Horizon Forbidden West Review: An Epic Sci-Fi Opus
Horizon Forbidden West features improved combat, jaw dropping visuals and excellent layered storytelling, my full review.
Developer Guerrilla Games has delivered one of the best sci-fi epics in recent memory with Horizon Forbidden West. The game has such high production values that it not only matches many Hollywood blockbusters, but exceeds them. If you a fan of the first game, "Horizon Zero Dawn," Aloy's latest adventure doubles down and improves on almost every aspect from the original.
From the absolutely massive open world, a deep combat system and addictive gameplay mechanics, this is a journey West you need to take. Let's explore all Forbidden West has to offer and push deep into unknown territory.
Horizon Forbidden West Details
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 Developer(s): Guerrilla Games Publisher(s): Sony Interactive Entertainment Genre: Action role-playing game ESRB Rating: T for Teen
An Unforgettable Journey West
The next chapter in Aloy's story has her on a quest to find a cure for a mysterious plague that is destroying the Earth. She continues to be a compelling character who kept me engaged through all of her struggles. She is also tough as nails and capable of taking on just about any challenge that she encounters on her dangerous journey.
"The future of life on Earth depends on Aloy's success, the stakes have never been higher, thankfully you have new gadgets and supporting cast to aid you on your journey."
The story picks up after the events of The Frozen Wilds DLC. The huntress' task to save all lifeforms on the planet takes her to an unknown frontier known as the Forbidden West. This area is the post-apocalyptic equivalent of the American western states of California, Nevada, and Utah. The journey is fraught with challenges from hostile machines to new raiders who can now use the machines as mounts.
The future of life on Earth depends on Aloy's success, the stakes have never been higher, thankfully you have new gadgets and supporting cast to aid you on your journey.
Side quests and open exploration
The world is teeming with side quests so you can easily spend dozens of hours roaming around working through them. Aloy and her allies push through city ruins, harsh deserts, dense valleys and frigid mountain paths. The biggest biome addition is underwater sections that appear across all environments. This creates a whole new level of verticality in Aloy's experience. She can swim to great depths to traverse to the tops of mountains.
"Part of the fun is peeling back the layers of stunning detail developer Guerrilla has built into this living breathing world."
You have the option to fast travel, but Horizon still encourages extended periods of exploration due to a heads-up display that shows how much map you've uncovered. Every time you discover a new landmark or mount a Tallneck, it will appear on your map. There's a lot to explore, and having locations plotted out is extremely helpful in finding all the collectibles and hidden tech scattered across the land. Part of the fun is peeling back the layers of stunning detail developer Guerrilla has built into this living breathing world.
A World Brimming with Lore
Horizon features excellent layered storytelling that occurs through regular conversation with supporting characters, NPCs, written text on objects and audio logs from key figures from before the futuristic apocalypse struck. These narrative moments are deeply satisfying as they do an amazing job building out the past and present society's back stories.
"The story campaign took me roughly forty hours and features plenty of surprises that make exploring every nook and cranny worth it."
In most titles I often find myself skipping over a lot of the text to get on with my adventure. In Horizon Forbidden West, I made a point not to skip over any of it because there's fascinating tidbits everywhere. The story campaign took me roughly forty hours and features plenty of surprises that make exploring every nook and cranny worth it. As soon as I was done the game, I wanted to go back and explore as much of the world as I could, there is just so much to see and do.
A More Refined Gameplay Experience
There have been many overall gameplay improvements from combat to traversal this is a far more enjoyable experience. The biggest changes come in the form of new technology like the Pullcaster. You can clamp onto certain areas, pull down walls and swing to previously inaccessible areas.
I am completely enamoured by the core gameplay loop of upgrading my gear and taking on more powerful foes. It's all about hunting machines (or being hunted) levelling up your character by completing quests, earning new gear and abilities through the use of items you discover or craft.
"I am completely enamoured by the core gameplay loop of upgrading my gear and taking on more powerful foes."
The game doesn't pull any punches, if you wander into an area ill-equipped, you are in for a world of hurt, you must adapt to the situation or meet a quick end. This encourages a lot of strategy and not just hack-n-slashing your way to victory. It does get repetitive fighting the same machines at times, but it's so rewarding when you decimate them with powerful attacks.
I spent dozens of hours hunting beasts for their parts to craft better equipment to take on even bigger enemies without feeling like I was continuously grinding out meaningless tasks to level up. Most foes will swipe at you until they're dead, but there's a wide variety of enemy behaviors involving different machine classes including aerial units, gunners and chargers. You can mount most machines if you sneak up on them, which gives an extra wrinkle of strategy when fighting certain mechs.
Forbidden West is a sublime audio-visual experience
This game is simply beautiful; epic vistas that open up before you, dilapidated cityscapes ravaged by time and lush forest areas that look straight off of a postcard. There are moments where you just need to pause, turn around 360 degrees and take in the jaw dropping visual splendour.
"There are moments where you just need to pause, turn around 360 degrees and take in the jaw dropping visual splendour."
Horizon isn't just about hunting machines, there are also human settlements to explore and wander about in. There are times when the game looks like a moving painting, with incredibly detailed textures that can be viewed up close. The day-night cycle means that there are often different lighting conditions during missions, which further adds to the immersion of being out in the world. I have always appreciated how Guerrilla tells its tale through environmental storytelling and Forbidden West continues that trend by using little nuances throughout the environment to flesh out its world.
"I have always appreciated how Guerrilla tells its tale through environmental storytelling and Forbidden West continues that trend by using little nuances throughout the environment to flesh out its world."
The soundtrack is uncharacteristically poignant for an epic sci-fi adventure featuring some great choral arrangements and beautiful melodies coupled with haunting vocals. The music underscores many of the emotional moments but also conveys powerful feelings once you've taken on killing machines.
A lush, populated open world
Thinking back to some open world titles many have so much emptiness throughout their landscapes. Horizon is the complete opposite; every rock, tree, animal and structure feels lived in rather than contrived for you to pass through. There is a wonderful cinematic approach to almost every movement, making you feel like part of grand adventure film. The best example I can give is when I crested a hill coming into a valley. The camera drew higher as the sun completely soaked my surroundings, the wind blew through the grass as a herd of Striders passed through. It's little moments like this that make the Forbidden West feel so special, it always feels like a living world.
The machines themselves convey such personality thanks to their unique design. Whether it's the hostile, yet regal looking Sawtooth or apex predator Thunderjaw that patrols imposingly with its glowing blue spotlights. It's hard not to be drawn into Horizon, especially when one of these behemoths comes charging at you and your heart begins to race.
A new graphical benchmark
The PlayStation 5 has found a new graphical benchmark in Horizon Forbidden West. The game looks absolutely stunning in all regards, from lighting to incredible particle effects, it is a technical marvel. I played a majority of my journey in the visual fidelity mode, and the detail in the characters and environments blew my expectations away.
"The PlayStation 5 has found a new graphical benchmark in Horizon Forbidden West."
The motion blur was used sparingly but effectively, I did notice it get used more during melee combat sequences which made attacking look stunning. Horizon features an impressive photo mode that can capture some truly breathtaking images of the landscape. I often found myself stopping to take pictures of the scenery or of Aloy locked in combat.
PS5 hardware adds to the immersion
Horizon Forbidden West is a showcase for the PlayStation 5 hardware in many ways. From benchmark graphics, blazing fast load times to the masterful use of the DualSense controller. Thanks to the PS5’s lightning-fast SSD players are treated to next to no load times between biomes and bigger maps. The experience is seamless, and you aren’t pulled out of the world with loading screens.
The DualSense delights
Fighting enemies is incredibly satisfying thanks to responsive controls and very smooth animations. On the hardware side of things the DualSense controller's haptic feedback really locks in the immersion. You can tell that Guerrilla spent a lot of time perfecting the feel of combat, and the work paid off big time.
Forbidden West sets exciting new standard with how it employs haptic feedback, taking creative cues from games like Returnal. You can feel the tension in the controller as you draw back your bow. There is significant resistance in the trigger as you wedge your spear into jammed doorways or cracks in wall and pry them open.
"You can feel the tension in the controller as you draw back your bow. There is significant resistance in the trigger as you wedge your spear into jammed doorways or cracks in wall and pry them open."
The DualSense's onboard speaker is used in combination with the haptics to make rumbles and pings in the controller deliver a more immersive experience. I am happy to see the innovation continue to be used with the DualSense controller and Forbidden West is an absolute show case of how to properly use the hardware.
Final thoughts on Horizon Forbidden West
Horizon Forbidden West sets up an amazing premise for future titles in this franchise, continuing its trend of strong storytelling and an incredible cast of characters. For anyone looking for adventure out in a dangerous yet beautiful world, this game delivers by not just nailing its design but also encouraging you to take your time and appreciate its beauty. If you are a PlayStation 5 owner Forbidden West is a title you must simply experience.
Horizon Forbidden West Pros
+ A new benchmark in next-gen graphics
+ Refined combat and traversal make the game a joy to play
+ Interesting story with stellar acting and engaging characters
+ Excellent DualSense integration adding greater immersion
Horizon Forbidden West Cons
-Minor graphical hitches
-Some side quests can feel redundant
Overall Game Score
A copy of the game was provided by PlayStation for the purpose of this review.