After five years, Alloy is back and is continuing her search for answers after her adventures in the original title. Guerrilla Games have set a fairly high bar with Horizon Zero Dawn. It had a great storyline, interesting characters and a lot to explore outside of the main missions. Horizon Forbidden West takes this standard and pushes it even further giving us a vast new world to explore bursting at the seams with in-depth characters and visually stunning views.
Horizon Forbidden West picks up where Horizon Zero Dawn left off and begins with a brief recap of the events of the original. It’s nice to refresh the memory and it’s a good summary for newcomers. Despite Alloy’s best efforts, she has yet to destroy HADES and goes after Sylens to fulfil Elisabet Sobeck’s dream for the planet. She finds out that he has gone to the Forbidden West and follows him to achieve her goal.
Sylens lives up to its name again. The former mentor only says things when it suits him. What has he learned from HADES and what will he do with this knowledge? He remains an interesting character who often causes a stir and I am very curious to see how the relationship between him and Alloy will develop. Meanwhile, the world and its inhabitants are not doing well. It is slowly decaying and is being ravaged by the Blight. This is a kind of red scab that attacks the organic matter and makes them poisonous. As a result, there is less and less growth and people start to suffer from hunger.
Despite the Blight destroying the world, the world looks beautiful with beautiful forests, rocky hills, grasslands, deserts and lakes. The original was already beautiful, but Horizon Forbidden West definitely surpasses this. The world is alive through all the detailed landscapes and foreground and background sounds. The trees and bushes are full of leaves, there are plenty of trees or rocks to hide behind and as you sneak through the tall grass you can feel the slight resistance in your controller.
Sometimes you are surprised by a fox or rabbit that suddenly shoots past you or you hear a bird fly up because you come too close. The wind affects the branches, leaves and bushes, but in the desert you sometimes see the wind take some sand with you. Underwater you are often surprised by the beautiful environments with underwater caves, schools of fish and different types of seaweed that move with the current. As a result, each environment has its own feel. The changing elements allow you to shoot beautiful pictures and the fans of the Photo mode can have their fun.
Alloy doesn’t just have to deal with HADES and Sylens on her quest, because the Forbidden West has its own inhabitants with their own rules. These different tribes all understand the world in their own way and this has led to different beliefs, traditions, wars and massacres. The mutual history of the Tenakth, Carja, Oseram and Utaru ensures that most tribes remain in their own territory. Known for their bloodlust, the Tenakth will kill anyone who enters their land.
However, change is on the way since Hekarro defeated all the different clans of the Tenakth. He is their king and tries to make the Tenakth live together peacefully. He seems to want to let the past rest and even be open to interacting with the other tribes. This to the wrath of Regalla, a former warrior of the king, who starts a revolt against Hekarro, because her family was murdered by the Carja. For Alloy, this is the chance to enter the Forbidden West, discover its secrets, forge alliances with the Tenakth and save the world.
Alloy’s new adventure begins with choosing Guided or Explorer. If you really want to discover the forbidden west and don’t want to get everything chewed up, I would go for Explorer. At the beginning, give a Focus to Varl and give him a brief explanation. This short tutorial feels very natural. It explains, among other things, how to use your Focus and how to use stealth to survive or distract enemies with stones. The rest you will learn during your adventure.
Your Focus is your main weapon in the new world as it allows you to analyse the world, the human enemies and the machines. You will find documents, hints, you can see the level of the enemies and their weaknesses and strengths. It’s nice that your friends also learn to use a Focus, so that you are no longer the only one with access to the ancient knowledge. On her adventure, Alloy must explore the world, fight the Tenakth and the machines, explore ancient ruins and figure out how to save the world.
You can explore the world on foot, but you can also use a mount (overridden), because the world is quite big. At the campfires you can save again and use the fast travel option. Alloy can climb almost all rock formations in the open world. If you scan with your Focus, you’ll see the places where you can climb light up. This makes exploring a lot more enjoyable and allows you to sneak up on enemies from multiple sides. She also has access to the new Pullcaster that helps with the exploration of the world and its ruins. It is also useful for quickly getting away from enemies or using this for stealth.
Also, the new ability to glide is very useful if you want to come down quickly and safely. It also helps when looking for chests and objects through your larger range. It’s also a lot of fun to drive the enemies crazy with jumping, running, gliding, sliding and hitting the enemies from all sides. To become stronger you depend on the collected metal shards (money), greenshine, fruits, wood and loot that you use for medicines, weapons and upgrades. Any loot and materials that do not currently fit in your pouch will be sent to your Stash for later use. This is very nice, because then you never have to search and you can pick up everything you come across. You can also create your own jobs for certain materials or resources for overrides, weapons and upgrades.
The forbidden west has many inhabitants with their own problems. This makes the side missions interesting and add something to the world and your adventure. Different characters, including your friends from the first part, sometimes need your help, but also people from the different tribes sometimes call on the hero of Meridian. In their plea you see the emotions in the faces and that enhances the immersion. Alloy is happy to help, although this is of course not an obligation. It often does not stop at one assignment, but there are sometimes follow-up assignments.
This gives you a better understanding of the tribes and their actions. This way you will learn more about the rich world, its inhabitants and the past. So these missions sometimes provide interesting information, but perhaps more importantly, they also provide new weapons, experience, skill points and loot up making it worth your while. With all the missions and other content it can be overwhelming at times, but it’s definitely a good and fun overwhelm. And you don’t have to play all the side content, but I would recommend it.
Of course the machines are also present and they are challenging as usual, but deadly if you are not paying attention. There are over forty different machines roaming the Forbidden West. Not only do they look impressive, but they even leave an impression with all the sound they make. In addition, there are different variants of the machines so if you think you know a species, you can still be surprised by its modified ilk with different attacks and new weaknesses/strengths.
With your Focus you see the weak points, the armour or weapons of the machines light up. You can then select it to destroy or shoot. This is not only effective against the machines, but also useful because you can always use their parts. Some machines are sensitive to elemental damage or status damage and you can adjust your weapon use accordingly.
You can also use the loosely shot heavy weapons against the enemies. It is also possible to Override some machines with your spear again. Again, this requires you to complete several Cauldrons to gain access to the information. It’s very convenient to use a machine as a mount, but the option to tune them defensively or offensively is great. This makes them a strong ally in combat or a good distraction if you want to sneak past. Again, this requires you to complete several Cauldrons to gain access to the information.
The Tenakth are not machines, but can still surprise Alloy in groups. They populate several outposts that you must conquer. They are mostly only populated by human enemies, but some camps have machines roaming around as security or being ridden by the Tenakth, which can sometimes complicate infiltration. You can conquer the outposts with stealth, but you can also dive right in. There are different types of enemies like the soldiers, archers, champions with shield or a giant with a heavy ranged or melee weapon. The carriers can drop bombs, discover you when you hide or take out your Focus for a while.
Fortunately, Alloy can resist enough with her arsenal and make some combos with her spear by alternating the light attacks (R1) with the heavier attacks (R2). This way you build up energy when you attack, making your spear glow blue. With a heavy attack you create an energy point on the enemy and then if you shoot an arrow at it, you cause a Resonator Blast that deals extra damage. Another favourite move is the one where you jump into the air after a melee attack and then unleash a volley from the air with your bow and arrow.
Alloy regains access to a number of weapons that will help her survive. Alloy has been using her spear, bow and arrow for years and is very adept at it. You will again have access to the Sharpshot bow (long range), Hunter bow and Warrior bow (short range) which you can use to harass the machines and Tenakth. You can fire the arrows quickly for minimal damage or with Overdraw for maximum damage. With your spear you can make melee attacks and perform a Silent Strike from stealth. The many weapons make it possible to play in different ways.
In the beginning I used the bow and arrow a lot in combination with the spear and spikethrower (and these remain my favourite weapons), but it was certainly fun and worth experimenting with the other weapons. The Tripcaster provides tripwires with explosives or elemental damage and the Ropecaster temporarily ties the enemies. This way you can use these weapons tactically, making the machines easier to disable. The Shredder Gauntlet tosses a disc at the enemies where it deals damage in several places and then returns to Alloy, causing even more damage on the next throw. You really have to discover the other weapons yourself.
The weapons are not only fun to use because of the damage they do, but the Concentration skill makes it an experience. If you aim your weapon and press R3, the time will slow down and you can better see what you are aiming at. This is especially great when a large mechanical monster is a few feet away from you and you have one quick dart chasing him before ducking away. You can deal damage with three different types of Impact, Explosive and Tear. The first two destroy the components. Tear lets you shoot different components and use them for upgrades or for sale. It is also possible to use Elemental Damage (Fire, Shock, etc.) and Status Effects (Blinding, Adhesive, etc.) against the enemies, making them easier to take out.
In addition to your weapons, Alloy also has an extensive level system with six different skills including Warrior, Trapper and Hunter. These have an extensive Skilltree that gradually make your adventure easier, but are also necessary to take out the stronger and bigger machines. You get a fair amount of Skill Points from main missions, side mission and sometimes other activities that allow you to upgrade often. This allows you to map out your own path and choose the Skill you need at that moment. Do you think the Infiltrator Skill is more important, because you prefer to play carefully or do you go for Warrior, so that you become a melee monster.
The Valor Surge is a special move that has two in each Skilltree. This way you eventually get access to twelve different special moves that you can upgrade to higher levels. You can’t use them until you’ve activated the surrounding skills and unfortunately only use one at a time, otherwise you might get too overpowered. In any case, it’s worth experimenting with to see which Valor Surge you like best or works best in a given situation.
The equipment that Alloy finds or buys is usually based on the styles of the different tribes such as the Tenakth, Oseram, Nora, Utaru and Carja. They all offer their own resistance to damage from melee attacks, status effects or elemental damage. The weapons and equipment can be upgraded. This not only improves various stats, you also get extra slots to add Coils and Weaves. Coils and Weaves, for example, provide extra stats that make you stronger or have more resistance against a certain element. Weapons and equipment come in four varieties: green (uncommon), blue (rare), purple (very rare), and orange (legendary). Not only do the stats get better, you can also upgrade the better variants more often and you are allocated more slots for Coils and Weaves.
One of the most important parts of your equipment is your medical pouch. Pressing up on your D-pad will quickly restore energy. It is easy to refill by picking medicinal plants. You also have different pouches for loot, arrows and other ammunition. It is therefore important to upgrade them by hunting animals, because with more space in your pouches, survival becomes a bit easier.
In addition to her weapons, equipment and medical pouch, Alloy also has access to her tools. She can select it by swiping left and right on the D-pad. Pressing down activates the Tool. For example, you can choose from Traps with different status effects, use potions, stones for distraction and smoke bombs. The tools also help you move around the country. This way you can always travel with a Fast Travel pack or call a mount. It was a long sit and there is much more to experience in Horizon Forbidden West, but you really have to experience it for yourself.
Horizon Forbidden West resembles its predecessor at its core, but is bigger and more immersive. The characters that Alloy encounters have experienced special things and give the world depth. The side missions provide a lot of background information and sometimes feel like mini DLC’s. Horizon Forbidden West offers plenty of fun content in addition to the intriguing main story, including fighting-pits, outposts, various collectibles (black boxes, relics), activating Tallnecks, hunting machines and much more.
Personally I would have liked to see more main missions, but there is certainly 80 hours of entertaining content in this game. The battles are challenging and sometimes overwhelming, but always fun to do. Certainly by all the weapons, tools and other possibilities so that it doesn’t get boring quickly. And then there are so many machines and variations that also require a different approach. The gameplay is great and fluid. Currently this is most beautiful game I have played on the PlayStation 5 to date. This makes Forbidden West a world-class achievement for this Amsterdam studio.