It’s rare for the bow to the default weapon in games. Most of the time it’s guns, guns, guns and more guns taking center stage. That’s a damn shame because I think the bow is a cool weapon that requires skill to use well. Everybody can shoot a gun, it takes a marksman to shoot (and hit) targets with a bow. Horizon Zero Dawn was one of the best games that made great use of a bow, so it stands to reason that it’s going to continue in Horizon Forbidden West.
Other than the return of Aloy and her skill with the bow, how does Horizon Forbidden West continue the series after Zero Dawn? Is it just as good as the original game or does it transcend it?
Find out by reading on!
What is Horizon Forbidden West?
Horizon Forbidden West is an open world third person action game developed by Guerrilla Games (the makers of the original and the Killzone series) and published by Sony. It’s currently a Playstation exclusive, though a PC release in the future is likely.
Our copy was (as always) awesomely provided to us by the kind folks at Playstation Asia!
A single player only game, Horizon Forbidden West picks up shortly after the events of Zero Dawn, with Aloy out trying to find a way to restore the super AI GAIA, which is the only hope for staving off the extinction of all life on the planet.
The pursuit of her goal takes Aloy to the forbidden west, where the fragments needed to create GAIA are scattered. Aloy is aided in her quest by new and familiar faces with a whole new cast of baddies arrayed against her. Thankfully, this time around there’s more to it than just rogue AI and we finally find out where the rogue signal that turned the machines in killers came from.
The plot is decent enough, with it certainly providing the motivation I needed to continue the story. It’s a bit cliched at times, but there are enough twists (particularly with the new faction from beyond the stars) that kept me playing.
The same can be said about the open world too! There’s enough optional stuff out there (some with with their own plotline) that you can just futz around away from the main quest and still have a good time. In fact, I recommend it because it’s the best way to level up quickly and get skill points to unlock skills for Aloy.
Most of the side quests are pretty interesting too, and add to the game’s story, or at the very least its lore. Sure, there are the collectible hunts (such as recovering data from drones) but these aren’t forced upon you.
Traversing the world can be a hassle though, especially when you need to climb. You can only climb on specially marked surfaces (which will show up when you send out a pulse via R3). That’s fine, except those marked surfaces like regular surfaces. So in one section for example you might be able to climb a cliff wall, but a wall that looks the same somewhere else might be unclimbable.
Honestly, this is a stupid restriction. The new Assassin’s Creed games lets us climb however we want so why not here? Arbitrability restricting climbing just because it’s not what the developers wanted is a damn stupid reason and is a major part of my dislikes about the game.
Speaking of dislikes, what’s up with conversations? Some you can fast forward, some you can’t. I don’t have the damn time to listen to somebody prattle on when I’ve already read what they are going to say via the subtitles!
Why are only some dialogue allowed to be skipped while you’re forced to listen to others?
Some of the crucial plot points can be skipped line by line, but some stupid side quest mission briefing (which has barely any impact on the main story) can’t?! Where’s the damn logic in that? It’s a major annoyance when all I want is to progress at my pace, not the game’s.
Combat’s pretty similar to the original, so fans of the first game should be very happy. The bow’s still the main weapon for Aloy, though this time a couple of new weapons also make the cut. Among them is a rapid fire crossbow-like device.
I personally never strayed from my favourite Hunter Bow + Ropecaster combination that served me so very well in the first game. I’d use the Ropecaster to trap a machine and then the Hunter bow to carve out the parts I wanted.
Weirdly, while Aloy as a few new tools to play around with (such as the Pullcaster for pulling specific objects or the Shieldwing for gliding), they don’t really factor into combat at all. You can’t pull parts off machines with the Pullcaster for example, which I think is really a missed opportunity.
As before enemies have weaknesses to certain elements, so you’re going to be bringing a whole lot of different gear with you. From traps, to bombs to long range bows. There are a ton of different equipment variations too, so you can easily mix and match to your playstyle. It’s the same thing with Aloy’s armor.
On top of that, the stuff you salvage from machines can be used to craft new gear or upgrade older ones. It’s not a bad way to keep your old stuff from being obsolete too fast but you’ll quickly discover that you need more and more materials from the machines as you progress…and some of those can be really hard to get.
What I’m saying is, Horizon Forbidden West is a game of skill.
If you can’t aim accurately with a controller, you’re in for a tough time.
Pinpoint attacks at weak spots are not only encouraged, they’re practically a must to nab the rare parts needed to craft stuff. While there are some ways to make it easier (such as my Ropecaster method), most of the times you need to aim and shoot on the move, while dodging attacks left and right.
Combat can get really intense, especially when you’re ganged up. While Aloy can slow down time a bit with her bow, it’s not a fix all solution. You’ll need to be able to dodge at the right time, and make use of environmental hazards and traps to stand a chance.
Stealth is also an option but unfortunately, it’s a very half assed one.
In stealth, Aloy can do a sneak attack (if close enough) that kills most enemies around her level. If it doesn’t, it still does a boatload of damage.
The problem is if Aloy kills something; she has no way to hide the body. That inevitably leads to somebody (be it another machine or a hostile human) finding it and alerting the others of Aloy’s presence in the vicinity…which pretty much kills any element of stealth Aloy had.
For machines at least, being stealthy has another advantage.
If Aloy’s found the override codes for a specific machine type, she can reprogram them to assist her for a limited time. It’s cool fighting with a machine ally because most of the time, that’s your only hope in the later fights. You’re going to have to explore though, because finding override codes for most of the machine types in the game isn’t part of the main quest.
One of the main reasons why you should play Horizon Forbidden West has got to be its visuals.
To say they’re stunning is underselling them. In the open world, the environment stretches as far as the eye can see. There’s zero foliage or texture pop-in too, unless you’re gliding on down from a really high area.
Characters are beautifully modelled, with facial animation on par with Injustice 2’s. Aloy and the rest of the cast emote like real people, with their faces moving naturally. It’s a small thing, but it really sells the immersion when the cutscenes focus on the faces.
Light effects are incredibly well done too, with neon being especially spectacular. Bring Las Vegas to life and you’ll see what I mean by that. At night, the neon glow from machines permeate the darkness, making them stand out even more. It’s eerily mesmerizing…at least until the passive blue glow they admit turn to red as they become hostile.
The Bottom Line.
Horizon Forbidden West is everything that Zero Dawn was…but more of it. Bigger world to explore, bigger groups of enemies to fight at ones, bigger machines to take down…bigger bigger bigger.
It’s not necessarily better, as some issues (such as the stupid climbing restrictions) stop the game from being truly phenomenal.
That’s a damn shame because the game is truly a great entry in the series and is well worth a play, despite its minor irks and quirks.
Some issues but overall, it’s an incredible game.
- Satisfyingly fun bow combat.
- Scavenging parts is rewarding and fun.
- Huge open world to explore.
- Tons of side quests to do.
- Interesting lore.
- Some of the music is incredible.
- Beautiful visuals.
- The climbing.
- Unable to hide bodies.
- Needs more enemy types.
- Some conversations can’t be skipped or fast forwarded.