There is nothing worse than thinking you’ve finished a job, only to find it’s actually barely started. This is the dilemma facing Aloy in Horizon Forbidden West. While Meridian rebuilds six months after the events of Zero Dawn, Aloy is trying to stop the human population from becoming extinct. And the world out West is bigger and more hostile than anything she’s faced before. Nobody said saving the world was easy.
On the surface, little in Aloy’s world seems to have changed. Her journey takes her across new lands with new tribes, but while there is a fragile peace between them, internal conflict is always at the forefront. All of them are still affected by the technology and legacy of the Old World, human civilization that existed hundreds of years before extinction filled the world with beast-like machines that are hostile to most human contact.
Horizon Forbidden West review: Saving the world
The fight to save the world is harder when the tribes seem to be in blissful ignorance, so help isn’t always forthcoming when they have no grasp of the urgency of the situation. Each tribe has their own problems and reluctance to get involved; for example, the Utaru just want to be left in peace despite their lands being ravaged by an invasive red blight. On the other hand, the Tenakth solve most of their problems through combat. The lengthy and compelling story negotiates the balance between their customs and the need to break their rules, but this means making plenty of friends and enemies.
Thanks to the reappearing conversation wheels, Aloy can decide how much (or how little) she wishes to interact with the many characters she encounters. They’re a great source of information and lore but there’s always the option to skip straight to the next quest dialogue. Occasionally Aloy also has to make a decision as to how she reacts to someone, whether it’s a thoughtful, heartfelt, or cold response. These decisions don’t affect the story but do mean you have some input into Aloy’s personality. However, while the voice acting is much improved, conversations are affected by distracting facial expressions and eye-rolling from both characters which detracts from the seriousness of the situation.
On the other hand, the immediately hostile intentions of the machines are always perfectly clear. The world is still filled with over 40 types of machine, some of which are new. All can be scanned to identify their patrol routes, weak points that help her take them down more easily, and components that can be detached and looted for upgrades to weapons, accessories, and outfits. These machines will constantly outflank and use their numbers to great effect, making each battle a matter of life or death and each kill a sense of pride and satisfaction.
Machines that can be surprised by stealth can take a silent strike for a large amount of damage. Others may be able to be overridden. At the very least, this means they’ll fight for Aloy against the other beasts for a limited amount of time before they become hostile again. Others can be used as mounts to get around the world faster, and for the first time, this does include flying creatures and a completely new strategy.
What to do next?
The game’s linear start may not be the best indication but the world is a huge sandbox. Like Zero Dawn, Forbidden West has all manner of activities. Side quests are now more than merely fetch quests. Taking down creatures that pose a threat, forging new routes, and settling clan disputes are just some of the issues Aloy finds herself caught up in. Many of the side activities also return, like hunting grounds, cauldrons, vista towers, rebel outposts, relic ruins, and tallnecks, albeit some have a different name.
There are new activities too. Combat arenas offer an opportunity to practice melee techniques against human opponents, while other Arenas offer a chance to take on oversized machines for bigger rewards. Machines can be raced across the desert in Gauntlets, while Strike is a new strategy board game based on the machines that roam the landscape. There’s something for everyone, be it puzzle fans, combat fans, explorers, or those that just want to take a breather.
Theoretically, it is possible to just stick to the story without engaging in side activities, but this means 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 mix of them. Those doing all the activities will end up with plenty of skill points but without those upgrades, some story missions can be overwhelming quickly.
Regardless of whether you engage in any of the side activities, it’s possible to wander around the Forbidden West for hours. Despite the conflict, blight, and unpredictable weather, the world is beautiful. Aloy also has new ways of getting around. She can now swim underwater, leading to the new sunken caverns side activity. She can also climb mountains and tall structures, although she’s not as agile as one of Ubisoft’s assassins. Sometimes climbing can be clunky with Aloy refusing to mantle shelves and reach for higher points, but on the whole, it works well.
The overall verdict
There are other minor bugs that won’t be fixed in the day one patch either. The PS5’s loading times are incredibly quick, even when fast traveling all the way across the map, but the game will occasionally cut to black for a couple of seconds while loading takes place in the background. Machines have been known to fall through the floor or disappear completely, leading to a save restart for those that were mission requirements.
But while some of these visual issues are still waiting to be rectified with an update, Horizon Forbidden West improves on Zero Dawn in so many different ways. The story and combat remain high points for the series, with the latter getting even better with increased diversity of machines and looting providing another complex layer to think about. Side quests have improved and there are new side activities to suit all types of players. Added to all this, 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 once getting bored. Those who enjoyed Aloy’s previous adventures should definitely consider adding this one to the collection.