This review is a big one, people – so bear with me.
Horizon Zero Dawn marked the beginning of a franchise that would take the gaming community by storm; not only did Aloy’s journey deliver in spectacular fashion, but she also became one of the most iconic characters in the industry today. With Forbidden West, you will experience a formidable gaming force – every element Forbidden West has to offer delivers beyond expectation with top-of-the-line graphics, animations, gameplay, world-building, plot and characters — despite having some focal missteps in character delegation and Aloy’s one dimensional personality. Horizon II Forbidden West is an important centerpiece of gaming, one I think every owner should experience.
Far Zenith’s Red Harring
Your quest starts 6 months after the events of Zero Dawn – the world is in critical condition, caused by a disease called the Red Blight that’s spreading across the wilds, killing all surrounding plant and animal life; the only person who can possibly revert this cataclysmic event is Aloy, naturally, as she is the literal clone of Elisabet Sobec, the sole savior of the old world and creator of Zero Dawn; because of this, Aloy is pretty much the keeper of all technology surrounding the world.
Directly after defeating HADES, Aloy barely spends time to celebrate with the people she brought together – which ends up being the topic of conversation when Aloy reunites with some of her older comrades. Eventually you reach the Forbidden West where tribal warfare is at a standstill brokering peace amongst themselves; not all would agree with this as a formidable adversary named Ragala wage war against all who stands in her way, and best of all, she commands machines. You will ally yourself with companions – not alongside gameplay of course – as you communicate with them that would eventually branch off to form relationships, companion quest and so on.
Just like Zero Dawn, you will see many dynamics unfold before you as you progress the story – one filled with mystery of the old world and beyond, only a lot bigger in scope. I don’t want to spoil too much because there’s extremely welcoming surprises; I will say this though – everything you’ve speculated regarding potential story of Forbidden West won’t compare to what actually happens – it is so rich in world building that I was thoroughly amazed by the level of attention Guerilla Games produced. In almost every aspect there were plot elements I did not see coming, not even the slightest. However, this double edge plot design can cause more harm than good in the long run; Guerrilla Games has even bigger shoes to fill if they are to match the gargantuan expectation then laid out for us in the epilogue – one I fear may have the Mass Effect 3 effect. It is an exhilarating feeling to have so much revealed in terms of plot, that is almost matched by their level of fidelity – it is incredibly how the game can feel so focused in a world so immensely large to free roam.
But, with great story comes great responsibility, and one that suffers between the lines; there’s a massive race delegation issue and cliche’s that I couldn’t shake off in my 40hr playthrough. I think Guerilla Games does a fantastic job in depicting megalomaniacal protagonist, but I couldn’t help that all those who are in power are White – all of them. And those who serves or have a position that’s below the leaders are Black. Even revered positions in Plainsong for example, a place predominately Black, has leaders that are elderly and White. It’s a theme that’s constant throughout the story and one that I couldn’t stop wondering if this was done on purpose or not. I really hoped that Guerilla Games wouldn’t characterize in such a way, but they did.
“Even revered positions in Plainsong for example, a place predominately Black, has leaders that are elderly and White. It’s a theme that’s constant throughout the story and one that I couldn’t stop wondering if this was done on purpose or not.“
Don’t get me wrong – it is a great reflection of how the world works today, and again – all those in power are usually maniacal in nature who ultimately suffer by their own greed, but that build up to the climax takes so long to bear fruit that when it inevitable does, it doesn’t feel justifiable or impactful. It’s a gripe of mine that may seem out of line, but one that I genuinely felt throughout my playthrough. I hope that Guerilla Games reflect further with their next iteration and do better – otherwise, the plot and characters in Forbidden West is well beyond exceptional.
Alongside its tremendous story is your ability to explore an enormous part of California! Well, what California would look like 1000 years after nature takes over. On your adventure you will meet several tribes who inks themselves to separate from one another – the amount of effort put into designing each distinct look are out of this world; from armor designs, ink embedded on their skin to the type of materials used based on their surroundings. It is insurmountable the amount of effort Guerilla Games put into this, one that is pleasing to examine in the process. One core issue however, you’ll see far more duplication of character models spread out and no amount of work put into distinct hair styles or armor would hide this. It’s a bit disappointing given the amount of insane effort put on everything else. Furthermore, it’s a shame that absolutely everyone has an American accent…. or some form of it – which is odd considering all knowledge of the old world is seemingly inaccessible, say for a few chosen people. I find it strange that everyone is living in a tribal state, but all can speak articulately as if they studied in law school. It’s a rather disjointed observation that really doesn’t take away from the overall immersion, but it is noticeable.
“It is insurmountable the amount of effort Guerilla Games put into this, one that is pleasing to examine in the process”
Aside from their undisguisable dialect, every clan is design with their own unique philosophy; you have the Tenakth, a warrior tribe that dominates all of Forbidden West, who are separated into smaller tribes scattered between biomes. The Utaru is a farm tribe that also houses warriors for protection – they are thematically song based with an emphasis to nature and vegetarianism. They believe in some machines that cultivate the land and consider them gods. You will meet Ragala, a rebel clan that once was part of the Tenakth tribe, but because their new Chieftan is brokering peace with the Carja they are now enemies. There’s the Quen tribe who comes from a land far off to the East who landed in California in search of the Truth from the old ones. They are sophisticated by nature as they harness a form of the Focus tech better than all other tribes. Forbidden West does not shy away from delivering a wide number of variety and one that is met with ferocious care to their world building.
Each tribe you encounter will have side quest for you to engage in, that may or may not affect the overarching world. The level of detail is unmatched given that they are crafted with care – as if they were main story beats. You will see acting, camera placement, lighting, animations, all with exceptional performance. This is complimented by the sheer level of effort put into the cinematic experience of Forbidden West – it is well beyond what one would expect in a world designed so richly; you would think that there would be some compromises, but no – that is not the case here. Each element of Forbidden West is crafted in such a way that exceeds all other expectation.
Formidable Combat RPG Mechanics
Forbidden West is an Action RPG that plays heavily in combat and playstyle – I’m not saying there’s no build crafting, it’s definitely there which is supported by armor sets, but it’s definitely not in the level of Elden Ring for example. It’s not lazily done given that the RPG elements is focused more on heightening the player experience rather that overtly give players a large skill tree with over 200 abilities to choose from. If the player wants to focus more on trapping machines – you can with enhanced versions of weapons and tools in your disposal. Do you want to hybrid your build with stealth? Sure, that can be done. There’s one problem though, with each side mission completed and places explored, you gain massive XP bumps that ultimately would lead you to over-level and obtain all skill and passives available, at which point at around the lv40 range, everything can be easily disposed of at Normal difficulty. Now, if you decide to play on Hard, then yeah – there will be huge emphasis in build crafting and twitch reflexes involved. Each skill tree has 3 or 4 strong effects called Valor Charge which basically is an ultimate: each Valor can give you passives like over-health, better stealth movement, heightened strength, better projectile movements, over-shield and more. As mentioned earlier, you will get armor sets that’s tailored towards builds you are focusing on, which ends up being useful up until the endgame portion.
“Also, why can’t I get new melee spears? I was shocked to find that I only had one spear type the whole game – with my melee upgrades only possible through the skill tree. I was disappointed that I couldn’t wield two-handled weapons or dual blades or something…. feels like a major missed opportunity.“
I especially love this makeup as it makes me feel more in-tune with my playstyle; I just wish the armor you obtain were loot you can find in the world as parts rather than whole sets you buy from vendors. I understand it makes more sense to buy gear from tribes, but it would have made for a better experience if I can salvage gear from these machines and build my own pieces of armor to feel a sense of ownership. Also, why can’t I get new melee spears? I was shocked to find that I only had one spear type the whole game – with my melee upgrades only possible through the skill tree. I was disappointed that I couldn’t wield two-handled weapons or dual blades or something…. felt like a major missed opportunity.
However, the main focus of gameplay is the actual combat – refined to feel far more impactful and responsive. But before I get into that, let’s talk about the new additions to the gameplay – flight, gliding and more machines to mount! Shortly after arriving to the Forbidden West, you will earn yourself a glider which is essentially an energy shield that helps you land from extremely high places. Very useful when combined with her grappling hook. Additionally, you can mount more machines than ever, and my personal favorite does wonders, the Clawstrider! – riding on that machine is quite nice. But the most surprising of them all is having the ability to fly on a Sunwing across the entire landscape in glorious fashion. After overriding the machine, you will be able to call it at will anytime unless destroyed in combat. The sheer number of things you can mount surpasses anything Horizon Zero Dawn produced and one I welcome with absolute open arms.
Aloy is much heavier when attacking, and the way your spear lands feels weighty and just right. Although this game’s main focus is you battling enormous machines, you will find that there’s far more human combatants than originally anticipated and a gameplay field that’s been especially refined. Humans are equipped with armor that’s breakable and depending on their rank, they can either be more fortified or less. Aloy can utilize timed attack to initiate additional combo’s or even time your hold attacks to launch yourself off enemies for a transitional arrow hit. This seamless gameplay routine is gorgeous to witness as it is to play. Same can be said with machines – your Focus device can add details to parts that’s weak or detachable, and if you’re not prepared, you will die as these machines has no remorse. Each of the 43 machines are varied in type – the once ferocious Thunderjaw can now be match by the dangerous Dreadwing – but even bigger predators roam the lands, ones by the name of Slaughterspine and Slitherfang can leave you wondering how Aloy can ever defeat these titans. You will be summersaulting across battlefields constantly dodging barrage of attacks from all angles while utilizing your tools and weapons – all with elements like stunning or elemental damage. Machines will rarely flinch so – grace periods are nonexistent unless you enable slow down when swapping weapons. The combat for the most part is brutal on default, but if you want to take it a step forward, the settings can help you with that.
“This seamless gameplay transition is gorgeous to witness as it is to actually play”
And given the open world nature of the game, you will be exploring a massively lush environment riddle with articulately designed hidden structures and secrets that makes you wonder how any of it is possible; from mountainous range, dense forest and coastal regions – you will be overwhelmed with the sheer number of variety possible in this game. It was overtly breathtaking to experience the Golden Gate Bridge being overcome by 1000 years of nature for the first time – and the level of detail is unprecedented. Within these wonderful landscapes are tribal outpost, towns and building structures that are dilapidated but filled with treasure. Additionally, you will find Cauldrons – machine dungeons where…. machines are made and exploring these will net you the ability to override machines. This time around, the level of detail is insurmountable and drastically more intuitive than anything available in Zero Dawn, which is saying a lot because that game’s level of detail within the Cauldron was out of this world.
Elements like collectibles, outpost side missions, Tallneck calibration for reducing fog on the map, artifacts to explore within ancient ruins and more, are all very much present and on a larger spectrum than Zero Dawn. All of which is respectable to the players time and absolutely wonderful to do, honestly. I can’t give enough credit to the team that spent an enormous time designing the world beyond the standard we are used to up until this point.
Unparalleled Graphical Showcase
Without a doubt, maybe until God of War Ragnarök launches, Forbidden West will be the best-looking game to have ever grace the PlayStation 5 – the sheer number of graphical fidelity present is beyond anything we are accustomed to. The Decima Engine is one of the best engines in the market – Aloy’s animations and rigging system is top level with incredibly transitioning. I sometimes have problems with collision in terms of placement but even so, it’s graceful. Same can be said by the incredible work put into the machines – it makes me wonder if the developers are simply mystical people. The details and design done on each part of the machines are so intricate and amazing I often take a moment to examine it all. Every moving part is constantly flexing, rotating and shifting accordingly – and when you break parts apart it feels organic, and it just makes sense. Elements like this, the effort put into the graphics is so appreciated by players like myself that I only hope they keep pushing boundaries.
“My only issue is, when switching to Performance Mode, you can see the visual impact in overall image quality which is stark when going from native 4K to sub-1440p.“
With polygon counts higher than I can count, Aloy and all other NPC look so incredible – subsurface scatter is utilized in the best possible form to date. LOD in distance and up close is sublime, and character models look to have no rendering impact when converting from Z-Brush; it’s one-to-one in fidelity, I mean, Guerilla Games goes as far as to add peach fuzz to Aloy and other characters which really brings out the lighting engine to full degree with added immersion. On the next-gen version of Forbidden West, a hero glow was added during cutscenes – a lighting system I’m assuming was too costly for previous gen systems.
My only issue is, when switching to Performance Mode, you can see the visual impact in overall image quality which is stark when going from native 4K to sub-1440p. The reconstruction technique seems to not work very often – and when coupling with overall graphics reduction and lower anti-aliasing, shimmering ambient occlusion artifacts within foliage, animated grass and bushes seem to heighten in lower resolution which can cause massive visual discomfort for most players; I usually can handle this sort of stuff for the added benefit of 60fps, but it was too much in this case given the nature of immense graphical prowess.
REVIEW SCORE: 9/10
Horizon II: Forbidden West is one of the more important games this generation as it provides unprecedented graphical and gameplay elements that’s seemingly unmatched – alongside it’s overarching story, despite its shades between, is excellently told. Horizon III has incredibly big shoes to fill.