Republished on Wednesday, 15th February, 2023: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of February 2023's PS Plus Extra and Premium lineup . The original text follows.
With Horizon Zero Dawn , Guerrilla Games set the bar very high for itself. Its first attempt at an open world action RPG really resonated with PlayStation fans, thanks to intense combat, a compelling narrative mystery, and a great lead character. It's a lot to live up to, but having now spent dozens of hours playing Horizon Forbidden West , we think it's about as good a sequel as fans could hope for.
Set six months after the first game's conclusion, Aloy is traveling far and wide to prevent the world from spiralling into another mass extinction. Ominous storms brew in the sky, and an unusual red plant is spreading rapidly across the country, killing all flora and fauna in its wake. Her search for answers leads her to the titular Forbidden West, a dangerous region that's home to the volatile and deadly Tenakth tribe. Of course, all sorts of obstacles present themselves, not least of which is Regalla, a Tenakth rebel waging civil war with her followers and an army of machines at her command.
We certainly won't be going into spoiler territory here, but rest assured that there are plenty of twists and turns in the sequel's complex story, building upon the present day tribal conflicts as well as the events and ramifications of the past. With Zero Dawn unveiling such a fascinating history and constantly presenting you with immense revelations, the sequel was always going to struggle to do better. Forbidden West's narrative may not quite have the same impact as the original, but it still has its fair share of WTF moments, and the way the story is presented is certainly an improvement. Audio logs are still here, but most of the plot is conveyed in a more organic way.
That's in no small part thanks to improved writing and a much, much better cast of supporting characters. Some familiar friends, such as Varl and Erend, join Aloy on her quest and are even more likeable, while new faces such as Zo and Kotallo are fantastic. Everyone feels more fleshed out and human, and you'll grow to like them as they play a larger role in the overall narrative.
Similarly, conversations with other NPCs are improved as well. Quest givers and merchants are afforded far more personality this time around, and all conversations are now livelier than the static back and forth headshots seen in Zero Dawn. It's here where you may notice some janky facial animation, however. The game looks astonishingly good 99 per cent of the time, but with such polished presentation, things like eyes darting around or poor lip syncing are more noticeable. It's not the end of the world, but a shame when the rest of Forbidden West is so beautiful.
Yes, as expected of Guerrilla Games, the visuals are sublime. The setting, which includes arid desert, snowy mountains, lush jungle, and crisp shorelines is gorgeous through and through, with some incredible sights strewn across the map. The artistic design is incredibly strong; the machines are impressively detailed and wonderfully animated, while human characters are among the best seen in open world games. Each tribe has a recognisable identity with their wonderfully outlandish outfits and body paints. There is some rare pop-in, but it's a very good-looking game — particularly in the 4K resolution mode. The performance mode still looks great and is our preferred way to play, but to get the game running at 60 frames-per-second, the number of pixels takes a noticeable hit.
You might not have much time to soak in the sights, though, as you'll be too busy having fun, battling those hulking great robots that roam the land. Tying the game together is the combat against machines, and it's just as satisfying as ever beating the odds and taking them down as a one-woman army. In fact, the DualSense controller comes into its own here, enhancing the action with some well-implemented haptic feedback. Some of the more subtle things done with the controller are really great, like the feeling of the tall grass brushing by as you walk through it, and the increased resistance on the trigger when preparing an arrow.
The machine designs are brilliant, with some new additions like the fearsome Slitherfang providing some of the game's best fights. As before, you can equip many different weapon types, including new ones like powerful Spike Throwers and the Shredder Gauntlet, which launches discs that deal damage for a short time before returning to you. Figuring out the best ways to deal with machines, whether it's using traps, removing some of their components, or just taking advantage of elemental weaknesses, is far and away some of the most engaging combat in the open world realm.
You can even use Aloy's spear, which is a more viable option now. Less so against machines, perhaps, but the improved melee moves make human battles more interesting. You can of course revert to your trusty bow, but some human enemies will rush you and engage in close combat. After unlocking more moves in one of the skill trees, melee is definitely more exciting, and fighting Regalla's rebels is more enjoyable as a result. Throw in the Valor Surges, which are special moves that can quickly turn the tide of battle, and combat overall has more to offer in Forbidden West.
It still forms the basis of many missions, but you'll be happy to learn quests and other activities are more diverse than ever. The Hunting Grounds return to offer machine combat training, and Melee Pits now also fills that role for, well, melee. A huge Arena provides you with more extreme challenges, while out in the world, you can find Gauntlet Runs, which are races astride machines. Furthermore, there are a range of environmental puzzles and collectables to seek out. The best part is that most of this optional stuff feels cohesive, fitting in nicely with the wider narrative. Even Tallnecks and Cauldrons — essentially "radio towers" and dungeons — are more varied and more closely tethered to the story.
There's plenty to explore off the beaten path, although some may be disappointed to learn the climbing is relatively restricted; clicking R3 will ping Aloy's Focus, which reveals items to pick up and handholds she can traverse. It never felt like much of an issue that you can't just climb anywhere, as riding around on machines or using the new glider and grapple hook can get you to most places. We did find the climbing to be a little fussy at times, with Aloy refusing to grab certain outcroppings, but it works perfectly fine for the most part.
While there are some small irritations, then, we don't want to leave things on a sour note. Horizon Forbidden West delivers where it matters most, improving on the first game's shortcomings and building on the established lore in meaningful ways. We've thoroughly enjoyed returning to Aloy's world, one that's filled with bafflingly silly yet captivating sci-fi, and a handful of characters that, by the end, we genuinely cared about.
Overall, Horizon Forbidden West is a huge improvement on its predecessor. The map is diverse and full of stunning sights; characters and conversations are so much better; and the already great gameplay is enhanced with new weapons, more options, and better melee. The story doesn't have quite the same element of surprise as the first game, but it still builds upon things with some daring twists of its own. Any minor quibbles we have melt away when the game's firing on all cylinders. It's a gorgeous, wildly fun action RPG, and there's nothing else quite like it.