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If you haven’t played the first game, I suggest you do so before reading this review because it’s an amazing game, but also…
Forbidden West takes place six months after the end of the previous game. It begins with Aloy searching for a way to reverse the degradation of the Earth’s ecosystems in the wake of Gaia’s demise. Her best bet is to find a working copy of Gaia and hope that she is enough to get the subordinate functions of Zero Dawn back to work.
Unfortunately, Aloy has exhausted all of her options within the lands to the east. But, when she receives a message from the infuriatingly pragmatic Sylens, it indicates that a copy of Gaia may yet exist in the Forbidden West. So, Aloy drops everything and sets out on a journey involving rival clans, giant robot dinosaurs, rampant AI’s, and more map icons than you can shake a stick at.
Now, I love Zero Dawn. It’s one of my favorite games. So, I was pretty psyched for Forbidden West. Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on where you stand — this sequel does not stray too far from the path that Zero Dawn blazed five years ago.
While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it did keep this sequel from surpassing its predecessor. There were, however, some new mechanics and gameplay elements that shook things up.
The Better Part of Valor
One of the better additions to Forbidden West was the introduction of Valor Surges. These are abilities that charge as you fight enemies and convey serious benefits to help you through more challenging segments of the game.
For example, the Valor Surge I used most was Toughened. When activated, Aloy regenerates health every two seconds and takes less damage. If you upgrade “Toughened” it increases the amount of health regenerated, increases the amount of damage negated, and also adds other types of damage and status effects to the list of things that it protects against.
What’s great about Valor Surges is that there is at least one for every play style. One makes you practically invisible, one increases your damage with bows (while healing you for a portion of the damage you deal), and one creates an electrical nova, dealing damage to every nearby enemy.
The only real issue I had with the Valor Surges was that the controls to activate them were a little finicky, and about half the time I ended up swinging my spear wildly instead of activating the ability… which sometimes resulted in death.
Traversal in Zero Dawn was pretty straightforward. You could run, jump, climb, use ziplines, and override specific machines (mostly Chargers) to ride around on. Pretty standard, all things considered.
Forbidden West ups the ante by giving you some new ways to get around, such as:.
- The Pullcaster: A mechanized grappling hook that you can use to pull yourself to certain handholds. It can also be used to pull crates and other environmental objects toward you.
- The Sheildwing: A mostly-broken hard-light shield that Aloy uses as a makeshift glider.
- The Diving Mask: A rebreather, of sorts, that allows Aloy to swim underwater without having to worry about pesky things like oxygen.
What’s nice about these new tools is that they are incorporated into the design of the game’s puzzles, adding some much-needed variety. You can even use the Pullcaster to grapple into or out of fights quickly, and the Shieldwing can be used to literally get the drop on enemies.
Along with these new traversal tools are a small assortment of new machines that you can ride. While only one of these machines changes things up in a meaningful way, the fact that you can ride on a robotic velociraptor is still pretty sweet.
A Glut of Content
One of the worst parts of Forbidden West is the sheer amount of crap that this game is filled with. Apparently, Guerrilla Games thought that the hundred junk items in the first game might be too few, so they decided to add about a thousand more.
There is so much junk in this game that it staggers the mind. Every box you open is half-filled with junk, and half-filled with upgrade materials that you will probably never use, but you keep anyway…
Even the NPC’s hand out junk as quest rewards.
The whole game is just a never-ending tide of garbage items that you get tired of sorting through about two hours into this 80-hour game.
Then there’s the weapons.
I know that Zero Dawn had its fair share of weapons, but Forbidden West decided that if more is better, then even more must be the best. There are so many different weapon types that it’ll make your head spin. Then, you realize that each weapon type has at least seven different variants, and each shoots different types of ammo. Which means that you’ll have to carry around eight different versions of the same weapon if you want to be able to use all the ammo types.
I will say that some of the new weapons are pretty cool, but at the end of the day I ended up killing 99% of all enemies with the hunter’s bow.
The Power of Friendship
One of the better decisions in this game was to focus more on the secondary characters.
In Zero Dawn, Aloy tries to keep most of her companions at arm’s length.
Well… she tries to do that in Forbidden West as well, but a little way into the game she comes to the realization that, sometimes, things are easier when you work together.
So, she sets up a base of operations and tries to get all of “Team Aloy” up to speed on the whole “The world’s ending” situation and have them help in any way they can. This was nice on a character-building level, and on a “not having to travel across the entire map several times just to talk to everyone” level.
Unfortunately, it never felt as cool as I would have liked. It basically boiled down to going back to the base and making sure that you’d gone through every dialog option with every character.
While these conversations were interesting and helped build attachments with the various people in Aloy’s life, the whole system felt like an underdeveloped version of the Normandy from the Mass Effect series.
If they decide to have something like this in the third game, I hope that it feels more impactful. I’d really like your actions as a player to have more of an effect on the group dynamics or the construction of your base.
Feel the Target
One of the best improvements that this sequel has to offer is tiny in the grand scheme of things, but improves the combat by an entire order of magnitude: The addition of key upgrade resources.
These items are mandatory for upgrading your equipment, and can only be found on specific enemy types.
I know that doesn’t sound that interesting on its face, but hear me out.
These key upgrade resources add a level of challenge and purpose to each fight. You see, some key items can only be gotten if you break them off of an enemy before you kill it. So, if you screw up and kill the machine before you can remove the part, it’s gone forever.
Other items can only be collected if you manage to kill the machine without breaking the item off, which can be rough if the part you need is also allowing the robot dinosaur to shoot lasers at your face.
This added layer of complexity, while seemingly small, makes each fight unique, and can completely change your approach to combat… if you need parts for your weapons and armor… which you will.
Over the Horizon
Overall, Horizon: Forbidden West was a pretty great game. The combat is every bit as good as the first game — and better in some respects. The characters are more fleshed out, and the world is even more beautiful than it was before.
While Guerrilla Games played it safe in almost every respect, the game is not diminished in any meaningful way, and Aloy, despite her overly-developed hero complex, is still one of my favorite video game protagonists.
The gripes that I have with this game are small, but multitudinous. They include:
- Boring bandit camps
- Too many map icons,
- Aloy’s inability to stop talking to herself
- A host of bugs and technical issues
However, none of that could really detract from the enjoyment I received when fighting a giant robot dinosaur with a bow and arrow, and at the end of the day, I think that’s what we’re all looking for from this game…
No? Just me?
…Anyway, I’m giving Horizon: Forbidden West a robo-tastic 8/10. It wasn’t different enough to set itself apart from the original in any meaningful way, but was still a blast to play, and had some genuinely funny, interesting, and heartfelt moments.
The only real mistake that was made with this game was releasing it so close to Elden Ring. Seriously, I think Forbidden West would have received a higher score, if I didn’t stop halfway through to play through Elden Ring… twice.