Almost 5 years since the release of Horizon Zero Dawn and Guerrilla Games are back with one of the most anticipated sequels of the last number of years with Horizon Forbidden West.
Horizon Zero Dawn was a brand new and original IP from the studio that had become synonymous with the Killzone franchise. Right from the very start, gamers were enticed by this new direction.
Launching to critical and commercial acclaim, it was inevitable that we were going to see Aloy, the game’s protagonist, in a follow on title and here we are. Fans of the first game, which originally launched exclusively on the PS4 and now has a dedicated following of PC gamers since it was ported in 2020, have a lot of expectations for this 2nd instalment.
Does it live up to the hype? Has Guerrilla delivered a truly worthy sequel in Horizon Forbidden West? Read on to find out.
“Tribal politics and long-lasting allegiances are still front and center…”
Horizon Forbidden West follows on directly from the narrative laid out in 2017’s Zero Dawn. 6 months have passed, Aloy is still trying to discover all that she can to help deliver on Dr. Elisabet Sobeck’s grand plan of saving the planet after it was destroyed nearly 1000 years ago. As part of the game’s main plotline, you are sent on a quest to a mysterious frontier spanning Utah to the Pacific coast to find the source of a mysterious plague that kills all it infects.
Tribal politics and long-lasting allegiances are still front and center with tribes, such the adversarial T’naketh and more peaceful Utaru, being officially introduced to add to the overall complexities Aloy must face as she ventures into the forbidden west.
Whilst obviously not wanting to go too much into what actually happens during your time in the game, you’ll have seen from a number of the trailers that old friends return including Varl and Erend, both of which feel a lot more developed as characters and ones you truly grow fond of as the story plays out.
Old foes or adversaries also return with the questionable Sylens reappearing throughout the game, his true motives still something Aloy isn’t fully aware of.
As the name suggests, the game sees you venture to the ‘forbidden west’ coast of America where you trek through vast desert and dense jungle biomes along with post-post apocalyptic cityscapes including parts of San Francisco, which is now fully reclaimed by nature.
“..the various systems create a greater RPG-style of game..”
The intensity of the combat was one of the stand out features of Zero Dawn so it’s no surprise Guerrilla has focused a lot of their attention on ensuring it’s even more robust and feature-packed this time round in Forbidden West. As you gain XP from completing quests and activities, you start to unlock Skill Points which can be spent across six key areas.
These areas focus on different attributes related to how Aloy can take on various challenges and general exploration of the world and can be unlocked depending on your preferred playstyle. The 6 options are Warrior, Trapper, Hunter, Survivor, Infiltrator and Machine Master.
Whilst unlocking each of these skill trees, there are also special abilities called a ‘Valor Surge’ which can only be unlocked and quipped when the 3 connected skills are learnt.
Valor Surges are powerful special abilities that require a build up of valor to use, represented by the purple bar in your HUD, and you can earn valor by completing various actions in combat like removing components, targeting enemy’s weak spots or simply defeating them.
Each skill tree offers different Valor Surges that provide unique advantages. For other skills on these skill trees, you can also gain additional boosts depending on your outfit or weave. There are also workbenches scattered throughout the world and this is where you can upgrade things such as your weapons and Resource Pouch. You can also learn crafting recipes for things like potions by purchasing them from merchants or finding them in the world. Once you have the recipe, you can then craft the potion in your Hunter’s Kit by holding down on the D-Pad.
This comes in very handy when in the heat of battle and you need to quickly craft some health and stamina potions to see you through the fight. All of this upgradeability, various options to tweak and change your playstyle and overall depth to the various systems create a greater RPG-style of game than was present in the first title.
There are also moments during specific conversations called ‘Flashpoints’ that ask for you to make an emotional choice. They are divided up into three options, loosely defined as confrontation, insight or compassion and it’s entirely up to you as to which one you choose.
These moments offer you, the player, a chance to shape how you want to convey Aloy’s personality and helped us create a greater understanding of what type of person she is or who we think she can be.
The incredibly well realised robotic animals or ‘machines’ of the original game are also here in full force with some terrifying new editions such as the elephant-like ‘Tremortusk’ and giant anaconda-like ‘Slitherfang’.
Both are seriously formidable foes and, when you inevitably encounter them in your journey, you really have to think about the best plan of attack and use all of your skills and equipment to take them down.
If you happened to have watched any of the Forbidden West gameplay reveal trailers, you’ll have also seen the almost velociraptor-like ‘Clawstriders’ which are deadly pack-hunting machines with chainsaw jaws. These particular machines can be overridden, once you learn how, and be used as weaponised mounts which really helps to give you the upper hand in many of the battles you face.
There are also new and less intimating animal-like machines roaming the landscape including the ‘Burrowers’ which are kind of like giant meerkats and the baboon-like Clamberjaw.
Using Aloy’s focus, you can now do even more comprehensive scans of your enemies to find out their weaknesses and the specific areas to focus your attacks on.
Admittedly, it felt a bit like ‘information overload’ when we first used this improved Focus ability but, over time, you quickly learn what you need to know about the enemy at hand in the heat of battle and how best to approach the fight.
In terms of new equipment, early in the story, Aloy comes across something called a ‘Pullcaster’ which helps you get to hard to reach places and also acts as a vaulting mechanism, launching you even higher up a wall or cliff to get to other areas. You’ll also get your hands on a ‘Shieldwing’ device which can help you descend safely from some of the higher locations and structures in the game. It’s also one of the strongest nods to Link’s own gliding device in the hugely popular The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
There’s also new weapons types known as ‘blastslings’ which, as the name implies, are fired using a slingshot-like device and come in very handy when you want to deal some high damage. The Tripcasters and Ropecasters from the first game also make a welcomed return.
Combining all of the above, there’s understandably a lot more variety in terms of combat options but, whilst the majority Aloy’s movements during combat are smooth and seamless, some of her more general movement mechanics feel slightly clunky, especially her jump and structure-traversal mechanic.
Maybe it’s to do with the actual framerate of the animation (we played using the ‘resolution’ mode) but it seemed slightly jarring when compared to some of her other, much more fluid animations.
In terms of the camera and its movement during fight sequences, overall, its pretty solid, but there were times it would get caught in some dense vegetation, resulting in us having to jump to another area to get a better view on things and approaching enemies.
It seems like the game could benefit from something along the lines of recent Assassin’s Creed titles where the environment dynamically disappears when it comes between you and the camera.
When it comes to DualSense implementation, Guerrilla have really thought how best to get the most out of this new controller and, overall, it’s really well done. Things like using the now creates a sense of tension on the right trigger, the built in speaker is also used to add to the overall level of immersion and the haptic feedback helps you feel each and every strike and attack.
“…you can see just how stunningly realised the world is.”
As like the first in the series, Horizon Forbidden West is simply jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Guerrilla really have worked their magic once again and the fact this title runs so well on both the PS4 and PS5 whilst still looking stunning is a testament to their craftsmanship.
Utilising the increased horsepower of the PS5, Guerilla were able to add even more visual flourish to the game with fantastic additional touches such as the ‘peach fuzz’ hairs on Aloy’s face when zooming in in photo mode, improved water physics and reflections and overall increased vegetation and geometry density throughout the open world.
All in all, when taking a moment to pause from all the combat and exploring, you can see just how stunningly realised the world of Horizon Forbidden West is. Lighting and particle effects are also excellent along with improved God rays from sun along with much more atmospheric fog and mist effects throughout the various biomes. Thanks to the power of the PS5, the game can also be played in either ‘resolution’ mode, which delivers a native 4K resolution at 30fps or a ‘performance’ mode, which gives players access to 60fps but with a reduced resolution of 3200×1800 checkerboard.
Not everything was perfect though and this could be due to the fact it was early review code but some of the lighting would jump about at various sections of the opening levels and the screen space reflections on water surfaces would also be quite jumpy when moving closer to them.
Audio & Soundtrack
Forbidden West’s audio design and score should definitely be commended also with the return of the powerful tribal like main theme punctuating many of the climactic scenes throughout the game.
The voice acting, like the original, is also very strong and Ashly Burch, the voice of Aloy, commands each and every scene she’s in with a confidence yet underlying nervousness in her voice that really adds to her character.
The machine’s audio and sound effects are also fantastic at conveying their unique attributes and personalities and the environmental effects, be it the wind whirling through the tall grass or an impending storm on the horizon, really add to the overall sense of scale and believability of the world Guerrilla has created.
The console’s Tempest audio engine is also used to simulate spatial audio throughout the ‘Forbidden West’, creating the illusion of sound moving around you. It actually works with any headset, which is handy and, since the latest PS5 firmware update, standard TV speakers and sound bars also.
“Horizon Forbidden West is a spectacular showcase title…”
Ever since its first reveal back in 2020, there has been immense levels of hype around this game. With Horizon Zero Dawn being the runaway success that it was, there is a lot of pressure on Guerrilla to deliver something special with Horizon Forbidden West, and they have.
The game is a spectacular showcase title for both the now last-gen PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro consoles whilst also capitalising on the sheer horsepower of the PS5 to create one of the most visually stunning open world games available right now. The diversity of locations and painstaking attention to detail is second to none and positions Guerrilla Games as masters of their world building craft.
Combat is intense yet well-honed, characters are fantastically well realised and the overall story is engaging and deep. The newly fleshed out RPG elements and more detailed weapons systems help add a greater level of depth to the gameplay and combat. Fans of the original title are going to absolutely love Horizon Zero Dawn and even for newcomers to the series, they really are in for a treat.
Horizon Forbidden West Pricing & Availability
Horizon Forbidden West is available for PS4 and PS5 starting from €69.99.
Horizon Forbidden West was reviewed on a PlayStation 5 with a review code supplied by Sony PlayStation Ireland.
REVIEW: Horizon Forbidden West
- Audio & Soundtrack
With Horizon Zero Dawn being the runaway success that it was, there was a lot of pressure on Guerrilla to deliver something special, and they have.