For most of its existence, Guerrilla Games focused exclusively on the Killzone franchise, a series of gritty FPS games that blended a science-fiction setting with classic military shooter action. After spending a decade making Killzone games, Guerrilla decided to try something new with Horizon Zero Dawn, a third-person open world action-adventure game with brightly lit environments full of vibrant colors and incredible detail. Horizon Zero Dawn was a risk, but it was one that paid off, with the game earning critical acclaim, selling millions of copies, and kickstarting a franchise of its own. Now Guerrilla is following up Horizon Zero Dawn with Horizon Forbidden West, a game that continues Aloy’s story in an epic adventure that exceeds the original.
Horizon Forbidden West starts where the original game left off, with protagonist Aloy once again portrayed by Ashly Burch in a top-tier performance. The post-apocalyptic world that Aloy and her friends call home finds itself at the mercy of a new threat, and so Aloy sets off on an adventure to stop it. The game begins in familiar territory, but Aloy’s journey soon takes her to the titular “Forbidden West,” a vast land that stretches through jungles, deserts, prairies, and all the way to the sandy beaches of San Francisco.
Going into too much detail about Horizon Forbidden West‘s story will ruin the experience for players, so we’ll stay as vague as possible. But anyone that enjoyed Horizon Zero Dawn‘s story and learning more about Aloy’s world will find Forbidden West impossible to put down. The story takes some genuinely surprising and interesting turns, with Guerrilla expertly weaving in returning characters with new allies and foes to tell a compelling tale that stays interesting from Aloy’s first quest all the way to when the credits roll.
Horizon Forbidden West does a better job at getting players immersed in the story than its predecessor, with Guerrilla significantly stepping up its game in the storytelling department. In Horizon Zero Dawn, a lot of the story was told through wooden, exposition-heavy dialogue between the characters, where the character models would stand stiffly in place and show little emotion. Forbidden West addresses this by making the conversations livelier, often having the characters actually doing things besides standing still and talking back and forth. Some of the dialogue is still somewhat stiff, but it’s easier to stay interested in what’s being said because there’s more going on in each scene.
The incredibly detailed character models in Horizon Forbidden West help a lot in this area as well. Horizon Forbidden West characters look almost lifelike, with impressively animated facial expressions behind every word they’re saying. It’s not quite on the level of some other PlayStation-published titles, with Guerrilla seemingly experiencing some difficulty animating characters’ eyeballs in particular. Players will notice many scenes where the characters are meant to be looking at each other, but their eyes roll around in weird directions, or they’re facing the wrong way. This can be distracting, but overall the character interactions are still a significant step forward from Zero Dawn.
There are other issues in the game that break the immersion besides the weirdly animated eyeballs. Players will encounter a variety of graphical glitches during their time with Horizon Forbidden West, like textures failing to load in, NPCs walking through doors and walls during cut-scenes, characters floating in mid-air, and items disappearing into characters’ backs.
Immersion-breaking imperfections aside, Horizon Forbidden West is otherwise a gorgeous-looking game with an absurd level of detail, delivering one jaw-dropping sight after another. Even after players think they’ve seen everything that the game has to offer from a graphics standpoint, they’ll find themselves speeding across the desert on the back of a machine, looking up at a brightly lit, awe-inspiring night sky that blows them away.
Guerrilla has built a beautiful, expansive, breathtaking open world that is full of interesting things to do. Besides main story quests, Horizon Forbidden West players can hunt down collectibles, complete side quests, run special errands for characters that need help, fight in each settlement’s melee pits, scale all the Tallnecks, and more. But what sets Horizon Forbidden West apart from similar open-world games that have a big list of side activities for players to complete is that Guerrilla ensures that there is no wasted time – nearly everything in the game is worth doing, either due to the reward attached to the quest or because of story developments.
Players can ignore the side content in Horizon Forbidden West like in other open-world games, but they’d be doing themselves a disservice. The side content does a great job of fleshing out Aloy’s allies and the other side characters in the game, giving players more perspective on each tribe. The side quests and other activities are more than busywork; they make Horizon Forbidden West‘s story and world that much richer.
Those who enjoy Horizon Forbidden West‘s story and want to absorb as much about the world as they can will find the side quests worthwhile, but so too will anyone that wants a gameplay advantage, as Aloy is often handsomely rewarded for her efforts. For example, Aloy may come across a couple of people being attacked by machines, and if she chooses to stop and help, she may get a new item like smoke bombs. In another instance, completing one of the early side quests outfits Aloy with a helpful exploding spear that gives players a big advantage in the game’s early battles.
Combat in Horizon Forbidden West is as intense and action-packed as it ever was. Players are encouraged to tackle each combat scenario how they want, whether that’s by taking out enemies in an encampment one by one using stealth, or fighting machines head-on in explosive battles. Horizon Forbidden West has around 40 machines for players to fight, each one requiring its own strategies to take down. The machine fights in Horizon Forbidden West play out like mini-Monster Hunter encounters, with players knocking off chunks of the machines to weaken them as the battles rage on.
Players will spend dozens of hours fighting the machines in Horizon Forbidden West, but the fights never get old. This is largely thanks to Aloy’s expanded combat capabilities, with special Valor attacks and other abilities giving her more options in each fight. The weapon wheel in Horizon Forbidden West is bigger than the one in Zero Dawn, so players are able to swap between a greater number of weapons on the fly without having to rummage through Aloy’s inventory. Horizon Forbidden West has six skill trees for players to upgrade, which serve to expand Aloy’s abilities that much further and really give players the freedom to play the game how they want. It all adds up to make combat fun, intense, and exciting.
While fighting machines and completing the game’s activities, players will have to traverse a massive open world, and luckily, Aloy has a lot more tools at her disposal to make this plenty fun. Aloy’s climbing abilities have been greatly expanded, with the Focus (a device that Aloy uses to scan for things in the environment) now more clearly defining climbing points. Climbing is also less rigid, offering players more freedom than they had in Zero Dawn. Between the climbing improvements and Aloy’s glider, Forbidden West definitely seems to take some inspiration from Breath of the Wild, and it’s all the better for it.
There’s a lot to Horizon Forbidden West‘s minute-to-minute gameplay, to the point that it runs the risk of crumbling under the weight of itself, but rest assured, the game is polished to near-perfection in many respects, with notable quality of life improvements over its predecessor. Excess loot is now sent to Aloy’s stash for use later instead of players having to leave it behind; it’s now possible to fast travel using save points instead of relying only on fast travel packs; and the scanner can be activated with a single tap instead of needing to hold in the right stick. These improvements may seem small, but they add up and are meaningful upgrades that make playing Forbidden West a more enjoyable experience than Zero Dawn.
Players will sink countless hours into Horizon Forbidden West, and while the game will keep them highly entertained for the most part, it does have some flaws. There is some jankiness to Forbidden West beyond the previously mentioned graphical oddities. This is most noticeable when swimming in Horizon Forbidden West, as Aloy has a tendency to get stuck on objects when trying to swim through tight spaces. This even forced a reset a couple of times as Aloy became stuck in spots and the only way to free her was to reload an older save. The good news is that the game auto-saves enough that whenever these problems do pop up, they are easily fixed and no more than a minor annoyance.
Horizon Forbidden West players will also start to tire of some objectives later in the game. While Guerrilla has ensured that the side quests are important narratively and worth doing, what Aloy has to do each time starts to get repetitive. Players can only examine evidence, scan footprints, and follow the tracks to a combat encounter so many times before the formula starts to get old.
Despite these admittedly minor issues, Horizon Forbidden West still gives players plenty to do and manages to make these activities more fun than they are in similar open world games. Players won’t feel like they’re being overwhelmed with an exhaustive checklist of chores, and so even those who may be intimidated by the size of these kinds of games will come away satisfied. It’s a lengthy adventure without being too obnoxious, with Horizon Forbidden West players able to beat the main story and a good portion of the side quests in about 25 hours, and those that want to truly 100% the game likely needing double the amount of time. After beating the main story, most of the side quests, and checking out various activities, we were at roughly 25 hours of game time but only 30% total game completion, so players will certainly get their money’s worth.
Horizon Forbidden West is a step above its fellow open world games because it goes out of its way to ensure that everything is worth doing, not just the main story. It’s more of the same from Zero Dawn in a lot of ways, but with significant improvements across the board to create a generally superior experience. And while Guerrilla said that Horizon Forbidden West isn’t being held back by being a cross-gen game, it will be exciting to see what the studio can do when building a Horizon adventure from the ground-up for PS5. In the meantime, Horizon Forbidden West is another must-play PlayStation exclusive.
Horizon Forbidden West launches February 18 for PS4 and PS5. Game Rant was provided with a PS5 code for this review.
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