Horizon Forbidden West Review: A Beautiful Grind

This week a highly anticipated PlayStation-exclusive in the form of Horizon Forbidden West (HFW) finally makes its debut. It has been just shy of five years since the first game launched on the PS4 and amazed most players with a rich palette, solid gameplay and a compelling protagonist.

When we reviewed the original, it was not without its faults, however, with the grinding campaign detracting from what was one of the most beautiful console games we encountered to that date. It helped to paper over any cracks and made Zero Dawn an instant recommendation.

So how does the sequel compare?

Well to provide a verdict, we have spent the past two weeks with Aloy as she ventures into the titular Forbidden West to save the world from a threat she thought had been dealt with in the first game.

Before we delve into our experience, a little heads up that we will not be touching on significant storyline elements in an effort to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible given that Forbidden West only launches in a few days time.

A rich and vast palette 

Okay, now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s talk about Horizon Forbidden West.

The first place we should start are the visuals and once again the team at Guerrilla Games has outdone itself. Thinking of recent PlayStation exclusives and the only title that can surpass HFW is the hyper-stylised Ghost of Tsushima.

That said, while Forbidden West does not feature as detailed a photo mode as Ghost of Tsushima or Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, it will still deliver plenty of great options to play with and we suspect players will be sharing all of the beautiful shots that they capture in the game.

There are also a smorgasbord of cut scenes and short cinematics to fawn over, so from a visual perspective, HFW will not disappoint.

We should also address a divisive element of the game prior to launch – the look of Aloy. For whatever reason a small group of people online were upset that her look would be changing, and that the character was being made to look more “ugly”.

We can safely say that those claims are completely unfounded, as the images above captured in the opening stanza of the game will attest.

Speaking of which, the game starts rather abruptly with a recap of the original, thereafter picking up with Aloy six months following the events where she saves the city of Meridian.

With her victory comes newfound fame and where she was once an outcast, is now embraced by all the tribes of the East. That is not the case when she journeys West, however, with both the pacifist Utaru and battle hardened Tenakth being quite wary of outsiders.

The latter features rebel clans that are one of a handful of antagonists that you take on in the game.

Aloy is not alone on this journey, despite her best efforts to push her friends away, as a result of an internal struggle to take on the burden of saving the world again. To that end, no matter how much she pushes away friends Varl and Erend, they stick by her side, which is a nice dynamic to see play out.

Kudos to the writers and voice actors for conveying this expertly.

As such, when it comes to deepening the lore and making the interactions in Forbidden West believable, a great job has been done.

Task master

While some interactions are great, it must be said that there is a lot of dialogue to get through in Horizon Forbidden West. You are also given options to pick topics for other characters to talk about, which can give Aloy more information, but much of the time, seems aimed at adding to the in-game lore.

These are appreciated at points, but a few hours into playing, we quickly found ourselves selecting the option that is directly linked to our main campaign in order to keep things moving at a steady pace.

We also need to talk about the sheer volume of side quests and additional steps that even the most mundane of missions require.

Those hoping that the grind of Zero Dawn has been addressed here, will be sadly disappointed. Where some additional steps are designed to teach you different or new elements of gameplay, the vast majority begin to feel like a chore rather than something you’re keen to do.

It is something that Red Dead Redemption and Ghost of Tsushima was able to master, but HFW has struggled with.

For completionists though, there is a ton of endgame content to get stuck into. We’re just on the fence as to whether it will be as compelling as the tasks of the two aforementioned games.

Free range

While the sheer volume of missions, particularly side ones, can prove grating, what isn’t is the freedom with which Aloy can explore. Her ability to traverse terrain and structures is nigh Assassin’s Creed level, with a quick interaction of her Focus revealing what can and cannot be climbed.

We also enjoy the ability to cover ground on Chargers, along with being able to Override larger machines (provided you have the right resources), and the addition of gliding to add something new to the mix.

You cannot travel vast distances while gliding, but there is something satisfying about leaping off of a mountain or an equally tall object and gliding a few 100 feet while taking in the views. Just don’t do it with any flying machines around, as you’ll quickly be targeted and find yourself falling to Earth.

All in all, movement in Horizon Forbidden West with Aloy is superb, with only negative being a finicky camera, which can prove vexing in larger scale fights or tight spaces.

Sticking with the fighting mechanics and Aloy is a very capable combatant, especially when fighting other humans, with her spear dealing some serious damage once some combos are unlocked.

Machines, however, are very much on a case by case basis. Develop your skill tree, upgrade your weapons and get accustom to the weaknesses of different machines, and you may be able to take on a Thunderjaw, Slitherfang or Tremortusk solo.

Don’t expect to take any of them on head on though, as distance is the ideal angle of approach and making use of your environment for cover or a tactical advantage is key.

The world of Forbidden West is also quite hostile, as every machine will attack if they spot you. As such, a general rule of engagement when travelling from one waypoint to another is to avoid any group of machines altogether.

Part of this is the fact that taking out a machine can take a long time, adding to the feeling of grind, but you can quickly find yourself overrun by machines, with the fighting gameplay not lending itself well to taking on multiple targets at once.

Final verdict

Horizon Forbidden West is a beautiful game, of that there can be no doubt. It is to be expected given how superb the visuals, action set pieces and cinematics of the previous game were.

On the PS5 these elements are cranked up a few notches and this title will likely set the standard as far as what a visually impressive AAA title should be.

The gameplay is also sharp, traversal is enjoyable and there are a plethora of side missions to keep the completionists busy after endgame.

The problem with Forbidden West, as it was with Zero Dawn, is the main campaign can prove a grind. Given this AAA game costs R1 369 (standard edition), a long play time is expected, but the tasks themselves can quickly become disengaging and things can feel stale rather rapidly.

Much like the original, those aspects can be forgiven as a result of the high sheen to which Forbidden West has been polished.

Just be forewarned.

That said, if you don’t mind a grind, Forbidden West can be truly rewarding.



About Author


Related News