Guerrilla Games’ Horizon: Forbidden West is the sort of game that is easy to anticipate. It’s big! It’s full of interesting stuff to do! Many were sold on the promise of the PlayStation 5 at launch by the prospect of sinking days and weeks into a new Horizon. Thankfully, Forbidden West delivers on that promise in many ways.
Horizon: Forbidden West is at its best in the open world. Movement in wide areas feels natural and fun, and you can find a lot of uses for mounts and tools to get around. Gliding and climbing in these more flexible segments just feels good. The map is well-populated, as you’ll encounter interesting and varied opportunities at a solid pace. We never felt like we were hitting too many combat encounters in a row, and we didn’t find enough “old world ruins” at once to feel worn down by the puzzle solving.
Its combat is well-suited for creative problem-solving, too, which helps. Forbidden West continues to build out options for weaponry, offering tweaks aplenty to the base formula of bow and staff fighting. There are advantages to engaging with these systems, of course! Enemies have certain weaknesses, and even the base effects of elements like acid lead to different tactics. We did feel a bit held back at times by the clunky nature of the weapon wheel, though. Especially when we ran out of arrows, as it would often take a few attempts until the stick was responsive and we could select the right ammo to replenish.
But what makes for true freedom is that you can power through with your favorites instead, if you want. The skill tree and gear upgrade systems make specialization viable too. Your Aloy can be a versatile tactician, for sure! But she can also be a melee expert or a sniper. The game’s skill trees often focus on increasing options over powering up existing ones, so there’s room for players to experiment even if they commit to a style early.
Conversely, Forbidden West shows its weakest elements when it’s constrained. It just isn’t Uncharted, try as it might in these sequences. The game drags when it presents you with a bunch of yellow things to jump between. It’s at its most frustrating when it doesn’t quite feel so responsive to the narrow windows of traversal prompts, and you fall and start a room over. Or when you’re just trying to get up a ledge, but it fails to understand your inputs and jumps you back and forth between handholds.
Outside of a few elements, though, you can remedy any weaknesses or frustrations you find through Forbidden West‘s robust set of accessibility options. Want to explore and be less stressed by combat? There are a lot of settings you can adjust to make that happen. Bothered by camera shake and motion blur? Guerrilla has you covered. All the work is worth it, too! Because there are so many games in the game, and you should be able to have fun with the ones that interest you without one element stonewalling your progress. This sort of thing is good for the grizzled adventurers out there, as well. If only because these controls allow Horizon to do all the things you want it to do in terms of challenge. These settings mean Guerrilla can do that without worrying about alienating more casual players.
Aesthetically, Horizon: Forbidden West is still a joy to behold. It doesn’t quite push the tech specs in a way you might want from a next-gen showpiece, but it gets a lot out of colors and texture to make environments feel different. The biggest difference from the first game? That’s clearly the desert feel. As the title suggests, you’ll move westward in what used to be the United States. Though a lot of ecological events have passed in the interim, there’s still a lot of rocks and sand along the way. It’s a game that likes high contrast and tests your display’s color output. Even in greener areas, Forbidden West’s story-crucial red plant infestations make them feel different from the original title.
In case our screenshots didn’t make it abundantly clear, we’re really impressed with the photo mode. Those aesthetic strengths make for a game you want to capture! And there’s a wealth of tools to use in a mode that’s quickly available at any time. It certainly doesn’t hurt that you’re doing cool things. Jumping and gliding off tall enemies or doing cool flips makes you want to live longer in the moment.
Character expression, often a sticking point with players in the first game, clearly got some work here. Did the main characters receive a lot more of the time and attention? Yeah, for sure. Lesser NPCs feel stiff and occasionally veer into the uncanny valley. But still, generally conversations flow better and look more natural. We still wouldn’t call it top of its class, but it’s no longer lagging behind the pack.
A cool addition to the game’s worldbuilding? Machine Strike, the in-world board game. This collectible miniature combat game simulates conflict between the world’s mechanical enemies, with abilities inspired by them. It’s round-based, with each player moving two pieces. Stronger pieces cost more of your points to field (and award opponents more upon defeat), so there’s good reason to use weaker units even as you collect better ones along the way. Terrain height confers advantages, so it’s a game of position.
The biggest weakness of Machine Strike? Discerning between pieces. A lot of them look similar from above, and the adherence to the world’s environment means they’re all largely just the same beige wood and gray metal. You can keep up with them and move the cursor over one for a reminder, but it could be easier to glance.
It’s still an in-world board game! So it won’t fascinate you for hours. Still, we were eager to play a few rounds every time we encountered a new opponent.
While it’s far from perfect — its set piece moments could use some work, and its cross-generation release limits some of its ambition — Horizon: Forbidden West does more than enough right to deserve your time and attention. It’s a big enough game that you can pick and choose your favorite things to do and have a full experience, and the story it tells compels you to keep going and see more.
Horizon: Forbidden West was developed by Guerrilla Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It will launch on PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 on February 18, 2022.