Sequels are kinda hard to pull off right? This is especially true in video games. The sequel has to recapture the magic of the first one, and be innovative enough that the sequel feels fresh and warranted. It’s a tricky balancing act to pull off. This was the Challenge Horizon Forbidden West faced. When Horizon Zero Dawn it felt like a new concept, with fresh gameplay and a gorgeous open world to dive into. It was one of the best games of 2017. So did Horizon Forbidden West pull off the tricky balancing act or is it too much of more of the same?
Right off the bat I’m going to answer the main question. Yes developers, Guerrilla Games managed to pull of the balancing act, but maybe not to the degree that most wanted. Horizon Forbidden West provides alot of fresh features, environments, and enemies, but isn’t the Thunderjaw-sized step forward that many were hoping for. All that said, this is a breathtaking open world game that has way more going forward than against it.
Let’s dive into it.
It’s been five years since the release of Horizon Zero Dawn and one of the big questions going into Horizon Forbidden West was “what new ideas would they bring to the combat.” I’m happy to report that Guerrilla understood the assignment. This sequel squares you up against so many new animal mechs that aim to tear you apart. Not going to lie many will probably succeed. Each new mechanical beast presents new strengths and elemental weaknesses and you’ll probably need every tool at Aloy’s disposal to survive. Thankfully you have many new weapons and traps to utilize.
Just like in the first game the range combat is incredible. You have many new bow and arrow types, spears to throw and all the classic weapons comeback into play. As a result, there are so many different ways you can approach fighting the human and mech enemies.
The stealth in the game is amazing. Hunting down each foe initially or causing them to stumble into one of your well placed traps is so rewarding. It is such a good experience to slay a foe and cause confusion amongst your foes while your hiding in the grass unnoticed.
I also want to shout out and state that the Duelsense takes the experience to another level. The controller really makes you feel the tightness of pulling back your bow or winding back to throw a spear.
Another new aspect to the combat is the game’s melee mechanic. While it’s a solid idea it’s extremely hard to use. This is because it’s a combo based melee system with pauses in-between button inputs. For example, you start a combo by pressing R1, R1, R1, then you have a slight pause before you have to enter R2. That would be a problem, but your given a absurdly small amount of time to press R2. If you do it too fast or too slow then you fail at executing the combo.
The game has melee pits where your tasked with executing specific melee combos against human opponents before the time limit expires. Due to how challenging it is to execute a combo this is by far the weakest most frustrating part of the game. I would have skipped this entirely if it wasn’t required to earn the game’s platinum trophy.
Graphics and Presentation:
I can’t not stress this enough…Horizon Forbidden West is the most beautiful game I’ve ever seen. Everything from Aloy, to the machines you encounter, to the various environments you explore is gorgeous. The characters themselves are also a visual treat. Aloy and her companions are incredibly detailed, especially when you see the decked out in their mechanical armor. Do yourself a favor and play this on a nice TV. You’ll get lost in looking at the environments, like the snowy mountains, detailed plains, and the beautiful coastal beaches.
As opposed to the first game, Horizon Forbidden West’s weakest aspect is its narrative. In Horizon Zero Dawn, Guerrilla came out of the gates swinging with its story. We got to meet Aloy and the intriguing post-apocalyptic world that she lives in. In Forbidden West, at the start of the game, we are introduced to a mystery that leads into the premise of game. While the mystery is intriguing, it sets the tone off the story to slow burn as opposed to the swifter pace that was in the previous game.
Another critic of the story is that it often feels like the middle installment of a trilogy. There are parts, even in the middle section of the story, where you can tell that this is building towards a third game as opposed to telling its own story. It’s not the end of the world, but it often had me expecting a cliff hanger ending that would launch us to what lies next for the franchise.
All that said this game’s story is a good installment to the series. It expands the lore and world building while providing some interesting new antagonists to square off against.
Even though the narrative can be a bit flat, the same can’t be said about the game’s characters. The characters of the main story often shine, especially Ashly Burch as Aloy and Angela Bassett as Regalla. In many of the side missions, you’ll also meet some interesting characters that introduce you to some memorable stories. For example, there are a couple of side quests that hit hard. So much so that they stick out more than the game’s main narrative.
I really want to shout out how diverse the characters are in this game. You encounter tribes with people from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds and as a chocolate man, it warmed my heart to see this display of diversity.
One of the best parts of Horizon Forbidden West is exploring the new territories of the Forbidden West. There is so much to do and see in this game. You are still able to hunt the machines and local wildlife to upgrade your resources and your arsenal. The game has scores of new machines to hunt and strip for resources so gamers who love the art of collecting will have plenty to do here.
One of the best improvements to the game is its climbing mechanic. You can now use your focus to quickly scan the area, and you are presented with numerous highlighted handholds that you can climb on. The results aren’t quite as smooth as they could be, but it works. While it’s not Breath of the Wild’s “climb anywhere mechanic” it is a solid step forward and offers a far freer way to climb. The game also has a new glide mechanic. You can jump off tall surfaces and use your broken shield to glide towards your nest destination.
Underwater Hits and Misses:
Another cool new addition to the game is the ability to dive deep underwater. This gives you new places to see and explore, as there are a sizable about of main missions, side missions, and treasure hunting that occurs underwater.
At first, your time underwater is limited to how long Aloy can hold her breath but thankfully the game grants you with a means to breathe underwater at about the halfway point of the game.
Exploring underwater is a solid new feature, but it’s unfortunate that the game doesn’t let you fight underwater. Instead, you are relegated to an underwater game of hide or get killed by underwater mechs.
In Horizon Forbidden West you can spend your hard-earned skill points on multiple skill trees. Each skill tree has its own area of expertise like melee, traps, or the mount for example. The skill trees also have Valor surges that you can unlock. These are special moves that you can use during battles. To use these moves you must first fill up your Valor meter by getting hit or attacking your opponent’s weak spots.
Some Valor Surges are better than others, but I found that it really didn’t have a major impact in most battles that I fought.
Overall/Should you Play Horizon Forbidden West:
The answer is yes. You should play Horizon Forbidden West. While the game does have its flaws like its narrative and the lack of underwater combat, it shines in all of its other areas. If you like open-world games with tons to do then this game should be on the top of your list. Its combat while flawed melee-wise is overall engaging and fun. It’s still a spectacle to see and square off against these giant mechanical beasties.
Horizon Forbidden West is a beautiful example of a AAA open-world RPG. Its visuals, gameplay, and it’s immensely explorable open world make this a must-play title for Playstation gamers.
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