Last week, I criticized Horizon Forbidden West for feeling too samey to its predecessor, and too lackluster for a AAA game of its caliber. Today, I wish to eat a bunch of crow and rectify those statements.
Horizon Forbidden West is a fantastic sequel. Many of my grievances still remain, but the overall experience more than makes up for these issues.
From Zero (Dawn) to Hero
If you need the sparknotes on why I took issue with Horizon Forbidden West, here’s the rundown:
- The opening hours are a slog.
- The platforming’s clunky.
- Climbing isn’t as free as Breath of the Wild.
- Too much detective vision!!
- It’s buggy.
- There are underwater segments… why exactly?
- Melee combat’s meh.
I still stand by these criticisms. In particular, the intro to Forbidden West (two hours, give or take) is a major sticking point. It sees Aloy and fellow Nora tribesperson Varl scouring an ancient facility for clues following the end of Zero Dawn, and serves as a bridge between the first game and the sequel. Unfortunately, nothing of real import happens, and this section gatekeeps the thrilling world of Forbidden West behind a gauntlet of linear, tedious platforming segments.
Not a great first impression for an open-world game. Thankfully, Forbidden West quickly opens up once you arrive in the Daunt—the edge of known civilization, and the real start of Aloy’s adventure. Here, you’ll visit the game’s first major settlement, Chainscrape, opening up a bevy of shops to visit and side activities to tackle. From the power struggle between an Oseram tycoon and Carja magistrate, to a clever fetch quest disguised as a cooking sitcom, these moments are sharply written and equally engrossing.
Most important, Chainscape is where you’re introduced to Machine Strike, a turn-based strategy game that’s equal parts chess and Final Fantasy Tactics. As you defeat opponents, you’ll gain access to more pieces, more boards, and thus more strategies. While not quite as complex or momentous as, say, Gwent from The Witcher 3, it’s still a well-designed diversion, and some great fun.
Seriously Guerrilla, What Were Y’all Thinking?
Listen. I’m not one to rush to an opinion. Especially when playing a lengthy RPG like Forbidden West, I recognize it can take time for systems to click, and storylines to excel.
That said… why do developers shoot themselves in the foot like this? With The Witcher 3, it was White Orchard. With Dragon Age: Inquisition, it was the Hinterlands. What’s with this trend of hiding stellar worlds behind a bleh starter area?
Even now, fellow Punished Backlog writers Amanda Tien and Mark Bowers have encouraged me to get to the good stuff. “Lemme know when you leave the Daunt. It gets crazy.” And while I’m sure that’s true, it makes me wonder why a game like Forbidden West would risk player boredom for the sake of… story? Lore?
Don’t get me wrong. Horizon Forbidden West is perhaps strongest when it forgets its open-world underpinnings, ditches the Ubisoft icons-fest, and focuses on Aloy and her compatriots. This is a gorgeous game, filled with colorful vistas, lively settlements, and charming people. It excels in making the player care for a plot that’s bigger than any one tribe, or settlement, or hero, all while giving Aloy the time and shine she deserves. It’s pretty much all I could’ve wished for from a Horizon Zero Dawn sequel.
I just wish it knew its order of operations right from the jump.