Horizon Forbidden West Review

Four things I like about this game, and one I don't

Horizon Forbidden West

By Paul Hunter

I've been waiting five long years to play Horizon Forbidden West, the sequel to 2017's outstanding Horizon Zero Dawn, and damn did this game not disappoint. Guerrilla Games is one of Sony's premiere game development studios, known for setting new industry benchmarks for graphics fidelity and immersive storytelling, and Forbidden West certainly continues that trend. Anyone with an interest in action role-playing games, narrative adventures or open world experiences with massive content has got to check out this title.

So what makes Horizon Forbidden West such an impressive game? Let's jump atop our Bristleback and head on west to find out, here are four things I liked about the game...and one I didn't.

Liked: The Breathtaking Graphics

From the underground ruins of Dunehollow (Las Vegas) to the Isle of Spires (San Francisco) to Cliffs of the Cry (Santa Lucia), Horizon Forbidden West is a cutting edge visual feast. Guerrilla has done an incredible job adapting its proprietary Decima engine to PS5 to create a massive game world filled with lush foliage and microscopic details that seamlessly loads across regions.

Aloy's character model has also been greatly enhanced on PS5 with a much large polygon count and she looks incredible. The same goes for other key characters like Varl, Erend and Sylens who all look better than ever. You can especially see the upgrade when watching cutscenes where the character models are photorealistic and move way more naturally thanks to Guerrilla's improved motion capturing. You can really have a lot of fun with the game's pristine graphics and Aloy's stunningly realistic appearance using the game's robust photo mode that lets you pose her in over 50 different ways—everything from heroic poses to chill gestures to hilarious swan dives and canonballs.

Further cementing how impressive the graphics are in this game is the amazing day/night cycle that can turn bright golden plains into scarlet red sun downs and then purple-hued evenings. You can also manually adjust the time of day during photo mode to capture the exact lighting you desire. It's also impressive how many natural wildlife animals Guerrilla stuffed into the game to enhance the realism further, like pigeons, wild boars, squirrels, jays, rabbits, lizards, owls, crabs, lobsters and so many more. There are only a few games out there that can even come close to rivalling Forbidden West's immense beauty such as Sony's own Demon's Souls remake or Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.

Liked: The Machines

Horizon Zero Dawn featured 26 different types of machines and Forbidden West ups that already impressive number to 43. Then when you factor in that most machines have a few different variants, like fire, frost and poison types, you're looking at well over a hundred machines in all to find and fight.

Many of the new machines in Forbidden West are absolute marvels to see in action, like the impressive Slitherfang serpent that acts as a main miniboss, or the new Spinosaurus-like Slaughterspine that's one of the hardest heavyweight machines in the game. There are also some new docile machines like the Grazer and Lancehorn that drill for natural fuel to convert to biofuel and help expand on the machine's lore.

You can hack machines in the game by visiting the maps many Cauldrons to locate their cores containing information on how to override them. Overriding can turn machines to your side and can quickly turn the tide of the battle, plus there are a few Aloy can ride like the new Bristlebacks or the powerful Clawstriders, and even fly on the backs of Sunwings. Machines have always been a impressive part of this series and it's great that Guerrilla added so many huge, new powerful beasts to battle and control.

Liked: The Captivating Story

Horizon Forbidden West begins with a more grounded story for the first few hours, but it quickly expands and escalates into a mesmerizing sci-fi experience. Without getting into spoiler territory, I really enjoyed how the main conflicts ended up being precursors to even larger dangers out in the forbidden west. Plus, the cliffhanger ending begs for a third entry and I'm so here for that.

It's also impressive that the game is fully acted including all the side characters and quests that really helps bring the world to life. Most NPCs offering side missions will chat with you for several minutes to fully explain their plight along with general chitchat detailing who they are and their views on various elements of the forbidden west. In many open world games side missions are mostly checkboxes to tick off, but Forbidden West elevates the importance of these quests with fleshed out NPCs that are interesting to engage with.

Liked: The Side Content

Horizon Forbidden West takes about 30 hours to complete the main story but there's at least another 50 hours of optional content that you can undertake to 100% the game. A lot of that content is super enjoyable too, like hacking all the Tallnecks to clear fog off the map. The tallest machines in the game require thinking out of the box in order to scale their necks and eventually reach and hack their heads. I also had a blast exploring the cauldron dungeons that have their own puzzles to solve and eventually reward you with new machine hack overrides.

Other enjoyable side content include the Gauntlet Runs where you race other humans while riding machines, Relic Ruins that offer puzzles to solve and great rewards, and Rebel Outposts filled with tough enemies to take out and claim their spoils. To help hone your combat and gain skill points you can also participate in Melee Pit battles against fearsome human opponents, or venture to the many different Hunting Grounds to face off against a series of deadly machines. The world of Forbidden West is so enjoyable to immerse yourself in, so it's great that there's so much extra content to keep the experience going for 80 hours plus.

Didn't Like: Gameplay is a Bit Clumsy

As amazing as Forbidden West is, the one area I feel could use improvement is the gameplay. I find controlling Aloy to be a bit finicky and the cumbersome weapon wheel can take away from the combat's fluidity. Plus, you often need to craft new arrows or traps mid battle, further increasing the need to flip through menus when all I wanted was to get back into the action. There are also a ridiculous amount of skill tree unlocks, a good chunk of them you'll rarely use in battle or even care to use at all. The gameplay overall is serviceable and can get quite fun at times, I just wish there were faster, more efficient ways to swap weapons and your arrow capacity is too small. Small tweaks would really do wonders to improving the gameplay.

The Verdict

Horizon Forbidden West is an incredible experience that PS5 and PS4 owners shouldn't miss. The graphics are stunning, the story is engaging, the machines are awesome, and the end game content is vast. If the gameplay was a bit faster and more fluid this game would have gotten a perfect score. Minor gameplay annoyances aside, this is a clear Game of the Year contender that absolutely deserves to be part of your PlayStation game catalogue.

Final Score: 9.5/10 - Amazing

Horizon Forbidden West details

Platform: PS5, PS4
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Action role-playing
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

A key was provided by the publisher.