PlayStation’s latest exclusive has wowed critics and fans alike, and for a good reason. Horizon: Forbidden West continues Aloy’s mission to save the world from a mysterious blight. While Horizon: Zero Dawn laid the foundations of an enticing new IP, the sequel builds and improves on that foundation in nearly every way, making it an unmissable experience if you’re lucky enough to own a PS5. Here are five ways that Horizon: Forbidden West improves on the original.
Don’t Need It? Stash It!
One of the few gripes I had with Horizon: Zero Dawn was limited resource inventory. In an open world filled with stuff to scrounge from the carcasses of downed machines, Aloy’s pockets weren’t that deep. Forbidden West fixes that issue by giving the player the ability to stash resources. When out in the wilds, anything that doesn’t fit in your pouch is automatically treasured into a chest that Aloy can access in settlements. I know I’m not the only one obsessed with scavenging every plant, machine part and old-world antique.
Naturally, Aloy can’t access these reserves during missions, so you still need to manage craft materials when in battles. But, knowing that crafting materials are just a fast travel pack away gives me a sense of comfort, keeping me well armed and ready for any unfriendly machines which may interrupt my innocent rummaging. Talking of machines, let’s move on to one of the more noticeable improvements that’ll put Aloy’s skill and endurance to the ultimate test.
Towering juggernauts of mechanical rage, the machines that populate the world of post-post-apocalyptic United States, are something to behold! While Horizon: Zero Dawn had some impressive mechs, nothing compares to what awaits you in the forbidden west. Familiar machines like the Charger, ThunderJaw and GlintHawk return, but new additions have a distinctly prehistoric inspiration. For instance, the antagonistic outlaw group led by the fearsome matriarch Regalia rides a Velociraptor-like machine called a Clawstrider.
My personal favourite addition is the Slaughterspin, a genuinely terrifying creature that easily gives the Thunderjaw a run for its money as the most formidable opponents in the game. These titans will push Aloy to her limit even on the most accessible difficulties. Killing isn’t always the answer, however; sometimes, it’s hard not to watch these machines stalk the land, marvelling at Guerilla’s skill in creating such compelling creatures that can both end your life or save your skin.
A Living World
As jaw-droppingly gorgeous as Horizon: Zero Dawn was, it was very much a proof of concept, as many new IPs are. As a result, the world could feel static at times. Aloy’s journey could be a lonely affair with dialogue between companions kept mainly to cutscenes. Despite the advanced facial animations, the movement and dialogue delivery suffered from a lack of believability. These issues that admittedly most open-world games suffer from have been fixed and offer the most impressive visuals yet seen on current-generation consoles.
The level of detail on show is rivalled only by Rockstar Game’s Red Dead Redemption 2. Motion capture and voice acting performances are outstanding, from principal to side characters you may only talk with once. When Aloy walks through the desert biome, there’s perspiration on her face. Horizon: Forbidden West is full of these little details that you can’t help but put the DualSense down and stare at the visual feast in front of you. Watching a walkthrough or graphical analysis on YouTube doesn’t do the game justice. It’s absolutely stunning!
Substantial Side Content
Side quests and other optional content is the bread and butter of open-world games. Regardless of how good the main narrative maybe, if the world is a repetitive bore filled with pointless fetch quests, what’s the point in playing? Aloy’s initial outing soared in terms of its central narrative but floundered when it came to side content, specifically side quests. The goal of saving the world was often disrupted by tedious fetch quests, making the player feel like a glorified postman. Too often do games rely on the ‘go here, fetch this and bring it back’ format.
Improvements are felt immediately upon entering the starting chunk of the map. Entering the settlement of Chainscrape, you find the citizens living under the unwelcome leadership of Ulvund, a scrupulous mine owner and general villain. Several side quests will unravel Ulvunds’s stranglehold on the town and left me with a sense of accomplishment that I’ve rarely felt in, dare I say, lesser RPGs. Even after days of exploring what the west has to offer, I’m still meeting compelling people with worthy stories to tell and tasks to give.
Horizon: Forbidden West is big… Colossally big! So significant is the world that I often found myself mesmerised by the share scale. Standing on a small island in the middle of the sea between the ruins of San Francisco and the mainland, you’d be forgiven for thinking nothing lay to the east or west as the only things in view were the rolling waves mirrored by the starry sky’s above. Putting poetics aside for a moment, let’s get to the specifics. The forbidden west splits its world into several biomes – desert, Forrest, jungles, oceans, and the Bay City ruins.
The exploration does stop at the highest peaks, however. With the help of a breathing apparatus, Aloy can dive into lakes, sunken ruins and the deepest oceans. This new underwater realm is wonderfully realised with some of the most impressive water physics yet seen in video games. Abounding life, mechanical beasts, and lush environments shows the power of the PS5. One can only dream of what developers will be capable of in the years ahead as the console’s hardware and software is refined and optimised. Horizon: Forbidden West is hands down the best-looking game currently available on PS5.
Horizon: Forbidden West is available exclusively on PS4/PS5.