Horizon Forbidden West Preview: GOTY Contender

Joel GunnerJan 1, '22

First it was Zero Dawn, but now the sun is rising on Horizon Forbidden West, the next entry into Guerilla's acclaimed Horizon series. What is in store for us this time?

Arriving on 18th February 2022 comes Guerilla Games’ Decima-built publication Horizon Forbidden Westa sequel to the beloved Horizon Zero Dawn game which is somehow already five years old. If you haven’t yet played Zero Dawn, the PlayStation exclusive Horizon series is a supreme, unique, and sophisticated third-person action-RPG series based long after the near-entire annihilation of humanity. Mother Nature swoops back in to take her rightful place as Queen – but she isn’t the only force to be reckoned with.

What is Horizon Forbidden West? 

We are the youthful and erudite Aloy, a prodigy of a huntress belonging to the Nora tribe, one of several remaining bands of humans. Aloy is a curious individual in search for truth, fearing for the safety of her land and people, keeping an eye out for a rumoured plague devastating the local area. On the way, we are thrust into a world desperate to kill us; witness deadly weather patterns and contend with supermassive fire-breathing snapping turtles unsurprisingly classed as ‘Shellsnappers’, deadly reptilian machines, like Alligators and Cobras, Pterodacytyl-like aerial threats named Sunwings, and some rather angry titanium Elephants the size of football stadiums, all of whom would give prime King-Kong a run for his money. Add 10 new behemoths to the many returning machines from Zero Dawn and you have yourselves a rather bloody party. Fortunately, fighting as Aloy, her trusty bow and array of tools, these creates are sure to meet their fate at the mercy of the huntress.

Horizon Forbidden West is an Action RPG, Aloy fights metallic creatures in the Forbidden Zone known as The Machines, a focus on Reptilian Machines in HFW.

What does Horizon gameplay involve?

As compared to Zero Dawn, Aloy is now an expert in close-range melee fighting, seasoned in traversing and scaling surfaces merely in her sleep – the braided warrior slays monsters ten times her size on a typical Monday morning, you ought to see her in full-swing. Ahead of Aloy’s revamped movement mechanics, of which the Valor Surge system is part and parcel, resembling a futuristic Dying Light, Assassin’s Creed hybrid, are myriad gadgets, such as a grappling hook and a glider, leaving no enemy untouchable and no area unreachable. Aloy glides, jumps, dashes, sneaks, and rolls about as though a leaf in wind; my first experience of a game that offered an indefatigable thrill in negotiating the land was Just Cause 2 – the next? The freedom of Horizon Forbidden West.

Where is the Forbidden West set? How big is the map? 

Horizon Forbidden West takes us to the ironically idyllic lost land of the US West Coast, but it isn’t as we remember it. A map depicting areas from California to Nevada, like San Francisco’s Lombard Street and Golden Gate Bridge, from Diego to the Bay is now overgrown and teeming with huge metallic monsters, ranging in location from arid deserts to paradisiacal Avatar-like rainforests to lonely arctic mountains and fallen cities. Guerilla were keen to achieve a vision: ‘everything should feel like it belongs there’, as stated by Espen Sogn, a lead designer of the Living World team, a whole squad of developers designated to making the Forbidden Zone feel as alive, authentic, and breathing as possible. I mean come on! We are in for a real treat if the entire game has been given this deluge of resources. Below the topsoil (and surf) lay secrets of the Old Ones, remnants of the once bustling civilisation that belonged here… and not just above ground. The seas know no boundaries; players get dive in the deep end with gameplay encouraging users to explore and survive the beguiling crystal-clear waters. More, the game’s map is the largest yet seen by fans in both the horizontal and vertical departments, sprawling biomes, fantastic cliffs and heights give plenty of room to manoeuvre and explore.

Underwater exploration plays key part in PlayStation exclusive game Horizon Forbidden West. Protagonist is a Machine Hunter called Aloy.

Is HFW Cross-Gen?

The good news is that HFW is a cross-gen title; PS4 and PS5 players alike can explore much of the Forbidden Zone in the same way. The bad news? We’re torn on Guerilla’s decision to make Horizon Forbidden West a cross-gen title. On one hand, the game still looks up there with the greatest visual creations available on the market despite factoring in dated PS4 tech – and there is a rightful contrast in quality between the two consoles - but on the other – just imagine if this was solely built for the PS5. Sure, PS5 players will still get to enjoy enhanced graphics, wave and water mechanics (which are some of the best you’ll ever see), DualSense haptics and lighting amongst other aspects, but the question of ‘what if’ still remains. It is an unequivocally admirable decision to place fandom inclusivity over the taste for superiority.

Horizon Forbidden West Main Character Aloy, a Huntress of the Nora Tribe.

Guerilla Games have undoubtedly produced a visually outstanding game with commensurate gameplay mechanics to boot. Zero Dawn was one thing, but five years of technological advance and accrued studio knowledge spell only good things for Forbidden West… that much was obvious from the launch of the first trailer. If you consider that players are patiently (desperately!!) trying to get their hands on a PS5 solely to gain access to a copy of Horizon Forbidden West, you can perceive the class of this game without seeing so much as a second of footage. Fans have huge expectations, the Guerilla team have huge capabilities – we are just itching to pick up Aloy’s bow and get hunting.

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