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Disclaimer: This is a spoiler-free review of Horizon Forbidden West and does not divulge any more than the officially released story beats. All pictures have been sourced from the press kit to avoid spoilers of any kind. A playthrough or recap of Horizon Zero Dawn is encouraged to understand and appreciate the nuances of the story being told in this game.

Guerrilla Games, fresh off the success of the Killzone franchise, launched Horizon Zero Dawn back in early 2017. But unfortunately, the release window clashed with another open-world game, The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. With most gamers choosing the free-form exploration and combat structure of Nintendo’s innovative new design, and the crutch of Horizon Zero Dawn being an unknown new IP, the game ended up a little less discussed and appreciated at that point of time.

The game’s main hook was the grandiose post-post apocalyptic story where humans had resorted to tribalism in a world full of robot dinosaurs. A classic coming-of-age underdog story where an outcast fights to save the world. As the years went by, it gained a good following and resurgence especially due to the launch on PC in 2020 and sold 20 million copies in total!

But did it deserve a sequel? What could they do different this time around to grab people’s attention? Or will this be another brick in the wall of cinematic action adventure games produced by PlayStation’s first party studios? With the true next-gen PS5 consoles in short supply across the world, and people worried that the performance on their older PS4 consoles would be an afterthought for developers, will this game be able to deliver?

The Lure Of The Forbidden

Horizon Forbidden West is a game that not only fights with the tropes that swamped its predecessor, but also against the cookie-cutter quantity over quality annualized installments of every open-world that has flooded the market. Let me make this clear right away: this game’s story and execution is vying to displace the likes of critically-acclaimed games like CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2. And heavy sits the crown on the head of this queen. There is a raw ambition at display to make the sequel rise head and shoulders above its first, and others. For every problem that plagued Horizon Zero Dawn, they have found a solution.

Where the previous suffered from a sudden influx of infodump during the latter half of the story, Horizon Forbidden West gets the pacing just right. Armed with a captivating story, they manage to elevate the character arc or or hero’s journey to another level altogether. Coming off from the world-ending finale of the last, Aloy tries to run away from society and pushes away her friends by trying to frame her pursuit as a self-sacrificing personal struggle. But then her friends butt themselves back into her life, and support her through thick and thin. The story constantly flits between the rainbow tapestry of narratives it creates – an overarching storyline about uncovering the mysteries of the past, interspersed with the ever-increasing ferocity of the threats of today. And while you wade through those heavy themes, the tendrils of the hyper-local problems surround you. Distracting you from your calling in pleasant ways, and blindsiding you when you least expect it. Which brings us into the next topic.

Side quests. We do harp a lot about the Red Baron questline from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, don’t we? Horizon Forbidden West repeats that finesse in story-telling more than a dozen times. Even something as innocuous as a fetch quest turns out to be deceptive: as the side missions sprawls into hour-long gripping family dramas, societal critiques or tribal quarrels with morally ambivalent solutions. It sidesteps the repetition in quest design to such a degree that there are parts of the map or story beats that you might entirely miss because you didn’t look carefully enough. Your eyes glaze over the level up screen-splashes as the story pulls you into a world of its own – casting a spell over you overpowering enough to make you forget about shiny numbers going up at some corner of the screen. Remember the Tallnecks from the last game? The quasi-towers that you had to climb, akin to the Crys and Creeds, to survey the lay of the land? Each and every Tallneck interaction has been tweaked to feel unique and memorable in this one. Same with the Cauldrons where you learn how to override certain mechanical beasts.

And how does the main story, pacing and side quests get so engrossing? The magic happens because of its incredible cast of characters that befriend or antagonize Aloy. Gone are the days when the NPC would send you off on a quest looking straight at you with dead eyes. Impressive mocap, emotive facial capture, choreographed conversations, and that snap in the dialogue which makes it more believable – all of these pool in together to make memorable experiences that will stick to you even far after you have kept down the controller. There were times when I felt visibly surprised at having suddenly thought about a smaller character I hadn’t seen in some time, and my heart’s yearning to meet them again. Horizon Forbidden West is a labor of love, and it shows.

Burden Of Expectations

And after showering all this love and compliments, you must be thinking, what’s the catch? What is the reviewer not telling us? Where is that needle of doubt in this haystack of hyperbole? Well, for starters, its complicated. There are some minor issues which others might dub as problems, but they didn’t bother me at all. Neither did it dampen my enjoyment, nor did it break my immersion. So, before you tell me you heard it from someone else, here goes nothing.

Free climbing has its own quirks in Horizon Forbidden West. Rather than revamp itself into a stamina-based system to gauge the distance you can cover, or a world gift-wrapped with infinite ledges and rocks to scurry over, it falls back to its tried and tested basics. You can’t climb everything, but once you scan the environment you start noticing the limited yet substantial places you can hang from. Aloy’s movement while climbing is methodical as she takes her time – which somehow made her ascents more natural and strategic to me. There were certain times when the camera would go off-kilter, and you wouldn’t be able to notice where you need to go or which jump you need to make, but those problems were few and far between.


With increasing variations in the ranged combat aspect, the melee goes through some interesting changes too. Included with the light and heavy attacks, you can now use specific Valor Surges to give you that edge in battle. A resonator blast used in tandem with your bow and arrow can help you take down the big baddies. Or perhaps kneel and use the braced shot like Rambo with the downside of sapping up your stamina pretty fast. You can even cheese your way out with stealth, and end up using the same strategies over and over, but there are some good options out there with the Blastsling or Spike Throwers. The flashy combat is not free of jank or expertly layered like a Souls-like, but serviceable enough to keep you working on perfecting that next enemy encounter. There are six Skill Trees this time around to help you make your own Aloy according to your playstyle. The sudden wall of info and connected skills might feel overwhelming and unrewarding at times, but don’t let that deter you!

And yes, it does wear some of its influences on its sleeve. But boy oh boy, how the game chooses to execute them is masterful! The Shieldwing, aka the paraglider from The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, helps you safely descend from great heights. Using the Pullcaster like a grappling hook, aka Just Cause, will aid you in faster navigation. And let me not evangelize you about Machine Strike – a minigame in the veins of Gwent and Orlog – a strategic grid-based board game where I have already sunk in more hours than I am comfortable confessing. It follows the formula already set by many open world games, but does so with an incredible flourish, where its perceived quality trumps over everything else. The time taken to spit polish this game really shines through.

Every Frame A Painting

You must be wondering why I kept the topic of graphics at the very end. Frankly because, for a while, I did not know what to say about it. I was gobsmacked. Horizon Forbidden West is by far the prettiest game that I have seen till date. Impressive vistas and decaying city-ruins dot the horizon at every biome the world pushes you towards – snow covered mountains, dense forests, harsh deserts, sparkling sand beaches and even underwater – each feel unique and gorgeous! This stunning powerhouse is definitely the game to showcase the next-gen PS5, but it shines as brightly in its performance and visuals on the PS4. The dense level of detail and fidelity in every shot is a testament to the craft of Guerrilla Games.

Every aspect of Horizon Forbidden West feels curated – handcrafted and placed with love. Starting from the riveting story, to the fleshed out culture of the new Tenakth and Utaru tribes, their history and conflicts, to the heart-pounding setpieces, an open world design that keeps pushing you to explore the next fork in the road, to the phenomenal visuals it generates – this is the path forward for open world games. Devoid of filler, respecting its own lore, while building on the story in exciting new ways – a single player cinematic experience that stays true to its RPG roots and still manages to hold on to the player’s attention for its entire run.

Real Talk

Horizon Forbidden West will leave you spellbound when you notice the ease with which it juggles the machinations of its technical wizardry and the pure unadulterated heart of the story. Guerrilla Games demonstrates an obsession to detail which borders on downright insanity, and punches up. Really hard. Very much like a David versus Goliath. With every part of its franchise soul becoming bigger, better and badder, Horizon Forbidden West takes not just a small step, but a giant leap in the evolution of open world video games. This is not only a GOTY contender for 2022 – it is going to break down the doors on the Hall of Eternal Fame.


Horizon Forbidden West released worldwide for the PS4 and PS5 platforms on 18 February 2022. Code was received from Sony PlayStation for the purpose of a review, without any riders.

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