You would expect Horizon Forbidden West to be a great game, but we have to say that, after spending dozens of hours with it, the final result has exceeded even our expectations, offering one of the best sequels that have been ever done and which is, by far, one of the favourite open-world games. Not surprisingly, we are talking about a massive leap in quality. Imagine Killzone and then Killzone 2!
Guerrilla Games has created a second part of the manual, focusing on following the original formula to the letter but taking it to the next level with more and better of the same. Yes, that “more and better” is something that they have taken tremendously seriously. It shows from the first minute how aware the studio is of what they liked and what failed in the original, attacking all its weak points and reinforcing its strengths to leave us with an exciting adventure, very complete and with a lot of personalities that you will hardly want to miss.
Aloy’s journey continues.
We will again enjoy an open-world action and role-playing game that continues Aloy’s story right where the original left off. Without going into too much detail, the planet has begun to wither after the defeat of Hades, which is why our heroine decides to take a trip to the Forbidden West to find a way to reverse the situation.
As you can imagine, along the way, we will make great discoveries, we will meet new allies, we will face powerful and fearsome enemies, and we will surprise ourselves with some very well planned twists while following a brilliantly written script that knows how to keep the interest at all times, even if in the final stretch accelerates too much and rushes the closing.
Probably one of its great successes is that this time it focuses mainly on Aloy, her companions and the investigation of the Ancients, leaving conflicts between tribes in a more secondary role so that the plot always flows without too many distractions or situations. Of filler translates into a more solid and better-paced adventure that never gets boring.
But, without a doubt, the significant improvement in narrative terms is in his characters. We are not going to lie to you. In the original, the friends of our heroine seemed so uninteresting that if they had not made an appearance again in this second part, we would probably still not remember them, something that this time has been completely changed.
The studio has decided to give them much more prominence and presence throughout the game to achieve this, to the point that they will even accompany us during some missions, not to mention that they also have their optional plots. What’s more, now we’ll have a base where we can spend time chatting with them to get to know them better, enjoy some hilarious dialogues they have with each other from time to time while we do our things, and ultimately deepen their relationship with the protagonist. In the way, they see the world.
This probably reminds you of what is seen in games like Mass Effect (after all, the base fulfills a function very similar to the Normandy), a simile that we have not made by chance, since the treatment that is made of the allies of Aloy is “very BioWare,” giving us a diverse, quirky, and layered-deep group that’s easy to get attached to. And yes, all this also extends to the main heroine herself, whose evolution throughout the script we quite liked.
Another detail that helps make the narrative more exciting and entertaining is the very presentation of the video sequences and our conversations with the rest of the characters. If in the original most of the dialogues showed us two characters staring at each other while they moved their lips and little else (something that also applies to too many open-world games), here a much more cinematic approach has been chosen. We will not stop seeing how to gesture, how the expressions on their faces always correspond to the actors’ performances, and how the camera uses different planes to give consistency to each scene. And beware, since this is the case even when we dialogue with the most secondary of the secondary, which translates into a presentation of authentic luxury that makes us believe what we are seeing.
An exciting world full of possibilities
In the purely playable, the first thing that caught our attention is how much exploration has improved thanks to Aloy’s new skills, who can now climb on a good number of surfaces, dive and use various tools that will facilitate our movements, such as a hook, a very useful paraglider and even a new means of transport that you will love and will leave you speechless.
In addition to making the simple fact of moving and going from one place to another result in a more fun and rewarding experience, has also allowed Guerrilla Games to create a much more exciting map than the one in its first part, offering us a design of more vertical, complex, elaborate levels with many more possibilities that translate into more varied, ingenious and entertaining playable sections, something that is especially true when puzzles and “platforming” enters the scene.
The world is also opening up more progressively and organically. We will not be able to access many places and secrets until we get specific skills, so obtaining a new tool will also encourage us to return to those sites that we previously had blocked, thus encouraging exploration.
This would fall on deaf ears if the world did not have exciting activities, although luckily this is not the case, something that is very clear in the very design of missions, simply spectacular. Whether primary or secondary, they will lead us to live all kinds of adventures with very different objectives while we fight giant mechanical beasts, follow trails, solve small puzzles, infiltrate various places, climb large structures and overcome some other section of platforms.
As is logical, those belonging to the main story are a little more cinematographic and striking. However, the plots of the optional missions also expand the background of this universe and allow us to experience very different situations that have made us unable to stop playing until we have completed all that we have found. Without a doubt, a giant leap compared to what was seen in the first part, offering us quality content capable of making a difference.
The best thing is that the item does not end here. Throughout the world, we will find a massive number of activities these include crazy and hilarious mount races, a surprisingly elaborate mini-board game with collectible figures, expeditions to ancient ruins full of clever puzzles, hunting challenges, a spectacular arena in which to test our skills of combat against the machines, the return of the cauldrons (a kind of dungeon full of fighting, jumps and puzzles with their bosses), the climbs of the long necks and a long etcetera. Of course, there are also slightly simpler missions called errands, and you won’t be short of things as usual as the conquest of bases or camps, although even these contents are taken care of and give us enough incentives so that we want to dedicate part of our time to them.
Perhaps the great key to this lies in the fact that in Guerrilla, they have managed to contain the scale of the game without overdoing it or flooding everything with filler clone activities. Yes, we will see many icons on the map, but there is a relatively small number for each type of activity. For example, neither the ruins nor the cauldrons reach two figures, which has allowed the studio to take care of each of them to offer us unique challenges of the highest quality. And since there are many different challenges, the variety of situations is always the order of the day.
The thrill of a good hunt
But if something stands out above everything else and gives this series that marked personality that it has, it is its fights against the tremendous mechanical beasts that populate its world. In essence, these confrontations are very similar to the ones we saw in the first part, proposing battles in which we will have to use various types of bows, ranged weapons, traps, and elemental ammunition to target our enemies’ weak points and shoot them down.
However, the bestiary has now been expanded considerably. All creatures have many more breakable parts, new weak points that we can take advantage of, weapons that we can start to use in our favour and, as was from expecting, many tricks, patterns and new movements that will make things very difficult for us if we do not play with head and skill, taking advantage of the scenario in our favour and all our arsenal.
All this is summed up in some fights that are a real show and that do not stop giving us one epic moment after another, especially when they force us to fight in specific ways to get the pieces we need from our rivals, either to complete a mission or improve our team. In addition, there are so many types of enemies. They are so different from each other that it will be rare for you to reach the credit titles having seen all the monsters that the game hides. If you do so, the scenario itself and the combinations of robots that can attack us simultaneously will ensure that we never get bored and keep things fresh.
The design of creatures is fantastic, and it is hard for us to describe in words how fun these battles can be since it is tough to get tired of them, and at times they have reminded us of what we have experienced with the best Monster Hunters. And yes, we have found them considerably more challenging than in the original installment. However, Aloy has so many tools that we will always find a way to balance the scales and turn the tables in our favour with strategies that vary considerably from player to player. Not in vain, we now have weapon skills such as being able to shoot three arrows at the same time or unload an entire magazine from a bolt launcher on the enemy, as well as valuable techniques that will allow us to enhance ourselves significantly and make the most of our abilities for a few minutes—seconds, which translates into a more polished, deep and with more options gameplay.
The studio is well aware that here, in the mechanical beasts, is where one of the main pillars of their work resides, which is why they have also given them much more prominence so that they are always present in all missions, whether from one way or another, as well as in numerous activities. The other side of the coin would be in the clashes against humans, which are still somewhat disappointing and chaotic, leaving them far below the machine hunts.
The good news is that the melee combat system has been improved with new combos and movements that make it more fun. It is very well exploited in some fighting pits where we will have to replicate the combinations of blows that are asked of us and defeat various bosses. In addition, the presence of human rivals has diminished until almost disappearing during the missions of the main story. When they appear, they usually do so in the company of mechanical monsters, so they are battles that never bother and are in their fair doses to contribute something of variety.
As you can imagine, as we play, fight. Complete activities we will receive experience, level up and obtain skill points that we can invest in a new talent tree that is much larger and broader than the one we had in the original, where we will find improvements for our character as enjoyable as applicable with which we can define our style of play.
Additionally, the equipment and modifier system has been polished. Our outfits and weapons continue to serve us for much of the game as soon as we get the necessary parts to improve them, equating to a less chaotic and more manageable inventory. And, how could it be otherwise? The crafting system also returns to make our ammunition, potions and traps with the resources we find on the stage and the possibility of improving our bags by hunting wild animals.
How long does it take to beat the game?
As you can see, it is a surprisingly well-rounded and well-designed game that manages to manage so that all kinds of adventures and unexpected events always take place on our travels. Something as simple as going to a mountain to get a resource that we need to level up our bow can end up leading to an epic confrontation against an alpha Avempest, and an innocent walk through the jungle can lead us to discover a hidden cave or a side quest that will only start if we help a hunter defeat the beast he is fighting against.
Not everything is perfect, and there are small details that perhaps could have been more careful, such as the fact that Aloy does not shut up even underwater (literally) and is always telling us everything we have to do when we get to a place before we can even begin to think. However, nothing serious will prevent you from having a great time during the nearly 40 hours that the main story lasts. Side quests can easily double this perfect figure as soon as you intend to do everything.
Finally, we are forced to applaud the overwhelming work that Guerrilla has done with its graphic section, offering us a new generation audiovisual experience that has left us with our jaws dropped on many occasions thanks to its excellent modelling, animations, facial expressions, textures, effects, settings, drawing distance, lighting and the number of elements that come to put on the screen, all accompanied by an art direction often that leaves us with some beautiful prints, a very high variety of locations and a design of creatures fascinating.
All this is talking about its PlayStation 5 version, of course, which includes Resolution Mode for those who want to enjoy their graphics in all their splendour and with the greatest possible sharpness in exchange for limiting the rate of images per second to 30 fps. Of course, the other option is to go for Performance Mode to play at 60fps at the cost of sacrificing some detail and image quality. Honestly, we liked both modes; they look good and are perfectly playable, so deciding on one or the other will depend on the personal preferences of each player.
In addition, charges barely last a second or two. The DualSense uses the triggers convincingly to simulate the sensation of shooting a bow (although close, pay attention to the effect they get when prying open doors), as well as haptic feedback to transmit all kinds of things to us in the hands, like the footprints of our mounts. In no case did it seem to us that he took full advantage of the console’s control, although they are small additions that help make the experience more immersive and satisfying.
As far as its soundtrack is concerned, we have to say that it is a joy-full of great songs that vary between those with a more tribal and adventurous touch and those that bet on sounds more typical of a science fiction odyssey, an exciting mix, which is a delight to the ears. They behave dynamically, and the game makes excellent use of their musical pieces to top it off. Without a doubt, one of the best we have heard in recent years. The effects follow the same line and are of unquestionable quality. Of course, suppose you are one of those who prefer to play in the original version. In that case, you will be happy to know that there is a language selector, something that we recommend you try to be amazed by the incredible cast that it has in English, which also includes names like Carrie-Anne Moss ( The Matrix ), Angela Bassett ( Black Panther ) or Lance Reddick ( The Wire ) and the expressions and gestures of the characters are totally in sync with their performances.
Horizon Forbidden West is, without a doubt, one of the best open-world games we’ve ever played. A new example is that not all sequels have to be a revolution for the series and that by improving and polishing its formula to take it to the next level, true wonders can be done, especially when the result is a work as careful well designed as this one.
We could say that this second part continues to shine for its combat and its graphics, but that would be falling far short since we have greatly enjoyed each of its missions, each walk we have taken, each puzzle we have solved, every section of platforming we’ve beaten, every one of its minigames, every unexpected event we’ve run into, every conversation with our allies, and generally every minute we’ve spent on it. And that, in a game to which we have dedicated almost 80 hours, and that has left us wanting to continue playing, is saying a lot. Another must buy Playstation exclusive whether you own a PS4 or PS5!
We prepared this review with a digital review copy for the PS5 version of the title provided by PlayStation.