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February 18, 2022
Horizon Zero Dawn was just the introduction to Guerrilla Games’ fascinating world and the unlikely hero who would do everything in her power to save it. The sequel, Horizon Forbidden West, takes everything to an exciting new level with its novel mechanics and riveting lore. Guerrilla Games improves on the last game’s shortcomings and isn’t afraid to borrow popular features from other big-name series, like Uncharted, Mass Effect, and Assassin’s Creed. The result is a game that’s not only fun to play, but full of surprises and wonder. Zero Dawn was a great proof of concept, but Forbidden West shows Guerrilla Games still has plenty of thought-provoking and compelling places to take Aloy’s adventures.
Forbidden West picks up six months after the events of Zero Dawn. Aloy’s discoveries have only brought more questions and dangers her way, forcing her to head west for answers. With a few returning characters and plot tie-ins from the first game, Forbidden West isn’t ideal for newcomers who want to embrace the narrative. Guerrilla’s writers expertly expand upon Horizon’s rich lore and dive into the series’ sci-fi elements, which are the sequel’s most gripping aspects. Some of the most fun I had was piecing together Aloy’s journey, but certain revelations and “ah ha” moments aren’t as satisfying without the full context from the first game. The overall narrative kept me engaged, but certain parts feel rushed, and I was disappointed that villainous characters like Regalla are not given more time to shine.
In the last entry, Aloy’s journey was often solitary, but Forbidden West makes other characters central to her success, which is a nice change of pace. Returning faces like Varl and Erend get to show more of their personalities, and newcomers like the kindhearted Zo and tragic warrior Kotallo have interesting backstories that explain their tribes’ beliefs and values. To make these burgeoning relationships more authentic, Aloy establishes a home base, a la Mass Effect, where she can talk to her companions about new developments in the main quest, learn their thoughts about one another, and get to know them more on a personal level. I loved watching the base populate with new members and seeing new areas open within it. If anything, I wanted more time to hang out with the characters. It was that fun to be around them and listen to their banter.
The world is the star of the show. Forbidden West is a technical marvel, with breathtaking vistas, vibrant underwater corridors, and lush jungles. Every locale has its own flavor; just wait until you see Las Vegas. Traversal has been greatly improved, with smoother climbing mechanics and a new tool called the Shield Wing, which acts almost like a futuristic umbrella to let you descend from great heights. However, the world’s constant sense of discovery really had me glued to my controller. Forbidden West is a much bigger game than its predecessor, featuring an impressive number of quests and items to uncover. The story-focused side quests add so much to the lore that I never wanted to miss one, as they provided great insight into the tribes. One side quest forced me to pick between two imperfect characters vying to lead a tribe, while another had me battling the most vicious combination of machines flying on top of a Sunhawk.
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The side content also allowed me to unlock new locales and dungeons, and this doesn’t even factor in the additional activities like clearing rebel camps, climbing Tallnecks to reveal more of the map, and exploring Cauldrons for new machine overrides. I wasn’t expecting such a dense and vast world, and I always felt like I had something to do. Side quests offer great rewards, making them worth your while – some of my best weapons and armor came from these pursuits. I especially enjoyed revisiting settlements to see how some of the environments and their residents changed due to my actions. And as a nice touch, even more side quests would open regularly.
Battles are still adrenaline-pumping affairs, and the satisfaction of besting monstrous machines never dissipates. You can expect more destructibility and bigger setpieces for fights, and I loved how the variety in the locales, from fighting in close quarters to rocky areas with plenty of places for cover, kept things fresh with new strategies to consider. Forbidden West allows you to embrace your own playstyle, offering many ways to get the upper hand on machines. This has its advantages and disadvantages. I loved the creativity at my disposal, like shooting weapons off machines and using them against the enemy or causing chain reactions with specific elements to cause big explosions. But at the same time, I never felt a growing sense of power that keeps combat interesting over time, and a lot of this comes down to my disappointment in the skill trees.
The abilities you learn via the skill trees feel more like tiny perks than exciting upgrades. For instance, you can unlock the ability to set up traps faster, more potent potions, and extra ranged damage alongside weapon techniques that do anything from guaranteeing a knockdown shot to increased shredder damage. The best addition to the skill trees is Valor Surges, which are special attacks you tactfully unleash. I wish there were more of these abilities to experiment with, because once I unlocked and fully upgraded the radial blast, which triggers a powerful AoE shockwave, I never found another that felt as valuable. Some others include dealing more damage with melee attacks for a limited time and a damage-absorbing energy shield. That being said, the skill trees were so inconsequential to my success that I let my skill points pile upward of 10 without even touching them.
Thankfully, the game is full of worthwhile improvements that make for a better experience, from a cleaner HUD to less inventory management. My favorite enhancements were being able to use Aloy’s focus to see climbing points and her ability to tag specific machine parts in a different color for easier targeting. The latter comes in handy for key upgrade resources, as certain machine components are crucial to upgrade your armor and weapons. Upgrades are a greater time investment as a result, and I grew tired of fighting the same machines repeatedly. As far as performance, I ran into a few minor glitches alongside some poor A.I. pathing and bad checkpoints, but none of these were significant issues that caused me much frustration. I was actually impressed by how smooth the game played considering its size and scope.
Horizon Forbidden West reaches a new high bar for Guerrilla Games. It does more than surpass its predecessor; it takes Horizon’s fiction to captivating places and builds a rich world that rewards you for the effort you put into it. Mostly, it’s an entertaining experience, complete with jaw-dropping moments and unforgettable fights.
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