For what it was, Horizon paved a path of grandeur that existentially held firm ground on previous generation hardware, staking its claim as one of gaming’s greatest open-world adventures. An evolutionary – no pun intended – manifestation of gaming fluidity that can only be demonstrated by its lush, wide open spaces that give players that ultimate freedom whilst battling mechanical beasts within the futuristic wilds. Guerrilla have promulgated nothing short of expectation trudging through to its follow-up in Horizon Forbidden West, taking what was awe-inspiring about Zero Dawn, and doubling-down on distinguishable facets that lead the studio to new heights above the trademark first-person shooter it was notable for. A deviation that had stripped the Amsterdam based team of its quarrels, and placed them amongst the elite first parties in one swoop.
Horizon Forbidden West now solidifies the franchise as one of the greatest you can experience, with one of gaming’s most incredibly detailed landscapes, with combat and variety at every twist and turn – not to mention how gorgeous it is. Aloy’s tale was left open for all possibilities, and Forbidden West continues to build on its protagonists unconventional life story. However, I was personally more enticed with the deluge of capabilities that had been present beforehand to be completely polished for the PlayStation 5. The addition of trigger retention and haptic feedback made a case for more immersive gameplay, capitalising on a strong narrative and palpable action. But what was Forbidden West able to bring forth that Zero Dawn wasn’t? Plenty. On a technical level there are so many features that only can be made evident on new hardware that the PS4 (Pro) weren’t capable of even presenting in real-time.
Keeping on track...
I have to praise Guerrilla, and their intent to work patiently on this title. Carefully crafted with love, Horizon Forbidden West has come out the other side of its steady development cycle a complete spectacle above the rest. Playing through its campaign, Aloy’s story picks up months after saving Meridian, while continuing her journey of self-discovery and to find the meaning of her very existence. The essence of Elisabet Sobeck, remains this world’s biggest mystery among not only the Nora, but Westerners as well. Aloy sets foot on unknown lands in search of GAIA, an AI created by Sobeck, purely for management of Zero Dawn, but developed human conditions such as emotion. This would not only aid Sobeck in vulnerable moments, but would help guide Aloy through both a governed Zero Dawn and her conquest in the Forbidden West.
Leaving Meridian without notice, Aloy embarks on her desperate quest toward a research facility once owned by the Far Zenith, hoping to find a backup of GAIA there. Although she had secretly departed the district, she’s tailed by her close cohort Varl, in hopes of keeping a close eye on the young warrior. Upon their arrival, they find the backup to be purposely tampered, leaving Aloy with no other alternative but to track down the former Banuk archaeologist, and researcher of the ‘Old Ones’, Sylens. The antagonistic nature the historian bears makes our young protagonist hesitant to confide in, but without a choice both she and Varl make haste toward the Spire, where Sylens contacts her and instructs Aloy to make way toward the Fobidden West, where he will there share knowledge to which HADES – a rogue AI which was the template of GAIA, but aborted due to its subordinate nature, and the antagonist of Zero Dawn – once kept secret.
The Horizon series has sought itself to be PlayStation's pick over its gold standard collection of first party titles, and Forbidden West sits firmly amongst as one of gaming's greatest, ever.
Given final warning from the Carja, that the West was ruled by the Tenakth, a tribe labelled erratic and distrustful due to crimes a former Carja Sun King had endorsed. Seeking permission to cross the border toward the uncharted territory, Aloy is informed by Tenakth that the tribe was in-between a faction war that had broken out between Chief Hekarro, and leader of the rebellion Carja, Regalla. Granted access to the West, she along with Varl and Chief’s soldiers are attacked by Regalla, and rogue chargers that have been overridden by the rebel tribe. After mass bloodshed, both Aloy and Varl escape, setting forth on coordinates given by Sylens, where she discovers a corrupted HADES. After erasing HADES, she’s able to recover a backup of GAIA, however not all information from the base version of GAIA is available. This sets Aloy on an expedition across the many continents of the West to help find and restore GAIA’s full backup.
Beta and Alpha...
✔️PlayStation Perfection; nothing short a spectacle on new generation hardware.
✔️Aloy’s journey continues through an immersive tale, rich with distinguished detail, design and personality.
✔️Untouchable, Incomparable and undeniably desirable. A leading example of open-world gaming.
❌Some bugs, but nothing a quick patch can’t fix.
So full disclosure here, I’m trying my best to keep this spoiler-free. There’s a whole lot more to the campaign than a simple fetch quest that unlocks parts of GAIA; I was awe-struck by moments that had me in complete shock, after questioning certain facets of Aloy’s being, but if I elaborate any further then it gives it away and I’m not prepared to do so. This is a must play for gamers – especially fans of the first. Horizon Forbidden West oozes creativity from head-to-toe. Rich in personality, from the biggest moments to minor features will have you gasp. The fact that Aloy needs to catch her breath after emerging from an underground city completely submerged and surrounded by mech urchins, makes it a relatable moment in terms of character.
Then there’s the more meaningful additions to Aloy’s repetoire that help make for a more seamless and streamlined gaming curve. Using a grapple hook, Aloy is able to grip onto places that allow quick access at the highest peaks without the monotony of climbing them; ala Uncharted – still the option is there. Not only will the grapple hook allow for some easy traversing, but can open up secret doorways, alternate pathways and unlock certain objective points to progress your mission. Slinging your hook upon the top of a high rise standee, then mashing down on Circle to evidently leap 7-feet in the air, then take aim at your foe in slow-motion is so gratifying, especially landing the final blow on a boss.
At its core, Horizon Forbidden West takes the foundations of a successful Zero Dawn, and simply gives it some quality of life insurance, instead of drastically changing anything – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it after all. Carrying over major gameplay loop, and staple features like crafting, collecting and upgrading remains exactly how it was in Zero Dawn. Simply collecting and purchasing items from nearby traders can of course allow for an expeditious experience throughout the campaign. Holding down on the touch-pad will bring up the world map, but will allow you to navigate through different upgrades and costume alterations that can protect you during those big fight moments. Holding down R1 will present the familiar weapon wheel, where you can choose your offensive tactic of choice from standard arrow, to acid and fire.
I did find myself crafting a fair few acid arrows as I found them to be most effective on enemy’s golden armour. Planting them with the corrosive substance, then laying into them makes for an emphatically awesome combination. Interactions with NPC’s have vastly improved, with cinematics providing a more lively and animated conversation between our protagonist and the character, whereas Zero Dawn’s anecdotes were simply cardboard and stone-faced without an ounce of emotion evoked, so I was glad to see this. The option to interrogate or simply ask multiple questions are still there, and are relatively easy to choose or you could skip all useless colloquy and continue on your campaign.
While a great portion of the campaign will have Aloy scramble through the West, avoiding confrontation between mechs or taking down large mammoths while galloping through the snowy alps, it’s not until much later into the main campaign where you learn to override a Shieldwing and soar across the vast plains. I did make mention during my playthrough that a few more randomly spawned Charger herds would have been appreciated, as there were long stints I found to have trekked on foot without a single mech in sight to override. It can be a bit much if you don’t have a Travel Pack handy to simply fast travel, but I did appreciate taking in the sights and scenery of this extraordinary world.
So let’s talk about how unbelievably gorgeous it really is. This games relentless beauty is something to truly behold, and the fact that there is almost zero load times here is wondrous. I recall playing Zero Dawn and how long it would take to simply render the overworld map, now with fast travel being instantaneous as is, was simply astonishing. Cinematics rendering in-game, with very humanistic models and texturing doing its job convincing you that there’s real people on the other side of that screen. Earlier this year, I praised the Uncharted Legacy of Thieves collection in updating its graphic set to look as real as possible, but Forbidden West has taken graphical fidelity to a whole new level, while continuously rendering its massive landscape without minor transition.
Taking an even closer look in comparison from its prequel, Forbidden West’s attention to detail is a marvel. The follicles and freckles on Aloy’s face, to each step on a snowy mountain delivering a crunching sensation in the Dualsense’s haptics, it’s honestly one of the best achievements in immersive gameplay that I’ve witnessed. Lighting and particle effects are quintessential in a world like this, and I think I can most definitely say that it’s more than adequate here, if anything it’s perfect. The blue hue that emanates off a mech while swimming underwater, to the glow of red that immediately reflects off environments upon angering a hoard plays a major role in signalling for quiet, tactical movement or preparation for battle.
There were some mixing issues that I did find to be troubling at times, especially while trying to listen during imperative moments of dialogue. These can be fixed with simple patches, and hopefully we’ll see those soon. Speaking of which, I have to hand it to an incredible cast of actors that made these characters come to life again. Our heroine, Aloy, once again backed by an industry great in Ashly Burch (Life is Strange, Tiny Tina’s Wonderland) who’s impressive resume continues to grow, along with John MacMillan reprising his role as Varl, esteemed actor Lance Reddick (Quantum Break, John Wick Hex) as Sylens, then newcomer and still my personal favourite Joker of all time Anthony Ingruber (Batman: The Telltale Series) taking on the role of HADES, and Matrix mainstay Carrie Ann Moss (Mass Effect) takes on the role of the eternal Tilda van der Meer. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, as a myriad of characters are backed by a cavalcade of stars in this awesome adventure.
Horizon Forbidden West is without question in top contention for Game of the Year. While nothing’s ever perfect in gaming, this is unquestionably one of gaming’s greatest coming out the back end of a crippling pandemic, so it’s evermore impressive that Guerrilla were able to pull off such a generous feat. A questionably massive escapade through an uncharted territory that takes Aloy beyond her comfort zone, fulfilling her conviction in finding out her past, and what the intent was behind her creation. A sequel which seeks to decidedly push the envelope with everything that made Zero Dawn a success, and turn it into one of PlayStation’s keystone franchises for years to come, only personifying it by relaying an excellent chapter in one of gaming’s greatest mascot’s celebrated journey. The Horizon series has sought itself to be another pick from PlayStation’s gold standard collection of first party titles, and Forbidden West sits firmly amongst them all one as of gaming’s greatest, ever.
Horizon Forbidden West is a 2022 action role-playing game developed by Guerrilla Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. A sequel to 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn, it is an open world single-player video game.