I have been playing a lot of Horizon Forbidden West lately. I bought the game the day it came out (as you can probably guess from my recent posts, I was incredibly excited to play it) and have sunk most of my video game time into it lately. All-in-all, it is an excellent modern example of how a sequel can be an improvement on the original game, not just a continuation of the story. Everything Horizon Zero Dawn did well, Forbidden West also does well, and then it adds a whole new list of excellent things. The plot is just as interesting, the world just as enthralling (maybe even more so, since they’ve really improved on the environmental design), and the battle mechanics are so much more fluid and engaging. As much as I am tempted to find a pattern of battle that works and stick to it as I did in Zero Dawn, the weapon systems and new combat skills make it incredibly rewarding to branch out and try new things that I’ve unlocked. Even just wandering the world to investigate the smattering of question marks feels more rewarding. I can’t think of a single thing that wasn’t markedly improved from the first game to this one.
As far as the plot goes, I think I’m not far enough into the game to really comment without some early spoilers, but I will say that it is already addressing a lot of the open questions and lingering suspicious leftover from the end of the first game. It doesn’t address the unfortunate dumping of information and sort of lackluster conclusion to the plot in the previous game other than to acknowledge that Aloy left immediately after the battle rather than enjoy the hard-won victory she and her allies had earned. Still, I have high hopes based on what I’ve seen so far. It also does a great job of introducing new ideas and reminding the player/Aloy that their perspective of the world is incredibly narrow and based on one specific set of experiences. This is the first open-world game that has left me feeling tempted to continue the plot before exploring the world.
To be entirely fair, there are places in the world that are gated behind certain abilities and tools that are unlocked by the plot, so it can be frustrating to work your way up the side of a mountain toward an unknown marker only to discover you can’t do anything once you get there because you lack the tool required to proceed. Given that the rewards I’ve gotten so far from those areas now that I’ve unlocked one of the tools are rather mundane, the only reason I have gone back to all of those locations is for the sake of completion. Which isn’t a great reason to be doing anything, but it’s the nature of any open-world game that isn’t fully open-world (plot-locked areas, by definition disqualify it from being open-world).
So far, none of those plot-gated tools or abilities have impacted combat at all, which means I’ve been able to really invest in the ways I fight the various enemies of the world. Not only has the game introduced a slew of new machines to fight, it has introduced variations on classic enemies and done a bit of an overhaul on the fighting system. It is a bit easier to target weak points on enemies and enemies have more of them (the enemies that don’t have more of them are specifically marked as tougher enemies, which feels right to me), and those weak points are more frequently useful components you can collect for bounties or for upgrades, but attacking one does a bit less damage than before. Normal arrows do a higher amount of tear damage (a damage type that is good for removing components rather than harming machines) than they used to, which means that the precision bows have a greater effect when you take the time to line up a shot and snipe a machine. Each style of combat feels more impactful and you can’t just pigeonhole yourself into one style of combat without giving yourself a disadvantage. Additionally, melee combat is also incredibly powerful and useful in Forbidden West, if you use it the right way.
As in Zero Dawn, any kind of combat is punishing if you engage recklessly and don’t pit your strengths against the enemies’ weaknesses, but Forbidden West’s melee combat actually has a use outside of the knockdown and overpower-weaker-machines styles in Zero Dawn. With the addition of weapon abilities and melee combos, you can actually set up a great deal of useful combat scenarios. Melee combat is still largely intended for other humans, but it can still be useful against machines if you do the right combos. For instance, one of the melee combos you unlock can cause Aloy to leap into the air, creating a perfect opportunity to follow up a melee attack with a brief shot or two from the bow at short range, or just get you away from a bad situation since you don’t need to actually land hits with this combo to jump. You jump differently if you land both hits, but it can still be incredibly useful to a creative fighter either way.
Honestly, my favorite part of the gameplay so far is the encouragement of creativity in combat. Sure, you can engage in the same old Concentrate-And-Weak-Point-Or-Stagger-And-Critical-Stab slug fest that a lot of the fights in Zero Dawn devolved into if you couldn’t stealth hit the enemy to death, but now you can engage and disengage a bit more easily, which means you can do a great deal of tactic-switching. You will still get absolutely messed up if you bite off more than you can chew by grabbing the attention of too many machines, but you also have more options to handle those scenarios than before, in both traversal/escape mechanics and kiting/defensive fighting mechanics. Truly a step up from Zero Dawn.
I could go on and on about what I enjoy about this game, but I’m going to leave most of that up to reader to experience for themselves until the game has been out a bit longer. I will close on one final thought, though. This time, the world feels truly lived-in. There are people hunting machines, wandering the world, and inhabiting it, all of them exhibiting lifestyles distinct from the “survival horror” feeling of the first game, which often felt like humans doing their best to survive a world dominated by machines rather than people who had evolved to live in a recently unbalanced ecosystem with these machines. It finally delivers on the promise of what a world would feel like if there were a bunch of massive machines inhabiting it alongside a bunch of humans with varying technology and tactics.
Really, it’s such a good game. I recommend checking it out if you liked the first game or just enjoy open-world combat/adventure style games.