Horizon Forbidden West – Game Review


Horizon Forbidden West

(Available for PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4)
(PS5 version used for both reviews)

Horizon: Forbidden West is the long awaited sequel to Horizon: Zero Dawn, one of the smash hits of the PS4 back in 2017 which earned a Game of the Year nomination. Now, Horizon Forbidden West has suffered from a few issues, most noticeably that Guerilla Games had to push the game back past its original 2021 initial release plan. As a result, this led to Sony having a controversy when the plan was to charge for an upgrade to the PS5 version, after initially promising all Year One games would get free upgrades. Sony eventually relented on that, hence why most people have bought the PS4 version- though word of warning: if you’re planning to buy the PS4 version to spend less money and gain the free upgrade be aware you will require to have enough space on your harddrive to install both games, and the Playstation 5 version is already over 100 GB with the day one patch.

Forbidden West takes place immediately following Zero Dawn, and talking about the plot line would result in major spoilers for the events of Zero Dawn so I won’t be discussing anything plot related in much detail, in fact most of what I say regarding the game is going to be very vague.

Once again, you are placed in control of Aloy, on a mission to gain something she’s been searching for since the end of the first game, receiving a tip that it’s potentially been hidden in what used to be western United States, which also still has the post apocalyptic setting with machine creatures roaming around and several tribal customs, similar to that of many indigenous populations around the world.

I would recommend playing through the original Zero Dawn especially since now it has recently had a 60 frames per second update.

PROS

  • Gameplay

If you liked the gameplay of Zero Dawn, it’s pretty much intact here. There’s been some real improvements, for example this game has a much better tech tree than the first, I really couldn’t stand the previous one. I’m really getting to the stage now where I’m getting bored of tech trees, they do feel like ways to artificially lengthen a game as time goes on. Zero Dawn definitely suffered with these issues, though, Forbidden West is much improved- for one thing, it’s divided into more categories which allows you to better focus on improving aspects of your gameplay style which suit you best. The abilities are also a lot more varied, as well as making more visible differences on the battlefield.

Now once again, there’s another open world environment, but I also found it interesting how good the variety of what you can do in the world has improved. There’s a lot more to do this time, including, very weirdly, a racing game involving the machine mounts that you use. This goes on full Mario Kart, you have to pick up different bows and arrows to slow your enemies down. I didn’t partake too much in these side missions but when I did they were enjoyable.

Combat also feels somewhat improved, especially considering the fact that the game once again has very flexible difficulty which you can change on the fly, which was something that I did for this review. I played the game mostly on normal difficulty but I did switch it back down to easy when I encountered some parts that I struggled with. You also have the option for custom difficulty, where you can tweak it to your liking. For example, if you want to keep the challenge of fighting enemies, you can set that to normal difficulty but if youre getting hit too many times and you don’t want to take that punishment you can switch the Aloy difficulty to easy. Highly recommend making use of this feature when you get used to the game, it’s an excellent custom feature.

  • Way more side quests

The biggest issue I had with Zero Dawn was that there weren’t nearly enough side quests for the amount of time investment that you are expected to put into the game. Forbidden West has way more and I think that it’s a great improvement. You’re not going to get Witcher 3 levels of backstories within backstories that you get in the side quests of that game, however you are getting a lot more variety and sheer amount to keep you going in the meantime. I really thought that this was a great improvement and it certainly makes you do a lot more to earn that platinum trophy.

  • Visuals, loading times, and performance mode

The game has two modes when it comes to visuals, favour performance or favour resolution. I really wanted to play the game at 60 frames per second so I had the game pretty much set entirely in performance mode, losing a little bit of resolution to gain that 60 fps, and the game does hit 60 most of the time. But even if you do play at a lower resolution, this game is stunning! This is something that is truly showcasing the power of the Playstation 5. I will admit it doesn’t separate itself out too much from its PS4 predecessor and you are acutely aware when you’re playing it that not only is there a PS4 version of this but that it clearly started out life as a PS4 game. I also think that if you play the upgrade for Zero Dawn for PS5 the visuals might not have as much of an impact on you.. That being said however, this game is really excellent in it’s visuals. The team has certainly learnt and developed their craft since the first game and have really created a brilliant looking world. When I went back and forth between the two I really didn’t notice a difference in resolution. It’s definitely not in 4k and I don’t think its1080p, so I imagine it hits 1440p, but to the average person you won’t notice a difference unless you look properly.

Load times are also excellent, I did wonder how it was going to work but it did an excellent job in terms of loading these massive environments very quickly, it matches the speeds of the fast travel in the Spiderman games on PS5. The fact that it can load something that complex and big so quickly in terms of open world is outstanding

  • Soundtrack

One of the best things about the game is the soundtrack. It is both atmospheric and action packed, they certainly picked the right songs for the right moments. While I’m not sure if I would consider it one of the best soundtracks of the year, I did think that the music score was really good and deserves some recognition.

MIXED

  • Story

As I mentioned before I’m not going to go into plot details because this takes place literally right after the events of Zero Dawn , so there’s barely any time gaps between the two games. What I will say is while it does follow the climate change allegory of the first game it also adds a couple of other thematic elements to the story. While I thought that story was pretty good overall there were a few issues that I had with it. For one thing, Aloy was one of the most interesting parts of the first game but I feel like the team did a bit too good of a job wrapping up her character arc then, as a result there’s not as much to give her this time around. She certainly has some interesting relationships with some of the side characters but the story is a lot less about her this time.

It also goes into some very weird and outlandish areas.. I know that’s a bit odd coming from a game about a post apocalyptic story where the past meets the future but I’ll stand by this one- it went a lot of directions I wasn’t expecting it to go and i’m not sure if that’s entirely for the better, I’m wondering how they are going to top themselves with any future releases, especially with the VR game due out later this year. And we haven’t even been told how that game is going to relate to the Horizon storyline so far.

  • World Design

Now, Horizon Forbidden West has a brilliant open world in many regards. The environments are a lot more varied and they look amazing, especially considering that it’s a lot bigger this time around. It falls in a couple of areas for me, for example, it still feels quite barren, there’s not a lot of landmarks to really sink your teeth into. I also find that it doesn’t quite feel as enjoyable to explore compared to other games such as Breath of the Wild.. The appeal of open world games is the exploration, but I don’t really get that with the Horizon games, this one didn’t really improve on the first one in this regard.

I also am still not a fan of fast travel being linked to save points or resources, to me they often artificially extend the time in the open world. That being said, there is still way more to do this time around. I have to say, this open world doesn’t feel like it’s checking off tick boxes but the way that the menus work you definitely don’t get that sense, it still does feel like you’re trying to find a bunch of rebel camps or special one off machines to take out. That being said, it is still pretty good overall, and I feel like that they did a brilliant job creating new exploration methods. It definitely took inspiration from Breath of the Wild by giving you a paraglider which was really enjoyable to use, and improves travelling.

  • Controls

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the controls, they function well, and they definitely suit the dual sense controller. But if you, like me, have dyspraxia or any sort of coordination difficulty, it might be a challenge to do certain actions on the fly. It can often feel like trying to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time- not impossible, but a bit more difficult than it needs to be.

All things considered, by the time I got to the final boss I definitely had the hang of it. I’ve never been a big fan of the control scheme in the Horizon games, and this one didn’t change my mind that much.

The other big question to ask is how it functions with the Dual Sense new features such as the rumble and the haptic triggers. The rumble is pretty decently done and I did enjoy some of the features of the haptic figures most noticeably for the use with the bow and arrows, which I used more than anything else in combat. They do work very well and are enjoyable, but I do think that there are other games on the PS5 that made use of these better, the Demon Souls remake is one that comes to mind and games like Ratchet and Clank really made each gun feel very very different. Horizon doesn’t really do as much with that, and I’m only bringing this up because I would have expected a little bit more considering that this is a Sony owned studio making this game.

CONS

  • Framerate Hiccups and glitches

Now, I didn’t run into too many of these during my runthrough, especially in the glitches department, however I did notice a few people had some issues that did require a reset. Some of these have been addressed in the time that it took to write this review, a new patch was added that did fix some problems. Though I have been reliably informed that some problems have been left and are still present for players. I did say in performance mode the game does mostly hit 60fps but there were some times where it dropped- nothing too noticeable, but I did run into a few issues as a result. There were some environments where jumping or climbing was a bit more difficult because it didn’t read Aloy’s movements perfectly and I did encounter a couple of occasions where there were some jittery movements from my character. There were also obvious popping issues throughout the game, though considering what I’ve seen online I think I’ve avoided the worst of it.. It’s possible that the new patch might have fixed these issues.

  • Resolution mode is unplayable

Let me make it clear, this is one game you should not play in 4k, even if you have a monitor or television that can display 4k, play this game in performance mode. Resolution mode locks this game in 30fps, and unlike other games on the Playstation that have this option (Ratchet and Clank & the Demon Souls remake) the game does feel completely unplayable when favouring resolution. To be fair, I did play all of those examples in resolution mode and didn’t really enjoy playing them with that setting, either.. However, I at least could get some basic fun out of it, this isn’t the case with Forbidden West. Aloy moves like a tank when in this resolution and it’s near impossible to do highly reactive gameplay, which this game really requires.

To see if there was a visible difference between the two I actually showed this to multiple people and I will say the one that I found the most interesting was the when I presented this to my mum to see if the average person could tell the difference and it terms of picture quality it was pretty much no difference noticed, but she noted that the gameplay looked unusable. I expect that there will be a patch in the future to play this game with a performance plus mode, but for the time being, play in ‘favour performance’ only.

CONCLUSION

Horizon Forbidden West is a very very good game in many regards, the combat is excellent, the gameplay is engaging, and I did find myself really enjoying the experience. That being said, I feel the same way I do with Zero Dawn; I like this game, but I don’t love it.. And I can’t quite put my finger on why. It’s overall really good but I don’t enjoy exploring as much as I do with other open world games, the combat and the stealth gameplay are rewarding and challenge you but I find myself almost out of my depth on a lot of occasions, and while I think the story is interesting, I do think it’s going in some sort of weird directions that I don’t think are going to benefit the series.

I do think this game is a technical marvel and was really enjoyable, it does have a lot of excellent moments and excellent gameplay, and whenever I got that precise bow and arrow shot that hit a weak point for maximum damage, it left a great feeling.

I didn’t do too much in terms of the side quests and I didn’t really feel so motivated to do them either, even if it was to get excellent resources for better weapons and gear.

To reiterate, it’s a game I really liked but not a game I loved. But that’s just my personal opinion, I’d say on a technical level this game is brilliant, and is something you should be getting if you have a PS4 or PS5, just don’t go into it without knowing the context of the events that happened in Horizon Zero Dawn, this game is very much under the assumption that you played the first one.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

Calvin
Nerd Consultant

And now Reece’s review

My experience with this game is that I have beaten the main story and will be returning to get the Platinum trophy. I completed my playthrough solely on the PlayStation 5 version of the game so all my experience both positive and negative is with that version and not the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

Horizon Forbidden West is the new sequel to the 2017 PlayStation 4 game Horizon Zero Dawn. Forbidden West is an Action Adventure game with light RPG elements and is also on PS4 but also on the new PS5.

The player returns to playing as Aloy the heroine of the original game now set several months after the original game and DLC as you visit new locales as you followup on the cliffhanger of the original game as you leave the relative safety of the peaceful Sundom and instead travel to the West which are “Forbidden” for a reason as you unravel new mysteries to hopefully save the world from a plague slowly killing the land and the people.

Pro:

Story.

While the first game had a great if basic overall plot that was carried by its cast of characters rather than the strength of the story, the sequel takes everything that was great about the original but dials it up to 11.

Now the story for the sequel puts a greater focus on an overall plot that also sets up the storyline for future games that I cannot wait to see how this story will end because at this point it has more in common with an anime plotline.

The story also takes us to the coastline now so there is an even wider range of environments to explore as Aloy encounters new friends and foes with Ashly Burch doing a fantastic job returning as Aloy as we see how she adapts to all the twists and turns thrown at her with even more range than her performance in the original game.

Cutscenes.

A minor point that greatly impacts the overall game experience is the cutscenes as they are now much more dynamic as instead of the characters being static like in the original game.

The sequel now allows characters to move around which adds to the performances of the voice actors and makes the cutscenes much more enjoyable.

Graphics.

This is probably the most obvious pro on the entire list but Forbidden West is somehow even more graphically impressive than the original game.

Aside from the most noticeable graphical improvement of the environments I want to highlight the character designs and outfits. As during the main story you meet and interact with the various tribes of the Tenakth and all of them are visually amazing to see with their unique culture of each tribe and their unique clothing and tattoos.

You should take plenty of time while playing to just soak in the atmosphere and sheer beauty of the environments and machines. The most visually striking area for me is the underwater city as I had the game set to Resolution mode inatead of Performance to maximize the graphics and I was blown away by the graphical prowess Guerilla Games has shown off to the point where I destroyed all the machines in the area just so I could swim around while looking at every environment.

Photo Mode.

As a great compliment to the overhauled graphics for the new game the photo mode also returns and still is as great as in the original game.

Hours and hours can be spent trying to get the perfect shot as you overlook a vast vista or can be used in actual gameplay as you can use the photo mode to zoom in on the distance, I used this feature to scope out the distance before approaching areas like Rebel camps or looking for Tallnecks before more foliage pops in.

Sidequests.

Sidequests have been greatly expanded from the original and now have cutscenes and feature some returning characters from the original game so it was interesting to see how much has changed for these characters.

There is also a large variety of sidequests in this game with the new implemented Machine Strike but also the new racing sidequests, so the player can now race against A.Is while mounted on machines which is actually fun even if the mechanic isn’t that deep.

A great section of sidequests also heavily focuses on each of your companions that you unlock towards the end of the story and I recommend you do these sidequests to see an interesting storyline unfold in each, and these are very well crafted with great care but are optional as you don’t need to do them to beat the game but you should as all these characters are great and very well written.

Machine Strike.

The main sidequest is Machine Strike which is similar to Chess but with a more tactical aspect as each piece has its own stats and skills.

You are tasked to go through the world and challenge other Machine Strike players to collect all the pieces before challenging the best player in the Forbidden West, and due to how enjoyable this is I found that I spent a lot of spare time just building my sets and trying out new strategies against my opponents.

I could even see this being released as a small standalone game as it’s very unique with how it plays and interacts with its different game boards, the only other minigame in a game that I’ve enjoyed this much was Gwent from The Witcher 3, I would recommend all players to atleast try out Machine Strike a bit to see how fun it is.

Skill trees.

In an expansion of the original game we have new and more greatly expanded skill trees that players can put their Skill Points they receive from levelling up and quest rewards can be used to put into each tree to unlock new skills and abilities.

They are 6 trees in total and each tree feels distinct with 162 skills to purchase with your Skill Points. For instance the tree I went into first was the “Hunter” skill tree, this was due to that this tree increases the “Concentration” skill for Aloy which will slow down time during combat to allow you to more carefully aim your shot while the machines are more static compared to normal combat where they are extremely fast so it can be hard to aim for specific components without Concentration especially for myself who suffers with dyspraxia.

This skill tree system also helps to compliment your preferred playstyle starting off as players may prefer to use stealth or traps so will benefit from the “Infiltrator” or “Trapper” tree. So every player can customise Aloy to play how they want compared to other players to help their playthrough stand out.

New machines.

22 new machines in this game alone each that expand on a concept of the original game and offer players new challenges to overcome especially in the greater “Heavyweight” category that I would highly recommend hunting them down as they offer some of the best weaves to get outside of quests.

Along side these new monsters a number of machines from the original game also return making the total number of machines in game being over 40 in total, so gameplay never feels as repetitive due to how the wider variety of machines you will be facing during gameplay plus the returning human enemy characters to give you a sniping battle compared to the more melee focused of the machines.

Armour dyes.

To help further customise the appearance of Aloy to help her stand out from other player’s versions of her the new game allows players to collect special plants in the wild that when given to an NPC in certain cities can now dye the armour sets a wide variety of colours.

Meals.

After completing a sidequest chain in the first city in The Daunt you can unlock the ability to order food from chefs in different cities throughout the map as most cities.

To have a meal you need to supply the ingredients for each meal with meals that have stronger effects requiring more difficult to acquire animal parts.

These meals can give you certain boosts to your stats for a set period of time before they expire, so if you are having trouble with a part of the game I would suggest trying a meal as they are very useful on higher difficulties.

Accessibility options.

Forbidden West has a range of great accessibility options to help players tailor the game to either make it easier or more difficult and even includes a custom difficulty option which makes the difficulty much for flexible for the player rather than being a static level like Story or Very Hard.

Then there is also gameplay accessibility options like Aim Assist to help you hit monsters but I found that it tended to veer away towards the main body of the machine instead of the components I was hoping to snipe off to take away the combat options of the machines.

Recap movie.

Since the original game launched on the PS4 over 4 years ago it would only be natural for players to forget key plot points of the original game.

Thankfully Forbidden West has a recap film at the start of the game to catch players upto speed before the sequel which is really helpful. Then also you can rewatch this recap movie from the title screen at any time which is a great option just incase the player accidentally skipped it.

Con:

Glitches.

While the majority of the game is polished very well I did have a few glitches that pop up during my game.

One of the funniest bugs I encountered during my playtime is that Aloy’s hair would constantly fly around in cutscenes and while not game breaking was still hilarious even if it did take away from the somber cutscenes.

A more annoying glitch I found was that my Valor Surges no longer worked as intended with the “Powershot” skill I always used for example just suddenly broke and I never got any benefits anymore like the powershot themselves and also many ammo stopped refilling.

Also I’m not sure how but during my cutscenes because they are procedurally generated and I sometimes had random NPCs suddenly pop in during the cutscenes, this happened in the funniest way when a female NPC popped up in front of Aloy in a cutscene during the first city you reach in the Daunt.

Lag.

While not prevalent in the majority of the game there were sections of the game particularly where there are big sections where the game would drop a significant amount of frames during set pieces.

This was probably due to the vast amount of particule effects and happened to me badly in an underground area with lots of water as there was a large explosion, then after that happened my game lagged only getting about 5fps (Frames Per Second) and after this carried on for 30 seconds the only recourse I had was to manually close my game down and reload from a checkpoint to solve the issue.

Controls.

Most of the game controls fine but it isn’t very dyspraxic friendly when trying to swap weapons as it especially during an intense battle, another example is using the new grapple hook since it requires 3 button inputs by the time you fire it so there were several times I accidently used my weapon skills just losing weapon stamina.

To try and circumvent this problem I had to use the “Concentration mechanic” as much as possible in combat to try and land more accurate shots against monsters.

Can’t respec skill tree.

While the skill tree is amazing and easy to collect skill points to progress down the trees but one you allocate skill points you cannot take those skill points back.

This should be an easy issue to resolve by even just charging the player a couple of metal shards so they have to at least consider that it won’t be can’t just be taken back at any time if the developers still wanted some weight behind the players choices.

Slow start.

Features that were heavily featured in the marketing like the Hardlight glider and the beach environments don’t show up till a long while into gameplay.

You also spend several hours solving a single towns issues before actually getting to the “Forbidden West” in the title, so don’t expect to have a fast and intense opening to the game as even the story is more subtle compared to the heavy narrative of the original game.

Final movement option.

No spoilers but the final movement option you unlock only happens right before the final mission while I wish it was earlier like 3/4 of the way through the game instead as it makes completing the late game sidequests and exploration so much easier.

Postgame.

There’s not much postgame wise or final secret superbosses, so when you’ve finished the main story then you are pretty much done with the game.

This will probably change with eventually dlc or update but at launch there’s no New Game + or extra content after the story.

Conclusion:

While mechanically it feels less like an evolution of the prequel and it instead refines what was already established prior to create a very enjoyable sequel.

It is a great game though and definitely worth a purchase especially on the PS5 where you can make full use of its HDR and 60fps settings and I hope the inevitable sequel holds up to the high standards of these first two games.

Score: 9.2

Reece Imiolek
Anime Amigo and Nerd Consultant

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The Next Axia6th July 2022
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