Five years is damn near forever in video game time. Since 2017’s fantastic Horizon Zero Dawn, there’s been The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Red Dead Redemption 2, and three Assassin’s Creed games adding their own spins to the open world. Now comes the eagerly anticipated sequel, Horizon Forbidden West, but can Guerrilla Games’ latest meet expectations and thrive in an industry glutted with open-world weariness?
Returning to the postapocalyptic world of overgrown ruins and animal-like machines, it’s been six months since the end of the first game, and Forbidden West quickly throws warrior protagonist Aloy back into another end-of-the-world scenario. This time, nature itself seems to be upending. Violent storms ravage the skies, and blight like the red vines out of War of the Worlds devastate plant and animal life. With the ecosystem on the brink of collapse, Aloy searches for answers in the Forbidden West, the lands between present-day Nevada and California ruled by the vicious and territorial Tenakth tribe. There, she’ll have to uncover more secrets of the past and learn what truly set off the threat of the first game to prevent disaster once again.
So, while on such an incredibly important mission, Aloy painfully can’t be delayed by friends or loved ones, but she can be delayed by things like helping cooks find ingredients or playing the new Machine Strike board game, which may be the best mini-game since The Witcher 3’s Gwent. That is to say, there’s a truckload of activities to enjoy while saving the world. And while the game does partake a little in the checklist-style deluge of sidequests that can plague open-world games, the variety and quality of them — from rebel camps to clear out to ancient ruins to raid — mean players won’t be hit with the same thing every 30 feet. That’s not to mention the storyline sidequests, which range from solving murder mysteries to recovering old-world relics, plus finding lost sisters, old friends, and grandchildren for people. (Aloy could seriously open a missing persons agency.)
And the overall story and the world it inhabits continues to be the game’s standout feature. Forbidden West is a gorgeous game full of enormous mountains, vast deserts, and thick jungles, along with the dilapidated ruins of our own forgotten world with a story that mixes postapocalyptic sci-fi with an adventurous tale of warring tribes, all told with some of the most realistic and best-designed characters, human and machine, in a game. And if anything, the visuals have somehow gotten more stunning. The lighting of the vistas is even more striking, and the facial animations, which were noticeably stiff in the original, are now expressively emotive.
Game mechanics also get improvements. While Aloy has to start at the bottom again with another BS video game explanation of how she “damaged a lot of her gear” on her way west, the expanded skill trees offer new abilities for weapons, stealth, and interacting with machines. She’s also picked up on some of Link’s tricks from Breath of the Wild, being able to climb more surfaces and even picking up a glider, though those mechanics aren’t as well fleshed out as Zelda’s. Even melee combat has been improved with combos and the ability to damage enemy armor and optional combat arenas. That said, it’s still fairly simple compared to the weapon-based combat, which is how you’ll primarily be fighting enemies.
Other returning mechanics get new twists, too. Tallnecks, the massive brachiosaur-meets-radar-dish robots that provide map markers for Aloy, each now have a unique twist to how you climb or even find them, and the quests to override and control machines have a few kinks thrown in as well.
But it’s not all gorgeous vistas and enchanting animations. Some technical issues do mar the PS4 edition, such as occasional slow loading of textures and pop-in of objects. There were also minor glitches such as a dead enemy here or there running in place or, hilariously, a corpse spinning in the air. And, of course, PS5 users will have access to 60 FPS or Resolution-enhanced 30 FPS modes. Still, even on the 4, the game remains gorgeous.
While Forbidden West may not revolutionize the open world genre, it does add to and refine a more than worthy sequel to what was one of my favorite games of the last generation. And even with its infrequent bugs and texture issues on the PS4, it remains a beautiful and dangerous world to get lost in. Also, you can ride robot Velociraptors, and I can’t think of what more you could want than that.
Horizon Forbidden West
Directed by Mathijs de Jonge, produced by Joel Eschler, written by Ben McCaw. Voice Acted by Ashly Burch, Lance Reddick, and Angela Bassett. Available for PS4 and PS5. Rated T for Teen.