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I loved the story, open world, and battles of Horizon: Zero Dawn, the big PlayStation 4 hit from Sony’s Guerrilla Games. I wasn’t surprised at all that the title starring the woman character Aloy sold more than 20 million copies since its debut in 2017.
Nor am I surprised that the sequel Horizon: Forbidden West is an outstanding game. I played through on the PlayStation 5 and finished the story after dozens of hours of play. And I was shocked to find that I had only completed about 30% of the content in the game after the credits rolled. I probably put a good 50 hours into it (my timer wasn’t accurate at 167 hours). I should have remembered that when I completed the first game I was only 32% of the way through the content.
I enjoyed going into combat with the crazy and terrifying Machines of the post-post-apocalyptic world and uncovering the secrets of the complicated narrative. It was so tough to fight those machines with an underpowered Aloy in the early part of the game. But I also enjoyed leveling up and eventually domesticating those beasts and riding around on them or flying through the endless skies.
As you see people say on social media, Horizon: Forbidden West is one of the prettiest games you’ll ever play, with the PS5’s graphics capability pushing out some amazing scenery as well as fast-action combat at the same time.
I felt like some of the boss fights were very tough. If you haven’t leveled up much, it’s suicidal to go after some of the big Machines. But over time, if you do enough missions and side quests, you get stronger and get to allocate points to different characteristics and become more powerful or dexterous. It was very tough to fight bosses like Regalla if you hadn’t mastered a variety of types of combat, including running away.
I dealt with bosses by shooting various types of arrows, planting traps, and engaging in melee combat as I could. Some of those boss fights seemed to last forever, like the boss fights I faced in Halo: Infinite. It felt so good to get through them when you were done. Even some of the side quests were very difficult. And that was very gratifying.
By the end of the game, I had completed 17 main missions, eight side questions, and two errands. I had dispatched 262 machines (one by one, with some of them gigantic boss beasts) and 106 humans. It was exhausting and rewarding.
What you’ll like
The story remains one of the best sci-fi post-apocalyptic narratives I’ve seen that can sustain itself across such a long game. You don’t feel like you’re just playing a map game because the story takes you both into the past and the future as you try to unravel a mystery and, against all odds, try to save the entire world.
I loved exploring the depth of the world through new mechanics like flying. After you fight Regalla’s henchman early in the game, you get a shield that you can use as a glider. The glider lets you jump off mountain peaks or tall buildings and float gently down to the ground.
You can also gain access to some flying Machines late in the game and be able to call them anytime you want. By this time in the game, you will have unlocked a lot of Fast Travel links and so that helps you get around a lot. But flying is sometimes the best way to go into battle. I unlocked the Sunwing machine mount after upgrading so I could override the machine by ambushing them from behind.
When you’re hoping to climb to the top of a Tallneck, a giant mechanical beast that can map an entire area for you, it is often easier to drop on top of the Tallneck by bailing out of a flying mount. I also used the flying mount a lot to battle some of the biggest beasts in the game. On the ground, those beasts cornered me and tore me apart. But when I had the flying mount, I could call it in, escape, ambush a beast from above, and then call the mount back in when I could. Aloy became so much more dangerous when she could attack from above.
Swimming was also a joy. At some point in the story, you get access to a swimming mask and its accompanying oxygen source. That allows you to dive down into the depths for a long time, and you can explore an entire underwater city and fight with Machines underwater or hide from them.
It was only by flying and swimming that I realized that the world of the first game was so much more limited than the one of the sequel. Just by unlocking these abilities, you realize that the world is really three dimensional, and you have so much more to explore in the world of Horizon: Forbidden West. Compared to the new game, the old world of Horizon’s first game seems so flat.
What you won’t like
I don’t have much to say on this front. I do feel that Aloy is very light on emotion this time around. She almost never appears vulnerable, and she has very little sympathy for Beta, a DNA-based version of herself, who becomes so easily discouraged. Aloy eventually comes around with the hugs and communicating on a human level. I can understand that the developers saw her as a strong warrior who had no patience for weakness. She doesn’t like attention or pomp, and she hates anything that slows her down.
But the storytellers ran the risk of turning her into a robot when she faced so much misery in the world around her. I did appreciate it when the narrative took some different twists that revealed more shades of Aloy’s character and her vulnerabilities. But I don’t consider the character design to be flawed.
I had some rare crashes while playing, but it was so easy to start back up and return to where I was that this wasn’t a problem. I only found one side quest that I wasn’t able to finish. I made it through each part of the Shadow of the West side quest until I reached the final boss and his annoying machine. It took me a while to get competitive in that fight, but then the game kicked me outside of the chamber where the boss fight took place. The door was red instead of blue, and I had no way to get back into the chamber. I went back numerous times, and it never reset.
As the story took its various twists and turns and led toward its conclusion, I went into the final campaign cold. I had not leveled up some of the all-important weapon types and figured I could get through it. But it turned out that some of the new enemies I faced were vulnerable only to a certain type of weapon that I didn’t have.
I made it all the way through to the final boss fight of the game, but I couldn’t win it with the weapons that I carried. So I restarted a previous saved game and purchased the gear I needed and leveled up. Then I went back into the entire endgame, and it went much more smoothly. The final battle was still difficult, but I beat it on my third try.
I’ve seen a lot of people say they have skipped Horizon: Forbidden West to play other games like Gran Turismo 7 and Elden Ring. I’m in the middle of Elden Ring now, and I feel like I have my training wheels on. But I wouldn’t skip Horizon: Forbidden West, as I feel like this is going to be one of the best games of 2021.
Mike Minotti actually reviewed the game for us. But for my own review, I give the game a 5 out of 5.