Horizon Forbidden West is open-world gaming done right

Horizon Forbidden West
(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Horizon Forbidden West is one of the best PS4 games and best PS5 games. It received our Tom’s Guide Editor’s Choice label for a reason: it's an all-around captivating experience. In fact, it’s so good that I’ve continued playing it despite having no obligation to. Usually, I stop playing games I review the instant I submit said review. But even as I’m writing this op-ed, all I want to do is peel myself away from the PC so I can fire up my PS5 dive back into Aloy’s world.

Why has Horizon Forbidden West captivated me? On the surface, the answer seems simple. I loved Horizon Zero Dawn, in fact Horizon Zero Dawn recently caught our attention again, so I should naturally love its sequel. That’s definitely a factor. Like I said in my review, Forbidden West has everything that made the original great. But beyond that, this PlayStation exclusive has more going for it than just being an exceptionally constructed sequel. It’s something that has become rare in recent years: An open-world game that genuinely feels good to sink time into.

Open world games have become a slog

Assassin's Creed's Kassandra and Eivor face off

Assassin's Creed exemplifies what's wrong with modern open world games (Image credit: Ubisoft)

I used to love open-world games, particularly in the 2000s and early 2010s. The PS2-era Grand Theft Auto titles. Spider-Man 2. True Crime. Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. inFamous. I could go on, but suffice it to say, open-world games were my go-to for a long time. No other genre (if you could call open-world games a genre) outside of RPGs made me feel like I was visiting living, breathing places. If an open-world game came out, I was all over it.

Things changed in the mid-2010s. 2015 saw the release of titles like The Witcher 3, Batman: Arkham Knight, Metal Gear Solid V, Mad Max, Just Cause 4 and some others I’ve probably forgotten. I played most of these games (either for work or recreation) and felt what I can only describe as open-world fatigue — something I didn’t even think was possible! I guess you really can have too much of a good thing.

Open-world games, particularly the last three Assassin’s Creed entries, have become tests of endurance. If you’re a completionist like me and need to do every single activity in a game, trying to get one hundred percent completion in a modern open-world title can become extremely draining. There have been exceptions like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Ghost of Tsushima, but for the most part, open-world games have become tedious.

Horizon Forbidden West is an exceptional open-world experience

Horizon Forbidden West, like those two aforementioned games, reminds me why I fell in love with open-world titles in the first place. It comes down to meaningful content. Forbidden West has enough activities to keep you satisfied yet not so many that you feel overwhelmed. It practices something open-world games seem to have forgotten: restraint.

a Horizon Forbidden West screenshot

(Image credit: Sony)

Like other open-world titles, Forbidden West has a sprawling map. Despite its size, it’s easy to navigate from point to point thanks to fast-travel spots located in almost all settlements. But even if you decide to take the proverbial scenic route, you’ll be treated with gorgeous vistas. Best of all, you won’t go more than a few minutes before encountering ruins to explore, people to help, collectibles to snag or machines to fight. This game is confident enough to not bombard you with activities at every turn. The downtime between missions and side content makes you feel more immersed in the game world.

Horizon Forbidden West isn’t lacking side content but it has decidedly less than you’d see in similar titles. Because of this, side missions don’t feel like extraneous filler meant to pad the game time. In fact, narrative-based side missions are surprisingly long for an open-world title. Each tells a mini-story that helps flesh out details about the game’s history. Horizon Zero Dawn also had meaningful content that didn’t feel like filler so it’s nice to see the sequel continue that tradition.

I briefly touched on this in my review, but I’m pleased that Forbidden West tells a well-structured story. Open-world narratives tend to drag and meander, shooting off in a ton of directions for no reason other than to inflate the runtime. That’s not the case here. The game’s main narrative remains focused. Even missions that may feel superfluous eventually tie into the campaign story. Obviously, you can go off and do side missions, but you’ll never lose sight of your ultimate goal. Forbidden West also stays away from having the kind of false endings open-world games seem to love now.

We need more open-world games like Horizon Forbidden West

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

I don’t want this editorial to run as long as modern open-world games so I think I’ll end things here. Suffice it to say that Horizon Forbidden West has wrapped its robotic claws around me. I’ll likely set the game aside once I get the Platinum trophy, but before that happens I’ll continue savoring all it has to offer.

If you get your hands on the game, prepare for an all-around solid experience that won’t leave you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Whether you own a PS4 or PS5, it’s in your best interest to snag a copy and let yourself fall in love as I have.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to the game. I hope to see you out there in the Forbidden West!

Tony Polanco
Computing Writer

Tony is a computing writer at Tom’s Guide covering laptops, tablets, Windows, and iOS. During his off-hours, Tony enjoys reading comic books, playing video games, reading speculative fiction novels, and spending too much time on X/Twitter. His non-nerdy pursuits involve attending Hard Rock/Heavy Metal concerts and going to NYC bars with friends and colleagues. His work has appeared in publications such as Laptop Mag, PC Mag, and various independent gaming sites.