Five years have passed since the release of Horizon Zero Dawn, and we have all been eagerly awaiting Aloy’s adventure to continue. The wait has finally ended with the release of Horizon Forbidden West, and it has been a huge improvement from the first game. The lands of the Forbidden West are vast and beautiful but also filled with dangers between man and machine. Due to the massive world and all of the hidden relics, ruins, towers, and side quests, I can honestly say it’s been impossible to step away from the controller. This has been one of the best releases so far this year and will probably make its way up to be a candidate in the Game Awards.
Aloy’s Journey Continues
Six years have passed since the defeat of HADES, and Aloy has left to continue her search for GAIA’s backup. This backup will help aid the planet in its time of need due to the mysterious decaying of the biosphere. As she ventures on with Val, she discovers that the danger of HADES may not be behind them as previously thought. She then continues on to seek Sylens in the Forbidden West to figure out the truth behind these events.
Aloy feels completely different from the original game. She seems to have closed herself off more from people and is trying to keep the burden on herself and off of her allies. After overcoming so much from the first game, she has taken it upon herself to become more independent and tenacious as opposed to being unsure of herself as she was before. It also seems as if she thinks of herself above others at times, which can be a bit off-putting. Often, I see Aloy making statements in the game about her being the only one that can save the planet or that others will slow her down. While the events were pretty much traumatic from Zero Dawn, it seems as if Aloy has lost her trust in the capability of others. She has had an interesting change in character development, which is only adding to the well-designed plot.
A Step Up In Combat
One of my biggest issues with Zero Dawn was that the combat felt extremely redundant. Forbidden West has completely stepped up its game for this series with way more tools and abilities. My favorite change is that depending on the skill tree you can pick and choose from, you can build a focus on your playthrough. One of these focuses is on staff combat, which is amazing because there was little to do with the staff before. The staff features more combos between heavy and light attacks, as well as new abilities. The Warrior skill tree adds so much more to the melee side of fighting.
Combat also adds a better stealth element for those who prefer the shadows as I do. Between stealth takedowns, traps like tripwires, killing from the tall grass feels better than ever, and now you can use your focus to track enemy paths and plan ahead. The focus allows you to literally see the path and behavior of each machine or human. You can tag them as needed and scan them for weaknesses on the body. There is one downside with stealth kills, which is that you will not get certain body parts that need to be broken off to obtain. However, it feels so fluent and good landing stealth takedowns and shots from afar.
Skill Tree Choices Add Much-Needed Depth
Skill Trees added so much more variety to cater to certain playstyles but also did a great job at not locking people in. As previously mentioned, you can pick and choose abilities from any branch, but you obviously need to unlock abilities in a branch to get farther down to the best abilities. All of the branches do not require an insane amount of points, which is nice due to the fact that you can probably max out about two trees in one playthrough.
Each tree has a different focus, and there are six trees in total. The Warrior focuses on melee combos and damage boosts for the spear, as well as has a focus on close-range warrior bows. On the other hand, one can go the Infiltrator route and focus on stealth play. This allows you to become less detectable and deal more damage with stealth shots. Sharpshooter techniques and silent strike buffs can help so much when overwhelmed by groups of machines. Many players are choosing the Hunter route, which increases stamina and utilizes fewer resources with crafting, as well as Survivor, which is focused on resource gathering and higher defense. The more unique trees are the Machine Master and Trapper trees. The Machine Master focuses on overriding commands on machines by adding new options, and the Trapper focuses on crating traps more effectively and boosting them. Each one offers such unique abilities and boosts and can allow players to create their own unique playstyle by mixing and matching or just picking the one that suits their needs.
The Forbidden West is Endless
Another issue I had with the first game is the lack of incentive to want to roam around due to the lack of content. There are so many side tasks at hand when entering each area of the Forbidden West. The map is huge, with each added location and filled. To the brim with relics and ruins alike. I have spent most of my time trying to unlock everything I can until I run out of secrets to do due to needing a tool from story progression.
Side quests have really stepped up with various types and decent stories. While they are not as long and detailed as games like The Witcher and Skyrim, they still create a sense of fun or satisfaction and importance. Some of the quests known as Errands are your typical quick fetch quests, while others like Hunting Grounds create a challenge to see how quickly and effectively you can take down a machine. The Arena quests are fun to test your might or just practice abilities in the game. The actual side quests with plot lines become interesting at times and add a sense of mystery to the world. For example, one of the best side plots is following a cult known as the Eclipse after a man is wrongfully imprisoned for murder.
The ruins are filled with puzzles, which tend to add an element of difficulty. Each puzzle requires the use of specific tools to move blocks to climb on, take down walls to gain entrance to a room, or even grapple to specific points. Towers also have less in-depth obstacles to overcome but mostly require climbing to the highest heights and provide breathtaking scenery as they try to grab scopes from satellites. Vista Points can be annoying to match up at times but add some fun background to the past of what the environment used to be. Every area of the game is filled with content to explore, and I have spent more time diving into hidden areas and climbing cliffs than continuing the actual story of the game.
Awkward Voice Acting Kills the Vibes at Times
One of the minor shortcomings of the game is voice acting. There are times when it seems fine, but other times where it feels awkward and forced. Aloy seems to mesh poorly with other characters like Val right off the bat. It feels less fluent than it should be, and as if the characters of the game are on completely different pages. I often find myself less engaged with cut scenes due to it, and it killed some of the story progression for me.
Fluent Gameplay but Poor Swimming Mechanics
Swimming mechanics are just plain awkward and do not function well. Aloy runs out of breath fairly quickly, and there is no dashing ability in the water without pushing off of a random wall or object. Many players have died trying to obtain relics or get stuck in an awkward position underwater. Luckily, as you progress, you will obtain a diving mask, but overall, the mechanics are poorly designed.
A Huge Improvement from the First Game
Horizon Forbidden West is not only a massive improvement from Zero Dawn but also an amazingly well-designed game. There is so much more incentive to explore every nook and cranny of each area; the story is better told and more engaging. While the voice acting is a bit awkward, and dialogue choices still do not affect anything, the gameplay is, for the most part, extremely well designed, and there is so much to do in the world. I simply can not get enough of this game and highly recommend it to everyone.
Vibe Score: 8.5/10