Horizon Forbidden West Review

Dan Webb

When Horizon Zero Dawn dropped in 2017, it was easy to look at the game and go, “heh, cool, they’ve replaced animals with machines, that’s a neat idea.” And yes, you'd be right, it was a neat idea. But beneath the shiny veneer and mechanical animals, lay an extremely smart open-world action-adventure title, one that was as gripping as it was entertaining to play from start to finish. Following that up was always going to be tricky, right? It’s that infamous tricky second album - if you nail it, it'll be talked about for eons, a la Mass Effect 2. Fumble, and you’ll end up with something like Homefront: The Revolution. Thankfully, Horizon Forbidden West has more in common with Mass Effect's first sequel than Homefront's dodgy follow-up, and that couldn’t make us any happier.

This one's going right in your eye!

Taking place after the events of Zero Dawn, Forbidden West tracks flame-haired protagonist Aloy’s adventure into the unknown, as she attempts to restore parity to the new world. In her quest west, Aloy meets friends, both new and old, but more importantly, visits a brand-new world (at least it is to her, anyway) and combined with some absolutely epic set-pieces and a suitably epic accompanying score, Horizon Forbidden West is a game that creates so many memorable moments. Far more than the original title did.

Seeing a fresh side of Aloy develop, seeing her forge new relationships in a different kind of adventure really suits the franchise and takes it in a welcome new direction. For the better, of course. No longer are you one woman trying to save the world. You’re now one woman with an inner circle of companions… trying to save the world. The whole game is so beautifully written and the world so incredibly spun - Aloy forges relationships with minor characters during her journey, some side-quests taking you off on narratives that stretch across the entire west coast. Whether that’s returning favourites popping up for a cameo, or brand-new relationships, just seeing the growth of a relationship with a relatively minor acquaintance is an absolute breath of fresh air. The game and its world offers so much more than a simple A to B narrative. Its complexity can be staggering at times. In all, the emotion, the characters, the relationships, and Forbidden West's diverse world, all combine to create a remarkably special sandbox.

Developer Guerrilla Games has most certainly worked some magic in making Horizon Forbidden West one of the most visually stunning open-world games I’ve ever played. That’s in some part thanks to the magic of the Decima engine, which is frankly astounding, the game’s animations and facial mo-cap proving hugely impressive throughout. You can literally see and feel the emotion on the faces of the characters and the plight they’re going through, which amps up the experience considerably. With that, comes a slight problem, however, and that’s due to the characters looking so goddamn incredible - when they do something slightly weird, something unnatural, like looking in the wrong direction, it’s can be a case of the uncanny valley. There are definitely some eye issues as animations transition into one another. Guerrilla is most certainly the victim of its own success there.

The true star of Horizon Forbidden West is the astonishing environment itself. While Zero Dawn’s world was a spectacle in its own right, Forbidden West is an altogether different proposition. Granted, the sheer diversity in biomes is seriously impressive on its own, but it’s the remnants of the Old World that are littered throughout that really bring the world, its history, and its mystery to life. There are a couple of major areas, in particular, that are truly mind-blowing – one of those being the cover star, San Francisco; and the other is better seen with your own eyes and not spoiled by me here. What truly elevates the west, as it's recreated in-game, is most certainly the underwater world that Guerrilla has hand-crafted. With Old World ruins and secrets galore lurking beneath the surface, the attention to detail in these environments – which can be easy to miss – brings with it a completely fresh new atmosphere to the world and is a truly fantastic addition to the franchise. The verticality of San Francisco ain’t bad either!

The general goal of a sequel is to take the original foundations, the juice that made the original so great, and then build a frickin’ skyscraper on top it. Everything you might have had an issue with in the original has been given the due care and attention you'd expect, for the most part. There are more weapons of various styles to use, more mounts to ride, more outfits, special abilities to unlock and use, a 'Valor' system that acts like an overdrive meter, brand new skill trees, more machine types to take down, and the open-world is teeming with interesting activities. Vantage Points have now become Vista points, for instance, involving actual puzzles; while Ruins have become much more than loot caves to be picked through. Everything has been refined and put under the microscope.

Perhaps more importantly, it seems like Guerrilla has paid close attention to the game’s climbing mechanics, too, which are vastly improved over Horizon Zero Dawn, albeit a little arbitrary at times. Not everything has been given the sequel treatment, though, as the mount control and physics are still a pain in the ass – especially more so now that there are machine racing gauntlets to take part in. Perhaps the most significant gameplay addition is the glider, which you get fairly early on in the game – once you have it, the glider adds a completely new dimension to your traversal across the open-world. There’s also one really cool new addition that we’d rather not spoil – one that comes a little too late in the game for our liking. That said, Aloy still could really do with a torch or lantern, but still, but despite a few little gripes, Horizon Forbidden West is the perfect example of how to tackle a sequel.

Charging on a Charger.

Where Forbidden Wilds is ever so slightly let down is with a few technical issues that mar the experience at times. Even with the day one patch applied, the game suffers ever so slightly from the odd case of object-pop-in and texture pop-in. And while that’s not a massive issue, it can take the sheen off what is otherwise worthy of being described as a digital painting. On top of that, there are a couple of other bugs that can be annoying, too, like the black screen blink bug (where a black screen randomly pops-up every so often); and a weird camera glitch that locks you into an unplayable view for a few seconds – which can be highly annoying if you’re in the midst of battle. But considering I’ve put in well over 70 hours, and these are literally the only complaints I've had, the game emerges as an impressive testament to what a really talented team of developers can achieve. It’s genuinely the bar for open-world games to aspire to, despite the odd bug here and there.

The truth is, it actually blows my mind a little, that the studio that made the monochromatic and emotionless Killzone franchise, can produce a game so full of life, personality, emotion, and colour. Not that Killzone was a bad game, of course, but, for me, it never really had the same appeal as Horizon. There’s no doubt about it, Horizon Forbidden West is the very definition of a killer app, a game that everyone must play, a game that sums up Sony’s commitment to incredible first-party experiences over the past decade. Horizon Forbidden West is an unforgettable next-gen experience on PS5, and one that is most certainly worth buying a console for.

Horizon Forbidden West

Horizon Forbidden West is the perfect sequel to Zero Dawn, taking the original's formula, and fleshing it out in every conceivable way. With a stunning open-world and incredible score to complement outstanding acting and set-pieces, it truly is a masterpiece, boasting moments you’ll remember forever.

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Horizon Forbidden West is an absolutely sublime auditory experience. From the incredible and soulful performance by Ashly Burch as Aloy, to the truly iconic score. This one’s a doozy, folks.


Yes, Horizon Forbidden West is the most beautiful open-world game that exists on next-gen (and looks and handles great on last-gen too), but it is marred ever so slightly by a few tech issues.


Not any massive monumental changes when it comes to gameplay, but Zero Dawn nailed it there to be fair. New weapons, abilities, the Valor system, and a frickin’ glider are excellent additions.


With one of the most diverse open-worlds in the history of video games, you’re never short of engaging and excellent adventures to embark upon in Horizon Forbidden West. It’s a sandbox of pure joy.


An excellent list from Guerrilla, that push players to all corners of the forbidden west to sample all of the game’s delights. Nothing too taxing, but not quite a pushover either. Balance is everything here.

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