Horizon Forbidden West
Horizon Forbidden West is Guerrilla Games latest action role-playing game following the protagonist, Aloy, through a post-apocalyptic North America. If you haven’t played Horizon Zero Dawn, then you should really go out and play it. As one of my all-time favorite modern games, and is a must have game for the PlayStation 4 and 5. I have just completed Horizon Forbidden West (HFW) and achieved the Platinum Trophy. Here’s my thoughts on the game.
NOTE: I will be spoiling much of Zero Dawn and Forbidden West. I’ll try to keep my HFW spoilers light, but no promises.
HFW reconnects with Aloy just after the events of Zero Dawn. The defeat of Hades hasn’t corrected the world and there is still more to do. The climate and environment is still out-of-kilter and needs to be corrected. Aloy skips her celebration and dives into trying to figure out what’s going on. As she’s off trying to save the world, she is still reluctant to make friends and accept help. All she knows is that Sylens and the answers she’s looking for is out west, and therefore she heads west.
To keep from being too spoilery, HFW does lead Aloy further through self-discovery and preparing her to trust and develop her tribe. They do a great job in allowing you to reap the real life consequences of trust…both good and bad.
The jump from Zero Dawn to HFW, in terms of gameplay, is both significant-yet-familiar. Improved melee combat, more and new weapons, and loads of new machines help round out a fresh set of gameplay features that don’t feel too outrageous.
I’m not a huge melee brawler, but the improvements did allow me to feel more comfortable in the boss battles that essentially forced close combat. It definitely has its flaws, but was a step up from the previous game. A new “Warrior Bow” class also provides a short range weapon that can help you gain some distance if you still aren’t big on close quarters combat.
Early on you are given a simple tutorial to understand the play as well as easily provided some combos that will help you on your play. I’d recommend paying attention to these.
Along with the improved melee, multiple new weapon types and skill trees allow you to customize your game progression as you wish. Hunting and Stealth/Infiltration are my favorite game mechanics. HFW keeps the hunting bow, the sharpshot bow, the slingshot, and two casters (rope and trip). In addition to these, a spike thrower (javelin), boltblaster (fully-auto crossbow), and shredder gauntlet (Jai alai glove with a frisbee in it) have been added to your arsenal.
The spike thrower is amazing. It became my go-to weapon. Boltblasters were nice but take forever to reload once you are empty. The gauntlet has some nice digging and damage discs, but it is most useful when you throw your disc 3 times and compounding damage…but it means being somewhat stationary so you can “catch” the returning disc.
The powerups (through the skill tree) for these weapons are a treat to unlock and begin using. For instance, my trap/tripcaster placement dropped significantly after getting a spike thrower. One of the buffs allows you to throw a spike and make it a trap…ranged trapping was fantastic.
Traversal has been rebalanced and updated. First, there is no longer a “Unlimited Travel Pack”, but you can free travel at any campfire. Campfires aren’t nearly as dense as Zero Dawn, but still well placed to keep from you feeling like you cannot save your game efficiently enough.
(Note: Some spoilers ahead…) The biggest upgrade is the machine traversal. First, you can ride the Charger, just like before, but a new mount is called a Bristleback. Bristlebacks are large and hard to maneuver but can take a ton of damage (which means less damage on you). Lastly, there is the raptor-like Clawstrider. The Clawstrider aren’t as strong or fast as the others, but the benefit they have is agility and an attack that deals a ton of damage to other machines. Lastly, the most fun is the Sunwing. Yep, Aloy can fly. After being able to fly, the campfires become less desired as taking in the world from the air is amazing!
With more weapons, more quests, more friends and more…more..more. You may think you can be overwhelmed. And that may be true, but I felt that Guerrilla did a better job at reducing the stimuli than they did previously. Additionally, the extra characters build relationships that make you care more about them. Also the ancillary side mission characters often have a depth that you won’t find in other games.
Not so great…
With all I love about this game, there are things that still need some work.
Forced Combat Modes
The new system allows you to dump all your skills into a specific combat style. Hunting, Infiltration, Machine Control, and Melee are the key types that are specific to combat. Trapping and Survival are the other two with some combat skills in each. But many times you are either forced into boss battles that have to be played outside your chosen style. If you normally play stealth (infiltration), sometimes the enemies won’t spawn until they see you which makes it difficult to get back into stealth (even with the smoke bombs). The arena and other places have structures that will allow you to hunt from above, but many of the machines can collapse these structures. I am not a fan of the developers providing a huge options to the players, then force the player into a single way to proceed.
Specifically the use of “Hunting Grounds”. The previous game had a story and reason the hunting grounds existed. I didn’t mind working through the grind in order to get to the fantastic Talanah story line. In the Frozen Wilds DLC, the hunting ground was a bit awkward but has some grouping with a character that was a small band-aid over that. But the Hunting Grounds in HFW were extremely out of place and honestly forced into the map. I say map because they have ZERO impact to the story. A brief forced comment “You think the Carja came up with this?” does nothing to make me feel like this was worth it.
They introduced the Arena and the Melee Pits that had story arcs tied to the rest of the game. They should have focused more on these and left the Hunting Grounds as a “Carja Thing” and left in Zero Dawn.
I know I just praised the Melee Pits above, but stick with me. One of the biggest shortcomings of the game is the Melee. This is hard to say because it’s also one of the parts of the game that is so much better than the original game. Machine melee was much better. But when your weapons are stripped and you just have melee (and a practice warrior bow), the combat flaws are heavily enhanced.
The biggest problem is that the combat is not truly fluid like other great melee combat games. Games like Yakuza, Jedi: Fallen Order, and even Ghost of Tsushima have a fluidity to the motion that allows you to move, hit, parry, and block with quick button presses. It didn’t need to be Devil May Cry or even From Software level of melee, but you’d be in this frenzied fight and having to hit buttons every half second…pausing for close to one or more seconds…then going back to the light taps or holds to introduce combos.
So the issue was, they improved the melee…but not enough to have something force your focus on it.
All in all, I still loved Horizon. This was a great game…seriously…a great game. Even with its flaws, it was an extremely fun time. I think I spent over 120 hours in this game and other than a couple of the melee pits, had a smile on my face the whole time. I would encourage everyone to go play it! Seriously, a 10 out of 10.