Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of my favourite first-party titles that released on the PlayStation 4, with Aloy’s journey to save the land from a villainous AI one that was full of beauty, intrigue, and some outstanding battles with both man and machine. It also felt more streamlined than other open-world titles, with the more condensed but still expansive land filled with unique landmarks and interesting locales as opposed to just barren fields. It’s why I have been so excited to play Horizon: Forbidden West, the follow-up that continues Aloy’s adventure as she looks to save the world from a new threat.

I did wonder though: what could Guerrilla Games do to improve upon the formula? Well, whilst the gameplay blueprint remains very much the same in Horizon: Forbidden West, it has been evolved upon in a multitude of ways that help the game exceed its predecessor in almost every way. Believe me, you won’t want to miss out on this masterpiece of a game.

Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:

Horizon: Forbidden West takes place just a few months following the events of the first game, with Aloy leaving the safe haven of Meridian immediately after defending it from the threat of HADES and seeking out a backup of the GAIA AI. The world has found itself in a state of disarray, with the land dying, natural disasters striking, and the machines still causing chaos, with the only way to restore it to a state of vitality being to reinstate GAIA.

After a few leads for a backup fall short, Aloy gets a glimmer of hope from an unlikely source. The only problem? She’ll have to venture out into the Forbidden West to gather it, which is currently in an uneasy state following a truce between the Carja of Meridian and the vicious yet misunderstood Tenakth. It’s a truce that Aloy finds herself involved in, though some hostility between the tribes of the Tenakth as well as the threat of a mysterious new enemy known as the Zenith ensure that her venture into the Forbidden West is far from straightforward.

What follows is a grand adventure full of twists and turns that, in many ways, trumps the narrative of the original thanks to the introduction of both the natural threat and that of the Zenith. I found myself itching to play longer just to uncover the truth behind each new mystery that was introduced, whilst the strong cast of both familiar and new characters helps strengthen the tale even further. In fact, I could appreciate Aloy’s bond with each character a lot more this time around, especially since they faced such a formidable foe together in the previous game – now, everyone feels like one big family. The questions of the previous game are all answered too, including the big cliff hanger involving that scheming Sylens; it’s covered quite early on, which was nice and ensured that Horizon: Forbidden West could focus more on the story it was trying to tell.

“Whilst a lot of the experience will be familiar, Guerrilla Games have improved upon almost every facet of gameplay to ensure there’s still a sense of freshness to be found.”

Those who played the previous game will find a sense of familiarity with the gameplay of Horizon: Forbidden West, with the game once again offering an expansive open-world to explore that’s full of missions, side quests, resources to gather, collectibles to find, and enemies to battle. As mentioned, the formula hasn’t been changed up too much, so you’ll have a basic idea as to what you can expect from the game.

However, whilst a lot of the experience will be familiar, Guerrilla Games have improved upon almost every facet of gameplay to ensure there’s still a sense of freshness to be found. The world itself is easier to navigate, for example, with more climbable surfaces, the ability to glide from high points across the land, as well as a bigger focus on underwater exploration. Each add a whole new way to uncover the world, and honestly, it just makes exploration all the more enthralling – especially when seeking out treasures under water or finding out what machines might be lurking in the deep…

Speaking of machines, there are new threats to face off against in the Forbidden West that’ll really put your fighting prowess to the test. Whilst things like the Slitherfang (a giant snake that blasts out acid), the Tremortusk (a mammoth-like machine that’s equipped with a deadly arsenal), and the Shellsnapper (a giant turtle that’ll head underground to attack you from below) have been heavily promoted before release, foes like the Leaplasher, Bristleback, and the Clamberjaws certainly deserve some attention too. They can prove especially formidable if you find yourself facing a pack of them, with Horizon: Forbidden West certainly pulling no punches when it comes to giving Aloy a rough time. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a hard game, but the sheer variety of the deadly machines you face off against ensures that life won’t be easy for players either.

Oh, and plenty of favourites return too, so you can expect to encounter a Thunderjaw or two along your journey. Wouldn’t be the same without them, right? Add to that the more versatile human threat that have more tricks up their sleeves, and it won’t take you long to realise the odds are very much stacked against Aloy.

“Instances of combat kept me excited all the way through to the end of the game, whilst some of the set-pieces found in missions are UNBELIEVABLE.”

Luckily, Aloy’s combat skills are more refined and versatile this time around to give players more options when it comes to facing off against enemies. For one, there are more weapons to use, with new additions such as the heavy-damage dealing Spike Thrower, the boomerang-like Shredder Gauntlet, or the Boltblaster which is perfect for piercing through armour, all proving effective at taking out the new foes. There’s also a wider range of arrow types for the different bows Aloy can access, with new elements introduced to allow players to exploit the different weaknesses of enemies. Take those Bristlebacks for example, who have acid-filled pods on their back – nail one of them with an acid arrow and they’ll explode, pretty much instantly killing the machine. It shows that there’s plenty of room for strategy in the game, with those who take advantage of enemy weak points or who shoot parts off of them likely to find the most success in each showdown.

There’s also a more flexible upgrade system on offer when refining Aloy’s skills, with more options available that allow players to really finetune her strengths. Do you prefer fighting up-close with your spear? Fill up the ‘Warrior’ skill tree. Do you prefer fighting from afar? The ‘Infiltrator’ skill tree will be for you. Or do you like to set up traps across the battlefield? The ‘Trapper’ skill tree it is. Of course, the best builds will have a mixture of them all (especially since they offer both combat and passive skills to unlock), but there’s plenty of choice for players to do what suits them.

A new addition to Aloy’s skillset this time around are the Valor abilities. Your Valor meter charges when performing certain actions in-combat and, when filled, allows you to unleash a Valor ability, with each skill tree offering two different options to unlock. Some of these abilities are straightforward, such as making your arrows more powerful, increasing your chance of landing critical hits, or offering restorative effects, but others are more interesting, such as giving players a shield that absorbs damage, completely hiding your presence to make it easier to sneak around, or chaining damage between enemies. Admittedly, there’s nothing TOO spectacular on offer with the abilities themselves, but they give you an extra trick to use in combat that can be especially effective in some of the game’s more challenging encounters.

Between all of the refinements and increased enemy variety, combat in Horizon: Forbidden West feels like it has come on leaps and bounds from the first game. It was easy to get in a formula of doing the same routine when fighting enemies previously, but this time around I felt there was more room for strategy, the combat scenarios were more unpredictable, and I had the tools to not only be more effective but more stylish in battle. Instances of combat kept me excited all the way through to the end of the game, whilst some of the set-pieces found in missions are UNBELIEVABLE. Add to that things like the mounted-combat, the use of heavy weapons, and some of the other abilities Aloy has that I haven’t touched upon, and it’ll become clear that battling is better than ever in Horizon: Forbidden West.

Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:

The mission design also feels more elaborate thanks to the gear Aloy comes equipped with, with her Pull Caster allowing her to grapple up to higher areas or pull apart weak walls, the Igniter blasting apart special red crystals, and the Diving Mask allowing her to explore the depths of water without running out of breath. It opens up more possibilities for puzzling and exploration, with each mission often giving players something a little different to do outside of simply leaping around or destroying machines. Things like Cauldrons make a return too, giving players an array of challenging puzzles to solve that’ll see them leaping around and keeping out of harm’s way, whilst Tallnecks are trickier than ever to override and demand a bit more creative thinking from players outside of simply reaching a high point and jumping to them.

This variety made it easier to invest in exploring the world and helping the folk that inhabit it, with Horizon: Forbidden West full of side missions that give Aloy different tasks to complete. It could be as straightforward as helping someone in need, exploring a ruin to find some treasure (there’s are a lot more remnants of the old world in the Forbidden West), a race against rivals whilst riding machines (these are intense), a test of your combat skills in an arena, or a salvage contract to gather machine parts. There’s a wealth of content to be found in Horizon: Forbidden West, but nothing ever gets samey thanks to the diversity offered within the core gameplay experience. Heck, there’s even a strategic board game to dive into if you fancy a moment of calm, with plenty of new pieces to be found and foes to challenge across the world.

It’s worth mentioning that the side quests are REALLY fleshed out with story details too, with plenty of lore to be missed if you don’t complete them. In fact, some of the more intriguing story details and deeper pieces of lore came from completing a non-compulsory mission, so I’d implore players to check them all out. You can expect to stick a good amount of hours into the game to see everything (I’m at around thirty hours and I’ve still got plenty to do), but it’s all worth it – not only because you’ll have a heck of a lot of fun, but because you’ll get to learn more about the world along the way.

“The world brings plenty of variety across its range of biomes, with each one packed with enchanting vistas, brilliant sights, vibrant colours, and intimidating weather effects that bring everything to life.”

With the exceptional gameplay and plethora of content, there’s a lot to love about Horizon: Forbidden West. The cherry on top has to be the stunning visuals, with the game easily the most gorgeous that I’ve played on console. The world brings plenty of variety across its range of biomes, with each one packed with enchanting vistas, brilliant sights, vibrant colours, and intimidating weather effects that bring everything to life. The character models are incredibly detailed too, with even the most insignificant of NPCs bringing with them life-like faces that help them stand out in the crowd, whilst the fluid animations ensure everything flows gracefully in-action. And the machines? They look better than ever, with Guerrilla Games clearly masters of moulding these crazy robotic creatures.

There was one mission that saw me climbing a towering mountain in the midst of a blizzard, with the snow sticking to Aloy’s costume and her cheeks reddening as I went deeper into the cold (there are plenty of cool little details like this). It felt daunting seeing the snow blasting at me, but I was just left in awe of the atmospheric presence of it all. The best part of all was when I reached the peak of the mountain – not because I could see all of the world around be, but because I could glide from it, soar through the clouds, and appreciate the depth and detail of the land below. I’m a sucker for hyperbole in my reviews, especially when it comes to visuals, but believe me: you need to see Horizon: Forbidden West in action just to appreciate how beautiful it really is.

I did play on the game’s ‘Resolution’ mode though, which gave a 4K resolution, ray tracing, and better visuals at a 30fps frame rate. You can play in ‘Performance’ mode if you prefer and it’s still mighty impressive visually (plus you get a slick 60fps frame rate), but you’re sacrificing some of the graphical boons that really help make the game stand out. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the DualSense controller, which didn’t only add more weight to the actions you perform but also made you feel the presence of every machine you come across in-game. I’ve found that Sony’s first-party titles make the best use of the controller and it’s certainly the case with Horizon: Forbidden West.

For all its strengths in the visual department, I did notice a handful of graphical glitches here and there when playing, with a little bit of pop-in as I ventured further across the world, some weird black screens occurring when loading between some scenes, and even a couple of occasions where the frame rate could stutter in busy sequences. I actually had to reset the game during one of those frame stuttering instances, with it seemingly not recovering even after switching between the game’s ‘Resolution’ and ‘Performance’ modes – it was a one-off, but it was a little weird.

Horizon: Forbidden West Review

Horizon: Forbidden West is a remarkable game that blew me away with its excellent storytelling, deep and engaging gameplay, and breath-taking visuals. I found myself eagerly anticipating every twist and turn of the story, the set pieces left me in awe of just how fun and varied combat is, whilst exploring the world and uncovering all of its secrets and side quests was a real treat. And did I mention it looks ridiculously stunning? It really has it all.

The first game is one of my favourite PlayStation titles of all time, but Horizon: Forbidden West exceeds it in almost every way. Some minor graphical issues here and there do stop the game from feeling ‘perfect’, but they don’t stop Horizon: Forbidden West from being a masterpiece of game design.

Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: PlayStation Studios
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4
Website: https://www.playstation.com/en-gb/games/horizon-forbidden-west/