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Horizon Forbidden West

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Release Date: Feb. 18, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Horizon: Forbidden West'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 17, 2022 @ 11:01 p.m. PST

Horizon Forbidden West continues Aloy's story as she moves west to a far-future America to brave a majestic, but dangerous frontier where she’ll face awe-inspiring machines and mysterious new threats.

Buy Horizon: Forbidden West

Horizon: Zero Dawn was a delightful surprise. The initial trailer — showing Aloy taking down a giant robot dinosaur with clever bow attacks, traps and ropes — felt like a proof of concept, but the final game matched the trailer perfectly and threw in an engaging setting, a likeable protagonist, and Ted Faro, The Most Hate-Worthy Man to Ever Exist. It was no surprise that a sequel was inevitable, and at long last, Horizon: Forbidden West is here.

Forbidden West begins about six months after the original game. Aloy sets off on a quest to find a backup of GAIA, the ancient computer program responsible for governing the terraforming of the planet in the wake of Ted Faro's big oopsie. Rampaging storms and ever-increasing blighted land make it clear that time is of the essence. If Aloy can't find and restore GAIA before things get much worse, Earth will be rendered uninhabitable. Her only hope is to journey to the Forbidden West (or the West Coast of what was once the United States) to track down the world's last hope.

For the most part, the story is engaging and interesting. I'm unsure if it recaptures the same feeling as the original game, but that's difficult to do when the secrets are known and the focus is on solving problems rather than discovering old ones. One thing you must accept for the story to work is that technology is occasionally indistinguishable from magic. That's how the original game functioned as well, but don't expect flawless logic from a game about using a spear to hunt robot dinosaurs.

Video game characters tend to be forced into the role of following others, but Aloy is a fantastic example of how that isn't necessary. She drives the plot almost exclusively by herself, making her own decisions and being treated as an intelligent leader. Many missions use Aloy as the quest-giver who explains her own tasks and own goals, and it's a breath of fresh air. You never realize how often you're obeying someone else in games until you get a protagonist who clearly knows what is going on and is intelligent enough to figure things out as the player does.

My favorite element is that Aloy pretty firmly cuts through nonsense wherever possible. She's Alexander the Great when faced with a particularly tough knot and is rarely willing to allow someone to hinder her. She'll blow up a wall rather than find a way around it or ignore a ritual if it seems pointless. This isn't entirely a positive, as sometimes she can be too harsh or come across as cold, but that makes her feel like a character instead of a paragon.

The best way to describe Forbidden West's gameplay is "the same but better." It follows a lot of the same basic mechanics from Zero Dawn but goes out of its way to make them better. Probably the single biggest and most welcome change in Forbidden West is increased mobility. Aloy isn't quite on the level with Breath of the Wild's Link, but she has far more freedom than in the first game. Instead of only climbing on yellow ledges, she can now climb most rock formations (and clearly marked yellow ledges), allowing players to engage problems from multiple angles. This additional mobility is further augmented by a variety of gadgets, including a grappling hook and BotW-style paraglider. The hook can only be used in certain spots, but there are enough that it feels useful and natural, and the paraglider can be used anywhere. You can even swim (a gadget provides infinite oxygen) and ride a flying robodino, which gives you near-omnipotent control of the map.

It's tough to express how much better it feels to move around in the sequel. It makes exploration a lot more fun and the world feel more alive. It's also nice to have options on how to approach enemies. Being able to divebomb into a sealed enemy encampment from above makes you feel like the coolest person in the world. My only serious complaint is that there are some areas where I feel like I should be able to climb and can't, and that isn't always clear. Focus highlights all climbable areas, but it'd be nicer if I didn't have to depend on it to tell me if I can climb this particular set of rocks.

Combat has been improved in a lot of little ways and a couple of big ones. Melee combat is now more involved and more easily integrated into both human and robot dinosaur fights. Aloy can perform different combos that allow her to break guards or jump off enemies, but these are best used against smaller foes. What makes it feel better is that melee combos now build up an Energize boost on your attacks. Once it is full, you can apply it to an enemy with any strong melee combo to create a glowing spot on the enemy that you can target with a ranged attack for massive damage.

More significant to overall combat is the addition of special attacks and Valor Surges. Special attacks are special moves that are exclusive to certain weapon types. Some are familiar, such as the ability to nock multiple arrows at once, while others are new. Each weapon has three types of special attack that you can swap between at will. The long-range Sharpshot bow can notch two arrows, do a long-range sniper attack, or fire a high-power explosive. In comparison the pseudo-machinegun Boltcaster can unload its entire clip or fire an explosive round, the Hunter's Bow can use an attack that does no damage but instantly knocks over foes, and so on. Special attacks can consume more ammo and use up your stamina bar; stamina refills gradually over time or can be instantly refilled with potions, but special attacks are the heaviest hitters.

Valor Surges are more varied. Once you've unlocked surges as you fight, you build up valor. By default, Valor has one bar to fill but goes up to three. At any time, you can activate Valor Surge to go into a super-powerful combat mode. These are incredibly powerful, especially once you put a few levels into them. One makes your next few shots deal 300% damage and use no ammo; it even refills your used ammo). Another makes you effectively invisible while increasing your stealth damage. Another increases your "tear" damage (the ability to shoot parts off a robot dinosaur), making it easy to farm parts. There are Valor Surges for elemental damage, melee damage, traps, healing, shields — pretty much everything you can imagine. You can only have one equipped at a time but can swap at any time through the menu.

Of course, there are new weapons, too. The Shredder Gauntlet is effectively a deadly jai alai racket, using a makeshift mechanical sling to toss buzzsaws at enemies. If you can catch the saws as they return, they get more and more powerful. It's a highly technical weapon that is difficult to use. In comparison, the Spearthrower is a big metal spear that can have different tips that grant different effects. It causes immensely high damage but requires a long charge and is most effective at close range. Both weapons are neat, but I found the Shredder Gauntlet to be too risky for not enough reward.

The new skill system is also really neat. Aloy has several trees she can learn from to augment her close-range combat, elemental and trap damage, long-range damage, defense, stealth, and machine control. The trees unlock Valor Surges, special attacks and passive skills. Most passive skills gain two levels from Aloy's innate skills, but each piece of armor has a set of passive boosters to improve those skills. Aloy can become good at stealth, but with proper stealth-focused armor, she can become invisible. You can even customize armor with weaves, including skill-improving weaves that you can unlock by leveling up armor. This lets you build for how you want to fight, whether that's stealthy long-range fighting or up-close melee combat.

As the target of these cool techniques and weapons, Forbidden West features a bunch of new robot dinosaurs. In addition to returning favorites, you'll face new foes. There are deadly robotic raptors that are fast and immensely deadly, lumbering robot mammoths that are mobile weapons platforms, acid-spitting robot snakes, and even multiple types of aquatic machines that you must lure onto land to fight.

I love the new machines. They all feel extremely cool to fight and look awesome to boot. The first time the giant neck of the aquatic plesiosaurus-like Tideripper emerged from beneath the waves, I was fully prepared to fight. The same core combat is there, with an emphasis on targeting enemy parts and slowly wearing them down, which makes victory feel more satisfying. You can build however you like and find some success, but mixing and matching various tools is the best path to victory.

There is an absurd amount of stuff to do in Forbidden West. In addition to the main quest, there are a fantastic number of side-quests with their own distinct rewards. There are ancient ruins to explore that are filled with Tomb Raider-style puzzles, mounted races, hidden underwater caves, secret areas — the works. There is even a shockingly fun collectible tabletop board game if you're feeling more like Gwent than saving the world. It's a long game, and it felt like every time I turned a corner, I found more to do.

Forbidden West looks phenomenally good. The environments are lush and beautiful, making fantastic use of color to provide a postapocalyptic look that feels far different from most. The occasional reminders of the pre-war days add some flavor to the surroundings and prevent it from feeling entirely like a fantasy. The character animations and expressions are delightful, and Aloy and friends manage to convey a ton of emotion with few expressions. Even the voice acting is largely top-notch, aside from a few awkward choices. I did prefer to play the game on Performance mode, as Resolution mode felt a touch too choppy.

Overall, some minor technical nagging is the only thing that really holds back Horizon: Forbidden West. It has a delightful protagonist, an engaging story, a wonderful setting, fun combat and exploration, and lovely visuals. I enjoyed just about every moment I spent with the game. If you were a fan of the original, then the sequel delivers on everything that it promises. Newcomers will likely want to finish Zero Dawn first, but as long as the idea of hunting robot dinosaurs with a bow and arrow sounds good, then two of the finest open-world games await you.

Score: 9.5/10

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