Horizon Forbidden West guide: 11 tips and tricks you need to know before you play

Horizon Forbidden West
(Image credit: Playstation)

Horizon Forbidden West is here and it's huge! Here are 10 tips and tricks that you absolutely need to know before you play.

As you can read in our Horizon Forbidden West review, this is a near-perfect sequel and (in my opinion) PlayStation’s version of Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild. While you will learn a lot of the ropes via tutorials, there are some things that aren’t so clear. That’s where we come in.

So, while you wait for that massive install to finish, take a read through our list of 10 Horizon life hacks that will ensure you are the best Aloy possible.

1. Stock up on fast travel packs

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: PlayStation)

The Forbidden West is absolutely massive. Running from one end to the other will take you about an hour. I know, because I tried. It takes a while!

While it’s a beautiful landscape to explore, sprinting over a mile round trip to do a fetch quest can get a little tedious. There are many campfires all over the place that you can fast travel from for free (provided you’ve visited them before), but the increased number doesn’t really make up for the sheer vastness of the landscape.

Keep your fast travel packs stocked up from traders, so in these moments you can get back and complete whatever epic quest you are on with haste.

2. Keep your stash topped up

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: PlayStation)

One of the most welcome new additions to the sequel of Aloy’s adventure is the stash: a chest in every settlement that contains everything you pick up but are unable to carry because of pack limits. 

The easiest materials to find are ridge-wood sticks and metal shards, which, given how many arrows you will go through in the course of this game, is great to back up in your stash. 

But probably the most important item are medicinal berries. Much like Zero Dawn, Machines can wipe out your health fast and once you get further and further out into barren deserts, they become hard to find. Having a big stash of these will be very helpful in the latter stages of the game. Especially when the difficulty spikes.

3. Pay attention to any ladders you can kick down

This is a small trick, but one that can make the difference between a small mistake and a huge, drastic error that sends you back a long way.

With the new climbing mechanics and the grappling hook, Guerilla Games has added some great platforming sections that combine with some unique puzzles for additional depth to the exploration. 

Once you get past each big section, the devs usually give you a way to get back up there easily if you make a mistake. In some sections, this is a ladder you can kick down. You’re going to want to look for those, as if you do fall off without lowering the ladder, you have no choice but to make the embarrassingly slow walk back to the beginning of that section to do the whole thing all over again.

4. Your grappling hook is your friend

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: PlayStation)

The grappling hook may not be as freeform as the hook in Halo Infinite, but it does add an additional tactical layer to combat and a new way to traverse terrain.

It’s especially effective in combat for sure. That extra verticality can create some space between you and those extra aggressive machines — giving you some precious time to either refill your medicinal berries or pop off some shots.

Most areas of combat will feature at least one of these, so always be on the lookout for a circle and dot for these ledges and poles.

5. Don’t skip Machine Strike and Melee Pits

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: PlayStation)

Machine Strike brings some serious Gwent vibes to the Forbidden West, and provides an almost chess-esque board game that can make for a warmly welcomed break in the chaos.

Not only that, but it is a metaphorical gold mine of special items and shards, so take the time to learn the game and play it as you pass through every settlement.

Alongside this, you can kill some time in the Melee Pits, which give you access to learn special moves and combos, plus a safe space to practice against the variety of human enemy types in practice mode. The challenges are a big source of XP, as you fight increasingly difficult battles to get each pit master token. 

Simply put, if your plan is to just hammer on through the main campaign, think again. These distractions are both a helluva lot of fun and a fast track to improving your stats.

6. Know your enemy (tag them and find their weaknesses)

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: PlayStation)

Carrying over from Zero Dawn, you can use your Focus to scan machines before you attack them, to find out their weak spots, elemental weaknesses and any bits you can tear off.

For example, a Clawstrider’s tail enables them to pull off some pretty devastating attacks. Using precision arrows to take this out removes a key part of its arsenal, at which point you should move over to shock-based weapons to expose its elemental weakness.

Once you start approaching each enemy strategically like a list of places to attack rather than spraying and praying, everything starts to get a whole lot easier.

7. Pick two Valor Surges and switch between them on the fly

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: PlayStation)

One of the biggest new additions to the reinvented skill tree, and one that many Zero Dawn experts may forget about, is Valor Surges. 

Personally, I used them once at the beginning when the tutorial told me to do so, and then completely forgot about them until about 60% of the way into the story. Combat was hard as nails at that point, and once I remembered, it was a breath of fresh air. In total, you have six surges:

  • Critical Boost: Delivers huge melee damage increases
  • Elemental Fury: Increases elemental and trap damage
  • Ranged Master: Increases damage from ranged attacks
  • Toughened: Increases health restoration and provides an overshield to absorb damage
  • Stealth Stalker: Activates a stealth cloak and triggers a radial blast, damaging enemies in the radius
  • Part Breaker: Deals more damage to machine components and weak spots, alongside chaining damage to enemies within 15 meters.

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: PlayStation)

In terms of which are the best, answers vary greatly depending on what publication you read. Personally, I focussed heavily on Warrior and Hunter, but the answer comes in a pair. Why? Because you can switch Valor Surges on the go and, while there’s a recharge time that’s based on you hitting critical attacks and weak spots that give you Valor points, you can chain these together strategically.

For me, I used the Hunter surge to pick off some enemies from a distance, then get in close and activate Warrior for some additional melee damage. You can see other effective pairings too: Infiltrator and Trapper, Warrior and Survivor, Machine Master and Hunter. Each combination will individualize your approach, but ensure you choose wisely.

8. Don’t fight with your back against a wall

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: PlayStation)

This is a simple but effective tip that absolutely carries over from Zero Dawn. You will spend 50% of your time dodging when in melee combat. 

Be cognizant of your surroundings, otherwise you will just roll into a wall without actually rolling anywhere and be victim to one of the many deathly attacks without anywhere to go.

9. Pay attention to the level recommendation

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: PlayStation)

Horizon tells you what level you should be at for its main quests, side quests, contracts and other activities. Ignore this at your peril.

I got a little too confident and tried to continue the story at two levels above my own, and the end result was the fight of my life that I inevitably ended up losing in a literal blaze of fire.

10. Upgrade and specialize

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: PlayStation)

Pay close attention to the way you play and be choosy about what parts of the skill tree and what weapons you upgrade first.

For me, as I said above, I used some ranged attacks and followed up with melee to finish them off. This requires a lot of elemental damage and some sharpshooting, alongside increasing the damage of your spear and upping the healing effectiveness of medicinal berries.

I focussed on these and this led to a more effective Aloy when the tough got going. Whatever way you plan to play, be it sneakily or with traps, be sure to place emphasis on upgrading these.

11. Weapon techniques are more important than they first appear

In the skill tree you have four types of upgrades: the Valor surges that we’ve already covered, passive boosts (upgrades to your stamina, health, technique speeds and amount of damage), weapon techniques that unlock new moves with pre-existing weapons, and active skills that tie attacks together nicely with additional damage.

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: PlayStation)

At first, I focussed on buffing my pre-existing stats — grabbing the passive boosts — but once I got to grips with weapon techniques, paired them with their corresponding weapons and added the additional layer of active skills too, I became an unstoppable machine.

Ensure you tailor your techniques to your play style and you’ll be golden. For example, in my case, Splitting Spike turns your Spike Thrower into a mighty good mid-range grenade launcher-esque weapon with multiple projectiles that impact a large area. 

That’s great for early crowd control, which then sets me up nicely for two up-close combat techniques: the Melee Detonator (special arrows from the warrior bow that explode on impact), The Destroyer combo that deals a massive amount of damage, and a levelled up resonator blast that ties the bow and melee damage for a huge amount of damage.

Jason England
Content Editor

Jason brought a decade of tech and gaming journalism experience to his role as a writer at Laptop Mag, and he is now the Managing Editor of Computing at Tom's Guide. He takes a particular interest in writing articles and creating videos about laptops, headphones and games. He has previously written for Kotaku, Stuff and BBC Science Focus. In his spare time, you'll find Jason looking for good dogs to pet or thinking about eating pizza if he isn't already.