Platforms: PS4, PS5 (reviewed)
Price: $60 (PS4), $70 (PS5)
Release Date: Feb 18, 2022
Horizon Forbidden West doesn't try to reinvent the proverbial wheel with new gameplay mechanics or a controversial story. It is a true sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn, delivering more of what made the first game successful. This is a double-edged sword, of course. Series fans will delight in seeing protagonist Aloy fighting against both man and machine during her quest to save the planet. However, those who weren’t impressed with the original installment will find little to sway them in this new entry.
While there were moments during my playthrough when I wanted to see the gameplay and narrative do something truly unexpected, I was having too much fun to dwell on Forbidden West’s shortcomings. The game focuses on giving action/adventure fans a rousing and enjoyable experience. In that respect, Forbidden West prevails.
This title has everything I look for in open-world games: a large map full of unique environments, meaningful side quests and loads of collectibles. It also has an engaging narrative that ties all the disparate gameplay elements into a cohesive whole. It’s too early to consider Forbidden West as a Game of the Year candidate, but it’s one of the most entertaining titles I’ve played so far in 2022. Even if Horizon Forbidden West isn’t a true “next-gen” title, as it's also available on PS4, it’s still an all-around gripping experience.
Read on for our full Horizon Forbidden West review.
Horizon Forbidden West review: Story
Horizon Forbidden West takes place about six months after the conclusion of Horizon Zero Dawn. Even though that story had a definite conclusion, the world remains in peril. The terraforming process that gave life to the post-apocalyptic land continues to malfunction, causing plant life to wither and rot. This spells doom for the humans and animals who already have a hard time surviving in a world overrun by killer robots (called "machines" in-game). As before, Aloy and her allies must do what they can to save the planet.
Because so little time has passed between the events of Forbidden West and Zero Dawn, the story initially feels like a continuation of the previous adventure. Eventually, the narrative expands, and a new threat emerges to takes things in an interesting direction. I won’t spoil things here, but it’s a clever bit of plotting that expands on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it piece of worldbuilding from the first title.
Speaking of worldbuilding, the various side quests and errands do a great job of making the primitive-future world of Forbidden West feel authentic. Side quests tend to tell self-contained stories, but also add to the larger narrative tapestry. Whereas some games have side content that feels superfluous, Forbidden West’s optional quests feel like natural extensions of the main plot. Even traditional fetch quests and collectible hunts tell miniature stories. It's worth your time to complete them, especially since you'll earn rewards, such as items and experience points.
Open world games often fall prey to meandering campaigns. While there is an element of that in Forbidden West, the core plot remains fairly focused and follows a typical three-act structure. If you simply stick to the critical path, you’ll experience an entertaining and cinematic story, on a par with the likes of Ghost of Tsushima, Marvel's Spider-Man and God of War. While the narrative doesn’t take many risks, it is exceptionally well-told. I don’t foresee people having major complaints about Forbidden West's overall structure.
Horizon Forbidden West review: Gameplay
Horizon Forbidden West has the standard gameplay trifecta for an action/adventure title: combat, platforming and puzzles. The latter element isn’t as prevalent, but you’ll get heaping doses of the former two. Sprinkle in some light stealth mechanics, and you’ve got a slew of gameplay elements that keep you engaged with sheer variety. You’ll never get bogged down in one particular activity for long, which is great.
You’ll fight most enemies from a distance using specialized bows and arrows. Other weapons, such as the Ropecaster and Slingcaster round out your arsenal. If machines get too close for comfort, you can fight them off with your spear, which you also use to override and control machines.
Battling machines can get pretty intense. Perhaps my memory is fuzzy, but I don’t recall robots being this aggressive in the previous title. To survive, you’ll need to land attacks in-between dodges, or otherwise use the environment for cover. Each machine has weak spots, or is susceptible to certain elemental attacks. Scanning robots for said weakness prior to an engagement is essential. Focusing attacks on specific parts ensures you’re not stuck in long engagements. Considering the ferocity that the machines display, you’ll want to end battles as quickly as possible.
As the game progresses, you’ll either buy or find upgraded weapons and armor. You can upgrade your current gear at workbenches in villages or shelters scattered across the map. Upgrading equipment is a straightforward process. So long as you have the requisite materials for an upgrade, you’re golden. Thankfully, the game has a feature that shows you where to find whichever parts you need on the map. This way, you can make a beeline to a herd of machines, or a cluster of plants, to retrieve the necessary crafting items. I’m normally not a fan of crafting in games, but Forbidden West includes it in a relatively unobtrusive manner. Plus, upgrading equipment keeps you alive longer, so it’s in your best interest to upgrade often.
Battling foes and completing missions earn you experience points. You’ll gain skill points whenever you reach a new level. Finishing quests can also net you skill points. The skill tree has an extensive amount of unlockable skills, focusing on different areas of gameplay. Warrior skills make you more effective at close-range combat, while Hunter skills add new bow-and-arrow abilities, for example.
Each skill tree has Valor abilities, which are effectively super-moves-. For example, initiating a Hunter Valor skill increases your chances of landing critical strikes with ranged weapons. Using an Infiltrator Valor skill will temporarily render you invisible to all enemies. The Valor meter fills up relatively fast, which encourages you to -use whatever skill you’ve enabled frequently.
It’s easy to develop an Aloy that suits your particular playstyle. Like using smoke bombs and explosives? Then drop some points into Trapper skills. Want to give yourself more health and elemental resistance? The Survivor tree will keep you in the proverbial game for longer. Of course, you can also do what I did, and unlock a balanced number of skills across all branches. The choice is yours.
There's no shortage of places to climb or otherwise traverse in Horizon Forbidden West. Aloy’s Focus (a small device she wears close to her right ear) highlights handholds and ledges you can use to surmount natural and manmade structures. Scaling tall mountains with the new grapple hook or jumping between steel beams is fluid for the most part. You’re never truly in danger of falling, but the platforming sections are a welcome respite from combat. You’ll also do plenty of climbing and jumping when scouring areas for out-of-the-way loot. As such, it’s good that platforming is as just as fun in Forbidden West as it is in Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection.
The map is stuffed with a bevy of optional content. In addition to the aforementioned story-focused side quests and collectibles, you’ll also find challenges in and around most of the main villages. These include archery challenges, machine hunts, wrestling matches (with weapons) and even an in-depth board game. One of the larger villages has an arena where you’ll go up against machines in gladiatorial matches. Some of these encounters can be more brutal than anything you’ll encounter in a mission or out in the wild. But if you want to earn the very best gear Forbidden West has to offer, this fighting arena is the place to go.
There are even more activities Forbidden West has to offer, but I don’t want to spoil all the goodies you’ll find. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot to see and do in this game.
Horizon Forbidden West review: Visuals and sound
Horizon Forbidden West, like its predecessor, is a visual powerhouse. I played the PS5 version, and was blown away by the graphical presentation. Everything from dense forests, barren deserts, towering mountains, humid swamps and old-world ruins come to life in exquisite detail. There were many moments when I stopped to let myself appreciate whatever environment I was currently exploring. Humans and machines also have an impressive amount of detail — especially the latter.
On PS5, you’ll find two visual modes. Quality mode delivers 4K resolution with “full graphical settings” at 30 frames per second. Performance mode runs at a variable resolution and at 60 frames per second.
While Quality mode looks crisper and does an excellent job of removing jagged edges via anti-aliasing, I opted to play in Performance mode. Having Forbidden West running at a (mostly) smooth 60 fps during both gameplay and cinematic scenes more than made up for any losses in resolution or visual effects (most of which I found imperceptible anyway). But whichever mode you decide to play on, you're in for a visual feast.
The music does a good job of immersing you without ever drawing too much attention to itself. Most of the soundtrack consists of tribal-like music you’d expect from a world where humans live in primitive, almost-Stone-Age societies. But given the sci-fi nature of Forbidden West, there’s a good helping of synthetic sounds that jell well with the tribal percussion.
One of my colleagues also loved how well Horizon Forbidden West incorporates the PS5's DualSense's haptic feedback — in fact, he fell back in love with the controller.
Horizon Forbidden West review: Verdict
Horizon Forbidden West is a slam dunk for PlayStation users. While it's not a revolutionary game, it delivers a solidly crafted experience that most players will fall in love with. It’s hard to knock a game for giving people exactly what they want. Also, it’s a relief to get an open-world experience that doesn’t completely exhaust you with extraneous content. The fact I want to continue playing this game, despite having finished this review, speaks volumes. It's a blast.
If you own a PS4 or a PS5, you can't go wrong with Horizon Forbidden West. If this game is any indication of what we can expect on PlayStation in 2022, then we’re off to a brilliant start.
Read how Horizon Zero Dawn recently captured our attention again and we just can't stop playing it.