Horizon Forbidden West (PS4) Review – Open-World Buffet

Guerrilla’s first new IP in years, 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn, was a big hit. The open-world “RPG” has its rough edges, but the cyber-tribal world filled with ancient remnants of the future and robo-animals, its strong lead character in Aloy and an unorthodox style of combat gave the Dutch developers its biggest success. Enough to stop them continue making Halo-killers.

And so, five years later we have a sequel. Horizon Forbidden West builds upon a solid foundation, and seems to have smoothed out its rougher aspects while also making use of its big-budget AAA budget as afforded to a PlayStation first-party developer, pushing the presentation quality sky-high.

So, is the new adventures of Aloy and the Magical AirPod worth playing, in particular on the PS4? This game will be appealing to a broad audience who enjoys big spectacles and open-world games, but maybe not so much to core gamers who seek something new and innovative.


Horizon Forbidden West is a PS4-PS5 cross-gen title, and as you may have seen in the early promo materials all showcasing the power of the next-gen console, it’s pure eye-candy.

However, as we’ve discovered earlier the PS4 version is still a looker as well. Having played Horizon Zero Dawn and Horizon Forbidden West back-to-back, the amount of detail being added in environmental textures, skyboxes, character clothing and faces, are just staggering.

Guerrilla really cranked up its proprietary Decima game engine and pushed the PS4 to its absolute limits. Performance-wise, it’s a stable 30fps frame rate all around, an impressive feat.

There are texture pop-ins and instances where the game abruptly cut to black in order to load some assets. But these little hassles (including the loading times) from playing on an old console that’s slowly going to be obsolete aren’t dealbreakers in any way. Taking screenshots from Photo Mode still produce mesmerising results (but not the console’s built-in video recorder, that footage ends up looking blurry and off-colour).

The lands of the Forbidden West is far more diverse than what we saw of the Savage East in the last game. You have your usual desert canyons and snowy mountains, sure, but now you’ll also be exploring proper sand dunes, rainforests, redwood forests and the coastal beach when you reach the most west you can possibly go.

And you have to also remember, that this is the post-post-apocalypse where humans live in tribes with their own cultures and beliefs based on the remnants of the past: a possible future of our own timeline.

The cyber-tribal aesthetic gets fleshed out further in Forbidden West, presenting you some imaginative visions of how tribal society can thrive based on the relics we left to them, as the world we’re familiar with is left to ruins reclaimed by nature. The environment design team really got to flex their creativity muscles here, and what you’ll see and hear are just majestic views after majestic views. All awe-inspiring, and really sparks that sense of wonder.

You’ll also be wowed by the amount of performance capture is being used for a majority of the conversations you will have along the adventure.

Zero Dawn makes use of the simple shot-reverse-shot camera angles during conversations with NPCs, a typical thing in western RPGs of this scale. But Guerrilla went overkill with Forbidden West this time, for the better. Seeing body language adds much more nuance to the conversations.

For example, Aloy meets the Sun-King Avad again early in the game. The two’s feelings about each other seem to be more than what I saw was implied during the conversations in Zero Dawn, which was a nice surprise. You’ll find a lot of such scenes where the performance really adds a lot more to the storytelling.

The overall voice acting quality remains top-notch as before. Ashly Burch as a smarter, sassier Aloy this time around is definitely the star of the game, and as you progress through you’ll come to appreciate the amount of effort she has poured into this project. The rest of the cast is also fantastic, made up of returning faces, a few Hollywood-tier castings and talented voice actors across the board.

The rest of the audio department responsible for Horizon Forbidden West deserves praise as well. The soundtrack is sublime, infusing lush, swooping orchestra as heard in the previous instalment with more techno and synths. The ambient soundscape when you’re just out in the open world gives this feeling of the great outdoors, full of sights to see and many adventures awaiting you as far as the horizon. The sounds of the machines, the robotic fauna that comes in many shapes and forms, gives out a great balance of natural and synthetic. It makes you recognise them, and fear the more dangerous ones.

Presentation-wise, no expense was spared to make Horizon Forbidden West. And it shows. In this aspect, it’s peak AAA gaming. This is what you’re going to show to your normie friends to say “this is how far gaming has gotten”.


Horizon Forbidden West is set six months after the events of Zero Dawn. There’s a recap video that will play on your initial boot of the game, spoiling every important plot point from the first game to get you up to speed. If you haven’t played Zero Dawn before Forbidden West, you can play Forbidden West but it’s likely you have lost any incentive to revisit the first game.

In short, Aloy discovered her purpose in life- saving the world. She seemed to have stopped the world-ending threat, but it was not for long. Now she continues her adventure to save the world with the power of her magical AirPod (our favourite nickname of what’s called in-game as a Focus) and the knowledge she gained from the first game. And that adventure is taking her to the Forbidden West, a region previously alluded to.

I’ll try to be vague about the story, because if you ask me, the main draw of the Guerrilla’s Horizon series is the story and worldbuilding around it. You’ll be uncovering the truths of how this world, seemingly a post-post apocalypse of lands familiar to us today, came to be.

The many twists and turns these revelations go on is a wild ride worth keeping my mouth shut. Enjoy the wild ride.

The story tells more than it shows, sure, but when the tale is so engrossing and what they show makes you agape at times, I’ll allow it. And a lot of what seemed to be ancillary tidbits of the world revealed in Zero Dawn, was not just flavour text. Those were foreshadowing the story that’s being explored in this title.

When Horizon goes sci-fi, it’s fascinating. At one point Horizon Forbidden West somehow feels a bit like Mass Effect in a way (you get to talk to your friends a lot). And then you contrast that to the ordinary world where men and women are living in tribes, all progressing in different branches of humankind’s tech and culture tree due to the places where they call home, and you get one amazing world full of lore that’s so rewarding to piece it all together.

But what about the main gameplay then? Well, Forbidden West remains an open-world RPG. But thankfully it took notes and feedback on what they did wrong with their RPG debut.

For one, the act of buying and selling has been improved. The UI improvement makes it less of a hassle to buy or sell in bulk (no need to endlessly hold circle until you get through the whole stack).

Upgrading weapons and gear have been separated into a whole new UI accessible to the workbench, so you don’t actually forget that you can do upgrades (in Zero Dawn the upgrade and equip tabs look awfully too similar to the point that I personally forgot about them).

I’m also glad they got rid of the awful treasure box system. It’s a clunky use of a gacha system. Now it’s all gone. If you want to pull, you can find Aloy in Genshin Impact instead.

The quest log has been tidied up as well, splitting quests into more parts and easier to glance over which unchecked boxes need checking.

Journey To The Forbidden West

A lot of the fundamental gameplay mechanics core to Horizon has also been expanded in some ways. For traversal, there are more surfaces available to you to climb on, so fewer moments where you need to go uphill and just Skyrim-style jump over and over until you force yourself onto the high ground in a way that the devs don’t intend to (though it’s still kind of possible to do so in some spots).

The climbing and traversal can feel a bit iffy, though. Sometimes Aloy doesn’t clamber onto a ledge, which either means she’s somehow standing up, or accidentally fallen down to her doom before the “drop to ledge” prompt can appear. She also sometimes doesn’t jump to the right ledge I’m pointing the analog stick at.

Besides that, you get a grappling hook (in-game called the Pullcaster) for fast climbing, agility moves and solving puzzles. And also, you can jump to the opposite direction of where you are dangling from- Assassin’s Creed style. Not just climb up, down and sideways in your traversal sections.

These additions are nice, but I don’t feel like it’s integrated well enough. You can spot items that the grappling hook can latch to by the laced “X” patterns on them… but I feel some objects are harder to spot than others. Some are so, so tiny. Some don’t get picked up by the Focus (maybe that’s a bug, I can’t tell).

There were many instances where I feel dumb and don’t get what the level designers’ intentions are with the traversal puzzles. And the pop-up tip reminding you that you can jump toward the opposite direction of where you are will almost always appear when the next ledge you need to grab is behind you. A similar case when there is a hidden object with a little laced “X” pattern that needs pulling. This tells me these new mechanics don’t come second nature enough as part of your natural toolkit, only of use in very specific instances.

Not all climbable parts of a wall or cliff are marked as so (only some that have the now-universal yellow colour markings), and you need to scan them with your Focus to see them appear for a short time. What ended up happening is that I keep on constantly hitting R3 over and over again because I want them to stay appear longer. I ended up putting the accessibility option to have the markers stay on permanently. I’m glad the devs invested in accessibility by having this as an accessibility option, but I feel this should just be on by default.

The one great new addition is the Sheildwing. It’s the glider from Breath Of The Wild. Or the glide button seenin fellow PlayStation Studio dev Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank series. With the game having more tall vistas to climb to, it’s fitting to have the ability to gently fall down in style. It’s arguably one of the better new gadgets alongside the Diving Mask, which lets you breathe underwater permanently while swimming underwater (which is new to the game). Which also reminds me of Ratchet & Clank.

Wild Wild Forbidden West

As for combat, you’ll be taking down some people, but the fun is with taking down the many robo-animals of all kinds and sizes. From the small Burrowers to the hippo-like Widemaws to the bananas-wild monkeys of the Clamberjaw (all new to Forbidden West). And each machine has different elemental weaknesses, attack patterns and different components you can shoot off (either for loot or to gain you an advantage).

The appeal of Horizon’s combat is that it’s unconventional in comparison to other games are offering, and you’ll always be put in a David VS Goliath situation. Who would win? A pack of machines spewing acid and fire that looks like monstrous-sized Zoids toys, or one fiery, fiery-haired young lady with a spear and some bows?

Proper planning is essential in taking down the robots, and you have an arsenal of hunting skills and tricks you can pull. Lay down traps. Put down tripwires. Eat some food first for temporary buffs. The last one is new to Forbidden West, which I guess thanks to Aloy’s previous appearance in Monster Hunter World.

You can also make use of stealth, hiding in the conveniently placed tall grasses that somehow all have the same reddish flowery tips on them across all the biomes (I actually like the consistency), taking out some of the weaker ones, or overriding them so they fight on your side for a little while.

You also should use your magical AirPod to tag the machines, make a mental note of their elemental weakness, and see all the component parts that are also their weak points.

And once you decide to engage, the battle is on. Your arrows do damage, but machines are appropriately bullet-spongey. So you have to maximise your damage by exploiting the elemental weaknesses (pound them with the one elemental weakness until it triggers its effect) and hitting weak points.

It’s all chaotic. Parts of the scenery like trees, poles even building walls can crumble from the machines moving and fighting, trying their best to lunge into you or fire some projectiles. All of those happening while you try to shoot arrows can be stressful. But it is possible.

On paper, and when it clicks, such encounters are ridiculous fun. Making use of all the different weapons as you adapt your tactics on the fly, focusing fire with your elemental ammo to trigger big damage. See the machines eat up all your carefully laid down traps. When it realises its design goal, the combat is unlike any other open-world game, and that’s great to have in a sea of formulaic open-world games.

But in practice, I find most of the time I can barely aim, the machines are diving straight into my face, and I have to continuously dodge roll and dodge roll and dodge roll to avoid a huge melee attack that can swipe half of my total health, but not too far or the machines whip up its long-range attacks in the form of lasers or missiles or acid pukes.

Also, having to do all this while having precise aim with weapons that don’t trigger at a hit of a button? Absolute nightmare. And that’s accounting for the slow-mo aiming ability you can use.

You can now jump onto high poles with a grappling hook, then do another high jump which you can then aim your bow to strike them at a high vantage point. You can even shoot arrows mid-jump. In practice, my attempts in utilising Aloy’s agility end with me losing sight of where the heck did that robo-monkey go, and missing all the shots because good god that robo-monkey can’t sit down even for a hot second.

Maybe this is just me being very awful with video games that require precise aim, but I find that it’s easy to engage in Horizon Forbidden West’s combat in a way that will make you stressed out and have no fun.

There are options to stop machines from lunging at you over and over- you have the Ropecaster that can tie enemies down and the new smoke bombs to make them lose sight of you for short while, enough to get back into a conveniently placed tall grass. But I feel like the more I experiment and try out something new when fighting, it’s easy to be punished by death. So once you figured out one game plan that suits you, you’re better off not doing anything else or you would end up losing time having to repeat the encounters.

(The way I fight now is to invest in precision bows, and hit machines with the very-expensive tear arrows while in stealth. With some Infiltrator skills and a skill-matching armour, it’s easy to get them weak before finishing them off with throwing spears that do can do decent damage-over-time hits.)

I feel there could be more additions to make players feel more in control during combat. What if scanned enemies have their elemental weakness stickied on the HUD instead of having to rescan them or opening the machine catalogue in the menu mid-fight? What if Ropecasters are buffed so it’s easier to get machines pinned down with fewer shots?

It’s a shame that this is how I feel about its combat since Forbidden West has greatly expanded its options. New weapons types include the aforementioned throwing spears, a warrior bow for close-range attacks, and the Boltcaster- heavy-weapon-style bows that shoots arrows like it’s a machine gun. Each weapon now has unique alternate fires unlockable from the skill tree. Melee has been made more viable thanks to the additions of combos and a mechanic that encourages you to switch-up between melee and ranged attacks – Resonant Blast. You still can’t block, though and doing melee on uneven terrain is still a bad idea. And lastly, you can unlock ultimate attacks – Valorant Surge. It can be a temporary boost in attack power, an area-of-effect hit, extra heals and health, and many other cool stuff you can use your meter for.

Horizon Forbidden West greatly expands Aloy’s skillset and toolkit to her disposal. Yet with all this much addition, I can’t shake the feeling it’s just making the game more complex without actually enriching the fundamental gameplay. It’s like adding more kinds of food to your plate of meal, but they don’t really complement each other or add new depth and texture. I wouldn’t have minded if all the devs do is take notes of what other open-world RPGs are doing and go from there. But with the amount of niggles and frustration I had interacting with its core gameplay loop I feel like there’s still more that needed to be done. The gameplay isn’t slick, it can be rough at the edges.


The really big thing in Forbidden West is that it’s just… more of everything. More weapons. More gear. More enemies. More machines. More skills and skill trees. More quests. More mechanics. More puzzles. More mini-games. More story. More traversal. More places to visit.

More. More. More.

The game eases you in with a 2-hour tutorial, before opening up The Daunt, a region that borders the Forbidden West, serving as a bridge between the world you saw in Zero Dawn and this new land you’ll be spending time in. After a couple of more hours (I took eight hours) exploring and getting distracted with stuff in the Daunt, then you’ll step into the Forbidden West proper, but not the whole map. That’s another 10 more hours after a big story point, then you’ll reach as west as you possibly can to the West Coast of what used to be the USA. Is there more after that? Well…

I finished through Horizon Forbidden West’s story, at around 49% completion according to the in-game stat tracking, and that took me more than 50 hours of playtime.

I don’t think the game has double the playtime more, but what I’m saying is that Forbidden West is a game you shouldn’t rush through. It’s meant to be consumed in smaller bites and across multiple play sessions. There’s a buffet of content being served. And when you think you’ve cleared out that tray of french fries all to yourself the next time you go back to it, it’s been refilled again.

Like, seriously. Settlements have a few side quests or errand quests that you can partake upon your first visit. But if you visit it again after the plot has progressed a bit, or you completed some other quests, more green exclamation marks will appear to get you all busy again. This happens to almost all the settlements you can across all over the Forbidden West.

Oh, and there are even entirely optional settlements with a chain of side quests not pertinent to the main story. Totally skippable, but it’s just so tempting to do detours from the critical path.

Now here’s the thing: the tray of content being served for your consumption in this Forbidden West buffet, most of them are french fries. Or any other carbs rather. It’ll make you full, too full, if you keep on munching through them over and over.

What I mean by this is that, while the production values around a given side/errand quest are all lavish and make you drawn into doing them, most of them follow the same structure and formula of checking the same boxes. A lot of the work goes around integrating an interesting story to make the quests feel good, but the quests themselves can feel samey. It’s always some combination of following someone, going to a location, searching for clues, fighting machines or other enemies, do some traversal puzzles. Most of the time.

If you’re doing that in rapid succession, you’ll feel full really quick. Tired even. Or worse, burnt out. It does get formulaic when you binge-play through them all.

There are other kinds of distractions to sort-of balance out the open-world diet. You can do trial challenges returning from the previous game, or go test your combat skills in the melee pits or the Arena. There’s also a long side questline about fulfilling contracts to make armour, the only one that I actually bothered completing because it feels varied enough.

They even put a boardgame-esque mini-game, Machine Strike, that’s totally there just for fun.

And if you like crafting and upgrading your gear to the max, oh you’re in luck. The many upgrades require specific part drops from normal animals and machine animals. As for the machine animals, some of those parts are only dropped if you specifically remove them before they die. So you can engage in proper hunting to get your weapons and gear to max level.

Should you not binge this game through a whole week, taking your sweet time across weeks, or months, I think you’ll love Horizon Forbidden West. It literally has a lot to offer and will keep you busy.

Personal Enjoyment

I have mixed feelings about my time with Horizon Forbidden West.

On one hand, I really felt let down. The game tries its best to be better, some are changed for the better, but all I feel like is that they just kept adding more and more stuff to do. And there are so many moments where I can feel the jank in its gameplay, where the systems don’t click as well as it was designed to be. Those frustrations where Aloy just don’t climb and jump like how I expected and having to brute-force some encounters because a lot of the options available in combat is just not viable for my playstyle, well, those add up.

Plus, I binge-play a game that’s not designed to be completed this quickly. By the end of the game, I loathe any new green exclamation point that suddenly appears.

On the other, uncovering the secrets of the Forbidden West, discovering its sights, and unravelling the plot keeps me hooked to see the game’s critical path to the end. I’m so invested in this sci-fi story. The story is a warning for us on topics like climate change and artificial intelligence. But also a story full of hope and optimism. The world is worth preserving, and you’ll come to the same conclusion after seeing the many things on offer in this cyber-tribal future. Aloy comes to her own this time around too. She may come across as a bland, generic protagonist back in the early hours of Zero Dawn, but she’s a proper heroine now, with a character arc of her own coming to grips to who she is in the world.

When it comes to video games, I prefer a strong gameplay loop rather than the presentation or story. So as much as I shed tears when the credits rolled and already thinking up theories of where the series will go next, I don’t think I’m going to go back and do all the quests and content I missed anytime soon.

I’m full of open-world carbs from this buffet and I need to sit down a bit and play other kinds of games for a good while after this.


Horizon Forbidden West is a perfect sequel: the second game of a new series that had a solid foundation, and improves almost every single aspect to render the original game almost obsolete.

Guerrilla continues to work marvels in the graphics department, pushing the old PS4 to its very limits while maintaining a solid, playable performance.

A stronger story with more memorable characters, a buttload of gameplay improvements, and just a seemingly abundant amount of content will definitely get you busy exploring the wilds.

Despite the gameplay improvements, there are still aspects where it feels lacklustre, and there’s this feeling that the devs aren’t ready to rock the open-world boat as much, and rather to follow the well-travelled paths of the many open-world games that precede it.

Horizon Forbidden West is an absolute must-play for fans of Horizon Zero Dawn. For those that aren’t, this is a fulfilling open-world game so much in content you’ll feel full in no time. Take your sweet time experiencing it all, not rush it through, and you’ll find that our world really is worth saving.

Played on the base PS4. Review copy provided by the publisher


Horizon Forbidden West

Horizon Forbidden West is an absolute must-play for fans of Horizon Zero Dawn. For those that aren't, this is a fulfilling open-world game so much in content you'll feel full in no time. Take your sweet time experiencing it all, not rush it through, and you'll find that our world really is worth saving.

  • Presentation 10
  • Gameplay 7.5
  • Content 9.5
  • Personal Enjoyment 7.5

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