Horizon Forbidden West: Further Thoughts

Following on from my initial thoughts, I’ve added another 15 or so hours to my playthrough and think I can add some meat to the bones of my Horizon Forbidden West review.

As a reminder, this is the PS4 version, which is arguably the worst experience available. But it’s not showing any real kinds of weakness in that regard. It runs great, looks great and unless you’re comparing versions side by side, you wouldn’t know this was the “lesser” build.

It’s going ok, so is it worth your time? This part of the review is the deepest-dive into the game and the parts that make it what it is. After this, I’ll finish Horizon Forbidden West and write-up my final thoughts, including the official Ninja Refinery rating. Right now, I’m not sure where it’s going to land overall…

 

Story

Let’s dive in at the deep end. How’s the story shaping up? Well…..there was a bit of a turning point just after 10 hours. I finished off Hades and then there was a twist. A twist that wasn’t really welcomed if I’m honest. It’s changed the shape of the Horizon universe in a way that kinda ruins it a bit. This has removed the very little motivation I had at all to progress the story. I’m moving on anyway, but I’m hoping I get engaged at some point.

Without spoiling it, I’ll just say I’m happy to be talking to AI from the past rather than anything else, and the anything else bit is a bit disappointing.

Seeing Aloy describe the technology to people that believe it all to be spirits and gods, is interesting and I think that’s handled quite well. I can’t imagine how that would play out in real life, even today. Plus narratively, bashing believers of the spiritual or religion would be very easy for quite a brash character like Aloy to do, and she doesn’t. The writing in Horizon Forbidden West, script-wise, is decent.

Horizon Forbidden West
 

Combat/weapons

Weapon management is a pain. Too many types of weapon, mixed with different elemental types makes managing it on the fly an absolute nightmare. I feel that if you have a quick wheel on a bumper, with 6 options of weapons to switch between on the fly, you shouldn’t find yourself still lacking in the middle of a fight.

Horizon Forbidden West throws so many weapon types and elements at you, you can never be fully prepared for an encounter. It’s unwieldy and messy. This gets incredibly frustrating in a big fight and whilst this was the same in Horizon Zero Dawn, I had hoped that would be rationalised a little this time around.

Combat is too loose for me, and if I can indefinitely roll around without consequence, I feel like I’m cheating.

The other side of this coin is that I have a lot of variety, which I appreciate. However, nearly all my assaults end up being stealth driven, followed by getting beaten up by straggling robots. Telegraphing attacks is fine, and the iframes in the slide and roll are useful, but it just doesn’t feel as fun as something like Monster Hunter. I largely feel frustrated and find it unenjoyable, despite best efforts.

There are special “Valor” abilities to unlock, too. There are loads of them in the massive skill trees, but even though I have a few unlocked, I’ve never wanted to swap from my active camo, and honestly, I never use it. So many things to use, it’s too much, even though it’s all so cool!

Aloy’s movement is fine, and there’s a nice heft to all her gear etc. I had initially written that she feels clunky and a bit rubbish but having jumped onto a few other games recently in-between sessions with Horizon Forbidden West, I have to take that back. Aloy is responsive and feels great to handle in combat and in motion generally. Sliding and rolling whilst sprinting, chaining combos of movement is lovely, too!

Enemies are varied thanks to a wonderful menagerie of robot dinosaurs. Although human enemies are largely the same over and over (with a little variety in weapons and armor). I enjoy fighting humans in Horizon Forbidden West, though, so it’s not a complaint. Particularly with so many creatures to master elsewhere.

 

The Map/Traversal

Holy shit, this is a big map, full of things to do, and a nice variety, too. But it’s so big, it is overwhelming and frankly intimidating with all those markers.

I get sidetracked often and discover new things which is cool, but I’m going to end up burning-out on stuff before I get the story done and I hate feeling like a game has become a chore. Sure, I need more discipline, but I feel like losing the markers and making exploration a bit more organic might make it feel more like an adventure.

I absolutely love the Tallnecks. Moving puzzles and combat encounters. Taking the old Ubisoft tower mechanics and making them fun. Best way to uncover parts of a map in any game, ever.

The glider is a nice touch (borrowed from Breath of the Wild, but who cares?!) and makes those long drops more fun and cuts out some travel time. Campfires help, too. Especially with their apparent abundance in the wild.

I love the traversal and coming across packs of wild animals/robots. But it gets tedious when the placement is pretty obviously just to slow your progress. Sure, make a challenge, reward battling it out, but sometimes I just want to get on.

Bigger doesn’t always mean better and even when it looks this good, it can become tiresome. I want to see all the biomes and experience it, but I feel like a lot of things seem a long way off, physically and in terms of when I’ll be allowed to get there.

Riding on a Charger or Bristleback is decent and helps change the pace, but it’s not so significant an improvement that it feels useful a lot of the time. I had may as well just walk and see what I can take in as I go.

It’s worth noting, too that puzzle areas like ruins and cauldrons are fun as hell. I feel like this is some of the top-tier Tomb Raider stuff from games gone by. I love engaging in these elements, and Aloys agility and strength shine here.

 

Audio

Horizon Forbidden West sounds amazing! The ambient noise out in the wild, the creatures and bugs. Swelling score underneath cutscenes and battles. There’s a lot to love here.

Voice acting and performances are great. I haven’t had a conversation with anyone where I though the performance was a bit flat. Everyone sounds great, and there’s obviously been some solid direction in keeping the right tone at the right time. Very impressive.

Another game using audio through the controller. I honestly never see any real benefit to this. Sure it’s clever and the audio cues are unique and sound fine. I just don’t know that there’s any value beyond it being a bit of a gimmick. Has any game ever made good use of this? I suspect horror games would be better suited to it?

Audio lines repeating frequently by Aloy were a little grating, but that’s died off since the most recent patch, and her contextual self-monologue is actually pretty handy when you’re out and about. Horizon Forbidden West gives you plenty of subtle guidance, which I love.

Always improving

The crafting of weapons and armor is pretty standard in Horizon Forbidden West, and it’s all the better for it. Never over-complicating matters. Although I definitely need to spend more time getting parts, and less time upgrading gear I replace very quickly!

Dyes are a lovely touch, finding special plants around the world and collecting them to turn into a dye for your clothing. Nice touch that lets you go that extra mile in customisation, making Aloy feel like she’s truly your version of her.

 

All in all

I’m 20+ hours deep and I’ve barely uncovered any of the map. I’ve done some good chunks of side quests and what I feel like some big parts of the story. Horizon Forbidden West isn’t really telling me how far in I am and with all that fog on the map, I worry that it’s going to be a slog.

Length aside, I’ve not had a dull moment yet. I’ve thrown a hissy fit at a bad boss fight where I just wasn’t getting it. I was a bit down on it, but have come around again. So long as I don’t find it taking another 20 hours and still not seeing a lot of the map, I think we’ll be fine.

My experience on the Playstation 4 has been such that I don’t really know how much better owning a PS5 would be. Sure it would be quicker to load and graphically more pleasant, but Horizon Forbidden West looks wonderful, is a smooth an experience as you could ask for, and it a massive chunk of a game.

If anything else, it’s worth the price of admission for the quality and scope of the game.

Next up will be the final thoughts, which will be broad overview and a final score. Horizon Forbbiden West feels special, but not new. I have my gripes and I’m concerned that more and more time hitting those bumps will leave a bitter taste in my mouth. We’ll see I guess!

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