Back in 2017, Horizon Zero Dawn released and instantly became the best Zelda game released that year. Hyperbole aside, I vastly enjoyed Aloy’s adventure through the jungles of the eastern lands more than The Legend of Skyrim: Breath of the Emptiness because the environments were not only gorgeous but felt alive and weren’t simply vast sprawling areas full of nothing.
Exploring the caldrons and learning new abilities to tame new machines made exploration a lot of fun, and Horizon Forbidden West looks to return to that same form by also adding a whole bunch of other stuff Aloy can do while she once again embarks to save the world. Does Aloy’s journey to the Forbidden West hold up? Find out in our Horizon Forbidden West review:
Horizon Forbidden West
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (Reviewed)
Release Date: February 18th, 2022
Set about six months after the events of Horizon Zero Dawn, Aloy is tasked to try and once again save the Earth’s biosphere by finding a backup of GAIA and re-enabling her so that she can help heal the environment in order to sustain life on Earth.
While nothing would be as simple as simply going wherever she wants to go because she’s the hero of this world, she’s tasked to earn the trust of the inhabitants of the west in order to safely gain passage, and while doing so she’s thrust into the middle of several ongoing disputes.
Despite the fact that I appreciate the depth that all of these conflicts add, when doing our Horizon Forbidden West review, I found a majority of what you’ll be doing in this game feels like you’re just toiling along until you get strong enough to complete the next step in the main story.
There are some interesting characters you’ll meet along the way, but ultimately very few of the people will matter despite how many seemingly unending dialogue trees they might have.
In short, it feels like there’s too much attempt to get you to care about the people in this world. Character development is fine in an RPG, but it feels strangely out of place in an action-adventure title. I get what they’re going for, but not everything needs to include BioWare levels of heavy dialogue.
In fact, dialogue might sum up my biggest problem with Horizon Forbidden West. Aloy seems to have completely forgotten who she was from the first game, as now she’s considerably colder due to knowing the gravity of missions and her superiority knowing she already single-handedly saved the world once already.
She often talks to people like they’re primitive and ignorant, but then in the next breath she’s humble and shy. Her attitude change really caught me off guard and it wasn’t until much later in the story that I could finally say I understood the reasoning for the change.
I also can’t say I was a fan of all of the characters treating her like she’s the only reason they are ever able to get anything done either. I’m not sure why we couldn’t just have two strong female leads without pandering them to death, but I digress.
One other small gripe is that Aloy never seems to stop and process her thoughts, she just constantly keeps a stream of consciousness rattling on. As I’d go from checkpoint to checkpoint, stopping to gather items – and while I’m at it, why does she stop for a second to gather items when every other open world game allows you to simply grab it as you go?
When doing my Horizon Forbidden West review, an annoyance came when I realized Aloy never seems to just run. She’s constantly talking, “here’s this item, guess I’ll put it in my stash for later”, “could be useful”, and other little quips in an attempt to keep the player entertained or something.
I normally don’t pay any attention small bits like this, but where it really got to me was when I’d go into an area that had a puzzle and I’d be there like three seconds – or sometimes not even in the room yet – and Aloy or a companion is telling me how to solve the puzzle.
Everything in Horizon Forbidden West is similar to the first game, but more expansive and more refined. The map is much larger so there’s a lot more space to cover, there’s a boatload of new collectibles, weapons, and relics to find, as well as audio logs and caldrons to explore.
One thing I miss is the corrupted zones from the first game, the frenzied machines made for a much stronger challenge and it was far more satisfying sneaking up and overriding them.
The mounting aspect still exists, and the mounts are still somewhat tedious to control – however you unlock the ability to get a flying mount just before the end of the game and that’s really when exploration and side questing become their most enjoyable.
In the first Horizon I spent time doing every side quest I could before I’d progress the main story, but because of the sheer amount of things to do and find in this game, I would often keep trying to just push through.
I tried forcing to advance the story hoping to find something that made exploration a little bit easier. I guess somehow I knew it was the right choice because I was rewarded, and being able to fly makes a lot of tasks considerably less frustrating. The platinum trophy for this one will be mine, very soon.
Visually, there’s not much that can be said about Horizon Forbidden West that isn’t immediately obvious from seeing any of the gameplay trailers or commercials. This is an absolutely gorgeous game, and in 4K with HDR, this game absolutely radiates.
The world looks incredible and there are times where I stood still just in awe of the environmental effects. Seeing gusts of wind blow up and swirl dust in the sky among the plains or charging head first into the eye of a sandstorm in the ruins of Las Vegas looked incredible no matter how you sliced it.
Character design looks a little weird on the hair, but is more than made up for by skin textures. Eyes look realistic and lips have individual crinkles to make models look more lifelike than ever. Even the PS4 version looks amazing, which is truly staggering considering the amount of detail going on in this game.
The soundtrack is absolutely incredible as well. In the Flood is an absolutely haunting song and caps off a superb gameplay experience, while instrumentals like The World on Her Shoulders and Whatever Comes continually serve as excellent background music whether you’re exploring the forbidden west or simply listening on Spotify.
Ultimately, I love Aloy’s adventures and I’m anxious to see what’s coming next considering how Horizon Forbidden West ends. I worry that possibly there’s too much content being shoved into this game unnecessarily bloating it to Ubisoft levels of tedium, but I’m hoping to see a more refined medium between the amount of content offered in both games.
While the first game was just a little lacking, this one might have too much that ultimately doesn’t matter. Between crafting and exploration, I had very little use for any of the metric ton of merchants available throughout the game for any reason other than sell valuables to for metal scraps.
On top of that, there’s a plethora of weapons but you’ll likely never use any of them because they’re redundant. As much as I liked the idea of the slingshot with the spinning bullets that caused continual tear damage, they were never a suitable substitution for a bow with advanced hunter arrows that did tear damage. Tripwires are fine for farming normal enemies for parts, but ultimately useless aside from the vertical ones for taking out birds.
I struggled to put down Horizon Zero Dawn, but with my Horizon Forbidden West review, I had a overwhelming sense of “I’ve done all of this before” in regards to exploration, but that’s likely because this game is basically more of the same – but with even more stuff to do. Here’s to hoping they find the perfect balance for the next entry.
A successor to Horizon Forbidden West would need a refined story with a little less depth for unimportant secondary characters, less weapons with better focus so they’re used more, and improved mount controls (and hopefully flying access from the start). I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll love her next episode as much as I’ve loved the previous two.
Horizon Forbidden West was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by PlayStation. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Horizon Forbidden West is available now on PlayStation 4/5.