Horizon Zero Dawn did not need a sequel. The credits ended and the story was complete. Aloy had gone from being an outsider of the Nora tribe, to almost-singlehandedly stopping the robotic apocalypse. This sense of resolution is becoming increasingly rare in big-budget games this large.
The question is: Was a Zero Dawn sequel necessary? We wanted to go back to the prehistoric, futuristic Earth where robot dinosaurs roam the land and human tribes struggle to make a living. But was it necessary to exist?
Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Forbidden West proves that Aloy’s tale is worthy of another chapter. It’s a great technical achievement, and captures more intimate, human details.
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- Horizon Forbidden West (PS4 standard edition) (PS4) on Amazon for US$58.95
The world’s weight
Horizon Zero Dawn shows Aloy transform from a Nora tribe outcast into a world-saving hero. The burden of this success is revealed in Forbidden West. In her quest to find a cure for the Blight, the red plague that has decimated the earth’s wildlife, she heads West towards California. Due to the presence of the Tanakth, this land was called the Forbidden Wild West by the Carja. Aloy, despite all her accomplishments in the previous game is an outsider in this new setting. Aloy is not the only one. Varl and Erend are her two friends from the first game. However, the weight of her mission keeps her far from her friends. She is fed up with the world. She wants to save the world from the Blight that has ravaged it, but she is frustrated by petty politics.
She finds herself in the Forbidden Wild, and soon becomes involved in the fighting between the Tenakth and a rebel Tribe run by Regalla, a warmonger who has been trained how to Override machine. She is chased by a large group of people, which eventually leads to a huge journey that expands the game’s sci fi setting.
Aloy, who is always caring, especially for the poor and the needy, runs from her social networks at the beginning of the game. To avoid Varl’s help, she quietly runs off into the night. She pushes Erend away after the first game. Because she doesn’t want others to be burdened by her weight, she’s forced herself into a lonely existence.
Here is where the sequel shines. It’s a personal story. Forbidden west is all about reconnecting with humanity, and forging, or reforming, new friendships. It works because of all the wonderful characters in the world. Varl and Erend are back, but the game is more interested in “putting together a group”. This includes Aloy’s new additions like Zo, a warrior from a peaceful tribe who is fiercely independent, and Kotallo (a brooding warrior who has recently lost an arm). Each character offers a unique perspective, and relates events to you from a different angle. It gives life to the Forbidden West world.
Friendships made on the way
You can see this focus on character in Forbidden Wild from the amount of time you spend in dialogue tree. You can talk for hours with your friends if you wish. Although this story has only a few branches, it still allowed us to form deep relationships with the characters. Although it doesn’t have as many options as Mass Effect or Dragon Age, we felt just as connected to our companions in this story as we did in classic RPGs. It’s what makes Forbidden west more than an action-oriented, open-world game.
Guerrilla Games is known for creating beautiful games, but this time the technical art of the team serves the story. Amazing animation brings life to the characters you meet. Aloy makes your companions’ faces real. Some of the best moments in the game are those when characters speak to one another. The plot stakes are raised when you return to base to hear what your friends have said about events.
Regalla and her rebels are not just a threat to the region. You also see the fear and anger it causes in the people around you. You can see Erend struggling to temper his natural desire to smash everything with the hammer, or Varl’s excitement to support Aloy All Land because of the emotion displayed on their faces. This story is about discovering your humanity and seeing the reflections of others on you.
Although the choices you make can be quite small, they are one of Forbidden Wild’s most important features. Your actions will even affect minor characters. Your actions will update their dialogue based on who you spoke to first after returning from your base.
Normaly, talking to the NPCs in an encampment is an incidental activity. You’d check off a list of things to do before you head back out into the world. Characters commenting on people you have spoken to gives weight to even the smallest choices. For example, a Kotallo stating that he heard you bringing others along on a mission. This is based on a conversation that was held just two minutes before. These friendships become tangible.
Although you may not be making major decisions like choosing one tribe over the other, revealing your choices in your incidents brings you into the world. Zero Dawn was all about grounding you in the world. Lore entries and vantage point would help you to see the world around you and connect the old and the new. The design philosophy of NPC dialogue is further developed by this attention. It allows you to become a participant in the lives and adventures of the characters you are exploring.
Beautiful, but dark world
Horizon Forbidden West is one the most beautiful games we have ever seen. Horizon Forbidden West’s world is a small slice of southwest USA. It allows you to travel between Las Vegas and San Francisco in a matter of ten minutes. This is a very large scale, which can be quite jarring if you really think about it. However, it doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s so well-crafted. There are many biomes to explore. Rocky mountains can give way to lush jungles and desolate deserts.
The game is alive and well in the small details, such as the mountain paths covered in chipped and stained stone, the leaves swaying in trees, or the way the sun shines through soft snow. All of this is made possible by the changing weather. It is beautiful to see.
Horizon’s machines leave an impression on the world, but this is not a peaceful place. These environments are populated by machines old and new. You will be able to see their lives in the environment if you leave them alone. For example, Grimhorns can plant the land, while Fireclaws can barrel out of wooded areas and cause a burst in flame wherever they go. Yet, the natural and mechanical don’t mix. They interact and mix, creating a world that feels like one cohesive whole.
You are tired
Although the Forbidden Wild West is beautiful, it can be difficult to travel across. Aloy can be difficult to maneuver. Guerrilla allows you to fine-tune the movement of your movements in the settings, but that only takes you so far. She can fall to the bottom of long climbs if she fails to grasp onto the ledges you clearly intend to reach. She is also prone to falling off ladders or catching on to the scenery. She can interrupt your flow with her imprecise movements.
It can be frustrating to find the game difficult to interact with, even though it looks great. This can lead to you being killed, which can be very annoying. The experience lacks fluidity and movement. It is also difficult to stub your toe when so much effort has been put into Aloy’s shoes.
This makes it difficult to mount. As it attempts to navigate the globe, your ride may be pulled from one side to another or even halted.
Forbidden West is full of platforming and exploration, which can be a problem. While it doesn’t make the game less fun, it does slow down the progress of the game more than necessary.
Horizon Forbidden West’s combat moves are a fascinating dance to learn and has a surprising amount depth. Aloy will spend significant time fighting rebels from various tribes. Although fighting people is fun, it becomes tedious and monotonous. The best strategy to win the game is to use Aloy’s slow speed to shoot at attackers in their heads.
It’s when you take down the machines that the game comes alive. It’s a lot of fun to spot weaknesses in the hulking beasts and use your exotic arsenal to exploit them. It’s a great experience to take on the Apex Tideripper using only a few electrical traps and some acid-tipped bows. Learning to exploit these elemental weaknesses adds depth to combat.
You will need to be able to manage status effects and master attack patterns in order win the epic battle against Forbidden West’s huge machines. These fights can drag out especially when you are still weak. These battles, although less challenging than Monster Hunter, offer a quicker and more fluid execution of an identical idea.
You can also have these machines fight alongside you, just like Zero Dawn. Although many of them are only on a timer and will fight for you for a short while, having two massive creatures facing off is quite impressive. It’s quite impressive to see a Tremortusk sneaking through the grass and firing on an aggressive Thunderjaw. Horizon games make you a vulnerable, small human living in dangerous environments. It’s hard to find something that brings you home quite like watching giant robotic dinosaurs rip each other apart in front of your eyes.
Horizon Forbidden West has its problems. Sometimes it can feel like function over form, with traversal and movement being constant issues. It all comes together, however, and it is a remarkable cohesive whole. It’s an amazing work of art and stands at the top of the medium when Forbidden West is working. It’s just too bad that it doesn’t always do its best.
Forbidden West’s characters are however the real accomplishment of the developer. Although Zero Dawn did not need a sequel, the time spent with its cast is more important than its many boss fights and beautiful views. The scale and visuals are amazing, but underneath it all is a human story about reconnection with the things that matter in life.