Horizon Forbidden West PlayStation 5 Review

Horizon Forbidden West is a monumental exceptional adventure and it would be criminal to miss out on it.

By Grayshadow, Posted 24 Feb 2022

Back in 2017 Horizon Zero Dawn shocked gamers with its creative world, incredible presentation, and intricate narrative that left players yearning for more. The Frozen Wilds expansion delivered more but it wasn't enough with Horizon Forbidden West going far beyond what the first game established. A masterpiece in game design Horizon Forbidden West exceeds all expectations for a truly phenomenal adventure.

Horizon Forbidden West, PS5, Review, Aloy, Cover, NoobFeed,

Horizon Forbidden West takes place 6 months after the events of the first game, with Aloy attempting to find a backup of the AI program GAIA. A red blight has been rampaging through the land, siphoning life and Aloy is attempting to track down every lead she can to find the only thing capable of resolving the problem at hand. It isn't long before we discover that Aloy's frenemy Sylen not only betrayed her but requires her help for whatever he's planning. With no choice, Aloy heads to the forbidden west where a dangerous civil war is brewing along with peace talks between the east and west on the line. If that wasn't enough more planetary threats are on the horizon that goes beyond the blight.

Like Horizon Zero Dawn expect the game to deliver an intricate narrative full of new lore and unexpected challenges. Unlike other games that give the lure of promising story detail only to pull the rug under the player with some nonsense of why they cannot tell us Guerrilla Games does the opposite. Instead providing small pieces of the puzzle linked to what Aloy is chasing but keeping the bigger revelations to key moments. With the finale bringing everything together but leaving room for more for the next game or even expansion.

The story and writing are outstanding but what is truly remarkable is the conversations. Games from BioWare, Ubisoft, and even Horizon Zero Dawn always end up having the issue of stoic character models talking to each other in unnatural ways but that's not present in Horizon Forbidden West. Character models shake their heads, look down in frustration or sympathy, or much more. The excellent camera work in combination allows for conversations to play out naturally, setting a new standard for these types of interactions.

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One of the bigger issues for the first game is that the developers attempted to create emotional choices that would allow the player to choose whether Aloy was logical, aggressive, or loving. Many felt these went against the core cutscenes where Aloy acted in a specific way but here thankfully the developers have limited these choices. The branching narrative options are still here but most are for players who want to dive deeper into the game's lore or specific characters. Often these do open more narrative options and even unique interactions as Aloy will address information she knows or has been exposed to when it comes up. The developers instead wanted Aloy to have a more specific personality here and it works for the better.

Aloy herself is often aggressive and focused but often empathic and caring. She doesn't care for politics and just wants to get the job done but understands she cannot just dismiss a culture's traditions. She won't hesitate to kill someone but isn't a killer, always offering restraint but understanding what needs to be done. Aloy shows over and over she holds her principles dearly and cares greatly for her friends but often will go well beyond her limits even if help is available even if she comes off as pretentious at times. However, given that she is the only one who can save the issue of the world given her genetics it's not without merit.

This doesn't mean that Aloy is painted as a person who can do anything. The developers often showcase her limitations through physical trauma with near-death situations or in missions where she pushes so hard but still fails. Each victory is made through hardship and determination because she worked for it and not through inherited skills despite her genetic legacy. She can come off as brash and often cynical but Aloy really comes into her own here than in Horizon Zero Dawn.

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The supporting cast plays a bigger role this time around. Where in the previous game Aloy would only be with certain major characters when the story called for it before she moved on here you build a crew through new and existing people. About 1/3 through the game you'll get a base and see these people start to learn about the old world, develop strong connections, and interact similar to Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. This sense of comradery grows as Aloy starts to rely on them for help as opposed to the beginning where she constantly tries to do everything by herself. These relationships are further expanded on by having them speak about one another, either through direct conversations when Aloy talks to them or dynamic conversations. And this evolution of character relationships that grow extends to the outstanding world that evolves as you interact with it.

Horizon Forbidden West is a massive game, with a lush and beautiful world that has huge amounts of environmental variety. The game is based on areas such as Las Vegas and San Francisco but to prevent artifactually stretching the world things are a lot more condensed. Guerrilla Games went above and beyond to create a world with deserts, forests, mountains, fields, and added to everything is an outstanding weather and day and night cycle that constantly creates dynamic changes within each fight or interaction. Most importantly it encourages that sense of discovery with towns, hidden areas, and small puzzle-platformer sections that reward players with new gear and exotic items.

As with the first game, there are plenty of fast-travel points in the way of bonfires, completed rebel camps, and towns. For some reason, the developers kept the fast-travel system from the first game where you need a limited used pack but these are inexpensive to purchase and make so why not just make it unnecessary? The map is littered with optional objectives and icons that help ferry the player from one location to the next. If you need help locating the next mission, just select it and the game will immediately show where to go. 

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What makes this entire world feel alive is the incredible towns and evolving world. In the beginning, you can see storms, the blight taking over, and the water getting more polluted but as the adventure continues these things are cleared with entire sections of the map gaining new life. Towns are filled with people moving, interacting, talking, playing, and it all just feels so alive. This is present in Horizon Zero Dawn but outside of Meridan the other settlements were lackluster but here every settlement feels like its own home for the people who live there. The Utaru live in lush plains, wear clothing and armor made from plants since they're a vegetarian-based people whereas the Tenakth are covered in tattoos that highlight accomplishments and are largely a military-based people each settled in different areas based on an ancient story. Each Clan has made a different region their own home but all answer to Tenakth but have unique ways of how they live.

To prevent the player from being overwhelmed with all this new information the developers included not only optional narratives from the significant characters but side missions that deliver important lore with action. To encourage players to complete side missions Guerrilla Games built on Horizon Zero Dawn's system where if you did a large part of the optional content more allies would come to aid the player in the final battle. Here that's also present in each side mission as Aloy not only gets special items for completing side missions but will often gain new dialogue options in later missions or even complete requirements beforehand. This also includes side missions, if you complete a specific area before getting the mission you'll automatically clear it and get rewarded but you still have to interact with the quest giver. Aloy will often remind the player of specific locations where side missions may become available or if the mission is inaccessible at that time remind the player she can do it now. 

Side missions don't only have you revisiting old areas but often infuse new elements into them. The biggest is funneling the player into lesser-known areas outside the main story. The side content will even go beyond that by introducing new unique areas or optional boss fights against deadly opponents. Even the repetitive missions often include distinctive challenges such as rebel bases being uniquely designed and leading to a massive battle that is part of the main story as well but remains optional. Tallnecks that allow the player to scan the area aren't just finding the specific area and jumping to the machine but instead entire side missions that have you repairing them on occasion. 

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Much of the map is available to the player but certain obstacles require specific tools. These are all unlocked through the main story, with the 3 most significant tools provided through a 3-part story mission that the player can take on in any order. To ensure the player isn't locked out of anything significant many of these barriers simply unlock high-valued resources that replenish over time. However, this does lead to a major issue within Horizon Forbidden West and that's the massive grind.

Horizon Forbidden West builds significantly from the previous game in terms of weapons, armor, and upgrades. There's a massive selection of bows, crossbows, slingers, ammo types, and armor available to Aloy. Guerrilla really went above and beyond with the selection that it can be overwhelming or even annoying. Certain bows can now only use specific ammo types and this can become annoying since you'll have to go into a menu to switch to a weapon that uses ammo needed for a certain situation. The quick select tool is helpful here but it's still a lot seeing that there are more negative status effects and you'll need to take advantage of all of them on the hardest difficulty. 

This extends to the upgrade system which gives the player massive control over what they wish to improve. You have your poaches that require animal parts, which there is more variety this time and your weapons and gear that require machine parts. Like the previous game killing a target means a random selection of items to loot that is used for weapons and crafting items with machines having unique parts that can only be obtained by breaking them off before they're destroyed. If you destroy the machine before knocking the part off then you won't get it but the game's scanning system gives you all the information you need. From machine weaknesses to what parts are valuable and if you need a tag a marker to show the item in real-time. The problem with the scanning system is that you need to constantly scan the enemy to keep this information highlighted. Get used to this because you're going to need a lot of machine and animal parts to upgrade your gear and craft items and even learn to override machines.

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Like in the previous game Aloy must head into Cauldrons to locate rare machine code for overriding machines. Unlike the previous game, the developers made these areas unique from one another from puzzles to the final boss encounter against a powerful variant of machines. Each Cauldron serves like a dungeon with a final boss but completing it doesn't mean full access to overriding machines. Some are corrupted and need parts from said machines to fix the corrupted code that adds to the massive grind. You're going to destroy a lot of machines for many reasons and it came become tedious at times.

The combat system remains largely unchanged from the previous game, you have stealth and active combat that is centered around third-person shooting. The game encourages you to plan accordingly with traps, highlight paths, and execute your plan. Your focus can showcase the pathing of enemies and you can place traps around the environment that deal heavy damage through elemental effects. Tallgrass hides your position and you can deal heavy damage with stealth strikes and if you have access to the code overriding machines when in stealth or if the machine is knocked over. The stealth isn't intricate and you can easily regain stealth status by breaking line of sight but some enemies come with specific actions to find the player such as specific machines scanning the area or human enemies tossing bombs where you could be.

Melee combat has been improved from the previous game with more options available to the player. You have your standard heavy and light strikes along with combo attacks. It's effective and an improvement from the first games basic system but most of the time you'll be in third-person shooting arrows from the variety of bows and slingers available to Aloy. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages such as being quicker, shooting more arrows, being slow but precise, and more. The issue is that it can be overwhelming with the number of choices available to the player since there are subcategories such as certain bows only available to use specific elemental arrows and other major mechanics. Having to go into a menu to swap out bows is annoying but unless you play on Very Hard it's not mandatory since the basic impact arrows are effective enough. Having to select all these different bows can lead to frustrating moments during intense battles because everything is sandwiched together, the left stick that controls movement also serves as your weapon selector, and having to craft armor actively in a battle for every ammo type.

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Armor variety has been dramatically increased to offer Mixed, Trapper, Hunter, Scavenger, and more to the options list. As with the weapons, the armor has specific advantages and you can change from one to another easily with upgrades available for each. You cannot just buy armor as the most powerful options are only available through missions and trading parts along with Shards, the game's currency. So more things to grind for since this also applies to weapons. But unlike weapons armor has different cosmetic options available in the way of dyes that are earned through collecting planets only found on cliffs. Aloy can also apply various face paints that offer no combat advantage but have significant lore important to the Nora and Tanakth.

You're going to face a lot of powerful machines and humans on this adventure. First, the humans have seen an improvement from the previous game. They can still be manipulated if you know what you're doing but they have more combat animations and are effective fighters, a simple headshot doesn't mean they'll go down now. Humans now wear more powerful armor, will flank your position, ride machines into battle, shoot volley arrows, throw bombs in your last known location, and dodge melee strikes. You can easily kill leaders with stealth attacks and were able to manipulate the AI easily once I realized how to break line of sight. The developers did improve the base system but allow Aloy to retreat once she killed the leader and their champions so there's no need to locate every enemy in the base, which was annoying in the first game.

The highlight of the franchise is fighting the robotic threats and here is just as much a thrill. Each machine has unique strengths, weaknesses, fighting patterns, and animations. The developers have increased the machine variety with more distinct types this time around that Aloy would be unaware of due to some being region-specific. You can knock off parts and use machine weapons against them, break exotic items off, and even override and ride them with more options for riding mounts including the raptor and flying mount. Unfortunately, you won't get the flying mount until the end of the game for lore-specific reasons but it's such an amazing option to fly through the map that it can break the game. A major issue is that since there are multiple land mounts if your mount is destroyed or you override another mount the previous one is gone. Unlike the non-rideable mounts, these overrides are permanent and you're not just limited to using Aloy's bow when using them, you can use the mount to attack as well.

Horizon Forbidden West, PS5, Review, Aloy, Land mounts, Fights, NoobFeed,

When everything comes together Horizon Forbidden West has some terrific moments as you dodge incoming attacks and knock off robot parts but mounting issues break this momentum. The sheer amount of weapons and status effects is overwhelming especially when there's little reason why a certain bow can use only fire arrows but not impact ones, why not just allow the player to select the arrow type but offer benefits for certain arrows for that bow? Breaking the momentum further is that Aloy is very easy to knock over, granted these are robotic creatures that tower over her but after a certain point it becomes an insufferable chore every time Aloy is knocked to the floor especially when in the corner where enemies can just spam the same attack.

NPCs will sometimes aid Aloy in combat but the AI is hit or miss. Many times the AI would just toss ammo to Aloy instead of actually fighting. You don't have to babysit anyone but after experiencing Halo Infinite's effective ally AI system the one here seems poor by comparison. They're mostly just bullet sponges who constantly toss Aloy ammo but not health when you really need it. Even the hostile enemies know as they'll mostly target you and ignore friendly NPCs which is problematic when facing a Stormbird and Thunderjaw at the same time.

Despite the incredible animations, this has led to another problem where attacks don't also connect. Occasionally arrows will go through enemies and the auto-lock for melee attacks won't register, most likely due to the complicated movement system in the game. There were times when Aloy wouldn't move when dodging and I got stuck in the game's terrain on several occasions. There have been many people on social media citing the game for being unfinished but that's not the case. There are bugs, like any open-world game, but not to the point that it would be considered broken. Games like Fallout 76, Battlefield 2042, or Assassin's Creed Unity would fall under that category but Horizon Forbidden West is not even close to broken. These are expected technical problems that the developers have been fixing actively and some issues I've encountered have been resolved as of the writing of this review.

Horizon Forbidden West, PS5, Review, Aloy, Giant Boss fights, NoobFeed,

Swiming has been expanded on in Horizon Forbidden West and it's hit or miss. On a visual and presentation side, it's amazing, the developers did an outstanding job of creating a lush underwater world that can feel frightening as well when hostile machines are around. Aloy cannot defend herself underwater and must rely on seaweed to hide but the developers reduced the cone of vision on these enemies. On the negative side, swimming is extremely slow and can be difficult to move especially since dashing twice in quick succession reduces your standard speed right after which is incredibly annoying. Thankfully these swimming sections are far between one another and the game focuses more on exploration and resource gathering when in these sections rather than heavy stealth.

Climbing has been altered to allow Aloy to scale many more surfaces but can become frustrating as well. Aloy can climb more surfaces that are highlighted by a yellow marker but she cannot climb everything, which can be annoying when you see a ledge that she can clearly jump to but the game simply says no. It definitely adds more mobility options, especially when combined with the grapple which can launch Aloy into the air, but due to the increased mobility, it can lead to moments of frustration. With Aloy sometimes not grabbing a specific ledge or failing to make a jump. It's not on the same level of polish as UnchartedAssassin's Creed, or even Horizon Zero Dawn in terms of stability. Horizon Zero Dawn's climbing system was basic but at least it worked efficiently here you'll have situations where Aloy should grab onto a ledge, even highlighted by the game, only for her to just drop straight down. The Shieldwing is a massively helpful tool that you get pretty early on that allows Aloy to glide down from any area and can be used for jumps since it offers a slight boost in vertical height when deployed.

Aloy is still a scavenger and unfortunately, that means gathering large amounts of raw resources. This was a huge complaint in the original game as many players spent a lot of time gathering the most basic of items such as medical berries and wood. The developers attempted to combat this by offering a stash, a place where if you pick up an excess of items it'll be placed in a box that you access from any safe area. This does make replenishing items such as berries and wood much easier, with players eventually gaining access to a secondary berry satchel later in the game. They also removed a berry meter and instead have a numbered berry option which depletes depending on how much damage needs recovering. The best way to make gathering items more efficient would've been to give the player the option to turn off the picking up animation and just collect the item while moving. Far Cry Primal provided this option since that game was all about collecting raw materials and something like that would've been ideal here or an auto-pick-up option like in The Last of Us Part 2. Hopefully, the developers will add it in a patch later down the line because it was annoying in Horizon Zero Dawn and it's annoying here.

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Crafted items are listed in the quick select option and players can make items on the fly or at specific workbenches. This isn't the best as during intense fights having to cycle through potions, food, and traps can be annoying since there's no way to organize it. Speaking of food, this is a brand new option available to Aloy to not only heal but provide extensive boosts to aid in the journey.

Everything you do gives you experience and the leveling system is traditional. Players can invest in Warrior for melee, Trapper, Hunter for ranged, Survivor for gathering items, Infiltrator for sneaking, and Machine Master for mounting combat. Each one has distinct advantages with the newest addition being Valor Surges. Each tree has 2 that can be upgraded 3 times that provide unique advantages such as cloaking, increased melee damage, and more. You can alter between any of them without losing any charge and serve as great last-resort techniques with each one having its own animation when executing.

As you gain levels you'll get to invest in a variety of skills and talents the level cap is set at 50. Once you reach this level the game still gives you skill points but at a hidden rate, which is strange. The game generally doesn't level gate any content, you can go almost anywhere and take on any challenge. It's possible to succeed but it'll be much harder.

Horizon Forbidden West, PS5, Review, Aloy, Boss fights, Female Character, NoobFeed,

Horizon Forbidden West is a masterpiece in open-world game design and story. The intricate narrative constantly delivers new twists and emotionally charged moments as you attempt to save the world once again. The combat is engaging but messy due to the overly saturated weapon options and status effects that hamper the synergy between speed and selection. Guerrilla Games really went all out when developer Horizon Forbidden West and it shows, pushing the standard in animation and natural conversations along with open-world design and world-building. Horizon Forbidden West is a monumental exceptional experience that goes beyond what the first game established and what is expected from a single-player adventure.
 

Adam Siddiqui,
Managing Editor, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): PS4
Publisher(s): Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer(s): Guerrilla Games
Genres: Action, Adventure
Themes: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Role-Playing
Release Date: 2022-02-18

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