Horizon Forbidden West is gorgeous, but the combat still needs work
To get rid of it, Forbidden Horizon West is a beautiful, well-designed game that has an engaging story and a brilliantly crafted post-apocalyptic world. The sequel to the critically acclaimed 2017 film Horizon Zero Dawn picks up shortly after the epic final battle with Hades’ artificial intelligence. Now, Aloy, former outcast and current reluctant world savior, must travel to the ruins of San Francisco in order to find a copy of the lost computer program that will stop the world’s deterioration.
When it comes to the world of Horizon, there is little to complain about. Of all the open-world action RPGs on the market, this one best balances the realm of fantasy with realism. There’s no problem instantly believing the beast-like machines that roam the landscape and threaten the various tribes, all of which are also fully fleshed out societies with their own customs, sayings, beliefs, and cultural attitudes. There are many moments in Forbidden Horizon West where you climb a rotten metal tower and look out over this wild world of cybercaveman and that’s all the box promises. The PS5 version especially shows all the power of the new generation of consoles.
Where the game fails is the combat, which is the main reason I never finished first. Like a Fumito Ueda game, it’s often more fun to watch than to play. It’s weird how something that clearly tries to be halfway between grave robber and The last of us still manages to be mechanically less than either.
The game is at its best when Aloy tracks down machines and sets traps for them. In those moments, it feels like a brilliant execution of every tool at the game’s disposal. The problem is that if things go wrong, it turns into a muddy, grueling battle where Aloy seems to deal arbitrary damage to enemies up to until they eventually fall.
Even if you don’t fail those moments, the game will force you into giant battle scenes that would be much more fun with proper weapons. In most games, the bow is a weapon designed to quietly shoot enemies without alerting others. The slower pace of draw and release fits well with stealth and assassination. It’s your main combat asset here, slowing you down and leaving you constantly hunting for resources.
It’s so counter-intuitive compared to decades of game design, and not in a groundbreaking way. Even if you enable aim assist (yes, I’m a reviewer who plays on easy mode), the game works completely against all logic. Rather than drawing your reticle towards the target, it will guide the projectile after it leaves your bow. This greatly increases the feeling that any damage you deal is random rather than calculated.
The sequel also suffers from a common flaw in that Aloy is inexplicably underpowered. His loss of equipment is explained by his long journey, but the stripping of his physical abilities is more aggravating. There’s no reason she can’t ambush enemies from above with her spear right off the bat, and early levels of the game even seem to want you to do that instead of clumsily jumping off rocks. and swinging inefficiently.
Forbidden Horizon West is a mediocre action game based on a brilliant concept, which really makes it the Bioshock of the new generation of consoles. Worth the trip, but still unnecessarily fun to get there.
Forbidden Horizon West is available on February 18 on PS4/PS5.