Horizon Forbidden West Review

2022 has thus far been a good year for gaming all around, with the first quarter of this year featuring some heavy hitters.

From surprise hits like Sifu to the inescapably huge Elden Ring, we here at Emmen Gaming have had our hands full of great content to experience and review.

Among the heavy hitters that came out early this year, Horizon Forbidden West is one of the biggest ones that was expected to make some serious waves in terms of expected accolades and achievements for Play Station as well.

So did it live up to the hype or fall short? After a busy February and March of playing through the game (among others as well), here’s our late but frank review of Horizon Forbidden West.

Spoilers ahead!

Into the Fray

Right off the bat, we noticed that the game kicks off in a high gear unlike Zero Dawn, where a slow burning build up was established.

Here we’re paired with Aloy right into a hostile environment with more wilderness and terrains that give us a tid-bit version of the visual variety and improvements.

The story takes place just a couple of months after the first game, so continuity is not disjointed.

Those who played Zero Dawn just before this game will certainly feel none of that. Series newcomers may take some time to adjust, but there are hints, documents and observations that the players can make to quickly catch up to speed if need be.

Having said that, whether you’re a new player or seasoned, what is obvious is that the game’s story has increased scope and depth, with more of the same, and a bit more of new things coming in.

Zero Dawn’s story progressed from Aloy trying to establish her identity and origins to setting her life’s purpose to saving the Earth—something she is uniquely positioned to do due to her heritage and origins.

Forbidden West has Aloy follow up and build on this purpose, as she finds out the previous threat has not truly ended.

She now needs to traverse across the Forbidden West region to revive GAIA and other supporting AI functions to effectively halt the slow degradation of the planet and reverse the damages.

Complicating things are the politics and fractal disputes across the Forbidden West, that include civil wars among warlords, pro-environment agricults, looters and even remnants of old enemy factions loitering in key areas Aloy needs access to.

And just as we figured this was a game ala Far Cry where you ‘go do a thing for a faction, get access and friendship’—it gets more interesting when super advanced humans from project ‘Far Zenith’ appear and quickly establish themselves as intimidating and very powerful main game antagonists.

This came as a huge curveball, as Far Zenith was but a footnote in the logs of Zero Dawn, and here, they’ve been successfully (and very effectively we might add) incorporated as serious threats.

Conversion from ‘Me’ to ‘We’

So now our favorite redheaded machine hunter has to deal with not just local politics, but also super tech roided humans with advanced tech well above anything previously experienced in the game—all in a race against time on the Earths rapidly growing degradation.

That’s a lot of pressure on Aloy, and it shows in both initial impressions and progression. Due to the vast majority of her life living as an outcast, and possibly emboldened by her recent successes,

Aloy starts out as far more stubborn and (slightly over) confident about her capabilities to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders alone. B

ut over the course of the game, both she and us as players start to realize the sheer scale and complexity of the task at hand, and there is progression of the game’s narrative shifting from a one-person gig to a more collaborative and coordinated effort, as Aloy slowly embraces her friends and allies she made in the past, and gains new ones in her battles to save the world

More personal aspects of Aloy are also explored over  the course of the game, which can be found in the many conversations and interactions you go through in the game—from slight hints at possible romances, personal likes and dislikes such as food preferences etc. which all ultimately have helped in fleshing out Aloy as a character.

It’s not that she wasn’t given any development before, but Zero Dawn’s Aloy for some felt more Mary Sue-ish, being pretty much perfect at her craft.

This time around, we see Aloy experiencing character flaws and development aspects that are in line with the struggles of a life-long loner working on social cues and connections, as well as showing more realistic emotions such as confusion and self-doubt as she figures out how much (or lack thereof) work needs to be done. Aloy is for our money, more relatable as a character than before in Horizon Forbidden West.

New and Tested Mechanics in Equal Measure

Both from a narrative and player experience perspective, a good sequel should have familiar aspects to it that give it’s signature feel, while also having enough new content to make it feel fresh and worth exploring and tooling around with.

Horizon Forbidden West aims to nail home the idea that everything is bigger and better in every way. And for the most part, the game delivers this in gameplay aspects.

The main gameplay mechanics and key elements from Zero Dawn are incorporated and are significantly improved.

The game mechanics feel more Witcher 3 – like, and not in a bad way at all. Aloy comes across more settlements where you can perform upgrades, restock items, and even engage in a unique mini-board game called ‘Machine Strike’.

While not exactly ‘Gwent’ it still has its own charm which can be a good break from all the machine busting and world saving our hero does on a regular basis.

There are also more conversation options and varieties, adding more depth tot the interactions that you can have in these settlements and in general.

There are a ton of side quests, each with their own sub plots and progressions spread across the game, giving it a feel of continuity and commitment. In this way, whenever we visit such settlements, there are familial feelings harkening back to the Witcher 3.

Many milestone skills obtained from Zero Dawn are already unlocked from the get-go i.e. overriding machines, item pick-ups by mounts, higher base health points etc.

This also ties in nicely with the narrative that we’re working with an Aloy who is already stronger in base compared to her peak in Zero Dawn.

Aloy can now scale many (but not all) surfaces in the world map, allowing for more fluid movement and creative platforming which is a great improvement over the original which at best felt  clunky.

The ability to summon and ride an increased number of mounts is a major welcome addition (Roach much?).

This, along with her ability to safely parachute down and later on fly (via Sunwings) across large heights and distances adds more breathtaking, dynamic movement and stability to the more adventurous among us running amok the map

Speaking of the map, it’s massive—and we mean massive.

There is a vast landscape that comes with a large amount of variety of terrain, weather and climatic compositions.

The trailers had us believe that this game is mostly going to be a tropical experience with a lot more emphasis on water.

Surprisingly, most of the early game starts off with a more jungle and desert-based setting, and slowly expands into more locales.

There are massive jungles with lush vegetation of flora and fauna, towering cliffs and jagged rock formation stretches, sprawling steppes and fields, snowy tundras and foreboding icy ridges, as well as large water bodies teeming with life, threats and points of interests—be it numerous crafting ingredients, loot or notes/logs that add more world building depth with regards to the ‘old-world’ and how it plays into the present.

There are both familiar and new foes including machines and significantly more challenging humans that players will have to fight against in their trek across the Forbidden West.

Returning machines include fan favorites like the Thunderjaw, Snapmaws and Stormbirds, while there is a plethora of new additions that are masterfully crafted per animals from various regions and locales—all of them armed to the teeth with new and creative ways to yeet and pulverize players.

From the annoying burrowers, Clamberjaws and Clawstriders, to the intimidating Termortusks, Fireclaws and Slitherfangs, along with the addition of their ‘Apex’ versions showing up now and then, there is no shortage in machine variety.

There are also more human enemy variants, and though they are far easier than machines to deal with, they come with their own styles too. Usually led by a leader, they can employ shields, artillery (including flinging rocks in your face!) and can be annoying in

All the new enemy types certainly sound threatening and worrying for Aloy. But as we mentioned earlier, Aloy herself is a lot stronger too, and has a lot of options available to her, with new customizable weapons, armors and abilities.

Many previous weapons that include a wide range of slings, bows and tripwires show up, along with new and powerful projectile javelins, melee projectile launchers and heavy artillery that will ensure that Aloy has plenty to ways to hurt the enemies right back.

This is all supplemented by new skills available for unlocking via the all new fleshed out skill tree, which has very good perks that can make a big difference in the efforts to tame the Forbidden West.

One of the key new additions to combat is the addition of Valor Surge abilites—which are powerful abilities of varying types that Aloy can use to dish out insane amounts of damage or gain tactical advantages.

The usage is limited but builds up over time in combat, so it does not disrupt the in-game fighting balance.

There are also new nature elements such as ‘purgewater’ added to this game that will have the player figuring out which nature element is best used against which enemy.

Thankfully, the upgraded Focus device that Aloy uses can give even more breakdowns on the enemy profiles, including specific elemental weakness on specific body parts, as well as general information

Having said that, it’s not all open fighting either.

The game’s stealth mechanic is an underrated but highly helpful approach to enemy disposal, particularly with machines, where it is possible to eliminate entire machine crowds with just a little bit of patience and (focus tagged) luck.

You get more exp from such kills, and in some places, making a few stealth kills can really make a difference in how smoothly or badly things to go pot in a pinch.

(Mostly) Smooth on the Eyes and Mind

Visually speaking, Horizon Forbidden West is one of the best we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.  

Character animation is a lot better than the original, and vast world map has been brought to life with rich textures and animations that make it feel very much ‘alive’. The details at times are incredible, such as facial pores, dust movements, footprints etc.

The lighting sources are reflected and presented with high fidelity, while shadow contrasts are much better and look very good on the eye.

Naturally, such a good looking deserves a good photo mode. And so it is the case with this game as well.

The photo mode is also very good, with considerable options for editing, and also containing more poses and expressions for the players to place Aloy in to make snap some very photogenic—even hilarious photos.

The soundtrack is very good too. There are new soundtracks that are suited to the varying tempos of the game’s major progression points, such as open conflicts, stealthy sections and even the more mysterious and abstract

Technically speaking, the game is mostly without issues.

The loading times on both the PS4- Pro and PS5 were generally very good. The loading times on the PS5 were fast enough that the devs had to actually deliberately slow it down to allow players to reasonably read the hints on the loading screen!

There were no game breaking bugs that was experienced during our playthrough(s) although minor issues such as icon popping delays on the map was experienced at times—however this was more of an issue experience on the PS4-Pro, so it’s more likely a platform-based issue.

A Few other minor bugs did persist, but none of them were distracting enough to detract our experience

Verdict

Horizon Zero Dawn placed itself as one of Play Station’s best exclusives, so the hype and expectations for it’s sequel was considerably high.

We’re happy to confirm that Horizon Forbidden West has pretty much lived up to the hype. The game is welcoming to both new and returning players, and is able to offer a larger, more variety and content filled gameplay setting with both familiar and new additions that enhance on the previous mechanics.

Many improvements were drawn skillfully from past greats of the open world such as The Witcher 3, and is integrated in a cohesive fashion to the existing build of the Horizon experience.

With excellent character animations, and absolutely gorgeous in- game visuals, it is one of the most visually impressive games in recent memory.

It has the potential to be one of the best PS5 exclusives—so we highly recommend that you grab a copy and explore the Forbidden West.

Rating: Masterpiece

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