Horizon Forbidden West Review: Bigger and More Beautiful

The Lowdown

Horizon: Forbidden West did a lot of expansion on the original concept and, by and large, improved the experience. In particular, I think they really ramped up the reward a player gets when engaging with the elements in their open world by providing a tangible lore/equipment bonus for you to enjoy rather than giving you a rather insulting virtual high five.



  • Expanding the in-game economy and combat systems with additional options
  • Incorporating meaningful rewards for most of the side activities so there is a reason to engage with them
  • Gorgeous world and enemy design


  • The same issues from the prior game result in inconsistent movement of the main character
  • Excessive late-game grind for resources
  • Peripheral activities that are poorly thought out and are more a chore than fun

Horizon: Zero Dawn was my first review on this site, so before we get into the meat of the sequel, this is a message to anyone who reads my stuff: Thank you for being here as we cover the game’s successor. Anyway, now we have Horizon: Forbidden West—momentous occasion, sparkling wine for everyone, or in my case, hobo gin.

Horizon: Forbidden West is a sequel to the well-received Horizon: Zero Dawn that came out of PlayStation Studios on the PC following an initial console release.

My criticisms of the prequel mostly stemmed from janky controls, a lack of rewards for engaging with a detailed world, and a crackhead ingame economy/item progression system that made it borderline useless to do anything extra, barely halfway through the main story.

Based on Horizon: Forbidden West’s gameplay experience, let’s see what they’ve done differently if anything at all.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West


The Horizon games are about survival in a cruel world where everything wants to pulp you. A cataclysmic apocalypse scoured the Earth clean 1000 years ago, and humanity, in the current age, lives in feudalistic tribal states with a tenuous (at best) grasp of technology.

The protagonist, Aloy, journeys with the players to discover what exactly happened all those years ago and, more importantly, what is currently at stake. One thing’s for certain: There is never a shortage of crises battering down the door.

Basically, the world was destroyed by raw hubris and greed concentrated in the form of a corporate oligarch named Ted Faro. He built a series of self-replicating combat machines that not only were completely unhackable even by their creators but could also fuel themselves by consuming literal biomass.

Obviously, this all goes tits up, and a particular swarm unit starts eating absolutely everything without any rest or respite. To top this shit sandwich off, these things can also self-replicate, meaning this swam keeps growing and eating and growing and eating ad nauseum.

Quickly realizing the situation is dire, a researcher named Elisabet Sobek proposes an alternative solution: to let the world die and start anew.

After all the men in the room practically shit themselves in a rage that a qualified woman gave an opinion, they start to see what she is proposing.

Instead of fighting for the present, they must fight for the future. These machines are inevitable, and the only chance humanity has for survival is the creation of an advanced AI-driven terraforming system to restart the biosphere after it is consumed.

This AI is incredibly complex and consists of several subordinate functions, each designed to take charge of an aspect of this resurrection. One would be in charge of purifying the oceans, another in charge of resowing the Earth with seeds of all types, and another in charge of growing humans from stored embryos, and so on.

Many years later, after the world has died, these AIs are eventually able to construct a stable biosphere and reintroduce embryo-grown humans into the new world until, one day, an unknown signal shatters them from a heuristic collective into individual, distinct personalities.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

Most scatter into the winds and hide, but others have more destructive thoughts in mind.

The AI known as Hephaestus had a key role in the reconstruction efforts, being in charge of creating the multitude of terraforming machines that are the signature design element of the Horizon series.

The tribal humans of this new world have devolved into mysticism and have minimal knowledge of the ancient past, so they begin hunting the robots for parts and/or glory; Hephaestus is rightfully peeved by this affront to his creations and subsequently begins to upgrade and produce new models that are designed solely around killing humanity.

It must have been quite a day when some poor hunter discovered that a formerly peaceful anthropomorphic bulldozer could churn through their legs just as easily as tilling through the Earth.

While any lawyer worth their salt could probably argue that this is self-defense on Hephaestus’ part (and he’d probably get acquitted in some States), the sub-function called Hades decides to up the stakes to the tune of mass extinction. 

Hades official role was to assess whether a recreated biosphere was feasible and stable enough for continued life. If not, it would “undo” the work so the system could start afresh.

As an independent agent, however, Hades decides that this world — despite flourishing — is dog shit and, therefore, he needs to take a flamethrower to the forest.

As our main protagonist, Aloy is the key to stopping all this because she is actually a clone of the very same scientist who designed this whole mechanism, which means she can access facilities sealed off by genetic locks keyed to those long dead and discover how to stop this cataclysm.

That about sums up the revelations of the first game, and of course, seeing as there is a second, you succeed in stopping Hades from reverting the Earth to goo.

Don’t piss your knickers yet, though, because the second game starts with you discovering that Hades has somehow escaped. What’s more, a blight has begun to spread through the foliage, with violent storms signifying something is just not quite right with the current ecosystem. 

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

Based on word of mouth, Aloy discovers something is brewing out in an area of the country called “The Forbidden West,” which is around modern-day Nevada and California. Funnily enough, that’s what California is called by some in parts of the US today.

I’ll just say this: there is a direct correlation between people who think of California as some demonic land and people who have unmistakably banged their cousins.

Aloy’s journey puts her in the way of a violent tribal civil war through all sorts of environmental hazards and the source of the mysterious signal that started it all.

And that’s all I’ll reveal about the plot because it’s really something you should discover for yourself. While the big revelations and reveals were more pronounced in Zero Dawn, given the fact it was an entirely novel world concept, Horizon: Forbidden West does not disappoint when it comes to the story.

I felt that they did a really good job of showing Aloy’s growth as a person and seamlessly building off her character development in the first game because, let’s be honest, there was a lot of room in Aloy’s psyche for positive emotional reinforcement.

If you zoom out and take a look, Aloy’s primary goal for the vast majority of her life is to be accepted by a tribe that, through no explanation to her, has designated her an outcast.

Having a baby emerge one day from a metal vault may certainly have been a head-scratcher for the tribe, but the sheer irony of this ostracisation is that at some point in the past, all of current humanity had likewise emerged from the same apparatus Aloy did.

It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

As is the case of most “in group vs. out group” conflicts, even after Aloy proves herself by partaking in trials for the clan, acceptance is never truly given to her. Even after she is identified as a “chosen one destined to save the world” due to her abilities and genetic lineage, most of her tribe still can’t stand her.

This is probably the WORST situation for developing a healthy emotional balance, especially because Aloy’s only guardian is a rugged outcast who behaves more like a stern teacher than a loving father.

It’s a miracle Aloy has any interest in saving people at all, to be frank.

As she leaves these pricks behind and explores the world, she meets with other tribal communities. Although she has elevated her status to that of a filthy foreigner rather than an exile in their eyes, she has the misfortune of being a relatively young woman that nobody takes her seriously until it’s too late.

More trauma on the menu, every course, every morsel.

It takes her saving the world in a very visible manner for people to give her any respect. While you might think this is the acceptance she craves, her residual mental/emotional damage of living in isolation makes the adulation she receives skeeve her the hell out.

Think about that: the acceptance she’s always craved is finally in her grasp, and it turns out she finds it incredibly uncomfortable.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

This makes total sense to me as a likewise socially awkward individual. I like that they incorporated a pretty realistic portrayal of a person who has no clue what the hell to do in crowds where people actually want to speak to them.

Now, obviously, she didn’t save the world alone, so she picks up a few friends along the way, but due to her comfort in solitude, she tends to hold them at arm’s length.

Keep in mind that Aloy is so averse to any form of companionship/adulation due to her rather tragic upbringing that she straight up dips out on her own celebratory party after saving the world at the end of Horizon: Zero Dawn simply to avoid the pomp and circumstance, leaving a few people salty, to say the least.

Horizon: Forbidden West does a very smooth job of showing Aloy gradually realizing that while she has otherworldly responsibility on her shoulders, she can still take time to help and, more importantly, BE HELPED by the people around her.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

She speaks to and learns new perspectives from the various tribes, from the peaceful agrarian Utaru to the warlike Tenakth. Through these dialogues, she connects with the cultures around her.

Despite being different in everything from attire to dialect, a common strand between these groups is that their societal fabric all heavily features some core element of communalism.

I’d like to think that this grants Aloy an appreciation of the friends who continue to follow and support her despite her very clear concern for their safety. 

At first, I was mainlining the core story because dilly-dallying around the world as a crisis is brewing seems slightly irresponsible. However, as Aloy begins to understand the family she has built around herself and the communities they hold dear, I, as the player, simultaneously started to engage in more side content and talk to more of the NPCs as time went on. 

I don’t really know what I’m rambling about here, but I guess it could be summarized that I like that they didn’t portray Aloy as some arrogant god.

She’s a woman dealing with a horrific history who, through a growing support group, as well as her own trials and tribulations, makes herself more emotionally healthy on top of saving everyone else.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

Survival Mechanics and World Experience

If you really zoom out of all that wishy-washy stuff like having a strong female protagonist and “personal growth,” Aloy is essentially a scrapyard mechanic hawking her goods to buy something shinier. Using her trusty bow and arrow and pugnacious ingenuity, she pulls out the metallic organs of the various hostile fauna around her to repurpose for other means.

Repeating the cycle of finding/purchasing/upgrading bigger and better weapons to hunt bigger and badder creatures may seem simple, but it is, in fact, quite refreshing in its straightforwardness.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

Bigger and Badder, indeed!

Just about the best sound in the game is hearing the thwack audio effect of your arrow embedding into a machine hardpoint, with the subsequent explosion rocketing off a piece of the metallic beast running at you at full speed.

The world operates on some sort of bartering system that exchanges metallic shards and machine parts for goods/services. By using a “scan” function, Aloy is able to identify what components a machine may yield when it is defeated.

Careful planning is required because some components need to be shot off the body of a machine in order to collect them, whereas others need to be left alone and are considered lost if that component is blown off. What’s more, each machine will have weaknesses and different elemental effects that can also come into play when fighting them.

It’s not always guaranteed that the resource you need will be in the carcass, but this just gives you the excuse to hunt some more, which is fun…up to a point.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

The machines come in multiple variants, but a general rule of thumb is that the more tonnage they have, the more dangerous they become. Horizon: Forbidden West has increased the number of enemy types and included variants that use alternate elemental attacks, so you, as the player, will have to bring a correspondingly adaptive arsenal to handle these new threats.

For example, in the first game, I recall basically sticking to two weapon types; in Horizon: Forbidden West, I consistently found myself using five of my six weapon slots pretty regularly, depending on the situation.

My personal favorite piece of gear is a spear that functions like a thrown torpedo. I’m not sure what that says about me personally, but hey, we all have our preferences.

However, it is important to note that while equipment comes in various tiers and ammo load-outs, these cannot be changed. A slingshot that shoots ice, lightning, and fire will always shoot these types of ammunition, and you have to craft said ammunition out of the resources you scrounge.

This may not be as big a deal on a lower-tier weapon, as the resources it uses may be as simple as wood and metal shards (which are literally everywhere), but the increase in damage of a legendary weapon comes with the trade-off that your ammunition cost requires rarer and larger amounts of materials; let alone being incredibly expensive to level up to a higher tier.

All in all, though, there’s just more here to play around with on both sides of the fence. More choice is typically a good way to go about increasing player engagement.

Horizon: Forbidden West’s map and environmental design also continue a strong trend of being majestic and expansive while simultaneously not being a slog to trudge through. 

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

This is partly due to the fact that despite looking absolutely massive when you zoom out, running between adjacent Points of Interest rarely takes longer than 10-20 seconds. The inclusion of an early-game hang glider of sorts also allows you to cover a decent amount of ground after climbing up a mountain top.

However, one key way they’ve improved the exploration experience is by implementing an easier Fast Travel system, which allows you to zip between previously discovered campfires at zero cost.

These are pockmarked all over the place, and this especially helps with late-game grinding for materials as, generally, there will be a campfire near the place you need to go. More on that later.

If you’re not near a campfire, you can still fast-travel, but this requires a consumable “Travel Pack” item, which is also relatively cheap to buy and/or build.

What impressed me the most about the map design was how it seamlessly transitioned between biomes without being jarring. You can physically see the landmarks in-game at a distance, so approaching a structure in the desert from the mountains yielded a subtle change in the environment around you as you progressed.

This may seem small, but this attention to detail lends to an increased sense of immersion that encourages one to take the time to explore on foot as opposed to zipping around between teleportation spots.

In a post-apocalyptic game, however, one of the most fun experiences is stumbling across an area of the map that you recognize or have been to in the real world. The key example for me in Horizon: Forbidden West was arriving in the sunken ruins of what used to be the “lovely” city of Las Vegas, and I’ll be damned if the year 3000+ version isn’t a hell of an improvement on the 2024 version.

As you complete the quests around the Las Vegas city ruins, you’ll eventually activate luminescent holographic displays that, due to the way the maps are designed, can be seen for miles around, especially at night. This is an amazing touch as it makes the players feel like they’ve done something to improve the desolate wasteland around them, on top of being pretty to look at when darkness falls.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

To cap it off, just like in the first game, the behaviors of the machines meandering around the plateaus and jungles were pretty great to behold. They are designed to behave like animals, so they’ll be trudging about doing their errands, shaking their booties to dislodge debris, and hanging out together in herds.

It’s like being in a national park where everything is metal, and I think the developers did a really awesome job with the level of detail that they put into designing these robots.

That is, until they notice you and attempt to rearrange your face.

A final note on a massive improvement: they’ve actually managed to make it worthwhile to grant you a valuable reward for exploring points of interest. In Horizon Zero Dawn, wandering about and uncovering artifacts, for instance, would reward you with some marginal resources that you likely already had an ample amount of. A legendary weapon may be at stake in the sequel for your efforts.

When you type it out, this is a small change, but it’s a ridiculously beneficial alteration to a format that previously gave you no real incentive to do anything tangential.

Combat, Movement, and Grinding Commentary

Horizon: Forbidden West was logically built on the same engine as the first game, so we cannot expect too much to change regarding the overall gameplay feel. This means one of my bigger issues is grandfathered from the first into the second game, and that is, depending on the context, Aloy’s movement is impressively agile or, by contrast, excessively sluggish.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

She can make these massive jumps to grab onto structural hardpoints and yet seemingly be unable to get out of the way of certain enemy attacks. This is further made more irritating that enemy machines, in particular, can cover a lot of ground and, therefore, will stay on your arse even as you try desperately to evade them.

I had read that at the initial release, Aloy didn’t get any “i-frames” (invulnerability frames) after she got knocked down. This led to the player being left in perpetual agony as a group of machines would take turns whaling on her, preventing her from moving out of the whirlwind of blows.

They’ve since patched that out, but I cannot fathom the lack of foresight in having this in the game in the first place.

In Horizon: Forbidden West, Aloy’s running speed seems to be a little faster (or maybe that’s a function of the map design), but her climbing especially still has frustrating moments. I distinctly remember trying to clamber up onto a suspended village by scaling a cliff nearby and gliding over to it, only for Aloy to completely go the opposite direction I wanted to because the controls didn’t recognize my inputs properly.

It’s not game-breaking, but you’ll dread exploring vertically, whereas horizontally exploring is, by and large, enjoyable.

Free gameplay tip: disable the “double tap a direction = dodge roll” command in your settings. It is extremely sensitive, and I’ve actually rolled off a cliff as I was lining up a jump by accidentally clicking the directional key twice in a foolish attempt to correct my positioning.

Mounts, in general, are still worthless, in my opinion, with the exception of a late-game option to take control of a flying machine (either a Sunwing or a Waterwing). The rest are generally only useful on higher difficulties as battle fodder because they can provide an alternative target when you fight against enemy machines once you take control of them.

Riding them doesn’t seem to get you anywhere faster than running due to their pathing limitations, and you sacrifice the ability to sneak up on people due to the sound of thundering hooves. They also handle like a 16-wheeler in a mudslide.

The most noticeable addition regarding combat is a series of unlockable special moves purchased in a sprawling skill tree. They fall into two subsets: abilities that increase your character stats in some way across the board for a brief time and abilities that grant a specific weapon type a new function/attack.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

An example of the first would be increasing your critical hit chance and damage. An example of the second would be allowing you to shoot multiple bombs out of a slingshot at once.

It’s pretty straightforward, but as these weren’t in the first game, I feel that this was a great way to increase the viability of and interest in weapons that perhaps aren’t as useful as a regular bow or rocket spear.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a modern open-world exploration game without elements of grinding. No, you savages, I don’t mean rubbing your junk against someone’s pants. Grinding refers to a repetitive cycle of doing in-game activities over and over to collect resources that you need to either upgrade your character or your gear in preparation for late-game missions.

Typically, as your character/inventory approaches higher levels, correspondingly larger amounts of materials are needed to progress up a tier; this means the requirement to grind has the potential to increase exponentially.

What’s more, the rarer resources you need often don’t drop frequently as rewards. This all adds up to a system where you are encouraged to spend a significant amount of time trying to acquire the key things you need.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

There are wayyyyy more than just these.

Thankfully, Horizon: Forbidden West isn’t THAT difficult unless you intend to play it on the hardest difficulty. If you share my desire to be tortured and undertake this, you will NEED to upgrade your late-game gear to the max so that your damage output is suitable for the challenges to come. 

Prior to this, my advice would be to beat the game one time first on whatever difficulty you want, and then BEFORE starting a second playthrough on ultra-hard, drop the difficulty level down to the lowest.

Story difficulty not only drastically decreases enemy health and increases your damage but also guarantees machine components will drop from the appropriate machine rather than being a dice roll as to whether you’ll get the needed resource.

This will save you quite a few headaches and time, believe me. Do this.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

I’m not a big fan of “busy work,” for the sake of it, and artificially increasing playtime by making you teleport all over the map in the hope of finding/killing the specific creature you need to upgrade an item is a chore.

That being said, I did enjoy the equipment system a lot better than in the first game. To reiterate my criticism from back then, I felt that you basically received all you needed in terms of weaponry around the halfway point of the game, minimizing the need to engage with the in-game economy at all.

At least having SOME level of progression for your gear is an improvement; I just felt they took it a bit too far with the drop rates of key resources.

Bits and Bobs

Horizon: Forbidden West wouldn’t be an AAA exploration game without some little additions and side content you can play.

The two that spring to mind are Machine Strike and the Arena. Yes, there are also Hunter Challenges where you have to defeat enemies in a certain way within a time limit, but that was present in Game 1, and frankly, I hated those.

Machine Strike is like chess, except you get to bring different pieces with various abilities and movement patterns. This clearly took inspiration from The Witcher III and the Gwent card game within, but I can almost guarantee that Machine Strike will never gain the popularity of Gwent.

Machine Strike, despite combining Pokemon and chess, is actually really annoying to play in that right off the bat, they force you to undertake a tutorial that doesn’t do a great job explaining anything.

The rules are seemingly simple enough, but it’ll take many repetitions to master the game, and I suspect most people won’t even bother to engage much with it. To be honest, I think the biggest detractor is how basic the UI looks when playing it. It just doesn’t spark excitement, and the reward for continuing to engage with this minigame is that you get to play more of it with different pieces.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

Who f*cking cares? Dabble with it if you want, but I’m an AVID card/board game player and couldn’t put myself through it.

The Arena is, as it sounds, a gigantic coliseum where you fight against pre-designed groups of machines that ramp up in difficulty the higher you go. Clearing the arena level within a time limit grants you medallions that can be traded for some of the best gear in the game, aka a TANGIBLE reward.

Some of these are the gear you want to bring with you into the story’s highest difficulty in your second playthrough, so you kind of have to undertake the challenges the Arena holds.

It’s a pity that the Arena experience is such ass, then, isn’t it? It can best be described as a stun-lock experience, where your enemy isn’t really the machines; it’s the time limit.

Getting tossed around like a baby in a rhino pen isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and I found it very difficult to get through the frustration of killing 5 fast enemies that all have the ability to juggle you every second within a 90-second time frame. Drop the difficulty down here, too, blow through the challenges you need, and never do it again.

Oh yeah, you can also engage in races where you are tasked with completing a lap of a race track before your competitors, but this is such a trash, clunky experience that it’s not even worth mentioning. Here’s a picture of it, however, to prove you can.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

If you see this screen and get excited by it, you should seek psychiatric help.

On a final note, I will also add that PlayStation Studios did something I very much appreciated in their settings menu, even if I never used it. There are certain levels that make you dive into underground caves where you are pretty much defenseless and move much slower by default. These caves often have enemies scouring the area for you, with some being incredibly monstrous (and terrifying) to observe/hide from.

Should you choose, you can actually enable a “Thassalophobia” setting that will make these areas brighter and provide other benefits that make the experience less harrowing for those afraid of the deep, dark sea. I am terrified of sharks (and let’s be honest, there isn’t much difference between a shark and the man-eating machines in Horizon), but I powered through it and am happy to inform the rest of you that you can make things just a little better for yourself if you choose.

Burning Shores DLC

Horizon: Forbidden West has an expansion called the Burning Shores that takes you out to the ruins of Los Angeles in an attempt to stop yet another world-ending calamity. I’ll be blunt: I thought it was meh.

It’s a lot of the same shit but in a different setting, with the new enemies exclusive to the region being incredibly obnoxious to fight and the new side activities being tedious.

I found three metagame reasons that made me feel like it was worth my time to play this DLC.

  1. The villain, despite being a twat is voiced by Sam Witwer, who is one of my favorite voice actors of all time. I’ve spoken about him previously in my Days Gone review. It’s got to the point where if a character has his visage CGI rendered onto its face, I get a little excited. He is excellent as always, and in this case, he is detestable. Great stuff.
  2. Some extremely powerful weaponry can be purchased at the main base camp for the area. These are the ones you want to bring with you into a super-hard playthrough.
  3. Aloy gets a girlfriennnndddddddd. About damn time! I wouldn’t say the structure of their relationship was done in a smooth way by the writers, but I’m just happy with the end result. She deserves to get laid.

Scene from Burning Shores DLC.


Horizon: Forbidden West did a lot of expansion on the original concept and, by and large, improved the experience. In particular, I think they really ramped up the reward a player gets when engaging with the elements in their open world by providing a tangible lore/equipment bonus for you to enjoy rather than giving you a rather insulting virtual high five.

The movement and combat systems still have the same level of clunkiness that I felt the first time around. While an improvement, the presence of late-game equipment to strive for was overshadowed by a tedious grinding system that went a bit too far in wasting player’s time.

I rate this game the same as the first, 3.5/5, but it’s as close to a 4 as you can get in this ranking. As a reminder, 3.5/5 is a good game in my ranking system, so I will absolutely be playing the third when that comes out.

Scene from Horizon: Forbidden West

Horizon: Forbidden West sells for $59.99; it is available from the PlayStation Store and Steam.

Developer: Guerilla Games

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Source: Personal purchase

What I Like: Expanding the in-game economy and combat systems with additional options; Incorporating meaningful rewards for most of the side activities so there is a reason to engage with them; Gorgeous world and enemy design

What Needs Improvement: The same issues from the prior game result in inconsistent movement of the main character; Excessive late-game grind for resources; Peripheral activities that are poorly thought out and are more a chore than fun

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About the Author

Flint Pickleback
Just some guy who plays video games to disconnect from the world. Wine is often involved, which thoroughly enhances the experience. I'm playing these games on an custom build, with 32GB RAM, 13th Gen Intel Core i7-13700KF, and a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4070 Ti 12GB Graphics Card. Please send pitches to "[email protected]" with "[email protected]" cced.

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