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‘Horizon Forbidden West’ is (almost) a perfect sequel

| Monday, March 21, 2022

Maggie Klaers | The Observer
Image sources: ShowStoppers! NYC, Flare, The Independent, Good Housekeeping

In a decade filled with sequels and reboots, few new intellectual properties made an impact on the gaming industry like 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn. Zero Dawn takes place over a thousand years in a future where humanity had reverted into tribal societies that hunted  mysterious animal-like machines that now populate the planet after a cataclysmic event. The protagonist, Aloy, is an outcast of the reclusive Nora tribe and must investigate how the old world came to an end whilst discovering her mysterious past to prevent another apocalypse. Upon its release, Zero Dawn was an instant critical and commercial success and so a sequel was in store, but how do you improve upon a near-perfect game?

The answer: improve on everything. Horizon Forbidden West does what every great sequel should, build upon the strengths of the first game while developing on what did not work in the original. In almost every department, Forbidden West one-ups its predecessor except in one key area: its story. 

As an open world game, the map is an important character, and it can only be described as stunning. The map stretches from western Utah all the way to the sunken ruins of San Francisco and is about 30% larger than the original game. The diversity of the map is just as impressive, featuring arid deserts, lush green jungles, snowy mountains and coastal beach areas. A new addition is the diving mask, which allows the players to explore underwater locations.

The beauty of the open world is only emphasized by the graphics. Although I was playing on a standard PS4, this is one of the best-looking games on the platform. The character models and animations are another huge upgrade from the original, Aloy is probably one of the most realistic and well animated video game protagonists to this day. Her facial expressions are noticeably better than the last game.

Forbidden is similar to Zero Dawn in gameplay, the key difference is the combat pacing, which is changed by the introduction of a myriad of new weapons and gadgets. The RPG elements from the first game have also been vastly expanded. Aloy now has 6 skill trees that determine everything from her ability to stealthily take down enemies to her to control of machines. Similarly, the melee combat has been completely revamped with the introduction of combo and special moves to help Aloy deal with armored human enemies immune to arrows.

But the selling point of this franchise is the hostile machines that Aloy must hunt for resources. Forbidden West boasts an impressive roster of 43 machines, bringing back all the fan favorites from the original game whilst introducing 22 new fearsome killer robots. To an even greater degree than Zero Dawn, Forbidden West encourages players to prepare and plan before facing machines, every robot has its own unique weaknesses and weak spots that you must exploit to take them down, adding a layer of strategy that wasn’t present before.

Forbidden West falls short of Zero Dawn is in its story. The plot of the first game was near perfect, featuring an intriguing mystery that perfectly connects to Aloy’s origin as well as the coming apocalypse. The problem here is that by the end of Zero Dawn, almost all the questions regarding the machines and why humanity fell are answered. Uncovering these mysteries was my favorite aspect of the first game.

While Forbidden West’s story is by no means bad, it does not have the same allure as before and is an unambitious continuation. Another problem was that while Zero Dawn had one main antagonist which was a constant threat throughout the game, Forbidden West has somewhere around three and none of them get proper any development. On the other hand, Forbidden West gives Aloy and the side characters of the first game much more development and growth than Zero Dawn.

Overall, Horizon Forbidden West is not only an amazing game, but also a masterclass in great sequels. Even though the story does not measure up to Zero Dawn, Forbidden West blew my expectations and is a likely contender for game of the year.


Title: Horizon Forbidden West

Developer: Guerilla Games

Available on: PlayStation 4 and 5

Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG

If you liked: The Witcher 3, God of War, Ghost of Tsushima

Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5

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