So here we are at the review of Horizon Forbidden West, in which Guerrilla Games tries to amaze the world with an adventure all about combat, exploring and quests. Yeah, here it’s this hard, at least that’s what they used to say, so Aloy gladly plays along. But everything is not perfect, never is, particularly during the introductory hours, but that was also a bit of our fault in this case…
We no longer trust open worlds, and we tend to be more guarded and distrustful when we choose one. In recent years, developers have gone hard at it reiterating game structures, placing more and more effort into creating stunning worlds and less and less into filling them with exciting things to do.
Far too many times, we have stood in awe before these beautiful valleys, lush scenery done partly by hand and partly automatically, promised ourselves millions of hours of pure dedication and cascades of trophies to the most coveted platinum, only to quit after five days and not even halfway through, once again betrayed by the superficial beauty of yet another interactive Eden where you can do everything, but ultimately never really do anything.
Any different from the usual?
Even we didn’t trust Horizon Forbidden West that much. Guerrilla’s game is the latest in the long line of open worlds with which PlayStation Studios has primarily marked the PlayStation 4’s lifecycle, securities with extraordinary production values but to be played increasingly dangerously similar to each other.
We cannot deny that when we bent down to pick up the first medical shrub, ducked into the tall grass for the first time, caught the first drone on the fly and, holding on to our hats, climbed the first tower to grab its exclusive treasure at the top, so we feared the worst.
It did not help the running introduction to the character and plot with which Guerrilla chose to open this sequel, the first minutes edited with a hatchet, Zero Dawn’s disastrous recap of events and characters.
After ten hours of gameplay, you may wrongly think you have a clear idea of what Forbidden West will offer until the credits roll. But the longer you go, Horizon Forbidden West grows exponentially.
Bursting with love
Horizon Forbidden West’s first area, your usual nursery for budding adventurers, is a stunning red herring. Continuing in the adventure, even you don’t realize how much the game begins to captivate; in fact, those psychological defenses we told you about are very slowly lowered until, in the inevitable moment when real-life calls to its duties, you find that you have no desire to turn off the TV and divest yourself of the shoes of the huntress Aloy.
The credit goes not only to the outstanding graphics, which everyone expected and scared; it is not only to the glorious battles against an even richer and more impressive biomechanical bestiary. Above all, where the game shines is in the quality of the quests, and it’s in them that you’ll probably find the same motivation to play that overwhelmed us first.
Quests are in charge!
All open worlds are not the same, and get this through your head: it is not a genre, but the stage where the artist performs, the set for the adventure. Forbidden West’s open-world seems all built around quests, which usually is an approach you would expect more from a full-fledged role-playing game and not from a hybrid that favors action over words.
But that is just one aspect that makes Horizon Forbidden West the best an action game can afford before it becomes a full-fledged RPG. Before continuing, would you like a little anecdote that makes you realize how badly the last five years of the open-world have accustomed us?
During Forbidden West’s first few side quests, whenever we got to the first step of the quest, we thought it was also the last one; in other words, it had ended there in the usual dreary mishap. Instead.
Tales from the frontier
And instead, the adventures offered by Forbidden West often go on and on and on, pulling you to the top of a mountain and then launching you into the depths of a flooded cavern whose currents carry you to the gates of a rusty titan.
By taking your time and enthusiasm, some of the quests easily reach an hour in duration. The appeal of this game’s side quests starts even earlier, from the people who offer them to you. They are predominantly frontier stories but very personal, with faces, unique voices and animations characterizing each step of the story.
Diverse stories lead to various adventures that do not need to recycle ideas to make content because they are content themselves. That’s what, with due differences, happened in games of the past where there were main quests, secondary quests, and then side quests. Somebody figured out they could pass off the latter as a side quest, and the fluff swamped us. That is not the case with Forbidden West.
Aloy’s new adventure always presents a solid background, along with several passages that give body and variety to the tasks. That is undoubtedly the greatest achievement of Horizon Forbidden West.
Furthermore, those adventures are not simply placed there; they harmoniously coexist with the map by remaining consistent in all their branches. A rock face landslide can have unexpected effects. At the same time, quest after quest can witness the evolution of characters or entire villages.
Just where Horizon Forbidden West slips is in any type of climbing: climbing on natural walls and climbing between man-made platforms. It’s undoubtedly improved over the basic one in the first game, but the fix introduced in this sequel seems more like a way to hide a problem instead of solving it.
You can now climb a huge number of objects and rocks. Of course, you’re almost free to climb mountains anywhere except when suddenly you can’t do it anymore. One minute you’re allowed to leap to the top of a steep hill, the next thing you know, Aloy can’t grab the last and final ledge a meter away.
It is a mix of technical inaccuracy, involving even ordinary ladders in rare cases, and game-design side indecision because doing a free system would have broken other balances. In addition, scaling mountains as we have been doing for too long is a big pain in the ass: it doesn’t require anything, tactics or otherwise; there is only waiting for you to get to the top with very little satisfaction.
Armed to the teeth
Gun in hand, the Horizon Forbidden West is sublime but not complex, thus remaining that simplicity of the first game in which different layers of depth have been added. New types of weapons are present, and melee is dedicated to one of five skill trees in the game, via which we can also unlock unique powers to be activated as needed during combat.
Although it looks like it, the Horizon is not a role-playing game, you cannot build your character from scratch, so it is important to understand and accept that Aloy fights mainly in the medium and long-range. Melee options are mainly for use against humans, which we will now encounter outside their ever-present forts.
The stealth has also been improved, as has the AI of the enemies, which, however, remains deliberately permissive, naïve enough not to steal the thunder from the absolute protagonist, the iconic and heroic Aloy.
Some difficulty in command
A lot will change, naturally, based on the difficulty level chosen. This can be calibrated to suit our needs thanks to many options also designed to offer the highest possible accessibility. If you wish to enjoy the game to the fullest of those offered, the advice is to start at a somewhat higher difficulty level.
You can, of course, enjoy Horizon Forbidden West as you see fit. Still, on the hard level, everything comes together. It all makes sense, and a very well-calibrated progression emerges. Of course, the fights will be more challenging, but side quests and their rewards, both in experience points and rare equipment, also bridge the large gap with the enemies.
You are forced to get a good understanding of how each weapon works, exploit every trap or unevenness of the terrain available to you, and put your head and your fingers on the pad, just in short. If you’re in trouble, you want better equipment, but you still have to take the rarest pieces from each beast in fascinating hunting parties to get it.
Like in the first chapter, you can, by taking them by surprise and after stealing their schematics from the cauldrons/dungeons, subdue the creatures electronically to ride them, if you can, or throw them at nearby enemies.
Every creature comprises different parts, some susceptible to certain elemental attacks and others weaker against impact damage; still, others can be made to explode, causing extensive damage to the beast under target and those in the surroundings.
The battle approach changes according to our preferences, the parts we would like to retrieve, and the gear at hand. In addition, much care has been taken to let players know how the battles are going, with larger, stout creatures wobbling in fatigue, taking their distance if in trouble or trying everything with deadly attacks before finally tearing themselves apart on the ground.
There are new threats
The backbone of Horizon Forbidden West is a plot that further expands the events narrated in the first game while adding a couple of decidedly effective twists. However, just what limits its appeal is the need to explain everything in detail, something that may please some but leaves very little room for imagination.
Were it not for the beauty of the main quests, characters one encounters, the new mechanics that are unlocked, and especially surprising settings that we have no intention of telling you anything about, we would have gladly continued to immerse ourselves in the everyday life of the tribes of this Forbidden West, with their odd customs and compelling needs, rather than committing ourselves to complete the adventure.
The more he explains and recounts the origins of his world, Horizon Forbidden West damages itself, losing the mystery that would have made it all the more interesting. Thankfully, a good part of the plot of this sequel dwells on the future of humanity and a surprising new threat.
As you might have noticed, we’ve tried to keep any kind of spoilers to a minimum; a world such as this is best enjoyed firsthand since part of its strength is in that initial amazement that will emerge with each new glimpse, each new gameplay surprise that you might not have expected.
The Horizon Forbidden West is a great adventure to be challenged straight to the point or centered on a mission after mission (after the credits roll, you can continue playing on the same save without any problems).
The Horizon Forbidden West is also so enjoyable to play thanks to an Aloy who is always prodigal with good advice: she verbally informs you if there is no hope of opening the door in front of us because we don’t yet possess the right tool, as well as that there is nothing left to collect nearby, eliminating downtime.
And then, of course, there are the graphics, which are impressive in the PlayStation 5 version but not to be underestimated in the past generation, in which Guerrilla cut the resolution and effects to try to keep 30 fps as much as possible. However, miracles do not exist, and the dear old PS4 Pro has a tremendous struggle to handle such scenarios.
On the PS5, you can choose, as is often the case, between performance and quality: at first, however, we preferred the higher resolution, and after the patch that fixed the frame pacing and that you will find already available at the launch, we went to 60 fps without going back.
On the style chosen instead, we can make some notes. Aloy is beautiful, deliberately more natural and believable, equipped with imperfections and less charming expressions than we would expect from the typical video game character. However, though increasingly human, virtual Aloy stands out in the world of Horizon thanks to a long line of armor that still gives her superheroic traits.
When you remove the armor but maintain the realism of the features, you can happen to slip dangerously into an episode of classic Star Trek, where aliens have bangs and are dressed in wicker. And that’s the effect of certain tribes in the game that would have deserved more effort from the costume designers, who did great things with other peoples and characters.
Even though Horizon does not use physics for gameplay and exploration, it nevertheless makes its presence felt in battles with the larger creatures, which can wipe out even quite large structures with their murderous charges.
This effect is persuasive, almost comparable to what happens in the unforgettable Battlefield: Bad Company, as rocks and boulders realistically explode, collapsing the rest of the structure in perfect symphony and with ominous grandeur.
When that happens, it’s usually also one of the few occasions you will see the framerate suffer on PS5. A small parenthesis then about the inclusion of the fun Batosta Meccanica, an old-time minigame that offers a kind of chess challenge in which the strategy and the set of pawns used will have to change depending on the game plan and the opponent’s formation.
Batosta Meccanica is not up to the standards of the inimitable Gwent from The Witcher 3. Still, it stands up quite well and is fun to go looking around for new pieces that would allow us to beat the opponent on duty.
Music of the forbidden west
So what is left to say? Of course, we can’t say goodbye without saying a few words about the outstanding soundtrack composed by the same Joris de Man, Niels Van De Leest, and duo The Flight, who worked on the first game and were joined by composer Oleksa Lozowchuk.
Altogether, they assembled a rich selection of songs capable of orchestrating many different emotions, every composition in its way. It would not have been as exciting to play Horizon Forbidden West without the work of these talented professionals.
What’s next? Some bugs and inaccuracies in the graphics engine are responsible for the sudden appearance of map elements that, for some strange reason, don’t load in time. That strange habit of characters’ eyes rotating and pointing annoyingly wrong during less important dialogues.
A world that is more alive than ever
What remains is a frame only in the review. Still, an integral part of the great game Guerrilla has managed to develop: the enormous storms that envelop and warp the clouds, children running among the suspended walkways of the great cities, the starry mantle on the most vibrant nights, the finishing shot fired by the most precious bow that knocks out a steel giant in full charge, the glowing caves to explore far and wide, the anything-but-obvious puzzles, and the hunting trophies snatched without wasting an arrow.
This is only a filthy handful of the unforgettable moments of a long, long adventure, able to last as long as a hundred hours but all of it, in which even the “fillers” have a reason. Then there are so many souls inside Forbidden West, Bioware scents, and JRPG atmospheres that it is impossible not to find a point of contact between the game and one’s tastes.
Horizon Forbidden West Score: 9.2
The Horizon Forbidden West learns from past mistakes, pushing to the extreme an open-world idea that, without courage, would have ended up looking dangerously like so many other games with a similar structure. With its undisputed qualities, stunning game world, and a fast-paced, visual combat system, the Sony’s exclusive manages to hide its more classic and somewhat threadbare sides under a barrage of excellent choices and a constant sense of wonder that accompanies the player from the beginning of the adventure to its explosive finale.
- Graphically outstanding
- Amazing side missions
- Lots of quality content
- Imperfect climbing system
- Slightly slow start to the adventure