Geek Review: Horizon Forbidden West

Geek Review: Horizon Forbidden West

Sequels are never guaranteed hits in the video game world – in fact, they carry the baggage of having to cater to different audiences with opposing levels of expectations. On the one hand, developers need to build a game accessible enough to bring in new audiences, but they also need to consider the core audience who supported the original game and are looking for something bigger and better. Thus, studios need to make sure that returning players have every reason to do so, by improving on what they love and innovating new features and for Guerrilla Games, that was the test facing Horizon Forbidden West, and it is one the action RPG passes with stellar, flying colours.

The sequel continues to build on the narrative that began with the end of conventional life on Earth, with a cataclysm known as the Faro Plague ending mankind’s stranglehold on the planet. Having seen life ended by rogue machines, it was up to GAIA, the most powerful and advanced artificial intelligence to successfully restore life.

It did so with various subordinate AI functions, repairing the atmosphere, cleaning the waters, and to a certain degree, regenerating the flora and fauna of Earth, using machine animals to get the work done. However, the failsafe protocol that was the subordinate function Hades went rogue, threatening to end life once more. It was up to Aloy, a clone of GAIA’s creator Dr. Elisabeth Sobeck, to save the day.

Familiar faces return in Horizon Forbidden West

And save the day she did, before going up against Hephaestus, the function that created the machines in the Frozen Wilds DLC. Despite stopping annihilation, the rogue AI had escaped, but Earth was still under threat. 

Picking things up six months after the events of 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn, we are once again joining Aloy in her quest to save the world. Along her journey to the majestic, dangerous, and unknown frontier, players will be confronted with new discoveries, impressive scenery, meet more interesting people, and come face to face with amazing machines.  

Players will recognise the robust foundation built by the first game. Still, Horizon Forbidden West expands upon everything else and delivers an experience that has made significant strides in almost every area. 

The writing has never been better, allowing an already intriguing sci-fi narrative to go even further while still maintaining its links to the past, and suffice to say, Aloy’s adventures in the sequel will go places that are both surprising and unexpected, and more importantly, it all makes sense in this universe that Guerrilla Games has created. 

Without going into spoilers, the main narrative thread is already an engrossing one, with Aloy again faced with the daunting task of preventing the Earth’s extinction. Between the unstoppable blight, vicious storms, and more fearsome machines roaming the lands, it will be up to Aloy and her allies to bring everyone together and overcome the challenges of man, machine, and artificial intelligence.

That said, Guerrilla has also masterfully applied that level of quality to almost every side activity in the game. While getting rewards is always gratifying, there has not been a game quite like this that warrants players going off the beaten path with regularity without feeling like unnecessary filler. It does not matter whether you are starting fresh or a storied historian; there are always tantalising tidbits here and there to drive you to the next attainable goal.

And it is all brought together by characters both big and small that help immerses players into Horizon Forbidden West, together with writing that informs, educates, and hooks you in for that high of just one more adventure at the next turn.

Aloy’s personal perspective as an outcast saviour will undergo a wonderful transformation as the game progresses, helping her evolve into not just a more likeable character, but also someone who learns to trust in others and cooperate for the greater good. If you have ever felt the unpleasant tinge of imposter syndrome, you will be able to relate to her fears, worries, and eventually, growth.

Tallnecks are back in Horizon Forbidden West

Joined by already familiar faces like Erend and Varl, the journey will establish new connections and strengthen old ones, with even more time for fan favourites to shine alongside the other standout additions, including Angela Bassett’s Regalla and Noshir Dalal’s Kotallo. 

The various new tribes are all interesting to learn about and live among, with the Tenakth being an exceptional and well-developed society of tribes, coming together under the teachings of an ancient war museum. Then we have the Utaru, a more peaceful loving people that exudes a sense of zen and being one with the world, all settling within their rightful place in Horizon Forbidden West. These are all characters that feel eminently at home, adding another layer of immersion to an already spectacular world.

It also helps that the technology involved has been elevated, with facial and motion capture doing plenty to add to that magic on-screen. With the PlayStation 5, higher detailed textures and models are constantly on show, together with some truly breathtaking lighting to bring everything to life. Although there appear to be some hilarious issues with eye-tracking while conversations are taking place, everything else tends to be pristine in its presentation. 

The even bigger playground in which Aloy will travel throughout the entirety of Horizon Forbidden West is diverse and striking, creating biomes that are unique when it comes to environments, flora, fauna, and of course the threats that await. The initial areas are more familiar territory, with rolling plains and lush jungles, but it won’t take too long before the game opens up to vast deserts, snowy mountains, and the remnants of civilization. 

Adding in substantial underwater sequences in the story spices things up quite nicely, although outside of it, swimming is usually not that fun of an affair, especially with Aloy feeling kind of sluggish in the water. It can slow things down significantly and was not as fleshed out as hoped. But whenever there are threats underwater, it ups the tension quite nicely and is home to some of the welcomed but rare stealth sections.

Speaking of threats, there is no Horizon Forbidden West without an array of intricately designed machines that are ready to put players through their paces. Be it land, air, or sea, there is no taking away from that feeling of awe when coming face to face with one.

The sequel brings back many of the machines from the first game, but also adds to the variety with some truly magnificent new additions like the Tremortusk, the reptilian Slitherfang, the commanding Dreadwing, and a few surprises that are left better experienced on your own.

Taking them down remains an immensely satisfying gameplay loop that drives most of the meaningful progression in Horizon Forbidden West, and Guerrilla has not only created dangerous opponents that are challenging and exciting to take on, but increased the strategic depth involved with new tools at your disposal as well.

There are six skills trees in Horizon Forbidden West

Aloy can draw from her trusty arsenal of bows, tripcasters, blastslings and more, including the almighty spike throwers that can deal a lot of damage, to handle these imposing foes. Switching from one to the other, taking advantage of elements and weaknesses, every fight is always engaging to a certain degree. While it is already an achievement taking down some of the bigger machines in the world, the real meat lies in tearing off valuable components that can be useful in many ways.

This could be a heavy weapon that can be used to turn the tables, or rare materials that can be used to craft new items or upgrades for your favourite weapons or armour. The refined Focus mechanic now recognises enemy weaknesses much more effectively and cleanly and allows you to hone in on what you want to target and lets you loose. 

Furthermore, Aloy can count on brand new skill trees to augment her combat prowess, with trees dedicated to melee combat, ranged combat, traps, survival, stealth, and machine mastery. With different passive and active skills to really drill down on how you want to approach the dangers, Horizon Forbidden West caters to different playstyles quite well, although it is always better to have a main style complemented by others for all situations. 

While ranged and trap combat has always been the star, the melee combat in Horizon Forbidden West deserves special praise for adding to Aloy’s repertoire of moves. The new combos are fun to execute and help our heroine become a much more well-rounded fighter that can mix it up. This is especially useful when coming up against human opponents, which definitely pales in comparison to fighting the machines. This sub-par human combat also affects one of the more climatic battles against an important character, which does rob the scene of much-needed impact.

Should things get too hairy, Aloy can unleash a selection of Valor Surges, which utilises a meter that gets filled up by pulling off specific combat moves. These powerful abilities can be a lifesaver when used at the right time, such as providing a special shield that absorbs damage, an area-of-effect blast that is effective against machines, or potent, ranged attacks that can instantly kill any machine in the right situation. 

By combining a robust combat system that involves all disciplines to great effect, with skill trees and abilities that provide tangible benefits both in action and passively, Horizon Forbidden West has rightfully focused the spotlight on the combat, and it continues to shine like the gleaming jewel it has always been, but even better this time around.

The Tremortusk in Horizon Forbidden West

As for the rest of the game outside of combat, things have been improved in all kinds of areas. Aloy is much more adept at navigating the environment, creating new paths that add more verticality on land as well as on sea, just do not expect to be able to climb every single surface here. Some light puzzle platforming elements also change things up once in a while, and all in all, that means more Tallnecks to climb, Drones to recover, and plenty more collectables that are not just more diversions to occupy yourself with, but also add flavour to the proceedings. 

Conversations with the different characters uncover dialogue trees, and there are even choices that can be made to portray Aloy as you want her to be. The increased characterisation of Aloy is more obvious, and her relationships with her band of allies become a source of strength more and more, drawing players into the conflict with every passing second.

There are hunting grounds to clear, and the game’s new arena is definitely a stop not to be missed if you truly want to show off your mastery of the combat in Horizon Forbidden West. Throwing different groups at enemies at you, under various conditions, and only the strong and discerning can survive the hardest challenges. There is even an online leaderboard to back up your claims, not to mention the outstanding gear up for grabs. 

A new world awaits in Horizon Forbidden West

Do not miss out on the Gauntlet Races either, who knew racing Chargers around the world with power-ups like special arrows and a Blaze boost could be so fun and delightful? But that is obviously not all.

The side content in Horizon Forbidden West is staggering in number and scope, and while none of it seems essential, engaging in them just allows you to become more familiar with the world, the people, and the many systems at play in the game. 

You will become stronger, smarter, and more attached to everything you see, even if the fundamental gameplay does not deviate too far from fighting, collecting items, or doing the odd investigative work. This is a testament to the excellence of Guerrilla that nothing feels forced or tacked on, but rather an extension of what players will end up loving to do.

Regalla in Horizon Forbidden West

Having set a high bar for itself in certain aspects of the game, there are unfortunately some issues that dogged Horizon Forbidden West during our 70-odd hours (and counting) spent. Even with the power of the PS5, there were slight hitches in loading when travelling around an admittedly larger world, and draw distances can get wonky at times.

The aforementioned eye-tracking issues seem to happen quite often, with characters not always looking involved in conversations, while there were instances when the models became invisible. Fighting the human enemies was always going to be less entertaining than the machines, but it adds more frustrations when they clip into the environment and prevent the completion of objectives. 

Aloy herself is not immune, getting locked in animations when picking up loot or dropping off heights, while it is nice to see her being able to climb more stuff, it will take some getting used to her feeling a little more cumbersome than one would expect.

Granted, Guerrilla has already identified some of these issues and they will be fixed with the Day One patch at launch, but it is important to keep that in mind when jumping into the game for the first time.

With its added scale, the refinement of everything good about the first game, while adding in new features of its own, Horizon Forbidden West can be forgiven for the odd mishap here and there, which, while annoying, matters little when there is just so much more entertainment to be had. 

Horizon Forbidden West occupies a unique position, straddling between two generations as an exclusive that is both meant as a continuation of something great and a showcase of what this generation is capable of. The game represents not just what the power of the PlayStation 5 can do, but also the craft and expertise of the first-party studios that are part of this console ecosystem. 

As the first major PS5 first-party release of 2022, there is no doubt that this is the latest gem in Sony’s collection of resplendent exclusives, delivering gameplay, graphics, and storytelling of the highest order. Just like Aloy, it would seem we are just on the cusp of another level of evolution for Guerilla Games, and with a third game inevitably in the pipeline, this can only mean greater things to come.

Horizon Forbidden West will launch this coming 18 February.



Polishing an already glittering diamond to shine even brighter, Guerrilla Games has done a spectacular job with Horizon Forbidden West, delivering an adventure that is bigger, better, and more entertaining on all levels, and a must-play title for all in the PlayStation ecosystem.

  • Gameplay - 9.5/10
  • Story - 10/10
  • Presentation - 9.5/10
  • Value - 10/10