Set six months after the first game’s conclusion, Aloy is traveling far and wide to prevent the world from spiralling into another mass extinction. Ominous storms brew in the sky, and an unusual red plant is spreading rapidly across the country, killing all flora and fauna in its wake. Her search for answers leads her to the titular Forbidden West, a dangerous region that’s home to the volatile and deadly Tenakth tribe. Of course, all sorts of obstacles present themselves, not least of which is Regalla, a Tenakth rebel waging civil war with her followers and an army of machines at her command.
With Zero Dawn unveiling such a fascinating history and constantly presenting you with immense revelations, the sequel was always going to struggle to do better. Forbidden West’s narrative may not quite have the same impact as the original, but it still has its fair share of “WTF” moments, and the way the story is presented is certainly an improvement. Audio logs are still here, but most of the plot is conveyed in a more organic way.
Similarly, conversations with other NPCs are improved as well. Quest givers and merchants are afforded far more personality this time around, and all conversations are now livelier than the static back and forth headshots seen in Zero Dawn. The game looks astonishingly good 99 per cent of the time, but with such polished presentation, things like eyes darting around or poor lip syncing are more noticeable. It’s not the end of the world, but a shame when the rest of Forbidden West is so beautiful.
Horizon Forbidden West, especially on the PlayStation 5, is breathtaking. It’s one of the most impressively realised wilderness games you’ll ever play. On PS5, you can regularly walk from interiors right into the wide world, without loading screens. This gives players incredible freedom in their journey westward, exploring gorgeous vistas, expansive lakes, and crumbling ruins swallowed by desert sands.
Joshua trees and flatlands give an immediate sense of place — and Forbidden West even lets players explore decaying ruins of actual American cities. These landmarks punctuate Forbidden West’s story about climate crises and the excesses of the ruling class. Though the last game ended with a battle against the rampant AI Hades, humanity’s victory did not repair the lethal machines that were originally part of a terraforming project meant to save the Earth.
The off-kilter system has created unstable weather patterns, blighted farmlands, and polluted waterways — and Guerrilla Games’ overgrown rendition of the West Coast is a plausible projection of our real-world climate degradation.
Aloy’s expanded traversal tools, while flawed, greatly aid the player in exploring this world. The developers took obvious cues from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, adding a glider to Aloy’s toolkit and more handholds for her to climb on. In Forbidden West, Aloy can scale mountains, the peaks of which offer grand rewards: a gorgeous view, a height advantage against enemies, and the opportunity to glide over ravines and rolling pastures alike.
Swimming is also a singular joy, once you’ve unlocked a tool that allows for infinite underwater breathing. You’ll spend hours watching swimming machines, and exploring the richness of marine life clinging to crumbling buildings. With Forbidden West’s better fast travel system — it’s free to travel between discovered campfires, while traveling from anywhere to a campfire costs one fast travel pack — this all weaves into a rich exploration experience, whether you’re fast-traveling or running from place to place, enjoying the abundance of the world around you.
The machine designs are brilliant, with some new additions like the fearsome Slitherfang providing some of the game’s best fights. As before, you can equip many different weapon types, including new ones like powerful Spike Throwers and the Shredder Gauntlet, which launches discs that deal damage for a short time before returning to you.
Figuring out the best ways to deal with machines, whether it’s using traps, removing some of their components, or just taking advantage of elemental weaknesses, is far and away some of the most engaging combat in the open world realm. You can even use Aloy’s spear, which is a more viable option now. Less so against machines, perhaps, but the improved melee moves make human battles more interesting.
You can of course revert to your trusty bow, but some human enemies will rush you and engage in close combat. After unlocking more moves in one of the skill trees, melee is definitely more exciting, and fighting Regalla’s rebels is more enjoyable as a result. Throw in the Valor Surges, which are special moves that can quickly turn the tide of battle, and combat overall has more to offer in Forbidden West.
PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Nearly every misgiving about Zero Dawn seems to have been thought through, while everything fans loved has been improved upon. Aloy’s new journey seems more robust and rewarding, while retaining the wonder and awe that its predecessor delivered on.