Horizon Forbidden West is not a game that is attempting to reinvent the wheel, it is simply trying to shine it up and smooth it out for a more enjoyable overall experience. Where Aloy’s first adventure could have been considered one of discovery, in regards to both herself and the world around her, Forbidden West tells the tale of her self-realization and journey for global salvation. Guerrilla Games has managed to create a sequel that takes multiple steps forward and one very large step backwards.
The visuals in the game are something that has to be witnessed firsthand in order to be truly appreciated. Even the most hardened of skeptics will have a difficult time denying how stop in your tracks gorgeous the world can be when they take that first step into a shallow stream and watch the water ripple almost naturally in every direction or as they are momentarily blinded by the spot of sunlight breaking through a line of trees. From the impressive draw distances to the way that the natural environments are perfectly married to the metallic sheen of a robotic terror, Forbidden West is a top tier visual delight.
That’s not to say there are not issues. As early as the games intro cut scene there were occurrences of texture and asset pop in that seemed to be pushing even the PS5 hardware to its limits and can be a bit jarring. It’s not enough to warrant extended complaining but it is enough to create pockets of broken immersion. My biggest complaint graphically might just be that of Aloy’s hair which seems to have taken on the traits of the worlds robotic creatures and seemingly moves on its own frequency. When you come to your first instance of rappelling in the world, you will know exactly what I mean.
Graphical bugs are pretty forgivable but the game seems to have a memory leak issue that has caused some players to be hit with severe slowdown. Personally this only happened once to me and a restart of the game fixed the issue but gamers should be aware of the possibility.
From a mechanical stand point, particularly when it comes to combat, there hasn’t been too much done to change up the formula. You will still be able to utilize the same variety of melee attacks, silent takedowns, trap items or the ranged attacks with aiming slowdown that you have grown accustomed to. The game even does a nice job of bringing in the character of Varl at the beginning to allow for a storyline reason to be redoing a tutorial without the cliché of stripping away all of the characters abilities in order for them to be relearned for new players.
There are extended skill trees however, so that as you level and complete missions you can use points to specialize in the things that you like. None of them are particularly game changing but if you prefer to stealth around the battlefield and take down enemies while remaining hidden, then invest in the infiltrator tree and add some additional damage to those silent strikes. There is a nice bit of freedom in this customization but as many of the abilities are just percentage increases and with so many skill points available to be gained, it really feels like you are just prioritizing what you specialize in first.
Let’s talk about the main questline for a bit. It is overall just fine, good even, but it is the big step backwards I was alluding to earlier. The problem being that Zero Dawn had a story that was complimented by the feeling of wonderment. The player was driven by curiosity about how this world that seemed to be post apocalyptic with new growth and mechanical dinosaurs everywhere came to be. Once that mystery was solved however, it could not be replicated. It’s kind of like how revisiting Rapture in Bioshock 2 didn’t fill you with the same level of awe as that first time submerging.
There is an attempt made to try and create a new sense of discovery as Aloy works towards reviving Gaia while combating a new unknown faction and while it is all interesting enough, it just doesn’t live up. Personally, some of the story beats were even a bit disappointing and you will know them when they are staring you face to face.
The reason that all of this is forgivable is the same reason that I could not stop thinking about playing Forbidden West even when I was far from my console and that is the world itself. For as disappointed as I was in the main quest line, the side missions more than made up for it. Whenever one of the green exclamation marks was available, it meant a well written and voiced quest was ready to take me on a journey. If the main story told me that there were Bristlebacks overrunning a valley then I could anticipate a side mission diving me deeper into why they were there and how that happened. These might just be the best side missions in an open world available next to the Witcher 3 and when properly mixed with the progression of the main quest line will balance pacing out perfectly.
While I could have done with a bit less world interaction, grabbing every loose branch to make arrows or berries I came across for medical purposes for example became a bit tedious, the variety of actual activities was fantastic. One minute I could be working my way up a Tallneck which serves as a climbing puzzle in order to reveal more of the surrounding map and the next infiltrating a bandit camp with the sole objective of elimination every last enemy. There usually wasn’t much of a surprise on what would be required to hunt down a relic or solve a vista but the how would be up to you and that variety always kept me engaged and looking towards the next point of interest.
It the main quest line leaves you a bit disappointed, know that almost ninety percent of your time spent in Forbidden West will be exploring the world and that will absolutely leave a smile on your face.
As previously stated, Horizon Forbidden West doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel; it simply wants to provide the player with a fun and exciting journey through its visually impressive world. With a ton of interesting content if you are the kind of person who likes to veer off the beaten path, this is absolutely an adventure worth diving into.