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Horizon: Forbidden West Expands Its Scope

But Loses the Narrative

Be Warned, the following review contains a few minor spoilers for Horizon: Forbidden West.

Back to Hunting

Aloy looks out over San Francisco
Aloy Enters San Francisco

So remember in my Day 1 Review of Horizon Forbidden West? When I told you that I didn’t expect to get burnt out on the game? I don’t regret making that claim, but parts of this sci-fi adventure grated my nerves. For all the improvements that Forbidden West implements, there are a few factors that hold it back from achieving perfection.

The creators of Forbidden West live by the adage that bigger is better. The game expands its scope to tell a more interesting story.  The themes are more clear. They’ve also included a much bigger map and thrown in more collectibles, weapons, armor, and sidequests. And I’m not complaining about any of that. What irks me is the way that these new additions are implemented and what they draw attention away from.

I primarily play games to enter another world and be emotionally affected by the narrative and the characters. I also greatly enjoy dissecting a game’s overarching themes and points of view. While not subtle in its messaging, Forbidden West excelled in allowing me to do this.  Its narrative, which focuses on religious, cultural, and political ideas hits at an interesting point in my life; a time when   I’m still not sure what I believe when it comes to my faith and my more political opinions.

Aloy’s Politics

Like its predecessor, the game heavily criticizes the1%’s of the world. Those who hoard wealth and power at the cost of helping their fellow man have lost their humanity.  Characters who wage war for revenge are villains, while peacekeepers are heroes.  The game also has a bit to say about the progression of knowledge.  It illustrates this as a movement away from religion and toward a scientific understanding of the universe. This may seem anti-religious in nature, however, the game respects the cultural roots of the characters of this world, while still criticizing dogma that can obscure the search for truth.

Indeed, Aloy butts heads with a bevy of characters too stuck in tradition to make a positive impact, but she also grows close to her own group of friends.  While Aloy is single-minded and determined in a way that can be detrimental to her character, her friends are more multi-dimensional.  Members of Aloy’s team are dealing with their own issues, as is Aloy, and their growth through these challenges delivers some of the best emotional moments of the game.

As Aloy grows closer to her friends, she lets down her walls. Likewise, Aloy’s allies come to rely on her for their own individual needs.  The quests they give her are all interesting in their own right, but my favorite one came from Alva.  She’s what her tribe calls a “Diviner,” a person whose main purpose in life is to uncover the truth. I identified with her quest for answers, and her disillusionment with the powers that be in her own clan rang true. I liked how all of these quests mixed platforming, puzzle-solving, and combat together, delivering a more varied experience than the original game, with its heavy focus on combat.

Have You Finished Those Errands?

Not to say that the combat is bad. Actually, I had some very intense, enjoyable fights against some formidable, imposing thunderjaws. Blowing off their weaponry first, a strategy that paid dividends in the first game, is equally useful here. Still, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that I would have had an easier time in battles if I had improved my weapons.  Or upgraded my armor.  Or learned to override more machines. The problem was, I really didn’t feel any inclination to do so.

As previously mentioned, the designers of the game have gone bigger this time around, and that extends to how weapons and armor are handled. In Zero Dawn, your equipment only had one level and one upgrade option. You were allowed to slot various weaves and coils into your outfits, bows, and slings, giving them elemental properties. In Forbidden West, you can do the same, but the requirements for upgrading your armaments are more expansive. Not only do you have to collect animal skins, bones, feathers, and machine parts to upgrade your capacity, but you also must do the same to level up your weapon or armor. You do this at one of many workbenches scattered throughout the world, and you must do this in order to slot weaves and coils in your armor and weapons.

Similarly, the steps you take to override machines have been “improved” as well.  Completing cauldrons is not enough this time, you have to collect a bunch of machine parts, travel back to your base in the mountains, and use them to fully unlock the override.  Only then can you bend specific machines to your will.

A thunderjaw looms
The Thunderjaw, one of the most frustrating and enjoyable enemies to fight

Some may enjoy these kinds of scavenger hunts, but repeatedly being sent on these errands brought me out of the momentum of whatever more important sidequest or main quest I was currently pursuing.  I don’t have any emotional connection to my bow, no matter how many times it managed to save my life in a firefight.  Consequently, I finished the game with most overrides still locked and my weapons underpowered.

Reaching the Zenith

Aloy stands with Kotallo
Kotallo is another one of my new favorite allies

The finale of Horizon: FW, for that matter, isn’t nearly the disaster that some people have claimed it is. I’ve heard others complain that the ending doesn’t conclude with a proper climax, and I would definitively disagree. It sets things up for a proper conclusion to the franchise and left me anxious to see what would happen to the characters and the world they inhabit.

After completing this installment of Horizon, my clock read somewhere around 90 hours.  I did, however, leave my PS5 on overnight a few times. Most players will probably be done at around the 45-50 mark. They can also be assured that they’ll have many side quests, errands, and achievements to complete once the credits roll.

Horizon: Forbidden West isn’t subtle about its intentions. It clearly speaks to current political topics and figures in the world, and it leaves no questions about what side it lands on. But even if you’re not interested in politics or religion, the game manages to provide an engaging adventure with fun sidequests and well-developed characters. I just wish I didn’t have to go through so much micro-managing and grinding to get through it.

Written by Aaron Ploof

5 Comments

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  1. The trouble with the story is its just box ticking in the service of those fetch quests. All the mystery is gone, and it’s replaced with a fetch quest for each major objective where you go to an ordinary place and fight ordinary guys and then come out with a legendary impossibility and reconstruct gaia with it. Gone is the majesty or wonder of zero dawn, replaced with painfully obvious twists. Who in the world didn’t see Far Zenith coming after the prologue was set in their stupid base? Who is SURPRISED at Ted Faro being alive? Who cares, given that the reveal amounts to a text file without any details?

    Zero Dawn filled out the rest of its world with stories about humans. The Last Girls on Earth made me cry. Forbidden West is filled with meaningless sound clips of army guys with no names doing generic army guy things instead. It’s militaristic propaganda with no humanity.

  2. Agreed!
    I am finding this HZD FW to be uninspiring. While I enjoy cruising the San Francisco coast line on a Sunwing looking for the remains of Alcatraz Island (I think I found?), I can’t for the life of me be bothered looking for an Apex Tremortusk to take down, harvest its heart to upgrade my outfit so I stand a chance against some unimaginative guy called Eric. I understand the concept of the Zenith. Don’t get me started on the Cauldrons! Cauldrons are over-filled with puzzles. I love puzzles but sometimes I just want to bust into a room, kill a few machines and collect my over ride.

  3. The most frustrating bit of the game is the upgrade system. It kind of forces you to either ‘git gud’ or dumb down the game on easier levels. I took the 2nd option. Horizon for me was always about discovery, exploration and the growth of the main characters. Grinding for some stupid parts endlessly is too much of a chore for me. Did not finish the hunting grounds or the arenas but I did spend a ton of time flying from puzzle to puzzle and cave to cave.

  4. This is exactly how I felt, and I’m glad I’m not the only one. Haha. I downgraded the difficult level a few times as well.

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