It’s a weird one on paper. Unlike the usual tropes that posit we’ll be flying cars and living in biomes in the not-too-distant future, the Horizon franchise’s futuristic planet Earth is a world so decimated by technology, humankind has been forced to… well, reboot itself.
There are no mobile phones here. No internet. No memes. No fast food, even (oh, the humanity). The world has been reset, and the only memory of its technologically-rich past lie in the ruins that scar the landscape and the hulking, animal-esque machines that roam the land.
Those machines still terrify us in Horizon Forbidden West. Yes, even the little ones. There’s something so unsettling about a mechanical creature that’s made of oil and steel, yet moves like an organic beast made of meat and muscle.
It doesn’t seem to matter how stealthy we try to be, or how many skill points we pour into the Stealth branch of the skill tree, either (more on that in a sec): we always seem to get overwhelmed by the things. It’s amazing how quickly you can go from feeling powerful to powerless in Aloy’s world.
Horizon Forbidden West storyline: Ahoy Aloy
If this is your first time meeting Aloy, the first few hours of her story may leave you a little bewildered. But stick with it. Though it’ll no doubt help to come into Forbidden West with some prior context, you don’t have to have played the first game to get to grips with what’s happening in the second – and there are plenty of recaps sprinkled throughout the game to help newbies get up to speed.
And it is worth getting up to speed. As well as keeping us busy with its action sequences, parkour and puzzles, Horizon Forbidden West tells an incredibly exciting tale. What may seem confusing at first should eventually make sense later on. How much of Aloy’s past you want to explore lies entirely in your hands, of course: like any RPG, you control how much, or how little, you want to interact with Aloy and her companions (and some of them don’t half like the sound of their own voices) – but our advice would be to sit back and listen to it all.
And… well, that’s pretty much all we’re prepared to tell you about the story. Any more would be venturing into spoiler territory, so – for your sake and ours – just know that it’s good, okay? Very good, in fact – no matter how familiar you are with its predecessor, Horizon Zero Dawn.
Horizon Forbidden West maps & gameplay: forbidden planet
It’s a big place, the West. Zoom out of the map and you may well wonder how on earth Aloy will ever manage to get to the other side of it – let alone make it back again. There are a handful of tips and tricks to make traversing easier, though. Campfires double as save and fast travel sites, while portable fast travel packs are available if you’ve no idea where your nearest campfire is and need to hop out of someplace sharpish. There’s also a broken shield thing that’s useless in a fight but allows Aloy to drift across some short-range distances, as well as larger ones (if you can get her to jump off something high enough).
Just like its predecessors, Horizon Forbidden West has Aloy take on the might of the machines with a range of weaponry both close- and long-ranged. As well as her trusty bow and spear – the latter of which can be used to pull off intensely satisfying critical strikes that despatch enemy AI with a single blow – the Tripcaster returns, along with a bevvy of traps (acid, blast, Purgewater, and shock, to name but a few) that can take down unwitting foes, especially when she uses her Focus. Yes, that’s back too, to help Aloy identify their paths.
With so much diversity in her arsenal, it’s little wonder that Aloy has not one, not two, but six skill trees to upgrade, each one broadly based on a particular play style: Warrior, Trapper, Hunter, Survivor, Infiltrator and Machine Master. With between 20 and 31 individual upgrades to make in each tree, that might sound bewildering. But in truth, it enables you to pick a preferred combat style without fully committing to it. Fancy yourself an infiltrator but want to give your health a boost, too? Help yourself. Want to override more machines whilst still experimenting with traps? Have at it.
There are a lot of other combat systems to get your head around, too. Stamina. Concentration. Valor. To be honest, it does all come together like an over-egged pudding at times, not least because combat is often a visually messy affair, particularly as you have to detach some machines’ valuable parts before dealing that all-important death blow. Melee attacks aren’t quite as powerful as they feel, either, which means it’s usually easier to buff your stealth skills and thin a herd on the QT than run in, all spears blazing.
Horizon Forbidden West mechanics: clumsy misstep
The most disappointing aspect of Forbidden West? Aloy’s clumsy adventuring skills. Maybe it’s too much to expect her to be a parkour expert as well as a warrior and the champion trying to save the new world, but her hopeless traversal abilities are deeply frustrating. Sometimes you might think you have everything lined up for her to effortlessly leap from this ledge to that broken ladder, and sometimes Aloy will simply step off it like a Lemming. Fun? Not really. Especially when you’re in areas that require significant backtracking to get back where you were.
Thankfully, though, there’s plenty of diversity in the number and type of missions Aloy can pursue, so you’re not always stranded halfway up a mountain, wrestling with dodgy physics. Spoiling for a fight? Aching for adventure? Keen to root around in relic ruins? No matter what mood you’re in, there’s always something to do, with a healthy mix of missions to choose from, from errands and jobs to salvage and hunting contracts. Just keep an eye on Aloy’s waypoint compass to uncover new areas and quests.
Horizon Forbidden West verdict
Horizon Forbidden West’s complex story can be a little – OK, a lot – difficult to keep up with, particularly for those who might have missed Aloy’s adventure the first time around. All the same, exploring every nook and cranny that the West has to offer doesn’t fail to delight.
Yes, It might be mechanical clumsy at times, which is especially frustrating on the random occasions when critical strikes inexplicably fail to land. But those little annoyances are merely that: little annoyances.
Stuffed with colour, charm and more challenging combat than you can shake a Bristleback’s tail at, Horizon Forbidden West is a wonderful adventure that should keep all Aloy fans, old and new, thoroughly entertained.
Convoluted storytelling and occasionally clumsy mechanics don’t detract from this diverse, expansive and engaging continuation of Aloy’s story
Lush, expansive world is ripe for exploration
Rich, diverse selection of missions and quests
Engaging continuation of Aloy’s story
Plot can be convoluted and confusing
Parkour can be stilted, clumsy and frustrating
Too easy to be overwhelmed by machines