Horizon Forbidden West – gaming smash hit for the PlayStation in review

In Horizon Forbidden West we travel with heroine Aloy through a fantastic world. Right now we encounter a mysterious disease – and a surprisingly positive post-apocalypse.

Sequels often don’t have a good reputation. They don’t reach the radiance of the first part, fans miss new things and yet want more of the same stuff at the same time. And the expectations for sequels to good games are usually enormous – as was the case with “Horizon Forbidden West.”

There’s a lot going on in the forbidden west: “Horizon Forbidden West” comes up with magnificent graphics and robotic dinosaurs. Photo: Sony/dpa-tmn

Successor to the successful game

In 2017, “Horizon Zero Dawn” came out for the Playstation 4. Critics and fans celebrated the role-playing game. Like its sequel, it is set 1000 years after our time: Civilization as we know it exists only in overgrown ruins or old documents.

Where does the mysterious disease come from? In “Horizon Forbidden West”, heroine Aloy sets out on a quest and rediscovers the western USA. Photo: Sony/dpa-tmn

The people of this post-apocalypse live together in tribal structures. And then there are gigantic, futuristic machines that are modeled after animals: Tower-high “long necks”, raptor-like “sentinels” or the crocodile-like “snapping mouth”.

The red-haired protagonist Aloy is at the center of both “Horizon” games. In the first part, she not only finds out where she herself comes from – but also how the post-apocalyptic world came to be. Along the way, she fights a great danger and saves the world.

A mysterious disease spreads

“Horizon Forbidden West” takes place about six months after Part One. Here, there is a new, enormous problem: a red glowing disease attacks plants and animals. Everything points to it: a known causative agent is behind it – actually, one thought he was defeated. Aloy takes it upon herself to solve this problem and sets off for the forbidden west that gives the game its name.

After a linear opening phase lasting several hours, a huge, open world opens up in an overgrown North America. The journey takes Aloy all the way to the west coast of what is now the United States, through the ruins of cities like San Francisco and Las Vegas. She travels through dense forests, over snowy mountains, tropical beaches and arid deserts.

This game world is so beautiful and varied that you often just stop and look around. The opening area of the game alone, overgrown with tropical plants, is so atmospheric and full of movement and life. You can understand Aloy’s motivation: This world must be saved.

So chic, so many details: “Horizon Forbidden West” invites you to linger and look around more than once. Photo: Sony/dpa-tmn

And the game world is not only visually full: the map quickly fills up with all sorts of symbols that stand for smaller or larger tasks besides the main mission. Defeat machines, meet new and old characters, find relics, arena battles, rebel camps, settlements and and. There’s even a game within the game.

There’s really a lot to it

One could accuse the game of having too much to do, and the abundance can be overwhelming – but it’s better to have a game world that’s too full than too empty. According to tests, the main story with a few side missions can be completed in about 35 hours. If you want to see everything, you’ll easily scratch the 100-hour mark.

Set 1000 years after our time, “Horizon Forbidden West” is also a monument to the durability of contemporary school buses and street lamps. They bear witness to the doomed world. Photo: Sony/dpa-tmn

Another highlight are the fights against machines. Most of them are very tactical. Aloy can focus on opponents and analyze their weak points. Players can use bows and arrows, spears, slingshots, traps and other weapons to focus on these elements and cause a lot of damage.

In this way, you can also counteract certain abilities of the enemies: If a huge snake strikes again and again with its electrifying tail, you can hit a critical spot there and end this attack pattern.

A grappling hook and skill trees

For her adventure, Aloy has been given new tools in Horizon Forbidden West. With a grappling hook, she can clear obstacles out of the way or get to higher places. And with a paraglider she can also get back down from there. The protagonist can be adapted to her own play style via several skill trees. For example, with a focus on close combat, ranged combat or trapping.

Heroine Aloy can use her grappling hook in “Horizon Forbidden West” – and thus reach otherwise unreachable places. Photo: Sony/dpa-tmn

So is this the sequel that lives up to expectations? To a very large extent: Yes.

“Horizon Forbidden West” makes use of all kinds of open-world action games like “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, or the “Assassin’s Creed” and “Far Cry” series, in addition to the first part.

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There is also a little criticism

There is little innovation for the genre – but the development studio Guerilla Games brings everything together to create an open-world game that is perfect in almost every facet. There is only criticism on a very high level: The controls are a bit complex and newcomers need time to get used to them. Climbing is a bit too fiddly. And the story is exciting – but it lacks a bit of the great mystery that was Aloy’s origin and the creation of the game world in the first part.

There are also the problems that are always inherent to the genre: you quickly get distracted by side missions. Aloy may say how urgently she needs to solve the big problem – but if the players want her to, she’ll still sit in front of a gripping board game for hours or collect ingredients for a stressed-out chef. And those who have major breaks between their gaming sessions quickly find themselves asking, “What did I want to do next?”

Optimism instead of decay and dystopia

At the same time, “Horizon Forbidden West” offers a bit more in the abundance of post-apocalyptic open-world games: An optimistic perspective for Earth after a catastrophic end of the world. It’s not a zombie- or mutant-infected hell, but a new start for an evolving humanity. And despite its dangers, you’ll enjoy moving through this world – alongside a great, likable, growing protagonist.

What is it? On her adventure journey in Horizon Forbidden West, heroine Aloy encounters all sorts of evidence of a bygone era – and many a surprise. Photo: Sony/dpa-tmn

“Horizon Forbidden West” was released on February 18 for Playstation 4 and 5. It costs around 70 euros and is released for ages 12 and up.