There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve completed a job, only to find that it’s only just begun. This is the dilemma Aloy faces in Horizon Forbidden West. As Meridian rebuilds six months after the events of Zero Dawn, Aloy tries to save the human population from extinction. And the world beyond the West is bigger and more hostile than anything it’s experienced before. No one said saving the world was easy.
At first glance, little seems to have changed in Aloy’s world. Her journey takes her through new lands with new tribes, but while there is a fragile peace between them, internal conflicts are always at the forefront. All are still influenced by the technology and legacy of the Old World, the human civilization that existed hundreds of years before its extinction filled the world with beastly machines hostile to most human contact.
Horizon Forbidden West review: saving the world
The battle to save the world is more difficult when the tribes seem to be in blissful ignorance, so help isn’t always available if they don’t realize the urgency of the situation. Each tribe has its own problems and reluctance to get involved; the Utaru, for example, just want to be left alone despite their land being ravaged by an invasive red blight. On the other hand, the Tenakth solve most of their problems through combat. The long and compelling story negotiates the balance between their customs and the need to break their rules, but this means you’ll have to make a lot of friends and enemies.
The re-emerging conversation wheels allow Aloy to decide how much (or how little) she wants to interact with the many characters she encounters. They are a great source of information and knowledge, but there is always the option to go straight to the next search dialog. Occasionally, Aloy also has to make a decision about how to respond to someone, be it a thoughtful, sincere, or cold response. These decisions do not affect the story, but do mean that you have some input into Aloy’s personality. While the voice acting is much improved, conversations are affected by distracting facial expressions and rolling eyes from both characters, detracting from the gravity of the situation.
On the other hand, the machines’ immediately hostile intentions are always perfectly clear. The world is still filled with over 40 types of machines, some of which are new. They can all be scanned to identify their patrol routes, weaknesses that help her take them out more easily, and components that can be detached and looted for weapon, accessory and outfit upgrades. These machines will constantly surround and use their numbers with great success, making every battle a matter of life or death and killing each one with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Machines that can be taken by surprise by stealth can take a silent attack for a large amount of damage. Others may be overwritten. At the very least, this means that they will fight for Aloy against the other beasts for a limited time before turning hostile again. Others can be used as mounts to travel the world faster, and for the first time, this also includes flying creatures and an all-new strategy.
What to do?
The linear start of the game may not be the best indication, but the world is a huge sandbox. Like Zero Dawn, Forbidden West has all kinds of activities. Side missions are now more than just fetch missions. Taking out threatening creatures, forging new routes, and settling clan disputes are just some of the issues Aloy gets caught up in. Many of the ancillary activities also return, such as hunting grounds, cauldrons, lookouts, rebel outposts, relic ruins, and tallnecks, although some have different names.
There are also new activities. Combat arenas offer the opportunity to practice melee techniques against human opponents, while other arenas offer a chance to compete against large machines for greater rewards. Gauntlets lets you race machines across the desert, while Strike is a new strategy board game based on the machines roaming the landscape. There is something for everyone, whether puzzle fans, combat fans, explorers or those who just want to catch their breath.
Theoretically, it is possible to just stick with the story without participating in side activities, but this means that story missions can be difficult. Many of the side activities come with XP and/or skill points for Aloy’s upgrades. The six skill trees can be unlocked in any order, meaning players can focus on melee, using traps, long-range combat, stealth, controlling monsters, health upgrades, or a combination of those. Those who complete all activities will end up with a lot of skill points, but without those upgrades, some story missions can quickly become overwhelming.
Regardless of whether you participate in one of the side activities, it is possible to spend hours wandering the Forbidden West. Despite the conflict, plague and unpredictable weather, the world is beautiful. Aloy also has new ways to get around. She can now swim underwater, leading to the new sunken cavern sideline. She can also climb mountains and tall buildings, although she isn’t as agile as one of Ubisoft’s assassins. Sometimes climbing can be awkward as Aloy refuses to cover planks and reach for higher points, but overall it works well.
The general verdict
There are other minor bugs that are also not fixed in the day one patch. The PS5’s loading times are incredibly fast, even if you’re fast traveling all the way around the map, but the game will occasionally go black for a few seconds while the loading is happening in the background. Machines have been known to fall through the floor or disappear completely, leading to a safe reboot for those who were mission-demanding.
But while some of these visual issues are still waiting to be fixed with an update, Horizon Forbidden improves on West Zero Dawn in so many different ways. The story and battles remain highlights for the series, with the latter getting even better with a greater diversity of machines and looting offering another layer of complexity to ponder. The side missions have been improved and there are new side activities for all types of players. In addition, the world of the Forbidden West remains beautiful despite its hostility and it’s been a long time since I’ve lost hours in a game without getting bored once. Those who have enjoyed Aloy’s past adventures should definitely consider adding this one to the collection.