Horizon Forbidden West’s complex story can be slightly… ahem… very difficult to keep up with at the best of times. But it’s extremely satisfying to dive deeper into the lore of this strange, strange world. Of course, you'll encounter a few clumsy moments in that game -- but it's honestly offering variety in terms of mechanics that should quench any player's thirst for adventure.
Typical depictions of a post-apocalyptic Earth tend to veer in one general direction: an absolute wasteland inhabited by at most five humans and no other organic life. The Horizon franchise offers a different take on a world obliterated by humans’ obsession with technological advancement. And it’s probably one of our favourites.
Here you find yourself in a future-set Earth decimated by that technology we love oh-so-much. It’s a type of pre-industrial world, where humans are making their way to evolving beyond bows and arrows. The only remnants of the pre-apocalypse tech are deconstructed ruins and magnificent animal-esque machines that roam the lands.
These imposing creatures have become corrupted by something called the Blight – if you’re slashed your way through the first instalment of Horizon: Zero Dawn as Aloy – you’d probably remember the premise.
That said, it’s completely possible to boot up this second instalment, Horizon: Forbidden West never having played the previous title. But you’ll be mighty confused by most of the first part of the game.
At the very least, you’ll have to read up on some of the lore of the game, including the characters and what happened in the previous game. The game is very accepting in terms of playability and functionality, though. The full tutorial ahead of your journey makes sure of that.
Deploy your inner Aloy
Even if you’re not completely up to date with the lore of this world initially – make sure to stick with it. All the pieces will seem to fall into place the deeper you get into the prohibited flank of this world.
You play as Aloy – an outcast who found she has a unique skill to use and understand pre-apocalypse technology. Throughout the first game, she gains the capability to fight the Blight and save the people of the world.
While keeping you busy with challenging puzzles, engaging interactions and fights, and beautiful landscapes, the game tells an incredibly exciting tale. As with most RPGs, how much you immerse yourself into the narrative is entirely up to you. It’s completely acceptable to fight through the game without ever paying attention to the storyline, so that’s on you. And while it may come across as a tad confounding at times, it’s really a treat if you’re into post-apocalyptic narratives.
Our advice? Take a moment to sit back and listen to it all.
While this review makes it to you a week or so after launch, we’re not prepared to drop any spoilers. A game like this is really something that needs to be experienced by players. So there you have it.
It can take multiple hours to finally make your way into the outlawed area, especially if you enjoy exploration and side-missions. Once the full map opens up, you realise how much there is to explore.
And the game employs various traversing/travel mechanisms to sweeten the deal. Scattered campfires double as save spots and fast travel sites, while portable fast travel packs are available if you’ve no idea where your nearest campfire is and need to hop out.
It’s introduced a type of broken shield you obtain early on that doubles as a type of hand glider. It’s kind of useful sometimes but doesn’t make up a large part of traversal.
Just like its predecessor, Horizon Forbidden West has Aloy take on the might of the machines with weaponry both close- and long-ranged. As well as her trusty bow and spear – the latter of which can be used to pull off intensely satisfying critical strikes that despatch enemy AI with a single blow – the Tripcaster returns, along with a bevvy of traps (acid, blast, Purgewater, and shock, to name but a few) that can take down unwitting foes, especially when she uses her Focus. Yes, that’s back too, to help Aloy identify their paths.
With so much diversity in her arsenal, it’s little wonder that Aloy has not one, not two, but six skill trees to upgrade, each one broadly based on a particular playstyle: Warrior, Trapper, Hunter, Survivor, Infiltrator and Machine Master. With between 20 and 31 individual upgrades to make in each tree, that might sound bewildering. But in truth, it enables you to pick a preferred combat style without fully committing to it. Fancy yourself an infiltrator but want to give your health a boost, too? Help yourself. Want to override more machines whilst still experimenting with traps? Have at it.
There are a lot of other combat systems to get your head around, too. Stamina. Concentration. Valor. To be honest, it does all come together like an over-egged pudding at times, not least because combat is often a visually messy affair, particularly as you have to detach some machines’ valuable parts before dealing that all-important death blow. Melee attacks aren’t quite as powerful as they feel, either, which means it’s usually easier to buff your stealth skills and thin a herd silently than run-in, all spears blazing.
The other no-go zone
You can’t launch a triple-A game and expect everything to go off perfectly. Gamers are a passionate bunch, which means we’re particularly critical. Especially if we love a game.
This brings us to the one element of Forbidden West that almost made us put the DualShock through the monitor: the clumsy adventuring skills.
This is, by definition, an open-world game. That means you should be able to seamlessly travel and climb just about wherever your heart desires. Maybe it’s too much to expect Aloy to be a parkour expert as well as a warrior and the champion trying to save the new world, but her hopeless traversal abilities are deeply frustrating.
Sometimes you might think you have everything lined up for her to effortlessly leap from this ledge to that broken ladder, and sometimes Aloy will simply step off it like a Lemming. Fun? Not really. Especially when you’re in areas that require significant backtracking to get back where you were.
Thankfully, though, there’s plenty of diversity in the number and type of missions Aloy can pursue, so you’re not always stranded halfway up a mountain, wrestling with dodgy physics. Spoiling for a fight? Aching for adventure? Keen to root around in relic ruins? No matter what mood you’re in, there’s always something to do, with a healthy mix of missions to choose from, from errands and jobs to salvage and hunting contracts. Just keep an eye on Aloy’s waypoint compass to uncover new areas and quests.
Horizon Forbidden West verdict
Horizon Forbidden West’s complex story can be slightly… ahem… very difficult to keep up with at the best of times. But it’s extremely satisfying to dive deeper into the lore of this strange, strange world. Of course, you’ll encounter a few clumsy moments in that game — but honestly, the variety on offer in terms of mechanics should quench any player’s thirst for adventure.
More than anything, this game sets the next graphical standard as the most beautiful game we’ve ever played. If anything it should convince you to invest in a 120Hz OLED TV. Just so you can watch Aloy’s red hair shimmer in the orange rays that blanket the horizon at dawn.