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Horizon Forbidden West review: An almost perfect sequel

Horizon Forbidden West is a pleasing return to the mechanical wilds and beyond

Horizon Forbidden West review: An almost perfect sequel
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Guerilla Games/ Sony)

Laptop Mag Verdict

Horizon Forbidden West picks up where the original left off with tons of action and plenty of new machines and humans to battle.

Pros

  • +

    Beautiful, expansive open world

  • +

    Highly customizable gameplay

  • +

    Compelling story and lore

  • +

    Improved climbing mechanics

Cons

  • -

    Weapons and skill trees can be overwhelming

When Horizon Zero Dawn debuted five years ago, the game ushered in the launch of the PlayStation 4 Pro and console 4K gaming. Horizon Forbidden West’s arrival on February 18 is no less auspicious. While it’s not ushering in a new console iteration, it does signal the start of more AAA titles from Sony. As per usual, developer Guerilla Games did not shirk away from the challenge as Forbidden West offers an expansive third-person, action-adventure open world romp that is beautiful and deadly. Players once again pick up the spear, bow and arrows of Aloy, the Nora outcast turned savior as she fights to save the world. Horizon Forbidden West easily fits into our best PS5 games ranking.

Horizon Forbidden West story

Horizon Forbidden West picks up not long after the events of Zero Dawn wraps up. Aloy, now known as the “Savior of Meridian” after her victory over HADES, a subordinate function of the terraforming artificial intelligence GAIA, is on the hunt for something vitally important –– a backup of GAIA. In the months after defeating the Eclipse and HADES, the world is once again in danger. And once again, it’s up to Aloy to save the day –– just a girl and her unique genetic code.

(Image credit: Guerilla Games/ Sony)

After her latest hunt fails, Sylens, the shady character from the first game, tips Aloy off that the solution she seeks will be found in the Forbidden West. And so Aloy sets off beyond Carja lands into the west, a place packed with dangerous new tribes, cool new allies, incredible new machines, and mind-blowing secrets. As the story progresses, gamers will get even more lore about the world that was destroyed by the Faro plague, which has implications for the future of Aloy’s world. 

Horizon Forbidden West world

The world of Forbidden West is expansive, however, it’s still manageable. Like its predecessor, everything is drop-dead gorgeous. And while you’ll hear some gamers complain about recycled animations, you won’t hear that from this reviewer. Pretty is pretty and this game has it in spades. At the very least, the game needs to be played on a PS4 Pro, so you can get the benefit of the 4K lusciousness. 

(Image credit: Guerilla Games/ Sony)

When I wasn’t dodging killer machines or hostile tribes, the world was breathtaking. The game just oozes vibrancy. Even in normally barren settings like a desert or wintry mountaintop, you’ll find a pop of color from a red pepper bush or the telltale verdant glow of some greenshine crystals. Perched at the top of a mountain or at least a tallish structure will net you some stunning vistas. 

Similar to the first title, you’ll encounter many different biomes including deserts, marshes, forests and snow-capped mountains. There’s also a fair amount of underwater exploration this time around. Right now, I think my favorite areas are the forests since there’s a bunch of different flora and fauna to be seen. Taking a closer look, I was impressed by the level of detail Guerilla squeezed into the game. Each branch on an evergreen tree had hundreds of tiny waxy green leaves. Climbing a cliff reveals spots of moss growing out of random crevasses. Walking along the grass, you’ll see pink bell-shaped plants with their yellow stamens prominently displayed. 

The game is truly a feast for the eyes when you aren’t staring into the cold unfeeling ones of a rampaging machine. 

Horizon Forbidden West audio

With everything that’s going on in Horizon Forbidden West, the audio is seriously balanced and nuanced. Depending on the activity, you’ll get only the slightest musical accompaniment, a solemn flute with a muted rainstick, serving as a backdrop to Aloy’s grunts as she climbs while the wind whips around. And suddenly, the music intensifies adding deep string accompaniment with robust percussion to accentuate battle. 

(Image credit: Guerilla Games/ Sony)

Just about every machine has its own distinct sound when it’s on the attack. And while they’re all a bit terrifying, I forgot how piercing a Longleg’s screech can be (whenever you see those things, kill them first, you’ll thank me later). The game does a fantastic job of weaving together the sounds of nature with the violent din of battle. The sound of my spear removing a piece of metal armor is almost as satisfying as the deep death gurgle of an enemy combatant that I silently took out from above. 

Horizon Forbidden West gameplay

Destroy or override wild machines, kill hostile humans –– rinse, wash and repeat. Is it more of the same thing we encountered in Zero Dawn? Sure, but you won’t find me complaining too much. Look, there’s something inherently cool about taking on a robotic dinosaur or hacking into a mechanical ram to ride to your next location. It just doesn’t get old, at least for me it doesn’t. 

(Image credit: Guerilla Games/ Sony)

Speaking of old, some of your favorite favorites such as Thunderjaws, Snapmaws, Chargers and Fanghorns make an appearance. But there are plenty of new machines. So far, Leaplashers, a robotic kangaroo, has been the bane of my existence. But just like in the original title, you’ll be beset by the land, sea and air from all manner of robo-fauna. Some of your favorite weapons are available to help thin out the herds of machines and hostiles standing in your way. But there’s also a bunch of new weapons and techniques to help you win the day. 

When you’re not fighting, you’ll be doing a fair amount of hunting, exploring, puzzle-solving and fetch-quests similar to the first title. Once you clear out the fog by hacking into the area’s Longneck, there are so many tantalizing question marks to discover. Plus you have a myriad of side quests, cauldrons, side jobs and hunting grounds to complete. And this time around, there are machine races –– that’s right, you can jump on the back of a machine and race around the massive world. I’ve played about 60 hours of the game and I still get that “ooh, piece of candy” feeling when I see an unexplored area. 

What I love about the side quests is that while they don’t necessarily feed into the main story, Guerilla has made sure that most of them really flesh out the culture of the various tribes. Plus, a fair number of them will award you skill points, which you’ll absolutely need to get through that ridiculously massive skill tree.

(Image credit: Guerilla Games/ Sony)

If you’re like me and like to explore the highest points in the game, you’ll be pleased to know that Guerilla has greatly improved the climbing mechanic. Instead of flailing around for handholds, you can use your focus to scan the face of whatever you’re about to climb. If it’s climbable, you’ll see a bunch of yellow lines and “x”s demarcating your path. And once you reach the top, you can glide back down if you have the proper equipment. 

The DualSense advanced haptics are on full display during the game. Whether I was sneaking through the tall grass waiting to deliver a Silent Strike on an enemy or I was pulling my bow string taut to unleash an arrow, the DualSense controller responded in kind. Forbidden West’s haptics are definitely unique. Sneaking through tall grass elicits a constant gentle pull, while pulling back the bowstring to cause an overdraw delivers a tighter, more coiled vibration. 

Horizon Forbidden West combat

Are you a strike-from-the-shadows kind of player? Maybe you prefer to run and gun or engage in heated melee skirmishes. However you game, Horizon Forbidden West has got something for nearly every style of play. I tend to be a stealth and range player, so I made sure to equip bows, gadgets and armor that would help me in that pursuit. And since I like stripping my machines for valuable components before the inevitable kill, I prefer weapons with high tear and impact damage. 

But no matter how you play, please be warned that Horizon Forbidden West isn’t  a walk in the park. The machines and their variants are not afraid to hunt and flank you if they get an inkling of your presence. Same goes for human combatants. Crowd control and copious dodging will be the answer to a lot of these fights. That and some well-placed traps. 

(Image credit: Guerilla Games/ Sony)

The machines are fast and many can close the distance in the blink of an eye. Thankfully, Guerilla Games kept the concentration skill that slows down time when you’re aiming your weapon for a short time. Still, whether it’s in slow-mo or regular time, there’s definitely a little bit of trepidation when a large mechanical menace is bearing down on you. If you are a good study of the machines you’re facing and their specific weaknesses, you can quickly turn the tides of battle in your favor. Just be sure to have plenty of healing supplies on hand as you’ll definitely need them. 

As for human hostiles, there are a number of combos to help take them out with your trusty spear. But make sure to scan them with your Focus, as they too have different weaknesses to exploit. Fun fact: Most enemy shields can be disabled for a time with acid. Do with that what you will. 

Horizon Forbidden West skill tree

Horizon Forbidden West has six different skill trees: Warrior, Trapper, Hunter, Survivor, Infiltrator and Machine Master. It can be overwhelming even for the most seasoned player. Similar to the weaponry, the trees are there to help you make Aloy more suited to your play style. For instance, since I’m more of a stealth player who likes to harness machines, a lot of my skill points went to the Infiltrator and Machine Master trees. But don’t ignore the others, since Survivor offers helpful health boosts while Warrior and Hunter can unlock powerful new moves and combos. 

(Image credit: Guerilla Games/ Sony)

Variety might be the spice of life in normal circumstances, but I think the skill trees are a bit much. Each tree has at least 20 things to unlock, whether it’s passive boosts, combos, supply capacity increases or new moves. Speaking of moves, each skill tree has weapon techniques that correspond to a specific weapon type. For instance, you have Penetrating Rope, a skill that attaches a rope to any part of a machine without having to fully draw the weapon’s bowstring, or Triple Notch, which allows you to fire three arrows simultaneously with the Hunter Bow. These attacks while powerful deplete stamina (the yellow bar in the HUD). And then there are active skills that unlock new, always accessible moves into your repertoire. Those shouldn’t be confused with the new Valor Surge techniques that you have to manually equip in each tree. Valor, represented by the purple bar, allows players to unleash a cool skill within a specific tree. 

(Image credit: Guerilla Games/ Sony)

So if I’m trying to strip a machine’s components quickly, I equip Part Breaker in the Machine Master tree. If I’m trying to sneak up on a particularly hard target, I switch over to Stealth Stalker in Infiltrator. Time to unleash my inner sharpshooter? Yep, there’s a Valor Surge for that in Hunter. And Valor Surges, unlike the rest of the skills, can be upgraded several times, so you want to be mindful of your skill points. 

Combine all of that with Forbidden West’s large weapon arsenal, many of these moves and skills can be left riding the pine. Since I really use Ropecasters, I had to definitely get a refresher course of everything it could do with the skills I unlocked. It’s something to keep in mind as you’re allocating skill points. 

Horizon Forbidden West cooking and crafting

Cooking is a new addition to the Horizon series. Taking inspiration from the Monster Hunter series and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Aloy can now go to certain people in settlements and get a hearty home-cooked meal to take on the road with her. One can only eat or chug so many medical berries and  health potions. Each meal requires its own specific ingredients and offers a unique boon that lasts for a certain amount of time. It’s a cool way to buff your stats before heading into a difficult battle. That stated, keep in mind that you can only carry a certain amount of meals in your pouch (you didn’t think it would be that easy now, did you?). 

(Image credit: Guerilla Games/ Sony)

Crafting makes a return to the sequel, allowing you to make arrows and various other ammo and potions on the fly. Guerilla added a new wrinkle to the system, letting Aloy craft some weapons herself as well as upgrade others. If you have the necessary components, you just need to find a workbench in the nearest shelter or settlement and get to work. It’s a great way to add more abilities to your weapons and armor before going into a potentially big fight. 

The more rare the weapon or armor, the more chances you’ll have to upgrade. Common items can only be upgraded three times, while a rare or very rare item can be powered up four and five times, respectively. And just like the original, there are plenty of coils and weaves along the way that can be slotted into your gear to boost either your offensive or defensive stats. 

Bottom line

Horizon Forbidden West picks up right where its predecessor left off in grand fashion. Does it reinvent the wheel? No, because it really didn’t need an overhaul. Just like with hardware, sometimes the name of the game is refinement. Forbidden West delivers all the things you loved about Zero Dawn and opens up the story and lore in a really satisfying way. You’ll see old friends, get a few answers to some loose ends and meet plenty of new friends and enemies along the way. 

The world continues to be a visual cornucopia, while the gameplay is fast and furious but can be tailored to your style of play. Can the skill trees, weapons and abilities get a bit overwhelming? Sure. But as you get the hang of the game, you’ll learn to really edit your inventory and skills to make things more manageable. The open world has plenty to explore without incurring bloat fatigue. Overall, I enjoyed my return to this world and highly recommend it to PlayStation 5 owners looking to get a taste of what the future of the console holds. 

Sherri L. Smith
Sherri L. Smith

Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for Laptopmag.com since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.