Horizon Forbidden West

Horizon Forbidden West review: Three things I love about it after playing twice

By Fariha Bhatti

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May 30, 2024

Reading time: 4 min

I first played Horizon Forbidden West in the first month after it came out in 2022, and I loved it. When I learned that it was coming out for PC too, I felt a nostalgia that took me to PS5 Horizon Forbidden West reviews, purely because I wanted someone to articulate why this was such an unforgettable game. It was a decision I regretted almost immediately. 

Readers will find that many Horizon Forbidden West reviews mention that the game is “more evolutionary than revolutionary” (in relation to its predecessor, Zero Dawn)—a phrase I feel is sometimes used without much thought. My love for the game refused to accept this label, so I decided to play it one more time and find out why I loved it so much. 

After a slow playthrough of about 50 hours (with lots of side quests), I know exactly why this game captured my heart, and because you’re reading this Horizon Forbidden West review, perhaps yours too!

Horizon Forbidden West gameplay

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I was struck by how much better the gameplay was compared to its predecessor. One of my favorite aspects is the cycle of learning an enemy’s weak points. What you know about the enemy’s body and behavior decides who survives, not what’s in your armory. 

Of course, the addition of new weapons, like the explosive spike thrower, is exciting and satisfying. I’ll say this – the combat system was stellar, even in Zero Dawn. But encounters with rogue machines and fiery rebels are thrilling in Forbidden West.  

Valor Surges are another standout feature. These new abilities, like the cloaking Stalker surge, completely change the tide of combat. As you progress, the difficulty ramps up. Some of the late-game enemy machines are the stuff of nightmares and demand a full mastery of your play style. Each encounter pushes you to use everything you’ve learned. To some, this can make the game a bit too difficult, but for me, it’s the secret sauce that makes victories feel hard-earned and deeply satisfying.

But no game becomes unforgettable purely based on the gameplay experience. The story has to tug at the stiff heartstrings of a hardened gaming journalist like me. 

The storytelling

The story elements of Horizon Forbidden West are as captivating – if not more – as its gameplay. Guerrilla Games deserves a pat on the back for perfecting the fine art of word-building while keeping it coherent. 

Players will never be slowed down by lengthy information dumps. Instead, the story gets its layers from cleverly spaced-out cutscenes that tell elegant tales and build interesting backstories for all the characters. One standout quest line involves a lovable inventor whose story intersects memorably with Aloy’s journey. 

Then, there are those massive cinematic moments. The game uses masterful choreography and subtle techniques, like wider lenses, to make you feel you’re alive inside a grand movie. 

There are also fantastic character moments delivered with a deft touch. These moments quickly make you care about their fates. You’ve got heartfelt conversation and dramatic confrontation in equal measure. I’ll say this – all games understand the power of a well-told story; few can deliver it and draw players into its world. Horizon Forbidden West does it. 

The visuals

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One of the most striking things about Horizon Forbidden West is how breathtakingly beautiful it is. A stunning mix of natural landscapes and fearsome machines – a simple idea executed to perfection. In fact, every time I played, I had to pause just to take in the view. That explains why it took me 50 hours on my second gameplay to complete it. 

A word on the machine animations – if you slow down and really look, you’ll see the amazing details within their gaping jaws and how smoothly they move. It’s clear a lot of care went into designing them.

The settlements are a huge step up from Zero Dawn. They aren’t just pretty to look at; the moment you enter a new settlement, you know that how it’s designed has something to do with the story, the enemies, and the strategy that’ll get you out and past that. In fact, the visuals help bring out the emotions in the story. Overall, the game tugs at your heartstrings but doesn’t push you into trauma. 

For some reason, people often look at sequels with an unhealthy nostalgia for the original game. Nothing the developers do can detach them from that earlier experience. But I can’t hold back praise for Horizon Forbidden West just because I loved the previous version too! This game is a revelation.

I mean, why not … the sheer scale of the project speaks for itself. It cost $212 million and required a team of 300 full-time developers to create. If you haven’t played it yet, I envy you because some of your best gaming moments are still ahead of you.

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