Horizon: Forbidden West - A Review (PS5)
At first glance Horizon: Forbidden West, is a sequel that doesn’t look like much has changed from the first game. After all, if the base in Zero Dawn was so good, why change much? Just add a bigger map, progress the story and call it a day. There’s no need for a sequel that completely changes everything about the game, perhaps to make it something it isn’t. Forbidden West does the former, yes, but what it does to stand out is a large number of smaller changes that add up to make it feel different and similar at the same time. The micro details go a long way.
What the new game does to stand out is a large number of smaller changes that add up to make it feel different and similar at the same time. The micro details go a long way.
Of course, with some of these changes, what one will consider a small or big deal is subjective, and this isn’t any more true with the steps taken to make traversal more enjoyable; A glider to make vertical heights easy to descend safely, a grapple hook to make zipping around arenas easy and a change to how the game handles climbing points(in the open world almost all of it is climbable freely but during sections the developers choose such as quests, that is basically disabled) all make traversal way easier than before, addressing a major complaint in the 1st game. Alone these things seem minor but together when you realise climbing a mountain and gliding down is easier than ever before makes players want to actually traverse the world rather than just mash fast travel after getting to a place that’s hard to get down from.
A glider makes vertical heights easy to descend safely.
Zero Dawn’s inventory management system was much maligned as well, with limits to what you can carry forcing players to discard or sell items often. In Forbidden West you’ve been given a stash where items above your limit are sent to. The inventory management has instead been balanced around your ammunition and weapons. The best types of ammo in the game such as explosive types require a resource which can be less of compared to other types. Bombs and Spears are the most powerful ammo type and they are also held less of. Care was taken to tie the inventory management with gameplay and combat balance.
In Forbidden West you've been given a stash where items above your limit are sent.
And combat balance is yet another area where small details and changes were made. Zero Dawn was trivialised by Tripcasters and Ropecasters. The aforementioned inventory management changes, a much bigger spread of weapon elements, the newly introduced weapon upgrading system and adjustments to crafting speeds for the more powerful weapons mean there’s a lot more thought into picking your load out. You can’t have a one size fits all weapon like before. This time you’ll be carrying and upgrading many different weapons throughout the game, picking and choosing for each situation.
This time you'll be carrying and upgrading many different weapons throughout the game, picking and choosing for each situation.
Sidequests seem similar at first but Guerilla games took steps to really make them stand out from the crowd of open world action RPGs. Small environmental puzzles, slight variations to what should be monotone checklist activities and world class facial animations with large amounts of dialogue that add context and flavor that make them feel worth doing.
The animations and dialogue are really a big thing in Forbidden West all round. The game is very wordy to the games detriment or benefit depending on how much dialog you like in your games. It’s very well acted and goes a long way to help you really immerse in the world and get to know the characters. The fact that the animations are so well done adds even more to this factor. Seriously Forbidden West’s most and animations are really up there even among Sony’s tentpole titles.
Now these details are of course a big difference when added up but one place that is a very big departure from Zero Dawn and what is hit or miss is its narrative and Aloy’s character development. Gone is the much of the mystique and data point discovery style of storytelling from Zero Dawn and in comes a story focused on the here and now. While there is some level of mystery, most of it is resolved fairly quickly compared to Zero Dawn. The larger cast of characters is much more important to this game and now the game has to juggle spreading screen time among them unlike before where Aloy was the sole focus of the story. Aloy’s role in the story herself is also arguably worse done. Her arc was mostly done in Zero Dawn and her place in the story as the savior of all who has to learn to trust her companions does not come off as well.
Gone is the much of the mystique and data point discovery style of storytelling from Zero Dawn and in comes a story focused on the here and now.
The general plot of the game has some signs of power creep and escalation that may throw off some players. The plot is bonkers and goes to insane places and some may not appreciate that. Personally I like things going off the rail and I’m very much looking forward to what the plot hints at for the future.
The plot is bonkers and goes to insane places and some may not appreciate that. Personally I like things going off the rail and I'm very much looking forward to what the plot hints at for the future.
And any review of Forbidden West would be incomplete without talking about the visuals. From a technical point of view the game is gorgeous. From an artist’s point of view the game is also gorgeous. The vistas, biomes, environments are all gorgeously rendered in the Resolution mode I chose on PS5. The mix of photorealism with hard old world scifi and new world regression is expertly done by the artists at Guerilla Games and character and machine design is again top notch. It’s a showcase for PS5 visual prowess in every way as Zero Dawn was for PS4.
It's a showcase for PS5 visual prowess in every way as Zero Dawn was for PS4.
All in all, it does feel like Guerilla Games accomplished their goals and what they set to achieve here. They had a very interesting concept and idea which was executed amazingly for a first time effort that only needed minor improvement and that’s what they did. It feels like the perfect sequel in many ways; exactly what Zero Dawn lovers would want. If you weren’t already enamored by the first game, is it likely to win you over? Probably not. But it doesn’t need to do that. Refinement is more than enough.
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