I have been excited about a Horizon Zero Dawn sequel since completing the original game. It creatively, but cautiously, introduced me into the RPG genre without overwhelming me. Instead, it drew me in with its machine designs, unique activities in the form of Cauldrons, and a fiercely independent character in Aloy. It was the game that changed how I viewed and enjoyed the genre as a whole. Therefore, getting my hands on Horizon Forbidden West was the highlight of the month, and while I was undoubtedly eager to start, I did have my concerns. The main question that plagued my mind was could the sequel live up to the reputation of its predecessor? Had Zero Dawn created such a high wall of achievements that the sequel could never reach it? All of those worries melted away as I became re-acquainted with Aloy and began my adventure into the Forbidden West.
Several key areas from the original game reappear in this one, and they have been vastly improved. It may sound concerning that some areas of the first game have been pulled into the sequel, but you can rest assured that they don’t feel like direct copies. Guerilla has noted what worked, listened to fans about how to improve the experience, and learned from its mistakes.
Forbidden West heavily borrows from the Frozen Wilds DLC too, especially in terms of how combat works. For those of you who have yet to play Zero Dawn or its DLC, then I strongly recommend doing so before tackling the sequel. By doing this, you’ll be able to appreciate how Guerilla has borrowed the successful elements of Zero Dawn and improved them.
Old Machines, New Challenges
There are a ton of brand-new machines in the game. Several new flying ones take the threat to new heights, and machines like the Clamberjaws can now climb into the trees. All of them have new abilities to navigate, but it’s the old machines that grabbed my attention. At first, I admit, I did feel a bit deflated that some of the Zero Dawn machines had seemingly been copied into Forbidden West. However, as soon as I started to battle my first Scrapper, it became apparent that it was not an exact copy of the machine that I remembered. They’re far more ferocious, swiping their claws through the tall grass as they try to seek me out. Relentlessly pursuing me as I try to scramble up the rocks. This is a pattern that follows throughout the game with any of the “old” machines. I have spent more hours in Zero Dawn than I care to admit, and this increased the risk of combat feeling stale when it came to fighting the original machines. Fortunately, they are far more aggressive than they were previously, and they all have had weaponry or attack-pattern alterations that kept that from happening. Fighting them was suddenly much harder than I remembered, and I didn’t mind that one bit.
Running around the wilderness to fight gigantic metal machines with nothing more than a bow is, thankfully, still at the beating heart of Forbidden West. Picking up my Hunter Bow at the beginning of the game felt like greeting an old friend, so it was reassuring when it became apparent that other weapons have returned too. However, in a similar fashion to the machines, they have received meticulous improvements. These improvements kept me invested in purchasing new ones, and I found myself wanting to do the work to gain the correct upgrade materials for them.
Also, collecting weapons in Zero Dawn did become boring past a certain point as all of them were based on similar attacks. Being able to unlock new weapon actions through the Skill Tree in Forbidden West kept my interest in building the perfect set. The Powershots Valor Surge (an expensive but powerful set of special skills) radically increased the damage I could do for a limited amount of ammunition. This weapon action, as well as the multitude of others, were invaluable against difficult enemies and I was always on the hunt for the next one.
Pleasantly Complex Cauldrons
As well as familiar weapons, there are activities in Forbidden West that have been taken from Zero Dawn. That being said, again, they're not exactly the same. Rather, they’ve borrowed the formats and vastly improved them. Cauldrons are one of the best examples of this. They are still based on the idea of “solve the puzzle, fight the big machine, learn the overrides” but they’re not as simple as their predecessors. I thoroughly underestimated the first one and had to spend more time there than I would have done previously.
Cauldron IOTA is filled with puzzles that need to be solved quickly or you’re forced to start the climb again. Cauldron MU focuses heavily on testing your combat skills in confined spaces that large machines shouldn’t be able to fit in. No two Cauldrons in the Forbidden West are the same, each one has its unique challenges. Yes, Aloy’s commentary did detract from some moments within them, but for the most part, Guerilla has kept their essence while evolving their complexity.
Aloy, Let Me Do It!
Figuring out how to reach certain items or areas are some of the best parts of Forbidden West and, though these tasks appeared in the original game, they have been improved for this one. However, they’re all overshadowed by the fact that you rarely get the time to figure the solutions out for yourself. Often, I barely had a chance to think about the solution before Aloy blurted it out or before she gave me the full answer completely. She chimed in a little too fast on all of them, which reduced my motivation to solve them.
I understand that this may be a way of Guerilla ensuring that the people who aren’t familiar with the world of Horizon aren’t completely lost. However, there should be an option to turn off the hints that Aloy gives you each time you come across a new puzzle.
Any sequel to a highly-successful game runs the risk of falling short of expectations, but Forbidden West is one of the rare instances where the hype surrounding a game didn’t lead to crushing disappointment. By borrowing from all of the successful elements of Zero Dawn and building on them, Guerilla has ensured that this game matches the quality of the first.
Frustratingly, these elements can be overshadowed by Aloy’s overzealous commentary, which tends to spoil puzzles before you’ve even had a chance to start and interrupt some of the flow found in the open world. These are issues that are being patched gradually by Guerilla, so hopefully, I can soon pick up items in peace. Horizon Forbidden West improves upon the original in almost every way, making smart tweaks without reinventing the wheel. If the evolution of the Horizon series in this game is a taste of the future of the franchise, then I am definitely hungry for more.
Reviewed on PS4. Code provided by the publisher.