GAIA and the nine AIs to help save the planet
The events of Zero Dawn and Aloy's life unfolds as she aims to find out where she came from. Aloy is infact a clone of Elizabet Sobeck, created by GAIA, to carry on her legacy. She is adopted by Rost, who is an outcast from the Nora tribe.
After playing through the game, Aloy learns about Project Zero Dawn and what happened to the Old Ones. Eventually, after saving the Nora tribe, she learns of her origin and what she must do to save the world.
She discovers the master-override switch and seeks the help of Sylens, who confesses his involvement in HADES uprising. HADES plans to use a massive tower to reawaken all the dormant Faro robots.
A huge clash ensues at Meridian where Aloy is able to override HADES and stop the end of the world.
While the threat of HADES has been foiled, the planet's biosphere is still degrading and as a result it falls on Aloy to continue her quest as she looks for a backup of GAIA to reverse the effects.
As a result, Forbidden West sees Aloy traverse the land in order to restore GAIA and reunite the AI with lots of adversity, drama and politics along the way.
Before I start talking about the story, I think it needs to be highlighted that this is a true sequel, so playing the first game is fairly essential to enjoying the story in the second.
Despite this, I wouldn't say the sequel dwells too much on the past from the off, but slowly feeds past events into the story periodically to help the player get to grips with their surroundings and the gameplay. It was a big plus for me making it easier to get into and sticking with it even when I was a little lost at times.
Admittedly, I had no idea what my motivations for my actions were or why I was where I was and how it came to be; but the gameplay kept me busy that I didn't need to ask those questions so early.
What was surprising, is the amount of backstory there actually is in the series. I felt I had a good grasp of the story and past events from playing Forbidden West, but having researched what happens in the first game I feel even more foolish for jumping into the second one before the first.
Given that the second game occurs almost immediately after the first, there's a lot of story archs and relationships established that carry over into this new installment.
I think that's where it could prove an issue for a lot of players who have bought a PlayStation 5 - they'll be looking for a new and exclusive title (something that it doesn't have a large supply of), they have likely seen the rave reviews for this title and decided to pick it up.
However, due to the events in the first game reaching a satisfactory conclusion, this is almost a new story in itself. While the second game is connected to the first, the objective and the new threats are not the same and if you want to look at it more bluntly, playing the first only establishes the world you're in.
CONFUSED: If you didn't play the first game, you may find yourself lost at times
A Tough Act To Follow
The game has a lot less twists and turns than the original. In the original, there's an entire world to establish making it seem rich, engaging and expansive. It left the developers less of a task in creating a story that had all the bells and whistles. While the sequel mainly focuses on enhancing what is already there through the story, so if you're a returning player, you may find it to be a big piece of DLC rather than a new game. But I suppose that's what a sequel is all about?
You've already quelled the big bad threat that is causing chaos and threatening an end to the world, so what's next? The planet is slowly dying...not as exciting as a deranged Artificial Intelligence hellbent on ending life as we know it. However, I wouldn't be doing the game justice if I had said that was the main threat in the new game as it's far bigger and more complicated than that.
THE PAST IS THE PAST: The game has less plot twists than the original but is far more focused on character building and relationships
If you're interested in hearing a bit more about the main protagonist in this game, keep reading this section, otherwise give it a miss.
Your main threat is Far Zenith, who are also on a quest to restore GAIA, but for far different reasons to Aloy. Far Zenith are colonists that left Earth during the Faro Plague and managed to extend their natural lifespans. Their colony on Sirius collapsed due to a natural disaster, so they returned to Earth to find GAIA for their own recolonization.
It creates for an intense race between the two sides to recover the AI and bring GAIA back to her former glory and save the planet.
Having played a game like Dying Light 2 recently, a game that's built on character relationships and interaction, I found myself far more invested in those around me during my time in Forbidden West.
I could feel so much more emotion in those that I interacted with and found the major relationships in Forbidden West to be far more meaningful and memorable.
Whilst I do tend to get bored of endless cutscenes, the behaviour of those involved were far more interesting that I didn't mind it as much as I have done in other games; where it just seemed to be something to rack up game-time.
Never did I feel like a character outstayed its welcome, or hogged too much of the spotlight where it wasn't necessary. Most characters pop in to say hello from time to time, whilst leaving the action to the often isolated protagonist. In fact, there are so many characters in this game that while I can't remember them all, few were iherently forgettable. The way the camera portrayed the cutscenes allowed these characters to really express themselves, using the full body language rather than standing still and rambling on for ages like some other games are guilty of. A lot of time was invested into these characters and their world and it certainly comes through.
YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND IN ME: Every relationship Aloy has is one to remember
Forbidden West's gameplay is fantastic in so many ways and those that enjoyed the original game will feel right at home because not much has changed. The game looks almost identical (bar some graphical upgrades thanks to the power of the PlayStation 5).
A Beginning To Remember
Most games you can tell whether you're going to enjoy it within the opening hour or two of the game (with the exception of Pokemon Arceus Legends that quickly had me 180'ing my early thoughts as soon as I got into the game). So for those who are less familiar with the series, it needed to get off to a good start; boy does Guerilla Games hit that sweet spot.
As you may expect the opening is tutorial focused, allowing you to synergise with Aloy and all she has to offer, whilst slowly and carefully inserting snippets of information on who you are, what you're doing and why you're there.
There's nothing worse than an information dump right from the get-go, so it was wise of Guerilla Games to keep it at an arm's length while focusing more on the gameplay itself. Before you know it, you're thrown into some skirmishes with the machines and instantly hooked. It's also something that is overlooked, but having a companion like Varl to help you in this early stage makes everything much less intimidating than going alone.
If you ever find yourself stuck or confused, Aloy will occasionally speak giving hints as to what to do next. A handy thing to have for those that can get distracted (like me) with the environments and endless looting.
I'm a big fan of the Tomb Raider trilogy and the game's mechanics and style ressembles that in a lot of ways, so it was very easy for me to lap up what was on offer and understand the importance of the mechanics involved.
INTO THE THICK OF IT: You're put straight into the action against some tough machines
Something that I must compliment this game on is the ease of travel and the number of ways to manouvere in the game.
You've got options to Fast Travel, ride machines or use your own tenacious abilities to traverse the lands. Of course Fast Travelling is an easy way to move about and isn't something new, but Horizon Forbidden West only allows you to travel from one Fast Travel location to another at a time - these places are marked by Camp Fires. If you want to Fast Travel somewhere and you haven't got a Camp Fire nearby, you'll need to buy a Fast Travel Pack. For some, this can be incredibly annoying, but I like the design choice as it forces you to explore what's around you and hey, that's the point of an open world game.
You'd miss out on so many cool caves, machine camps and settlements if you just jump back and forth without taking the time to explore.
These travels are further enhanced by the ability to hijack and ride machines so you can travel across much quicker, with a bit of an adrenaline surging edge to it. It's one of the occassions you'll get to fight whilst riding a beast too, which takes the combat to a whole new level.
I also can't praise the game enough for how easy they make it to climb rocks, ledges and obstacles. There's nothing worse than an objective marker being a few feet away, only to find a massive mountain in your way blocking your path. The game makes it really easy to climb up these mountains so you can get on with the task rather than taking a frustratingly long detour. And once up high, you can use your glider to fly off eliminating even more travel time whilst enjoying the sights and scenery Forbidden West has to offer.
THE SKY IS THE LIMIT: There's no limit to what you can climb making travelling easy
The combat in this game is very detailed and has a lot of different elements and strategies to it. Most of this is influenced by how you use your Skill Trees and what you invest your skill points into, but I'll talk about that in a bit.
Initially, you start out with a bow and a spear and as the game progresses you'll earn more tools such as the Shock Tripcaster (to deploy electrifying traps), the Frost Blastsling (for freezing enemies) and different elemental bows to give you more tactics and options in battle. Likewise, you can upgrade your items to become better, faster and stronger.
It's true that you can craft different types of arrows that apply acid effects or are designed to tear and shred armor. Whilst I commend the efforts of crafting items like this on the fly, rather than an elaborate window or bench being needed, it begs the question as to why you need to do it at all?
Given you start with a spear and bow, you can imagine that there are different styles of combat and different scenarios (and enemies) that require different treatment. The bow gives you a long range advantage (keeping you safe from damage), but deals less damage and takes far more precision to hit a target. In contrast, the spear gives you a short range advantage (exposing you to damage), but deals more damage and takes far less precision.
Wielding the spear is fantastic, it has an incredibly satisfying feeling when dealing with enemies and as you upgrade your skills, you'll be able to execute slick combos that will incapacitate your foes. Using the bow is far less rewarding, but almost a necessity and far more practical due to its range and the fact that short range combat has no consistency in its outcomes. You can spam arrows as much as you like as the delay between shots is short and there are a lot of resources about; it's the easier choice. Not to mention that the bow allows you to use your 'Concentration' mechanic, slowing down time to make shots easier, making it far more effective at hitting weak points on enemies.
The most frustrating thing and probably one of the few critiques I have from a gameplay perspective, not just the combat, is that you are unable to block or parry incoming attacks. There are only so many ways and times that you can dodge and slide out of the way before it gets a bit tedious and in a handful of scenarios is completely ineffective. Matching up against some of the stronger enemies, you've got a limited amount of options to avoid damage when they are using strong AOE (Area of Effect) attacks. Despite obtaining an item called "The Shieldwing" it isn't used for shielding at all and the only subsitute is Aloy's Armor to negate some effects or levelling up your Survival Skill Tree to get the Overshield ability.
SURVIVE: Combat can be both rewarding and frustrating
There are a number of colourful and intriguing enemies in Forbidden West, many of which make a return from the original game.
The machines and creatures are based off of real animals such as the Leaplasher that is created based off of Kangaroos or Chargers that are based off of Rams.
As these are machines, they can be analysed and information can be brought up using your 'Focus'. This is a small device that Aloy is equipped with, that can tell you the enemy's name, level, weak points and more. You can even tag the enemy (so you can see it through walls) as well as establish its patrol path.
They all come with their own unique attacks and combat styles based on the animal they are, where Leaplashers will jump kick you and use their feet to a do a lot of attacking, Chargers will opt to run head first in your direction. It meant you had to think tactically about engaging with the enemy and understanding how they tend to attack so you can exploit their flaws; something that made you feel like a real hunter.
What's unique about the Machines is that you can opt to target specific points to weaken their offensive capabilties. An example is the Clawstrider and its devastating tail, if it's giving you issues, attack its tail so it falls off and it is no longer a viable form of attack.
Machines tend to collect together in packs making a fight a lot less fair and more difficult to navigate, meaning you needed to use other techniques and keep your wits about you.
Humans are easier to deal with for the most part, but are more difficult to pick out and can be, at times, more difficult to handle depending on their weaponry.
There were two things that frustrated me about enemies in this game. First, is the unpredictable nature of attacks. Sounds weird right? That's the point of a challenging combat system. But without a consistent stream of attacks or some form of pattern, it makes it very difficult to deal with opponents effectively without taking a lot of damage (because there is no block or parry function). There's also a small window of opportunity to dodge some attacks and others attack in flurries that become near impossible to dodge. One moment you think you've figured out the attack pattern and they then change it. It was, strangely, addicting and kept me glued to the game but came at the expense of a lot of shouting and screaming.
The final greivance I have is the Critical Strike mechanism that seems very inconsistent. When you've downed an enemy, you have the opportunity to apply a Critical Strike, that should finish the job. Well on some tougher enemies, it doesn't finish them off and will leave you in a state of panic as you try to quickly dispatch it before it gets back up...or worse...its friends get to you first. The other is that a lot of the time it actually doesn't apply a Critical Strike and just continues to melee because you weren't supposedly in the right spot. It's a horribly inconvenient issue when fighting for your life and has resulted in a number of unnecessary deaths. This is partly due to light attacks being assigned to the same button as this execution mechanic and it's very generous assistance when attacking that overrides the execution function.
ENEMY: New challenges and foes keep things fresh with new tactics and techniques to employ
The most important part of being a Hunter, is knowing when is the right time to strike and when it's better to seek alternative measures. The stealth tactics in this game are fairly basic, using tall grass and brush to hide from unsuspecting prey before activating a 'Silent Strike' to deal with them quickly and quietly.
Aloy is also able to activate traps to help in her attacks, which is why analysing enemies is very important to get the best approach and to be able to deploy these techniques effectively.
Fortunately, if its not your thing, there are plenty of more aggressive means to deal with opponents.
SILENT BUT VIOLENT: It's important to know when to go in loud and when to stay quiet
Progression And Looting
The Skill Tree has one of the cleanest structures I've seen in an RPG. The Skill Tree is not one skill tree, but is infact six different trees that allows you to customise your experience with Aloy and play to your strengths depending on the style you choose to adopt in the game.
- - Warrior: Unlock new melee combos and increase melee damage and effectiveness.
- - Trapper: Increase the effectiveness of food and traps, and the amounts of traps that can be placed.
- - Hunter: Increased ranged combat effectiveness and improve weapon stamina and concentration.
- - Survivor: Increase the effectiveness of healing and potions, and gain benefits while in low health
- - Infiltrator: Reduce visibility and movement noise and increase damage dealt while in stealth.
- - Machine Master: Increase the effectiveness of overriding machines and the durability and damage dealt from overriden machines.
- It's great to have a variety and choice in how to play, with skills that work for all styles. I enjoyed that you can advance certain skill trees to get to some of the more desirable skills and some powerful skills are unlocked by getting corresponding skills; it made the wait more rewarding. I do also like that I can chop and change how I level up Aloy freely without feeling forced to balance it out.
- My big issue is that some areas are far stronger and far more useful than other. While it's the case in almost all games, there are some I would never bother upgrading until I had nothing left to upgrade for a few reasons. One, they are quite situational and tend to not be massively useful for that reason. The other is the game centres around combat, so upgrading Aloy to be as effective in battle as possible is incredibly important. The useful applications of riding machines and using traps peaks fairly early and I don't feel that upgrading them will provide so many more useful benefits. Even those skills that are useful to you will require you to grab skills before it that may seem like a waste in early stages of the game when every skill point is precious.
- For those that know how effective some skill trees can be, it might sound harsh, but I've only got so much patience to use traps and hide in bushes before I want to go rogue and smash some machines to bits. Especially if I've died a few times and want to get past it and onto the next thing.
- If there was a future game, I would opt to merge some of these skill trees together into different categories such as 'Combat', including Hunter and Warrior, or 'Stealth' including Trapper and Infiltrator.
SKILLS TO PAY THE BILLS: Horizon Forbidden West offers users the chance to customise their playstyle
Everything you need to know about the game, how it works and the buttons are detailed on pop-boxes that can be read whilst continuing to move around. It's a small thing that can go a long way to prevent you from feeling like an information dump is trying to hinder your good time. Not to mention, a lot of skills and objects have information when highlight that you can read at your own pace when you're ready rather than being lost forever.
Other than a few issues with button confusion, I don't have much to complain about the controls other than the fact that I think there are a lot of abilities, gear and combat options on offer that it can be a lot to handle on a controller and wouldn't have been smoother with a keyboard.
Unfortunately, the game lacks any keyboard and mouse support so I couldn't wield my Vulcan TKL Pro or Kone Pro in Aloy's attempts to save the world. It's quite a shame, especially as PC players will be desperate to play the new game since the original released back in 2020.
It's also upsetting as.
Graphics And Sound
The game is beautiful and probably the best game the PlayStation 5 has produced to date. The Lightining effects and attention to detail are phenomenal.
The framerates are also buttery smooth, it gives me a excited feeling as I ponder how it will look on my PC (should it release later on).
While I have a lot of praise for the game visually, there were a few instances that the lighting effects couldn't quite make its mind up. Since I started playing a few patches have released which seem to have fixed some of these issues.
One things they haven't sorted is Aloy's spaghetti like hair that seems to constantly wave in the wind despite no wind being present and constantly clipping through her body; that is an eye sore I can't overlook.
WEST IS BEST: The sights and sounds of the west are breathtaking
As for the sound, it was a great experience using my Syn Pro Airs to listen to Aloy smashing evil machines to peaces or riding a Charger through the beautiful scenes of the West.
SOUND THE ALARM: The sound really kicks into gear during the most intense moments
While I've heard a lot of horror stories about bugs and glitches in this game, I've experienced very few admittedly. Again, the game has been patched a few times since I started playing, but even at its earliest I noticed very few glitches even the subtle small ones were few and far between.
How Long Is It?
Horizon Forbidden West is running most players 30 hours for a casual playthrough, which is a solid amount of time for someone who is playing the main story, occassionally dabbling in the odd sidequest here or there and exploring all the West has to offer.
The Main Story takes up to 24-25 hours to complete, while added the Side Quests and other extra will take you to just under 40-45 hours.
If you're a true completionist, your runtime is looking close to 90-100 hours!
As it stands, there are no official announcements or plans for DLC - Guerilla Games have kept things quite close to their chest as it stands.
The original game did launch with its own expansion called 'The Frozen Wilds', being so popular that a Complete Edition launched later on.
If you've grabbed the game recently, you'll notice it says 'Launch Edition' hinting that there may be future editions down the line with DLC. Given its past and huge success, it would be a big surprise to not see DLC arrive for this game at some point.
MORE: Expect more content in the future
From the get-go, I felt that Horizon Forbidden West was made to keep players immersed in the action as much as possible. While there are a number of cutscenes to go through to advance the story, the colourful characters and complicated relationships will maintain your interest enough that you'll happily sit through them to get back at it again.
It's fair to say that if you struggle with story based games and haven't played the first, you'll struggle to vibe with this game in the way it should. But as far as gameplay is concerned and action RPG games, this is the gold standard for games in this genre. The combat, various mechanics and exploration are addictive and make things easy to pick up and go without much experience.
The only downside to this title is the lack of inclusion into Horizon's legacy and a few admittedly frustrating combat mechanics that can disrupt the flow of a good fight and end up in some blood boiling frustration.
If you're a fan of open world games, action role-playing games and quest related titles, this is a must have. Even for a PC player, who may be trying to hold out for a future release, it's worth the investment. For those that prefer things to be more straight forward more linear, this may not be to your liking.
Final Score: 8.5/10