Horizon Forbidden West review: A must-play for fans of the original game

March 14th, 2022 | by Yap Hui Bin
Horizon Forbidden West review: A must-play for fans of the original game
Gaming
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Ready for an epic journey in the west of the United States in a post apocalyptic future, where animalistic machines rule the Earth? In Horizon Forbidden West (HFW), we join our heroic protagonist, Aloy, as her quest takes her far from home into the Wild Wild West. 

HFW is the highly anticipated sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn, one of the best games released on the PlayStation 4 back in 2017, and later for the PC.

Developed by Guerilla Games, the third-person action adventure game that features an extremely likeable protagonist, memorable characters, fantastical yet familiar world as well as an epic quest to save the world from rogue machines, made Zero Dawn an unforgettable adventure. Can HFW continue its predecessor’s tradition and thrill us the same way?

I played a review copy of HFW on the PlayStation 4 non-Pro console. Doubtlessly, the game will look even more stunning on the PS5 on 4K, but it still looks beautiful and performs well on my nine-year-old PS4 console.

So if you haven’t gotten a PS5 yet, don’t let it stop you from playing HFW. The PS4 version of the game is upgradeable to PS5!

West side story 

The world of Horizon is set in the future after a mass extinction event. Self-propagating machines have consumed all biomass on earth, and an Artificial Intelligence (AI) was triggered to restore life on the earth through terraforming efforts.

With an earthly reboot of sorts, humankind devolved into a primitive state, living in tribes, hunting and foraging for food, and relying on mysticism and religious beliefs to impose some order and meaning in their lives.

For full enjoyment of HFW, I strongly recommend that Horizon Zero Dawn be played and completed first. Although there will be a recap at the start of HFW as well as all developments in Zero Dawn explained in the first mission, the journey of Aloy finding the truth about herself and an explanation of the state of the world in Zero Dawn deserves to be savoured firsthand.

In HFW, Aloy sets off to the west looking for a backup copy of GAIA, the AI that was designed to terraform the world in order to save humanity.

GAIA was previously destroyed in the previous game to stop a rogue AI from creating machines of destruction. In HFW, Aloy needs to restore and reboot GAIA as well as GAIA’s faulty subordinate functions to stop the creation of climate and environmental disasters. 

Things are quite different for Aloy now that she’s famous for being a Saviour when she was previously treated as an outcast in Horizon Zero Dawn.

She’s also a lot more confident and stands up to bullies with a more antagonistic and “in your face” attitude compared to the first game. But she still retains her kindness and empathy for those who need her help, or have suffered some injustice, loss or trauma.

HFW’s strong themes of friendship, family and caring for others as well as the environment, gives the game plenty of feels. The game displays a great deal of humanity through Aloy’s emphatic and sensitively-handled interactions with Non-player Characters (NPC) who are diversified, including those suffering from dementia, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But for bullies, profiteers, egomaniacs and self entitled individuals, Aloy will deal with them very harshly.

What I love about Aloy’s character is how real and relatable she is – she makes comments about being as clean as she can get after swimming across a river, or how the rain washes off her sweat.

It makes one appreciate Aloy for all her imperfections, as HFW’s graphics are so detailed that Aloy’s freckles and splotchy sun-kissed skin can be seen and appreciated as part of who she is.

Fans of the first game will also be thrilled to meet some familiar faces from Horizon Zero Dawn, who offer help to Aloy in her quest, or require Aloy’s help in their own journeys in the Forbidden West. 

Gadgets and gear and grub, Oh my!

HFW introduces a bunch of cool new gadgets like the Pullcaster grappling hook, Shield Wing glider and diving mask that greatly expand the scope and depth of HFW’s vast world, which is ideal for exploration.

With these tools, puzzle solving in HFW has evolved to a whole new level. For instance, Aloy can use the Pullcaster to move crates, open weak walls and grates, manipulate beams, and even access treasure caches and hard to reach grapple points.

I particularly enjoy gliding from the mountains for a scenic and safe way down, as well as diving with the diving mask for lengthy deep water exploration.

Apart from expanding the scope of exploration, the tools also help in terms of HFW’s pacing. The tools are unlocked only through the main story missions, which forces the player to go back to the main story in order to open new paths for exploration.

HFW also offers a bunch of new weapons in Aloy’s arsenal, in addition to the bows, slingshots and tripcasters from the previous game.

These include a spike thrower that works like a javelin that deals massive damage up close, a shredder gauntlet that works like a boomerang and knocks off machine parts, and a boltblaster that spits out a bevy of bolts that deal elemental damage.

I really enjoy the many strategies of ranged and melee combat of HFW, juggling the different types of weapons and selecting the correct elemental payload to deal the most damage to machines weak against them, and shooting parts of the machines off in order to harvest the parts and eventually defeating them.

Weapons and armour can also be upgraded with machine and animal parts, but some of these can be random drops and are a chore to acquire. Despite all the powerful new weapons, combat in HFW feels a lot more challenging, even in Normal mode! 

There are also new buffs in the form of food that Aloy can purchase from chefs in tribal settlements – these offer a time limited improvement in health, stamina or abilities, which can help Aloy in surviving tough battles.

Unfortunately, the addition of food options in Aloy’s cluttered hunter’s kit really slowed me down while trying to find the right selection in the heat of an intense battle.

What used to serve as a quick shortcut is now a slow exercise of trying to select a much-needed health potion interspersed between traps, summoning a mount, selecting food and finding rocks to distract enemies.

One feature that I really appreciate but isn’t very realistic is the universal stash that offers unlimited storage. Now, Aloy can loot everything in the field without worrying about carrying capacity, since whatever she can’t fit on her person will be magically stowed in her stash which is accessible in settlements and prevalent shelters.

For pack rats and indiscriminate loot collectors like me, this is a fantastic feature that takes away all the painful decluttering while trying to scavenge valuable loot in the field.

Dialling up the challenge

If you felt that the first game was too easy, you will be pleased to know that HFW offers a lot more challenges, and tougher machines with varied attacks that are harder to beat. Compared to Zero Dawn, HFW has more depth, scope and complexity added to almost all aspects.

With Aloy being a full fledged adventurer who can free climb on steep cliffs, scuba dive in deep water and glide from heights, puzzles are a lot more elaborate, and require more time to complete.

Even trying to jump onto and override the Tallnecks to lift the fog over the map requires extensive puzzle solving and even some time consuming misdirection.

And even when you think you have almost solved a puzzle, the game occasionally throws you a curveball. Be warned that completing side quests and puzzles will take up a lot more time now!

HFW offers a bunch of magnificent new machines like the mammoth-inspired Tremortusk, the plesiosaur-like Tideripper, and the Sunwing that resembles a pterosaur.

Apart from many new machines to fight, there are also tougher variants known as “Apex” machines which will take a lot more firepower to bring down.

Machines from Zero Dawn are also featured, include the detestable invisible machines known as Stalkers, as well as the bull-like Chargers that can be overridden and allow Aloy to ride on them

Special fully automated, machine manufacturing facilities known as Cauldrons, are also present in the Forbidden West. Compared to Horizon Zero Dawn, they are more elaborately designed, with more complicated climbing, jumping and timed puzzles, as well as tough machines and bosses to take down before being able to exit.

A lot more preparation is needed, especially with the new weapons, ammo, buffs and abilities offered by HFW. Like the previous game, clearing Cauldrons rewards Aloy with the ability to override certain machines but this time, parts are required in order to fully unlock the overrides – completing the Cauldrons does not grant you the perk immediately!

Collectibles are also much less straightforward to obtain, which makes life really hard for die-hard “collect them all” completists. For instance, catching fish is not as easy as shooting an arrow at them, like in the first game.

Instead, Aloy has to chase them down by swimming towards and grabbing them, which takes a much longer time especially for fast swimming bass in the sea. Hunting animals is required for random drops of rare animal parts needed for upgrading gear and pouches, which will be essential for survival especially in Cauldrons where there is no exit until the boss is beaten.

The system for skills and levelling up is more elaborate and a lot more complex in HFW. There are six skill trees grouped under Warrior, Trapper, Hunter, Survivor, Infiltrator and Machine Master.

As Aloy chalks up experience and skill points, she can also unlock special skills known as Valour Surges that can be unleashed momentarily once enough Valour has been accumulated during battles.

Examples are dealing more ranged or melee damage, or taking less damage in battles. temporarily These are helpful in tough battles that can give Aloy an edge during boss battles, and also adds more strategy in combat.

Apart from Valour Surges, there is also a Weapon Stamina metre that can fill up over time and lets Aloy use a special ability tied to certain weapons.

With so many new abilities, buffs and tactics to use, I found myself fumbling during intense battles while trying to recall the buttons to press in order to unleash abilities. It does take a lot of concentration to fight the battles in HFW compared to Zero Dawn!

A new collectible, known as survey drone, is also pretty frustrating to capture. Survey drones fly around a certain area and Aloy has to climb up to a correct spot and jump on them at the right time to bring a drone down. Somehow, it took me many attempts to cue and time the jumps just right, which makes for a pretty time consuming activity! 

Other cool things to collect include holographic vista points that requires Aloy to match it to the scenery, old world relics, signal lenses at strategic towers, black boxes from old world aircraft, war totems (which are actually God of War Easter eggs) as well as a new currency known as Greenshine crystals, which can be used to trade with merchants and upgrade gear. What a treat for those of us who love collecting stuff! 

HFW also offers new proving grounds with new challenges for Aloy to test her skills as a hunter, and also fighting pits to test her melee prowess, which will bag her nice rewards.

And for more “brain over brawn” challenges, HFW offers a tabletop game known as “Machine Strike” where Aloy can play against an NPC in certain settlements, but honestly, I was too concerned with saving the world and working through the multitude of side quests to play it much.

New challenges also include the Gauntlet Races, where Aloy can mount machines and race with other NPCs, using ranged and melee attacks to throw off other racers.

With so much to do and so many fun distractions, one can easily spend well over 50 hours in the game and not realise it. 

Immersing yourself in the Wild Wild West

HFW’s vast map brings Aloy into the arid deserts of Las Vegas, to the lush greenery of the majestic California Redwood and Sequoia Forests, and as far as San Francisco on the west coast. Familiar landmarks, such as the ruins of Las Vegas, are thrilling to explore, but at the same time, it serves as a grim reminder of how things might be in a post apocalyptic future.

The game is truly beautiful in depicting the different terrains in varied weather, as well as night and day cycles, and from the videos captured on the PS5 in 4K, this is one game that is likely to make the yearning for a PS5 even stronger.

The visual details on the characters are stunning, with freckles on Aloy’s face, the moisture on her skin after swimming and slick face paints on Aloy and other NPCs, all makes for a spectacular visual treat.

With new tribes come new armour for Aloy, which are elaborately and beautifully designed and contain details that are representative of the tribe that wears them.

For instance, the Utaru tribe of farmers have incorporated woven grass in the armour, while the Oseram, who are experts in metal crafts, use metal plating in their armour liberally. An additional new feature in HFW is that Aloy can collect plants to create dyes that gives her armour a whole new colour scheme.

Aided by HFW’s well developed photo mode, I found myself often stopping to take photos of Aloy in the magnificent sceneries and mucking around with her chuckle-worthy poses and expressions, and her diverse wardrobe of tribal armour.

HFW’s machine designs and animations of the new machines are also top rated, with realistic animal-like movements of awesome and fearsome machines.

I enjoy watching the magnificent machines move in the distance, although that awe is quickly replaced by adrenaline once the battle begins! The machines look even more impressive in the darkness of the night, with their lights and luminescence that can be seen from a long distance away.

The audio engineering of the game also adds to the immersiveness of the game – you can hear the difference in how dialogue and explosions sound in caves, bunkers, open areas and even underwater. I did find it rather strange that Aloy can still speak clearly to herself underwater while wearing a diving mask and giving hints on what to do next.

HFW’s beautiful soundtrack sets the mood well in the game, with strong tribal percussion and soaring vocals that evoke a sense of wonder while Aloy explores the various landscapes of the Forbidden West.

The music also changes depending on the location that Aloy is at, and also increases in intensity in anticipation of a battle. However, I do prefer the soundtrack for the first game, probably because I have spent so much time with it and it evokes so much feeling even when I listen to it outside of the game. 

Almost perfect, but…

HFW isn’t completely flawless though, as I had encountered some pretty serious bugs and glitches. Some are so bad that restarting the game could not fix them. Some bugged quests cannot be completed. Aloy can get stuck on the mountainside and not being able to “fast travel” to another location. She also sometimes falls through the floor while being inside a building.

But what really irked the completist in me are quests that I had completed but it still shows as “uncompleted” on the quest log, despite me trying to redo the quest several times. Even with the release of the recent patches, the problem of the incomplete quest was still unresolved for me.

Another annoyance I encountered are the quest markers in the heads-up display that seem to take a random path and double back to a distant location you have passed even though you are already near the objective.

After being misled into going back and forth on the trail several times, I stopped following the markers and just headed towards the general direction of the objective as shown on the map. This might be an issue in particular for HFW as the map is vast and open with more options to traverse obstacles, so a set path following objective markers does not make sense here. 

With HFW’s dense foliage in certain areas, it’s easy to lose sight of Aloy as well as the path ahead of her since the bushes and trees do not turn transparent between Aloy and the player, unlike other third-person games. This can be a real issue when Aloy is backed into a clump of dense foliage during battle and I cannot see enough to navigate her out from it.   

There were also amusing but distracting visual glitches that show the disembodied heads of Aloy or NPCs floating around without bodies, or birds with two heads during cutscenes. These weren’t terribly annoying since they didn’t really break the game but were still disturbing to see.

TL;DR

HFW is a magnificent game for gamers who love open-world games with plenty to explore and a suspenseful story, as well as an emphatic protagonist who makes the game hard to put down. It has taken what we love from the first game, and added loads more to it – more machines, more weapons, more collectibles and more interesting characters to interact with.

HFW is what fans of the first game have been waiting for, and it fulfils all the yearning after playing the first game. Fans of the original Horizon Zero Dawn must play Horizon Forbidden West, no arguments there.

I strongly recommend playing Horizon Zero Dawn thoroughly first, and even playing it as a refresher before embarking on HFW – you will enjoy it a lot more rather than jumping straight into Forbidden West. 

Although the game contains some violence with respect to killing animated machines, aggressive humans and animals, the strong themes of empathy, friendship, caring for others and cherishing our world are positive messages makes it suitable for teens, new gamers and veteran gamers alike.

With a lot more complexity added in HFW, be prepared for tougher challenges and elaborate puzzles than the previous game. More time and better preparedness are definitely needed in HFW.

The new weapons and machines make for thrilling and epic battles, which offer so much fun and satisfaction. Visually, HFW is a game that will be great to show off on the PS5 if you have one, but it still looks absolutely mesmerising in the original PS4 too. 

HFW is available at the PlayStation Store. Note that there are two versions – one for the PS4 and one for the PS5, with the PS4 version costing S$79.90 and upgradeable digitally to PS5.

The PS5 version straight off the bat costs S$97.90. Technically, you can buy the PS4 version for your PS5 machine if you already have a PS5, perform a digital upgrade, and save yourself S$18.

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