Horizon Forbidden West Review
Horizon Forbidden West is a superb sequel, adding even more robot monsters to slay while introducing a deep crafting and upgrade system that creates a rewarding Monster Hunter-style gameplay loop. Platforming still feels clunky and there are a few annoying technical issues at launch, but this is still one of the best first-party games to arrive on PS5 yet.
- Huge number of machines to fight
- New upgrade system has rewarding gameplay loop
- Map is packed with a variety of biomes
- Story takes a fascinating new direction
- Platforming often feels clunky
- Multiple irksome technical issues
- Genre: Action RPGForbidden West features lots of action-packed combat, while allowing you to upgrade weapons and unlock new moves.
- Release date: Available from 18 February 2022.
- Platforms:PS5 and PS4.
Horizon Forbidden West is at its rip-roaring best when fighting the many colossal robot beasts that roam the post-apocalyptic world.
Aloy’s second outing features a whopping 43 metallic monsters, which is a big jump from the preceding entry, Horizon Zero Dawn.
There’s a huge variety of new machines here, from the rodent-esque Burrower that can tunnel underground, to the mammoth Tremortusk that can spew flames from its trunk. Each machine has multiple weak points that can be exploited and unique behaviour that makes them come across like living, breathing animals – I almost felt guilty when seeing their glowing eyes dim after pelting them with a dozen arrows.
Of course, Guerrilla Games isn’t just relying on a greater variety of machines for this sequel, as it’s also introduced a number of new features and quality-of-life improvements, as well as a new story that takes some surprising twists.
But can Horizon Forbidden West reach the lofty heights of its predecessor and set a new benchmark for the PS5 era? Here are my thoughts .
- Aloy remains a fantastic protagonist
- Promising cast of characters don’t get enough screen time
- Story takes an intriguing new direction, with plenty of twists
Horizon Forbidden West picks up immediately where its predecessor left off, with Aloy on the hunt for a back-up copy of GAIA, the terraforming artificial intelligence that is humanity’s last hope of preventing an impending doomsday.
Following her success in defeating Hades, Aloy is now more confident and driven than ever, but suffering with the pressure of being the only person capable of saving the planet. With so much focus on this monumental task, Aloy is often accused of neglecting her relationships with other characters, especially once she rushes off to the forbidden west in the middle of the night.
That doesn’t mean she’s completely alone though, as characters such as Erend and Varl return to offer a helping hand, despite Aloy’s protests.
There’s a fairly big cast of characters here, with a select few joining your main crew akin to games such as Mass Effect. But I never really spent enough time with anyone to form a strong bond, as Aloy takes on most quests alone. There are some pivotal moments in the story where Guerrilla Games expected to make a big emotional impact, but I unfortunately wasn’t invested enough to care.
Aloy remains a likeable and fascinating protagonist, despite the newfound knowledge of the old world making her increasingly cynical about the tribal traditions and trivial conflicts of the many people she encounters. She’s still happy to help out, usually consisting of defeating a nasty metal beast or using her focus to fix technology from the ‘old world’, but not without lecturing them about a more pressing issue that threatens the entire planet – one of the more blatant allegories of global warming I’ve seen yet.
It’s not just climate change that Aloy needs to worry about either, as she also encounters a new group of villains that take the series in an interesting new direction. It’s just a shame that these new characters rarely get much screen time during the roughly 25-hour campaign, with the story progressing at a sluggish pace until you reach the final third.
Forbidden West at least does a better job of telling the story than Zero Dawn. There are still heavy bursts of exposition, but they’re at least provided via face-to-face conversations rather than lengthy monologues via ancient audio files.
Pacing issues aside, I enjoyed Forbidden West’s story, although I don’t think it managed to hit the lofty heights of other PlayStation Studios games such as The Last of Us, Uncharted, God of War, or even Spider-Man. That’s partly due to its intense focus on telling a complex story rather than fleshing out its promising cast of characters.
- Combat with machines feels as fantastic as ever
- Upgrade system creates a Monster Hunter-style gameplay loop
- Fighting humans is still a bore despite melee improvements
The combat is Horizon Forbidden West’s greatest strength, although it doesn’t feel all too different to Zero Dawn.
Aloy excels with a bow and arrow, so you’ll spend most fights attacking from range. Don’t think that makes Horizon’s combat easy though, as most machines are either fast enough to close in on you in a matter of seconds, or will be kitted out with an arsenal of high-tech weapons that can blitz you from afar.
Every monster multiple weak points, of which you can discover by scanning with your Focus. You can even knock certain components off a machine with a well-timed shot, allowing you to steal a Thunderjaw’s turret to add extra firepower to your arsenal. I love this feature, as it encourages players to think tactically before a fight rather than storming in spontaneously.
It’s also important to check which elements each machine is vulnerable to, as you can purchase bows that deal the likes of fire, ice and shock damage. Forbidden West has expanded upon these elemental types, with acid, plasma and purgewater now dealing new side effects; acid will slowly deplete an enemy’s health, purgewater will temporarily subdue elemental attacks, and repeated plasma blasts can result in small damage-dealing explosions.
Guerrilla Games has also introduced a weapon upgrade system, which has an ultra-satisfying gameplay loop akin to that in the Monster Hunter series. Each weapon – whether it’s a bow, ropecaster or the brand-new spike thrower – can be upgraded by using various components looted from defeated machines.
That means you may need to defeat an incredibly difficult machine in order to upgrade your bow to the top tier. To make such tasks even trickier, certain components can be destroyed in battle, so you’ll need to avoid firing arrows at the vulnerable chest of a Snapmaw if you need to nab its webbing.
Such a process can make upgrading your gear feel very grindy, especially when components such as machine cores aren’t guaranteed to spawn. There were also two frustrating occasions when I defeated a machine, only for its corpse to become trapped underground, making it impossible for me to retrieve the valuable loot.
Nevertheless, I’m a huge fan of the gameplay loop here, as discovering new loot to upgrade your arsenal of weapons makes every side quest and venture off the beaten path feel worthwhile.
Unfortunately, combat with human enemies pales in comparison to the heart-pounding encounters with machines. Guerrilla Games has at least attempted to improve melee combat with the introduction of the resonator blast, which builds up after chaining spear combos, and then allows you to use the bow to trigger a high damage-dealing blast.
However, with Aloy unable to block incoming melee attacks, I always found sticking to my bow to be a more successful tactic, with multiple headshots dispatching tribespeople with relative ease. I was surprised to see so many humans acting as pivotal boss encounters rather than machines, as they’re simply not very fun to take down. These were comfortably some of the weakest parts of the game.
Platforming and exploration
- Uncharted-style platforming feels clunky
- New tools have untapped potential
- Superb variety of biomes in map
Guerrilla Games has put a big focus on platforming for Forbidden West in order to diversify the gameplay. Aloy is able to clamber up select structures and leap across chasms to grab onto ledges – this is all very similar to the climbing in Uncharted, although fails to create the same tension and heart-pounding set pieces you’d experience as Nathan Drake.
The fact that you can only climb up very specific structures feels very archaic in modern open-world games too, especially if you’ve played the likes of Breath of the Wild or Dying Light 2. In fact, most of the environment can’t be interacted with which is a great shame since the new pullcaster tool had so much potential.
The pullcaster can be used to clear obstacles in your path such as rubble in a cave or a metal grate covering a ventilation pipe. I was hoping I’d also be able to use it to yank components of a machine, or even to hook onto an airborne beast, but the tool is unfortunately limited to very specific use cases.
It’s still a welcome addition however, as the pullcaster can grapple onto select structures to reach high-up locations in a flash. This allows Aloy to dodge a machine’s sweeping electricity blast, and then use the glider to safely return to land. I’m a big fan of the glider, making it easier to traverse the map by simply jumping off a mountain and sailing over the landscape without fear of fall damage.
The map features a fantastic variety of biomes, including jungles, swamps, deserts, grasslands, beaches, snowy mountain tops and more. Guerrilla Games has clearly put a lot of effort into making sure every machine is situated in the correct habitat, with the Clamberjaw monkeys found in the deserted treetop settlements in the jungle, and more amphibious monsters lurking on the coast.
Once Aloy unlocks a tool that helps her breathe underwater, you’ll be able to see machines such as Snapmaws swimming underwater too. You unfortunately can’t fight machines while swimming, but diving underwater instead allows you to loot loads of hidden valuables and explore the sunken city of Las Vegas which is one of the most memorable experiences in the game.
While Forbidden West’s map is actually fairly compact compared to other modern-day open-world games, there are still plenty of places to explore and side quests to complete. I’ve spent well over 30 hours with the game so far, and yet I still haven’t discovered every single machine and habitat.
Graphics and presentation
- Graphics look fantastic in 4K
- Loading times are speedy on PS5
- Number of irksome technical issues
Horizon Forbidden West looks outstanding on the PS5. The various biomes look incredibly distinctive, resulting in some spectacular views from the mountain tops. Character designs are just as impressive, with Aloy’s eyes capable of expressing a wide range of emotions.
The various machines look excellent too, with all of their intricate parts combining for wonderfully detailed designs. Each monster not only has their own behaviour but also moves differently too, whether it’s the clumsy hops of the burrowers or the earth-shaking stomps of the Thunderjaw.
The loading times are blazing fast on the PS5 too, as I’d only have to wait a couple of seconds to respawn. There were initially a few technical issues that saw a black screen flash up on the screen for a split second when entering a new location, but a pre-launch patch has already seemingly addressed this bug.
I’ve noticed a few other technical issues with Forbidden West. I’ve had to reboot the console twice due to crashes, and machines have also occasionally become trapped underground after death, making it impossible for me to retrieve my hard-earned loot. And then there was a glitch with the final boss battle, as my foe stopped taking damage.
Important character dialogue often gets interrupted by Aloy’s monologues too, failing to maintain a natural rhythm like Naughty Dog expertly achieved with The Last of Us.
In its current state, Horizon Forbidden West doesn’t feel polished, although Guerrilla Games seems aware of the biggest issues and is already releasing a number of patches to get it optimised for launch. But if you want a smooth experience, it may be best waiting a few months before playing Forbidden West.
Should you buy it?
If you loved Horizon Zero Dawn:
Forbidden West feels very similar to the original game, only with more monsters to battle and a new upgrade system. If you enjoyed the original game, there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy the sequel.
You’re looking for a ground-breaking open-world game with new ideas:
There aren’t many innovative ideas in Forbidden West, borrowing mechanics from other games such as Far Cry and Monster Hunter. If you want a game that breaks the mould, you’re out of luck.
Horizon Forbidden West is an outstanding sequel, hammering down on its predecessor’s greatest strength by increasing the number of machines that you can fight, while introducing a more expansive upgrade system which makes combat even more rewarding.
The platforming sections fail to reach the same heights as the combat, while there are also a number of irksome technical issues that prevent it feeling polished at launch, but this is still nevertheless one of the best games on the PS5 yet. If you enjoyed the original, then there’s no doubt you’re going to have a blast with the sequel.
How we test
We play every game we review through to the end, outside of certain exceptions where getting 100% completion, like Skyrim, is close to impossible to do. When we don’t fully finish a game before reviewing it we will always alert the reader.
Spent over 23 hours with it.
Tested on PS5
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It took us roughly 23 hours to reach the end.
Yes, Horizon Forbidden West is available on PS4, as well as PS5.
Yes, PS4 owners of the game can upgrade to the PS5 edition for free.