Horizon Forbidden West review: the action adventure sequel has even more robot dinosaurs, of course it’s good

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the post-apocalyptic wilderness, the giant dinosaur robots return. In fact, they never left! Go-gettin’, arrow-shootin’ warrior Aloy managed to delay the end of the world in Horizon Zero Dawn, but the death train is still chugging along to all life on Earth station via a (currently resonant) eco-disaster. In Horizon Forbidden West it’s because the AI created to heal the planet from the prior extinction event caused by humans isn’t working properly. Gaia, said AI, has been turned off and split into different parts, so yours and Aloy’s job sequel is to, firstly, reboot Gaia, and secondly collect all these subordinate functions. But nobody turned off the making robots button, which means this action RPG in a massive open-world still involves fighting rocket-launcher T-rexes. It’ll shock no one that this makes for a very good video game.

Not just them. A sequel demands new robots. The regular Watcher machines, the basic alarm/guard robots from Zero Dawn, have largely been replaced by Burrowers, akin to giant weasels. Other additions include the hippo-like Widemaws, something called a Tideripper, which is basically an electrified Loch Ness Monster, and my personal least favourite, the Clamberjaw, a motorised baboon that throws flames instead of its own shit. The design of the machines remains delightful and basically nonsensical, and as before you’ll have a much better time if you hang back to observe the situation from stealth cover. Analysis will reveal which parts of a machine to target with what kinds of attack – for example, the massive bear machine has sparkers on its back, and if you can hit both of those with electrified ammo of some kind, that’s your giant bear robot down in two punches. Shoot the machine gun off the triceratops, and baby you’ve got your own heavy weapon. This all walks the right line between difficulty and skill, meaning fights are a challenge that still feel fun late in the game.

You start with very little, though. Aloy, who begins Forbidden West having already spent months searching for Gaia, fell in a puddle off screen that destroyed all her weapons and her memory of the more advanced combat abilities she accrued on her first adventure. This provides the basis for rebuilding your arsenal from scratch, I for one welcome the opportunity to, for example, throw explosive javelins and upgrade my hunter bow to have huge amounts of acid damage. You can build your weapon loadout to suit you own style and needs, which means while the Ropecaster exists I do not have to pay it any attention, and can instead buy a Boltcaster: a machine gun for wooden spikes that brings me much joy.

You can similarly upgrade your armour, and choose different ones for stealth vs brute strength – which also ties into the new, larger skill tree, divided into diffent themes like stealth, melee, hunting and trapping. Putting points into these gives you passive boosts as well as cool attacks – like firing three arrows at once – and Valor Surge special abilities. You can trigger these upon filling up your Valor meter by, e.g., killing motorised baboons, and they’ll do stuff like massively boost your ranged damage or give you a special cloaking device.

Aiming at a large chicken-like robot monster in Horizon Forbidden West
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/PlayStation

Looking out over a machine cauldron in Horizon Forbidden West

Part of the map, largely unexplored, in Horizon Forbidden West

You can still enter Cauldrons in mountains to learn to control different types of Machine. There’s also a board game, combat arenas, and requisition tasks given to you by traders. My usual rule that AAA games should be 40%-60% smaller still applies. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/PlayStation

Most additions do feel useful, but there’s a bit of change-for-change’s sake with the traversal, which is mostly extremely fun climbing and leaping to yellow handholds. Add in the new Pullcaster (a grapple that can pull down weakened walls and move boxes), Firegleam (a type of red crystal that you can activate to explode walls), and Metal Flowers (robot plants that grow vines you can clear to open up secrets), we have three new types of traversal that all sort of do the same thing. Surely the Pullcaster alone was enough. I won’t hear a word said against the new glider, though, because you climb a lot of beautiful mountains and there’s a lot to be said for leaping off a cliff and floating over a forest as the sun sets.

Talking to a member of the Tenakth Tribe in Horizon Forbidden West
When several tribes go to war

I’m not best placed to discuss the issue of Native American appropriation that were raised re. the first game, but I do think the tribes in Forbidden West are designed more thoughtfully. They have wildly different social and political customs. The Tenakth, for example, built their society around interpretations of glitchy holograms of an airbourne special forces team, and this affects everything from where they choose to live, to how they dress.Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/PlayStation

Like the first game, where you had to play through being bullied as a child, Forbidden West has a bit of a slow start. It takes several hours to find Gaia, and although technically the whole (large) map is west of the location in the first game, you won’t reach the heavily-trailed ruins of San Fransciso until after about 20 hours of running around making a Florence Pugh frowny face at how the world is going wrong. Still, the story thrums along at a decent pace, and successfully makes the switch from Aloy struggling with her identity as an orphan, to Aloy having a sort of chosen-one inferiority complex, feeling like she can’t live up to the woman she’s a clone of, yet struggling to accept the help of others even as you gather a found family around her. She remains a charismatic protagonist, and though she never has doubt about doing the right thing, she also never comes off as smug.

While the main story contains such delights as highly advanced immortal not-alien aliens, a mutant fleshlump in a volcano lair, and a hologram extravaganza in Vegas (a personal highlight), the side quests have some gems. There are also quite a few of the ‘go to place, collect 3 x robot cow horns’ variety, of course, but many reveal details on the customs and beliefs of the different tribes, or are fun diversions that make you feel like you’re actually helping out. Finding a secret hold-out of rebels preparing to attack a city, or saving a group of refugees from being moved on. Good hero busywork.

Riding on a bristleback machine, past a big Thunderjaw (which is a t-rex robot) in Horizon Forbidden West
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/PlayStation

But in a sense the preceeding 900 words are already known to some of you, because this game came out on PlayStation ages ago. I played it back then, too. What’s it like on PC? Pretty much the same! It runs really well on my machine (whose specs you can see up top), though it occasionally paused for about a second after cutscenes for shader compilation. I accidentally clipped Aloy into a rock approximately twice in 30 hours, but spamming dodge roll got me right out. Hardware editor James did a full breakdown on how good of a port it is, in fact. I will say that you should under no circumstances play this with mouse and keyboard, because playing a third-person action adventure game designed for console with a mouse and keyboard is like eating a Frube with chopsticks. It’s possible, but it’s not comfortable – to do or to watch. One thing that did surprise me is that I genuinely missed the adaptive triggers and little microphone on the PlayStation DualSense controller. I wasn’t expecting that to make a difference, but prying open a door with your big metal spear really does feel better with the controller pushing back.

So if I’m honest, and despite my allegiance here, I do think Horizon Forbidden West is probably better on PlayStation, but only marginally. If you don’t have one, but you want to play a rip-roaring, morally uncomplicated post-apocalyptic hero’s journey, where you get to clear a huge map and ride around on a giant boar that spits fire – and why wouldn’t you, frankly? – then you should get this game.

This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by publishers PlayStation.

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