A solid sequel to Guerrilla’s open-world gem
Guerrilla Games sure know when to release their games. When Horizon Zero Dawn dropped back in 2017, it brought a uniquely placed open world game onto consoles. With an interesting setting, amazing lore and some rock solid gameplay, Zero Dawn felt like a breath of fresh air. Until, of course, that other breath came along and overshadowed Playstation’s original. Yes, Breath of the Wild dropped several weeks after and took the world by storm, leaving Guerrilla Games’ title in the proverbial dust.
Fast forward to 2022 and after a year of delays and cancellations, Guerrilla Games finally release their long-awaited sequel, Horizon: Forbidden West… only for Elden Ring to arrive and completely change the landscape of open world games.
Now, I’m going to try and not compare the two games, given I played 10 or so hours of Elden Ring before jumping into this one, but Forbidden West has some core problems that are hard to overlook. However, they’re not a complete deal breaker, and Forbidden West is absolutely worth the 30-50 hour playtime you’ll get from this sequel.
With new moves, a more expansive story and some insanely good graphics, this is a rock solid sequel that feels more like polishing up the open world formula rather than ripping it up completely ala. Elden Ring. (That’s the last comparison I’ll make, I promise!)
For those a little rusty on the story leading up to this point, there is a brief recap at the start of this game. However, we do also have a story recap over here at TheReviewGeek which you can check out HERE which explains exactly what’s happening.
The story essentially picks up not long after the events at the end of Zero Dawn. Sylens has taken Hephaestus and fled West, just as a strange mysterious plague begins to spread across the land. Returning Aloy is at the front of this investigation, and soon learns that she needs to head into the Forbidden West in order to find the source of this and put a stop to it before it’s too late.
I won’t spoil much of the story but once you reach the midway point of the adventure, Forbidden West seems to adopt a lot of mechanics and ideas from Mass Effect 2, complete with a base of operations, a litany of quests to undergo and a motley band of companions gathered in time for the final fight.
While there is a resolution to the story, do be aware that there’s a fair amount of sequel bait too, as the game preps everything up for a much larger and more expansive third game to follow. The whole final conflict feels pretty rushed in the wake of this though, and without going into spoilers too much, there’s a development with a new character that does not work, leading to a pretty underwhelming final boss.
The game’s story is okay but given the lavish presentation and style put into this – including a stunning opening introduction with Aloy traveling West – the characters feel very archetypal. There are a few moments of shock and a couple of nice new additions, but the game’s main antagonists are just…bland.
Gone is the tight, character-driven journey about discovery and in its wake, a stock “end of the world” scenario. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but Forbidden West doesn’t quite hit the narrative highs that the first game achieved through its tight bond between Aloy and Rost, playing Aloy’s inner-conflict center stage and the world and its issues somewhat in the periphery view.
While the story is pretty good, it’s the gameplay that’s going to swing you one way or another. In that respect, Forbidden West has both improved and is in need of serious improvement at the same time.
Combat with machines is exciting, with a plethora of new designs, moves and AI quirks that make each encounter feel new and exciting. The same however, can’t be said for interactions with humans. The usual suspects – heavy gunners, archers and sword fighters – are all here with minimal improvements to AI.
There is a champion of sorts leading small bands of rebels, sporting an energy shield and some special moves, but that alone is not enough to make those interactions feel like anything other than a break from fighting the machines.
There’s a fair amount of platforming in this game too, and using your focus (by pressing or holding R3) brings up a number of yellow handheld areas you can traverse across. It’s standard fare for these sort of open world games but platforming is clunky, awkward and less fluid than titles like Uncharted and Infamous, which came out years ago.
The controls aren’t always responsive and little touches – like jumping backwards from a tightly constricted handheld – can sometimes cause the camera to swing wildly or obstruct what you’re doing. That’s before mentioning the slight lag delay to platforming, preventing you from just hopping across obstacles quickly.
Not only that but the general design of these sections can be pretty poor – exacerbated by a new rope-casting mechanic to knock down light blue metal foundations… which blend into the bluish grey rock formations. Even then, it’s not always initially clear where you need to go – even with the bright yellow handhelds. And that’s before mentioning Aloy constantly talking to herself – but we’ll circle back to that later on.
The open world is, quite simply, incredible. The different biomes and the level of graphical detail put into moving around is nothing short of astonishing. Grumbles about flying aside (something you unlock near the end-game), everything here is just stunning to behold.
Whether it be Aloy crunching through snow and exploring the mountains or braving the jungles as sunlight filters through, shining pockets of the ground, the Forbidden West is an amazing, living, breathing environment. The world is littered with things to do as well, in typical open-world tick-box fashion, but Forbidden West never feels particularly egregious in that respect.
Compared to something like Dying Light 2, which simply copy and pastes its side-quest content, Forbidden West at least makes an effort to add some narrative structure or differing level design to what you’re doing.
Rebel camps and outposts have strategic elements to them, with the former worked into a story that directly affects the rebel tribes in a mini side quest on its own. Outposts each have their own leader, and whether you just take them out or go in gung ho and kill everyone is entirely up to you.
There’s also arena challenges which grant you some decent rewards, a return of the hunting trials, gauntlet runs(mini-races on mounts), salvage contracts (which bag you some rare parts and nice rewards) and the newest addition to the roster – melee pits. The best way to describe the latter is akin to the fatality practices from Mortal Kombat.
You essentially take to an arena and have to carry put a number of different combos in order to appease the pit master and gain some rewards. it’s the grindiest part of the open world experience and understandably the most complained about online too, given the sluggish melee controls.
Yep, melee is still completely underwhelming in this game, despite some attempt to thwart that through those aforementioned combos. The trouble is, when using your bow can do 3x more damage than your spear, why get up close and attack? This is an issue that’s only exacerbated by some of the monsters possessing devastating moves.
These creatures -even the largest Firebears and Thunderjaws – can move across the field of battle at astonishing speed. While that’s all fine and dandy, it does feel a little unfair given Aloy’s knock-down animation can go on for 2-3 seconds.
While that doesn’t seem so bad, when you’re surrounded by enemies pelting your position with projectiles, bombs and ferocious attacks, these seconds can cause some pretty cheap and unfair deaths.
Leveling up early on is almost a necessity in that respect, with XP granted for pretty much everything you do. Completing cauldrons (which return with more variation and – at times – frustratingly unclear puzzles), clearing bandit camps or killing machines all net points that contribute toward Aloy growing stronger and more able-bodied in the field of battle.
There’s also a new and improved skill-tree, which feels quite similar to the system implemented in Final Fantasy X’s system. Each area of expertise is separated into its own grid system, with the ability to spend skill points (gained through levelling up or completing tasks) to your unique play-style. If you want to stealth your way through the game, there’s a dedicated section for that. Likewise, the Warrior skill-tree allows for stronger melee attacks (but not stronger than your bow, ironically) while Trapper is all about laying down bombs and sabotaging enemies.
By the end-game though, you’ll have so many skill points that you’ll either max most of these out or you’ll likely focus on two or three skill trees and once maxed out, never bother to return.
While the world itself is beautiful, actually traversing that area is a bit of a mixed bag. The platforming is just straight up annoying at times, and Aloy’s constant chatter to herself borders on psychosis.
In Uncharted, Drake would know when to be quiet and when to throw in a one-liner or a bit of random banter. Here though, Aloy is constantly muttering on. Listening to an audio log found in an abandoned office? She’ll be talking over it. Trying to solve a puzzle? Welp, Aloy’s solved it for you. And while you’re in stealth or trying to explore freely, listening to the beautiful soundtrack, she’ll also pop up and comment on the world.
Aloy’s not quite as egregious a narrator as the guy from Biomutant, but it’s definitely a close second. Unlike the latter though, there’s no option here to reduce the frequency of her chatter. So what you get is what you’re stuck with, which is surprising given the game’s incredible breadth of choice in the accessibility options. Honestly, Guerrilla Games deserve a lot of credit for this.
Horizon: Forbidden West is undoubtedly a beautiful game, with expanded lore and a pretty good story (minus a disappointing sequel-baiting third act.) The platforming is still terrible though, some of the design choices are questionable and Aloy’s constant chatter is borderline game-breaking.
Having said that, there’s been a good deal of improvement and care put into fighting machines – which is still this game’s biggest draw. There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline-soaked fights with the larger behemoths in this world. Forbidden West is not perfect, and there’s definitely room for improvement, but this is a solid enough sequel to one of the better open worlds in recent times.
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Verdict - 8/10