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REVIEW: Horizon Forbidden West — Zero(dawn) to a Hundred, Real Quick

 
 
Overview
 

Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
 
Developed by: Guerilla Games
 
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed)
 
Genre(s): Open-world, Action RPG
 
Mode(s): Singleplayer
 
Game Type: , ,
 
FG RATING
95%
95/ 100


User Rating
no ratings yet

 

Raves


Chunky open-world action RPG. Breathtaking sceneries, life-like character models. Engaging characters and epic finale.

Rants


Some really obvious pop-ins and non-tracking eyes. (supposedly to be addressed in Day One patch)


0
Posted February 15, 2022 by

Horizon Zero Dawn was a resounding success so it comes as no surprise that a follow-up to their 2017 hit was inevitable. Coming in, I already expected the game to look phenomenal with the only real fear being that it could be more of the same. And though there is definitely more of the same, there’s a fair bit of new on top of that, too. What I failed to really anticipate was how the narrative was taken to new heights and how much more imperative Aloy’s companions were to the whole experience.

This review is spoiler-free, read-on! The game comes with a recap video for those who haven’t played the first or need a refresher. Get the game on the PlayStation Store

Mass Horizon Effect

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After the events of the first game, a mysterious plague starts spreading across the globe which kills anything it infects. Now, being literally the only person who could stop this new threat, Aloy sets out into the forbidden west, in search of a way to heal the world and prevent mass extinction (again).

In the interest of not spoiling anything, let me just say that Forbidden West’s story just escalates from there and continues to do so in ways I personally wasn’t prepared for. It’s so hard to convey what I mean without dropping specifics, but to give you a better idea, I would compare Forbidden West’s story to that of the Mass Effect trilogy. Now understand that Forbidden West is still a linear game, but I made the comparison because of two reasons.

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The first is that worldbuilding felt akin to how it felt for the Mass Effect games. It was so damn fascinating and immersive that I found myself addicted to every scrap of lore I find scattered across West’s massive world. Even the world itself is an essential piece of lore. Finding ruins of ancient structures, massive robots, and other archeological footprints left behind by a past that isn’t far from a potential real-world future adds a sense of depth beyond just physical scale to Forbidden West’s environmental wonders.

The second reason is Aloy’s companions. Both new and old, all of Aloy’s companions are far better fleshed out this time around. The structure of sidequests is entertaining and conversations feel more intimate thanks to Forbidden West’s incredibly life-like expressions. In fact, the resemblance between some of the characters and their real-life counterparts is freakishly uncanny. A serious technological marvel, this even extends towards the lesser NPCs who all have very believable appearances and voice acting (for the most part).

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Horizon is no longer a story of just Aloy, but of its people. Towards the end of the campaign, you’re likely to find yourself emotionally invested in these characters, adding an extra sense of significance to their part in the story, despite being a linear experience. The final moments of the game were on an Avengers-level of epic. After completing the game, one can only wonder how they intend to up the ante for the sequel they so obviously set up.

The Proven

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From a gameplay standpoint, Horizon Forbidden West expands quite a bit, though the first few hours of the game will certainly feel more of the same. Most of the game’s new elements are locked behind story progression and these quests are pretty well spread apart. Unless you were ignoring most points of interest and encounters you come across on the way to the main quest, it could take some time to experience all of them.

Thankfully when it comes to Aloy’s arsenal, you pretty much have access to most of it right from the get-go. You can even gain access to a couple of new ones early on. Some of these new weapons aren’t so interesting on their own but in conjunction with other weapons, you can do some pretty nasty combos. For instance, your ropecaster, which used to just tag a machine to the ground, can now attach elemental canisters onto the machine which, when shot with a different weapon/ammo, can either deal massive damage or cause a great elemental reaction and turn the tides.  You can only have 6 of these on your loadout but have access to all of them from your inventory. Mixing and matching certain weapons based on who/what you’re fighting is a satisfying metagame before each encounter. Although, the ability to create loadout sets would have been a nice touch!

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One of the major changes to Aloy’s abilities that you’ll notice early on is the improved melee system. Aloy can now do combinations that cause different effects and also abilities that reward switching between ranged and melee on the fly. Upgrading your warrior skill tree will improve melee combat damage or grant you new melee abilities to fool around with. Unfortunately, melee is still mostly just effective against human enemies and is still the same gameplay at its core. Definitely no Arkham-level of melee, but if you try hard enough, it is possible to pull off some stylish tricks.

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In addition to the improved melee, Aloy now also has active and Valor abilities. Active abilities are powered-up alternative fire for a specific weapon type. This consumes Weapon Stamina which is essentially Mana in most RPGs. Valor abilities, on the other hand, are basically Aloy’s Ultimate. Each skill tree has its own set of active and valor abilities and you can equip one of each at a time. Fill up enough of your valor gauge through combat and you’ll be able to unleash a gamechanger ability ranging from dealing massive AOE damage to turning nearly invisible for a certain period. These two ability types add an extra layer of RPG elements on top of hunting for parts and crafting gear.

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There’s quite a bit of gear to craft and purchase this time around, which requires some focused hunting to fully upgrade, not unlike the gameplay loop you typically experience in games like Monster Hunter. Machines are challenging enough to fight as they are, but it’s even more so when you’re trying to tear off specific parts or making sure a component is undamaged during combat. Though you can blaze through the game with mostly just your hunter bow and a few skills here and there, there’s a great sense of accomplishment in preparing for each encounter methodically to pull off clean and swift hunts like a true machine hunter.

Rage Against the Machines

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And boy, are there machines to hunt. On top of the existing machines introduced in the first game, there are almost just as many new machines introduced in Forbidden West. Though they’re all equally fascinating, they range from magnificent to downright frightening. Hunting them is now more convenient than ever. Scanning machines provide much more detail about each individual part and vulnerabilities. This helps you better prepare your approach and loadout before engaging but also makes hunting for parts easier. You can create a job for each component you’re missing. Once set, the game automatically creates a quest marker leading you to the nearest pack of machines that has the component you need. Scanning also helps indicate which part you need to tear off or keep intact to obtain a specific part. This allows for the same level of crafting intricacies but with less menu management and mental note-taking.

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Machines from the first game are still refreshing to fight here as they’re mostly apex versions and are of different elemental variants. Enemy AI has also been improved (at least outside of stealth). Their attack frequency and recovery delay seem to match much better with your own movement, making dodges and overdraws more methodical, not unlike the kind of system used in Monster Hunter games. Dodge perfectly and you’ll have just the right amount of time to fully draw your bow and hit an exposed component, take too long and you’ll miss that window. Committing to a dodge too early or too late can lead to some unwanted damage, not to mention resetting the flow of combat. In skirmishes where prep time is not an option, combat against machines can be a fair challenge even on the lesser difficulties.

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Thankfully there are a few traversal improvements to help Aloy get around easily. Aloy can now grapple onto certain surfaces, allowing her to reach certain areas more quickly. She can also use this to boost herself up high in the air (similar to Batman’s Grapnel Boost) From there, you can take advantage of the angle and aim at parts exposed from above, utilizing concentration to slow down time while aiming airborne. From there, Aloy can also use a glider, ala Zelda, to cover larger gaps or fall safely from great heights. On top of that, Aloy can now dive underwater, instantly adding an entirely new layer of exploration, one that’s later further augmented when you craft the rebreather. Some of these are certainly useful in combat but all of them are perfect tools in exploring all of Forbbiden West’s exceptional sceneries. Oh, and did I mention that you’ll eventually be able to fly around the entire map? YOU CAN FRIGGIN RIDE A SUNWING TO EXPLORE THE ENTIRE MAP!

Bring Me That Horizon

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Zero Dawn set a pretty high graphical bar and though my expectations were fine at just higher resolutions, Forbidden West manages to churn out truly breathtaking visuals. There’s an overwhelming amount of detail in the environments as well as in each character model. And I’m not talking about just important characters. Nearly everything in the game has a good amount of detail to them which really immerses you into this living and breathing world. The color composition is done just right that you don’t ever get overwhelmed by an explosion of lights, shadows, and colors. It’s even more impressive up close during each dynamic cutscene and conversation. In reality, the majority of the biomes in Forbidden West are essentially the same type of biomes weave seen from the first game, and most of the newer-looking areas (rainforest and tropical) are further west and occupy a relatively small percentage of the map. Admittedly, I would’ve wanted to see more of the new biomes, but believe me when I say that nearly every inch of the game is an absolute treat to take in and experience. Underwater areas look stunning too, although unfortunately, they’re not as fun to explore as there usually isn’t much to do while swimming.

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The level of detail in Forbidden West is sometimes just so immersive that even relatively minor issues can become kinda hard to ignore. For starters, there are some very bad pop-ins at certain areas of the map. And I don’t mean small texture pop-ins. Large structures and objects can sometimes literally appear out of nowhere way too close. The other thing is, since faces look so realistic, the lack of eye tracking in certain conversations makes looking at their faces feel awkward or downright disturbing. Both of these issues are said to be addressed in a day one patch according to Sony, but either way, they take very little away from the overall experience. Bask in all that visual goodness, machine hunter.

VERDICT

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Horizon Forbidden West is a glorious action RPG but also an unexpectedly epic sci-fi fantasy. So much so that I dare say it deserves to be categorized in the same league as Mass Effect. Making full use of its rich world and diverse set of characters, the game is a fully-realized open-world experience that delivers heaps of machine-hunting fun and immersive storytelling for hours upon hours. I can’t think of any conceivable reason to avoid picking this game up on either console generation. The game’s packed with quality content, can’t go wrong.

[This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]


Dian Raval

 
Dian is a writer for Flipgeeks who, in his spare time, stares at a wall in his basement. If you'd like to discuss music, video games, or the infinite wisdom of concrete, follow him on twitter @iburnandfume or subscribe to his YouTube channel @iburnandfume. He's pretty much iburnandfume in everything. Apparently he... burns and fumes.


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