The embargo for Horizon Forbidden West has lifted, which means reviews have dropped before the game launches on February 18. Our review praised the game for its many improvements, including overhauling the rather uninventive climbing puzzles. And the wider critical consensus suggests that this sequel is a big success at creating a captivating, explorable environment. That opinion is reinforced by the game’s 89 Metacritic score. But while Guerrilla Games’ latest sci-fi open-world action-adventure game landed with aplomb, there is a common complaint: Forbidden West is more of the same kinda predictable, open world stuff we’ve been doing since the first Assassin’s Creed.
Forbidden West picks up six months after the events of 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn. Aloy travels through a post-apocalyptic version of the western United States in search of more answers on how to save the world from killer machines once again, but you’ve been down this road before. There are bandits to kill, weapons to collect, dino-towers to climb, map icons to clear — the usual open-world activities. You just do stuff that feels familiar with added abilities and mechanics, like a BotW paraglider called the Shieldwing.
That sameness is the biggest criticism for Forbidden West. Despite receiving glowing praise from most games press, between this and reviews of high-profile games like Far Cry 6, you can glean that reviewers may be growing tired of standard-fare renditions of the open-world formula. The game sounds like a visual spectacle that leans heavily on a well-trodden path.
Anyway, let’s take a look at what some critics are saying:
Forbidden West picks up six months after the events of Zero Dawn. Aloy’s discoveries have only brought more questions and dangers her way, forcing her to head west for answers. With a few returning characters and plot tie-ins from the first game, Forbidden West isn’t ideal for newcomers who want to embrace the narrative. Guerrilla’s writers expertly expand upon Horizon’s rich lore and dive into the series’ sci-fi elements, which are the sequel’s most gripping aspects. Some of the most fun I had was piecing together Aloy’s journey, but certain revelations and “ah ha” moments aren’t as satisfying without the full context from the first game. The overall narrative kept me engaged, but certain parts feel rushed, and I was disappointed that villainous characters like Regalla are not given more time to shine.
In a lot of ways, Forbidden West is pretty much the same as Zero Dawn, but it follows the common sequel ethos of “more and bigger,” and a lot of the systems have been improved and expanded. The Horizon games include climbing and environmental puzzles like those you’d see in Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted, but more of Forbidden West’s world is scalable than in Zero Dawn, allowing you to reach the tops of mountains or ruins — although this isn’t The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and there are still plenty of things you can’t climb. The freedom still improves traversal quite a bit, however, as does a powered grapple that you can use to reach specially marked points, a glider that lets you get down from those high places quickly, and the ability to swim and explore submerged environments.
The central piece of Aloy’s arsenal remains the bow and arrow though, with many different versions on offer. Mixing and matching to make sure you have all of the different types of elemental damage you need on your weapon wheel is key; the next step is being skilled enough to hit your fast-moving targets. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for archery combat in games, but it really doesn’t get much better than unleashing arrow after arrow into the glowing weak point of a metal menace. It also really brings out the best of the PlayStation 5’s DualSense, which lets you feel the bowstring tighten on your trigger finger before the recoil cascades through your controller.
Horizon Forbidden West, especially on the PlayStation 5, is breathtaking; it’s one of the most impressively realised wilderness games I’ve ever played. On PS5, you can regularly walk from interiors right into the wide world, without loading screens. This gives players incredible freedom in their journey westward, exploring gorgeous vistas bursting with giant sequoias, expansive lakes, and crumbling ruins swallowed by desert sands. Joshua trees and scrub-speckled flatlands give an immediate sense of place — and Forbidden West even lets players explore decaying ruins of actual American cities.
I didn’t much care for Aloy, the main character of Horizon Forbidden West. I think she’s the least interesting person in the cast of characters who surround her, and her serious-yet-aloof nature doesn’t really endear her to me. And though the world Horizon presents is intriguing, the story constructed for it falls victim to some late-game twists that defy explanation. And yet, despite being less than enamoured with the story and characters, the thing I primarily play video games for, I willingly and enthusiastically spent 64 hours across two weeks hunting, exploring, crafting, and fighting and would happily do so again.
I thoroughly enjoyed Horizon Forbidden West, and I suspect anyone who loves open-world RPGs will thoroughly enjoy it as well. But despite getting a kick out of fighting robot dinos, despite the enthralling time sink of “Machine Strike,” despite finding myself ravenous to return to this rich, inspired open world, I can’t shake how plainly Forbidden West misses the one philosophical throughline that helped its predecessor ascend to greatness: Sometimes, the question is more interesting than the answer.
It’s a real shame. While it’s undoubtedly another accomplished game in terms of technical achievement and sheer visual spectacle — I’m reminded again of those incredible faces, and one particularly outstanding underwater level — I’ve enjoyed Forbidden West less than Zero Dawn. The main story has major issues, and the level design made it difficult for me to play the way I had previously enjoyed, while making a lot of the newer systems feel redundant. Beyond that, the sense is of a game where Guerrilla has cobbled together RPG building blocks often without making them work within the context of its own game, and in some cases actively worsening Horizon Forbidden West as a result. I don’t expect groundbreaking innovation, but with using well-established elements there’s always the danger of them having been done better elsewhere. Unfortunately, with Horizon Forbidden West that’s often the case.
There will be some open-world fluff that will turn some players off, but it’s entirely optional and for those not looking for it, Forbidden West delivers an exceptional 30-hour campaign. However, if you’re willing to take your time and explore the ruins of a fallen society, where every other corner is teeming with machines that you’ll need to be at the top of your game to destroy, then Horizon Forbidden West becomes an incredible game set in a world that we wanted to return to many hours after the credits rolled.
I enjoyed Zero Dawn but never finished it. There’s too much to do in that game with so little of it feeling different or truly inspired. Forbidden West sounds like more of the same kinda stuff, so maybe it’ll hit my backlog. Either way, Guerrilla Games has apparently not fallen for the sophomore slump, instead delivering a game that subscribes to the “if it ain’t broke” ethos. If open-world games are your thing, then you’ll probably like this.