Horizon Forbidden West is the reason I bought a PS5. Truth. After being late to the party playing the original Horizon Zero Dawn, I was thoroughly invested in the anticipation around its sequel and caught myself on several occasions counting down the time until its release, armed with the new console and a big OLED TV, watching the days turn to hours on the timer in my game collection. Such was my engagement with HZD – one of the best games I have ever played on any console.
So it was with great happiness that I returned to the role of ‘flame haired’ Aloy battling to save the planet from ecological disaster. 23 days (82 hours of game time) later and I have reached the end of the main quests and side quests; completing the story which is a great second instalment of post-apocalyptical, alternate history, science fiction with so much emotion and heart it puts most other games to shame. Also it helps that the load times are pretty much non-existent and the graphics are eye-achingly good.
There are 28 side quests which I recommend you play through alongside the main quest as they dish out lots of skill points, and rewards like new weapons and some new outfits. I made sure I had done them all as well as creating my own jobs to upgrade all my various pouches as soon as I could. This involves finding things like carp skin, owl wishbones and vulture feathers and so travelling around the map to find where these critters hang out and hoping they’ll drop these useful items once you’ve killed them. It’s the same for your weapon and outfit upgrades, but in that case your quarry are machines and the parts they drop. These are very tricky to get hold of – for example if you’re after the elusive Apex Deadwing Heart to upgrade your legendary Tenakth armour then you might feel it’s an impossible task, but take your time in one of the errands and you might be surprised what you find.
As well as the quests there are also errands that get dished out by various characters during your travels – make sure you talk to the rumour-mongers at the campfires as often as possible. It wasn’t until I had finished the main story that I realised I had missed the Shining Example errand – one of 17 in the game. The timing was fine though as I would’ve only had to wait until I got the Sunwing override to complete the errand with some shock tactics from the sky.
The sky and the water are areas that have been expanded in this sequel compared the HZD. I felt that there was a lot more swimming, Lara Croft style, to plunder sunken caverns of there green gems, and a number of missions/errands that rely on you being able to fly on the back of the pterodactyl like machine. Also, it’s no spoiler (as it’s in the trailer), to mention that you very early on get hold of an energy shield that you repurpose as an instantly deployable parachute which helps immensely with jumping off high points and gliding lazily around the beautifully rendered landscapes, and also dropping on your unsuspecting enemies from above like an avenging angel.
By Level 50 I was wearing the Tenakth Reaver outfit featured above (sans helmet via an option in the Settings) and I had messed about with dyes and face paint along the way. This was a ‘very rare’ outfit which I think was handed to me along the way. As usual I didn’t spend much buying kit when I knew that as I progressed through the game I’d accrue all the inventory I would need to defeat the baddies. I did have a rush of blood to the head and splash out on a Legendary outfit but soon realised it would be too much trouble to upgrade it beyond the levels of protection afforded to me via the Reaver gear.
In terms of my preferred and final weapon loud out (which I think was only missing a plasma option – no great loss really) I arrived at the following 6 weapons on my weapon wheel – the Sun-touched Hunter Bow (with 3 arrow options and pretty good long range power), Skystrike Bolt Blaster (only really used against Rebel leaders and hovering aerial targets due to it being very resource hungry and slow to reload), Firestorm Warrior Bow (for quick close range sheenanigans – mostly with the acid option), Ancestor’s Return Shredder (one of the few Legendary items I collected) which was super-effective and fun against more lumbering machine targets and I think a new weapon type to the game, Perimeter Tripcaster (which I never used to put up shields if I am honest – and was mostly used in cauldrons and valleys where some trap laying could be done ahead of the action), and finally The Skykiller another powerful legendary weapon which was favoured when I was able to strike enemies at mid-range.
My outfit and weapons were not upgraded very much but fitted with coils and weaves to adjust some of the characteristics. I was a bit susceptible to shock attacks but it got me through the whole game without too much heartache. I am sure my load out could’ve been better if I had spent more time doing the melee pits, hunting grounds, guantlet runs and the arena. But along with the obligatory chess-like game-in-a-game ‘machine strike’, I wasn’t particularly attracted to these sideshow attractions. I am mostly lousy at these challenges and don’t have the patience for them despite the rewards they offer. Maybe if there’s a DLC later in the year I will give them some attention. As it was, I completed 87% of the PlayStation Trophies listed (50 out of 59) without really specifically ‘going for a trophy’ (apart from the ‘fully upgrade 3 outfits’ one, which was so soft I just had to take it off their hands).
My somewhat lackadaisical approach to outfit and weapons was helped immensely by some careful skill upgrade choices and a focus on the Survivor skill tree. Of all the ‘valor surges’ on offer via these skill trees I used ‘Toughened’ almost exclusively during my battles. It was like donning an extra layer of armour and I could live with the green vignette effect on the screen which reduced your peripheral vision. It suited my game play which is basically along the lines of how Marvel’s Daredevil approaches his fights – roll with the punches and come out bruised and bloody, but ultimately victorious.
As well as all the fun fighting tribes people and machines, there’s also some really good writing, great cut scene animations and voice acting. Without the superb writing and acting, this game would not be as dizzyingly good as it is – it’s a winning combination of technical achievement and art. I will let others pick through the story itself (I did want to avoid spoilers after all) but will just say that Aloy is not as alone as in HZD. She gets plenty of help, some from unexpected corners, but this in no way detracts from the fact that you Aloy are the only one that has the chops (and DNA profile) to save the planet.
Of course the Forbidden West, as you’d expect after HZD, is beautifully populated with flora, fauna and some new machine types. The transitions from mountains, desert, jungle, marshes and shorelines are perfectly done with everything looking super realistic and natural despite the science fiction setting. Also hats off to the sound designers and script writers who provide excellent atmospheric background sounds and conversations that you overhear in passing but certainly add to your over all immersion in the game.
Game of the year? It’s only March, but can I call it now? (or do I need to wait for Lego Star Wars?)