Horizon: Forbidden West review

This was on my long list of games I figured I’d get around to purchasing eventually, but my opportunity to play it came around quicker than expected thanks to a rather thoughtfull birthday gift!

Protagonist Aloy is an adventurer, a warrior and also happens to be a clone of the person who was kind of responsible for the apocalypse. Fortunately Aloy was also the saviour of what remains of humanity a thousand odd years after life on earth was nearly wiped out, which is the premise of the previous game Horizon: Zero Dawn.

FW starts a short while after the conclusion of that game. Apparently there was a big party to celebrate her saving literally everyone, but she snuck out because she, er, doesn’t like crowds or something? This is a little jarring. In my review of the previous game I happily extolled the virtues of a heroine who seemed genuinely well-adjusted notwithstanding the challenges of her upbringing as an Outcast. It feels like a bit of a cheat to now retroactively portray her as so anti-social. It also doesn’t really hold up throughout the game. After a a few side-missions Aloy is back to her usual helpful self; going out to bat for the little guy at the drop of a hat.

However, social preferences aside, Aloy quite reasonably wants to prioritise the next stage of her mission – tracking the GAIA backup so all the terraforming macguffins can get back to functioning properly and in harmony. This is becoming increasingly urgent because the planet is now overridden by Japanese Knotweed or some such. Which I do appreciate is a genuine threat, but to be honest the stakes don’t feel quite as high at the outset.

It’s the law that sequels have to be Bigger. (When they aren’t people tend to regard that as a negative – Dragon Age 2 I’m looking at you!) To that extent FW doesn’t disappoint. The map is absolutely vast, in breadth but also in depth. With the addition of a diving, gliding & (eventually) flying mechanic there is a lot more vertical space to explore. I previously observed that the Horizon series is serving up the best bits from a whole host of other games. Aloy snags herself a glider early on, enabling the player to leap off of tall buildings and cliffs and gently soar back to down to earth. Which was one of the most fun things to do in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The flying option comes oddly late on though. I have a tendency to avoid progressing too far through the main storyline for fear of accidentally triggering any points of no return (still traumatised by my first play though of Mass Effect 2). As a result I needlessly denied myself the pleasure of summoning an over-ridden Sunwing and soaring up to the heavens watching the landscape unfurl below me. I also spent far longer than needed seeking out climbing paths and grapple points to reach high up spots. I suppose I was angry at myself – which manifested as frustration at the game.

FW comes with a wide pantheon of new machines to best. Highlights include the Slitherfangs, Tide-rippers & the Dreadwings, which require a combination of tactics to bring down. There is great satisfaction to be derived from seeking out particular machine parts to upgrade your gear, as some loot drops are randomised and some are dependent on you felling a machine with a particular part intact (although be warned – getting the sac webbing from the fire and frostclaws is particularly tricky).

As Aloy progresses through her quest she becomes the de facto leader of a rag tag group of buddies. Fellow Nora Varl & loveable Osaram drunk Erend return from the 1st game. New tribes depicted in the game include the vegan warrior Utaru, the bloodthirsty Tenakth, & the history-obsessed Quen, represented by new characters Zo, Kotallo & Alva respectively. The Caja tribe who featured prominently in the previous game take a backseat here, although Aloy has a brief encounter with the Caja King Avad at the start. Sorry Avad – no time for loving! (Apparently there are fan theories suggesting a 3rd game will provide a romance option which may see Avad and Erend both vying for our heroine’s affections).

The ever magnificent Ashley Burch puts in a phenomenal turn voicing Aloy, alongside the genetically identical yet utterly distinct character of Beta (and for that matter Elisabet Sobek as well). Her performance keeps Aloy utterly grounded and genuinely likeable throughout the game, which is no mean feat for a game of this size and scope.

Overall the writing does a decent job of keeping the dialogue between characters naturalistic, although I’ll admit to some disquiet that the game fell headlong into the Black Dude Dies First trope. And while we’re on the subject of regressive clichés: I spend freaking hours accumulating salvage for a bunch of Oseram tinkerers so they can craft the perfect armour and… the finished product exposes her midriff. Sigh. C’mon Horizon team – do better!

Nonetheless, Forbidden West is a rollicking good yarn, looks gorgeous, has some pleasingly challenging game and has satisfyingly continued to build up the world from the 1st game. Roll on Horizon 3!