Horizon Forbidden West: More of the Same


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One of Aloy’s new modes of transportation in game: the glider.

Horizon Zero Dawn enthralled many gamers with a very unique and complex narrative plot throughout the game, so we expected the next game in the series to have a just as intriguing, if not more so, main plot. On this, they delivered. Unfortunately, the time gone into polishing the narrative of Forbidden West was not matched by the time that went into the combat and crafting systems.
Toward the end of the last game, I was astonished by the idea that all the machines were made and programmed to help GAIA terraform the Earth into a new liveable biosphere after humans had wiped themselves out with war machine plagues. It was such a confounding discovery to me that it felt as if I had learned the true religion. I didn’t expect them to be able to maintain this level of narrative foresight, but it’s my one expectation they broke.
In Forbidden West, (spoilers-skip to para. 6) the cliffhanger is just as jaw-dropping. It turns out that the part of GAIA Aloy fought so hard to defeat in the first game (HADES) is just one out of many subfunctions of GAIA that were freed. Not only that but they were freed by an extinction signal sent from human ancestors (Far Zenith) who were rich enough to flee the planet centuries ago and achieve digital immortality and invincibility shields.
Aloy has to collect enough subfunctions to create a robot machine army to fight these ancestors because they come back to Earth in an attempt to steal GAIA in order to create the perfect biosphere on a different planet. Aloy also progresses through quests that establish bonds with allies and lore-filled tribes that feel earned and are actually useful. One such ally (although questionably) is a man named Sylens from the first game who crafts a device that is able to break the Far Zeniths’ invincibility shields to help Aloy defeat them. But the real cliffhanger of the game (SPOILER) comes from the fact that the Far Zeniths are running from something else.
Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t up the anty like the narrative. If you played Zero Dawn and felt it got repetitive you might want to be wary. The first aspect of the gameplay I felt was overused and just placed for tedium was the scavenging and crafting system. In the game, players are required to gather plants, wood, and various objects to craft things such as medicine and ammunition. Normally this gameplay system expands the versatility of gameplay, but in Forbidden West it just seems like a way to stretch the game out without requiring creativity or too much thought.
The machines (enemies) of the game are arrow sponges, meaning that it requires a lot of ammo to take out one. This normally wouldn’t be a problem, until you run out of ammo and resources, and realize you have to give up the fight and go gather more supplies to craft ammo. The worst part is, returning with a full inventory doesn’t guarantee you won’t run out again. Essentially, the game increases in difficulty not by combat, but by having limited supplies. Defeating an unnecessary enemy doesn’t make you proud of your skill like games are supposed to. Instead, it makes you wish you hadn’t fought that enemy because now you have to restock in order to progress.
This is in direct contrast to one of my favorite games ever, The Last of Us. In this game, you also forage for supplies to craft ammo and medicine. Although it makes the system feel rewarding. Like Forbidden West, It also encourages the use of supplies by having a limited amount. What it does differently, however, is how it encourages you to want to use the supplies. There’s a certain amount of supplies in every section to ensure you can make it out alive (if you have skill) even if you run out of supplies. By adding these supplies into the combat sections, the game allows the player the ability to win impossible feats if they learn the proper way to use the crafting and combat mechanisms.
Another example of the Forbidden West getting repetitive is how many fast-travel points there are. The game acknowledges how repetitive it gets by adding so many. This is because despite how beautiful the open world is, all the points of interest are near fast travel points. Some fast travels are so close that you can walk like 50 steps between them. The game literally realizes that the player gets bored riding from point A to point B, so they added fast-travels everywhere in order to allow the player to skip part of the game.
The combat of Forbidden West is nearly exactly the same. You still mainly get out of situations using the bow for long range, and a spear for close range. The game added some new weapon types, but they’re mainly used for elemental attacks rather than damage. This includes the trip-casters, blastslings, and spikethrowers. The trip-caster is an elemental tripwire, the blastsling an elemental slingshot, and the spike thrower is an elemental throwing spear. These weapon types are all fun to use and gawk at the way they kill. Unfortunately, they only add fighting elemental weaknesses, and these weaknesses aren’t as weak as they should be.
The actual combat feels the exact same as the last game, rolling as far away from the machines possible and then firing as many arrows or projectiles into them as you can before the machine gets close again. Not changing much wouldn’t be that bad, if nearly all the new machines weren’t mile-long health bars. The amount of health on them is so vast that toward the end of the game, I didn’t even try to hit weak points because it felt as though all my arrows did the same.
This combat is very different from combat that I find engaging. For example, God of War (2018) is much more engaging as you can parry enemy attacks, roll away from thier attacks, attack from afar with the leviathan axe, and attack close with the chaos blades. This doesn’t even account for some other attacks and combos, and it’s already more varied in options to engage your enemy. Some would say that Aloy also has a staff for close combat, but with how much damage most machines do, attacking in close range is a death sentence. You get one choice in Forbidden West and that is to keep shooting from far away.
The machine types are the other big focus of Forbidden West. They add 23 new ones that could not be found in Zero Dawn. A few of them look like reskins of ones from Zero Dawn, like the burrower compared to the watcher (on the right), but many are unique with interesting programming and behaviors. The game does a great way of making them all seem to have a purpose to fix the environment. The machines are what interested me in Zero Dawn in the first place, so I’m glad they decided to go bigger and better in this area.
The best area they’ve expanded upon for machines is unlocking new mounts. There’s three new mountable machines this time that are faster. You can now mount the bristleback and clamberjaw. The bristleback is basically a really fast bull, and the clamberjaw is basically a slow kangaroo with more powerful attacks. But the most fun mount is the sunwing, which is a bird that you can ride on toward the end of the game. It’s naturally the fastest mount as Aloy no longer has to follow trails. Unfortunately, there’s nothing more you can do with the mount aside from travel and one trick. It’s a simple barrel roll.
Overall, Forbidden West is a fun game about the same as the first. But it does not change up much aside from narrative and machine variety. I would recommend Forbidden West to those that enjoyed the previous game and are focused on wanting to see the narrative and machine lore expanded. I would not recommend the game to those that are combat and gameplay focused when deciding which game to buy. I rate the game a 6.5/10 because it’s more of the narrative that I enjoyed from the previous game.