FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Horizon Forbidden West

Introductions:

Horizon Zero Dawn became one of my all-time favorite single-player adventure games. I came to it late, almost three years after its release. It was an amazing game to get lost in during the longest stretch of Covid-related lockdown in my area. Up to that point I hadn’t been much for “map and checklist” games, which are what I think of most AAA sandbox/open-world games as. They are often too daunting for me. And as something of a completionist, seeing a world map riddled with waypoints can turn me off. But Zero Dawn came with just the right mix of world building, engaging NPCs, side quests, and—crucially—just the right amount of prompting to engage with them. The time I spent with that game was incredible. By no means did I earn a platinum trophy, but it is one of only a handful of ARPGs in which I’ve tracked down every quest and collectible. So, I was on board the hype train for Forbidden West as soon as it was announced.

Beginning a Journey to The West

Forbidden West is the second game I’ve played on PS5, the first being Demon’s Souls. And while Demon’s Souls‘ visuals elicited gasp after gasp, the introduction to Horizon Forbidden West was pure delight. (Even before realizing that I was playing on the “Favor Performance” visuals setting!) I had waited so patiently to go adventuring with Aloy again, and I will say that Zero Dawn is more of a requirement than one might guess. A big, crowd-attracting sequel like this might normally want to expect less knowledge of new players. So, I highly recommend watching a recap video or digging into the lore notes in the game’s menu. There is a brief introduction by one of the series main characters, but I’m not sure how helpful it will be to those who haven’t played Zero Dawn.

Gameplay and Visuals

Anything I say here will amount to a heap of praise. This game is simply gorgeous. Clear care and ambition have been taken to realize the American West as a reborn, yet post-apocalyptic, wilderness. It balances a beauty and sense of danger I have literally never felt in a game, including its predecessor. The visuals hint at the kind of awe and respect untouched nature is supposed to elicit in people. Perhaps the kind of feeling most of us simply cannot have anymore because we’ve exploited—or at least tamed—all of it. A bucolic, carnivorous tableau rendered in 4k at 120hz. You have to see this game in person. And if the occasional jump cut shows its seams, or a character’s flowing hair suddenly glitches, whipping around in its own mini tornado, maybe they’re just waiting for that inevitable first performance patch.

The gameplay mechanics are tried-and-true. Aloy can approach hunting machines and interacting with her fellow tribes with as much freedom and choice offered by Zero Dawn. This is best reflected in the games six(!) separate skill trees. However, participating in conversations is mostly still on rails, the occasional dialogue wheel notwithstanding. Once out in the bush, the player is gently invited in half a dozen directions at any moment. Any choice will pay off in a matter of minutes, minimizing that dreaded feeling of drowning in freedom that many games of this type can create. Take up your bow, strike off where the wind takes you and enjoy!

New and Notable

If you’ve played Zero Dawn, your skills will translate. The archery from the first game, which was the best take on the weapon in any game, returns just as satisfying. And on PS5, the adaptive trigger response adds even more tactile immersion. Unfortunately Forbidden West commits the Metroid sin. For barely mentioned reasons, skills that Aloy would have mastered, are simply not available at the game’s outset. All but one bow is gone. Riding and controlling machines, an ability that in the first game intertwined with the narrative, has been diminished to a single type of steed. Heck! Aloy could whistle to both call her mount or lure a curious enemy. For some reason she only knows how to in the former context now. But the grandeur on display in Forbidden West, and the clear devotion to the story established in Zero Dawn, assure me that Aloy will quickly become a more capable version of herself.

Conclusion

The inevitable restart from level one aside, I can tell I’m being pulled west by Aloy and the world she’s from. This is the kind of game that lets you set out to do something simple and makes a point to have it turn out to be wonderful instead. I’ll be playing this by appointment for as long as it takes to see all of the Forbidden West!

Are you trekking into Horizon Forbidden West? Will you make the Journey on PS4 or PS5. Tell us your tale in the comments or the Boss Rush Discord!

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