It has finally arrived! Guerilla Games’ hotly anticipated sequel to the award winning Zero Dawn, Horizon II: Forbidden West is out, and I have been totally locked in.
Coming in at a gargantuan 90.3GB on the PS4, just shy of twice the size of Zero Dawn, Forbidden West is a continuation of Aloy’s journey to try and save the world as she knows it from catastrophic and imminent destruction (again). Potential spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t played HZD – you have been warned!
[HZD Spoiler Start]
So, brief recap: in what is the only game (so far) that I’ve managed to snag a platinum in, Zero Dawn’s story revolves around Aloy, a young machine hunter with mysterious origins, living as an outcast for most of her life, only to be thrust into a pre-ordained destiny set before her by the Old Ones (read as: that’s us, but a thousand years ago, because we ruined the planet).
In her travels to discover her past and find out why the machines are running rampant, Aloy discovers that she is, in fact, almost a perfect genetic copy of Dr. Elisabet Sobeck, the mastermind behind the Zero Dawn Project; Dr. Sobeck tried her utmost to save what was left of the world after Ted Faro’s lethal world-destroying blunder. After much struggle and help from the tribes she helped to unite (as well as the ever dubious Sylens), the capital city of the Carja tribe, Meridian, is saved from certain destruction, as the very war machines that destroyed the world 1,000 years ago were revived.
[HZD Spoiler End]
Fast forward to Forbidden West, six months after the events of HZD, and the world has taken a turn for the worst: a mysterious plague ravages the land and infects all it touches, with no way of stopping it, and as the earth falls ever faster into ruin, it falls upon Aloy’s shoulders to somehow save them all.
If you are familiar with the sprawling and expansive landscape of Horizon: Zero Dawn, you’ll quickly come to the realisation that this is no small feat; Forbidden West doesn’t host the biggest map the gaming world has ever seen, but it is dense: chock-full of side-quests, secrets, rabbit holes of lore and breathtaking views, mini-games, and trials, for when you need a breather from the main story line. Given that the game is set in what would be classed as a post-apocalyptic USA, you will come across some familiar place names and landmarks on your journey.
A litany of new tribes dot the map, all with rich and diverse cultures that are unique in customs, clothes and combat styles – and each with their own set of challenges for Aloy to resolve. But not to worry, because Guerrilla have provided us with some new tools and tricks of the trade to traverse the terrain with…
The weapons roster has expanded, with some really fun additions, like the Spike Thrower and Shredder Gauntlet. Good thing, too, because there are a ton of new machines to try them out on, all with differing strengths and weaknesses; some are familiar, but many more are not, keeping the combat fresh and keeping you on your toes. A word of advice: the weapon wheel isn’t big enough to hold one of everything, so make sure to organise your roster accordingly.
The levelling and skills system has undergone some significant changes – speciality skill trees host six different avenues, skill points earned as you level up and complete difficult quests.
Learn the intricacies of trap setting, become a silent and deadly hunter, become a machine overriding master, or expand your repertoire of devastating melee attacks – how you develop Aloy is entirely your call. You can, eventually, unlock all skills, but expect your total playtime to be a lot longer.
The skill trees also come with a new set of perks that come in the form of Valor Surge – using specific combinations of attacks to fill the Valor meter, Aloy’s abilities gain an extra advantage for a limited time, giving you the edge over some of the intense battles you’ll face. They take a little getting used to at first, but a fast favourite is the Stealth Stalker Valor, helping you sneak your way past bandits, or escape a particularly tricky machine.
Machine hunting is just as fun as before, and entirely open to whatever method of destruction you prefer; creep around in the undergrowth, setting traps and tracking the paths of the machines to perform sneak attacks or overrides, or run in all guns–…er, bows blazing, as you begin your assault with a volley of arrows or bolts. Upgrading your weapons and gear make the second option a little easier, however – going after a Thunderjaw or a Longleg with the very basics is… not the best idea. Even if you stumble across one by chance.
One of the most amazing aspects of Forbidden West is the humanity in the character animations. The detail isn’t reserved for just the main protagonists and plot-important characters, either; the mo-cap animation of the people going about their day-to-day in populated areas is wonderfully organic, the subtle nuances in their movements and facial expressions lending so much more impact to dialogue. One of the most notable instances of this you’ll see is with Aloy herself; she averts her eyes, makes a discomfited face (almost a grimace), and shuffles awkwardly when someone calls her the Saviour of Meridian (which happens quite a lot).
It also really drives home the point that Aloy is still very much an outcast, but in wholly different light; it’s very hard to shake off being alone and shunned for years, to suddenly being lauded with admiration and praise as a kind of “Chosen One”. You can see her really shine when you reunite with some familiar friends along the way, who simply treat her as “just Aloy”.
The fine-tuned levels of detail throughout make the transition from cutscene to action almost seamless, and combined with lush landscapes, a vast open world to explore and a compelling story, Forbidden West pulls on everything that made Zero Dawn great, and expands on it in all directions. It’s a joy to be immersed in – and even if you only spend hours scoping out the best places for epic shots in photo mode (which have even more really great expressions and poses added in now), it’s still time spent having great fun.
If Zero Dawn planted the seed of this epic adventure, then Forbidden West has nurtured it to thrive.
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