Horizon Forbidden West Complete Edition


Review by · May 17, 2024

If you’ve followed my coverage here since 2009, you know I’m a huge fan of indies. I dabble with AAA titles from time to time, like FromSoftware and Square Enix releases, but I typically gravitate toward indies because of their ingenuity and evident passion. Many AAA titles, including the large and cinematic ones, can feel a bit shallow and cookie-cutter to me. A tad hand-holdy and overly polished, gilded with little substance. When we received an opportunity to review Horizon Forbidden West, I honestly went into it expecting little. Open-minded, I gave the game a shot, but the odds were not in its favor. Was I ever in for a surprise.

Clearly, I had never played Horizon Zero Dawn, which gives me a unique perspective on Forbidden West because a question folks frequently ask when entering a franchise in the middle is, “Do I have to have played the first game?” The answer is an emphatic no. Obviously, references to the first game and protagonist Aloy’s heroism from the first game are on everyone’s tongues, but Forbidden West takes no time moving on to the next story beat, which seems like a reasonable leaping-off point from the first game.

Spoilers for the first game here: Aloy has to chase after Sylens, who is using the big baddie from the first game to tame beasts and raise hell out in the forbidden West. Aloy’s biggest concern is stabilizing the planet so that the rot destroying farmland and violent storms cease. To that end, she heads out west into lands with aggressive tribes to stop Sylens and fix the planet she fought so desperately to save.

End spoiler: What we get to experience is a story driven by strong characters, a plot fraught with speed bumps and twists, and enemies that become friends. Much of the story here is formulaic if you follow any narrative, but that doesn’t cheapen the delivery. The dressing surrounding Forbidden West adds such flavor and quality that any feeling of routine becomes acceptable, even if not necessarily great.

Forbidden West uses much of its lore to inform gameplay, which is the hallmark of any fantastic RPG. This isn’t a story with gameplay adjacent; they are interwoven. For example, overriding the robot animals—the primary foe—in Forbidden West is core to the story, yet it’s one of several tools Aloy can use to gain an advantage in a fight. Finding the different kinds of collectables in this open world (and there are many) provides story, context, and material benefit for crafting or weaponizing Aloy.

At its core, Forbidden West is an open-world action RPG. Expect fast-paced combat using ranged weapons and occasionally melee, lots of running around this absolutely stunning and detailed world, and hidden goodies littered nearly everywhere with a few barren lumps of land. Combat feels like a cross between Monster Hunter and Dead Space as the robot animals Aloy so frequently fights—with the occasional human—feel like bite-sized versions of the targets in Monster Hunter. Focusing on specific pieces and parts of the enemy can exploit a weakness, de-fang their hard-hitting combat abilities, or force them to drop a rare and valuable crafting tool.

Every weapon in the game, of which several exist, can instill a variety of status ailments on enemies with enemy weaknesses as the driving factor. Not only that, but most of the weapons encourage an entirely different playstyle, ranging from laying traps, piercing armor, or focusing on target proximity to outright throwing explosive spikes. If we were to truly synthesize all of this down to its essential parts, it’s really no different from the weapons in your average FPS, but Forbidden West does a stellar job of disguising that reality. Aloy’s bow and other weapons feel authentic and unique, even if the core mechanics are similar to games we’ve played for decades.

Most of the enemies feel distinct from one another. Some swarm you velociraptor-style, while the tyrannosaurus rex-style enemies have an epic boss-like quality. Over the course of the game, I learned when to focus on the specialty weapon for some enemies (e.g. missile launcher), whereas others had an exact target to maximize damage. Some I was free to melee, though others I would never approach with my spear. The melee skill tree provides options in this regard, but Forbidden West is clearly intended to be a ranged combat game.

Six distinct skill trees provide players different ways to play, almost singularly focused on combat. Though, if I’m honest, some skill trees feel more important than others and generally need to be leveled first. For example, laying traps and overriding enemies is likely to take a backseat to ranged combat, stealth, and melee. Regardless, I dabbled a bit in each, and I’m sure veteran players could show highly effective ways to lead with traps, for instance. If you’re tired of uninspired skill trees that add a fraction of a percent of crit chance (think Borderlands), then rest assured Forbidden West goes far beyond that. Yes, at times, number crunching’s the name of the game, but even in those cases the numbers are dramatic jumps. A learned skill feels like an improvement rather than a passive stat bonus that will eventually lead to a tangible outcome. In addition, Aloy can learn entirely new skills with each weapon and unlock super abilities that can meaningfully change the tide of battle.

Completing side quests oftentimes offers generous experience points that will buff Aloy’s hit points and provide skill points after leveling, but they also outright provide skill points as a flat reward. If you’re here for the combat, this may inspire you enough to complete the several objectives Forbidden West provides, but the story, voice acting, and opportunities to explore the world with purpose are more than enough motivation for me. With a few exceptions, I absolutely adored the side quests in Forbidden West. Some of the quests felt a bit routine, like investigating someone’s disappearance and then along the way Aloy gets ambushed by a monster; lo and behold, the missing person got attacked by a particularly violent and powerful enemy that Aloy has to put down. Still, enough of the quests provide unique context and motivation to make a romp out into the wilds to help the local tribe a joyful and engrossing act.

Better still is when Aloy gets a chance to help her close companions that she builds relationships with along the way. These side quests are even more purposeful and contribute to Aloy’s relationship with her friends. While her bonds with her closest allies aren’t the things of legends like we experience in Japanese-style RPGs, everyone has a distinct personality with fantastic voice acting that propels me toward helping them achieve their aims.

All of this would fall flat if the open world wasn’t enticing, though. I venture out to help friends or a struggling clan, in part so that I can cleanse the fog of war on my map and discover what goodies lay in wait. Again, if we distill the outcomes to their most basic components, Forbidden West doesn’t hide any game-breaking secrets that add new mind-blowing mechanics. It’s the dressing. When I go out to a cliff and don’t find the goodie I’m looking for, I’m left scratching my head. Where is that thing? Climbing along the cliff face, I find a cute, hidden cave within the wall with a bit of lore that I can scan alongside some treasure. This simple hiding spot sparked so much joy. These opportunities absolutely litter the map in Forbidden West, but not with such density or frequency that they become routine or boring. Somehow, the developers have struck that perfect balance.

But that balance may exist partially because of how stunning the world is to take in. Although released in 2022—admittedly not all that long ago—Forbidden West is still ahead of the pack in terms of visuals, yet both minimum and recommended PC specs aren’t unrealistic for most people with a moderate-end PC by today’s standards. That said, the cutscenes, which seem to take place using the game engine, are an absolute slog on High settings for my rig that surpasses the recommended settings. The dip in frame rate and chugging don’t impact audio, and once the scenes complete, the game returns to its fluid, smooth gameplay state.

Visual detail and quality aren’t the only stars of the show here, though. The gameplay cues in the environment don’t impact immersion, which can sometimes occur in AAA titles like this. Yeah, the breakable objects are always the same shade of blue and conveniently placed grappling hook locations are scattered everywhere, but they tastefully signal to players how to interact with the environment without standing out as unusual. Similarly, the characters animate well with lip-syncing that suits the dialogue perfectly. On occasion, I found some NPCs that seemed eerily similar to other NPCs I ran into, though this is true for most games even today.

The voice actors absolutely steal the show here. If the story isn’t doing it for you and the gameplay feels a bit mid—which it shouldn’t—then the voice acting should keep you coming back. With the quality of acting both in the character models and the voice actors, I’d describe Forbidden West as cinema at times. I felt like I was seeing scenes playing out in a movie, the way the dialogue flows and characters react to each line. While the cast is filled to the brim with talent, Ashly Burch, as usual, deserves the lead role as Aloy. Musically, each track pairs well with combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving. In particular, the plunge into forgotten ruins trying to figure out how to get a collectible carries such calming, awe-striking chords through stringed solace.

In terms of controls, Forbidden West mostly functions as intended, though hiccups occur. I could easily wave my hand and say, “In a game this size with this level of detail in the environment, blips are bound to occur,” but if I’m being completely honest, that is a challenge developers need to take on and are responsible for. Still, I infrequently ran into invisible walls, usually occurring around dilapidated buildings, and had odd moments where Aloy just wouldn’t reach up while rock climbing no matter how much I tried to coax her in a direction that she could normally reach. These moments, while frustrating, were simply that: moments. More importantly, combat flows beautifully, with most actions occurring exactly as intended and hitboxes on enemies that either make complete sense or favor the player. At times, I struggled with getting Aloy to pull out her bow, though, again, this didn’t usually happen.

Horizon Forbidden West is the complete package across all aspects any player will care about. Stunningly beautiful, audibly beatific, challenging yet accessible, and frequently cinematic, I adored my time with Forbidden West the way I rarely do in any other game. Often, a game will excel in one area in particular and falter in others—and that’s okay. Here, I struggled to find criticisms to make, and the ones I did, while real, did not meaningfully impact the whole. If more AAA titles conducted themselves as such, I could see myself one day converting.


Outstanding all-round experience, plenty of game here, variety of gameplay.


Performance issues, climbing can feel odd.

Bottom Line

An exemplar of what a AAA experience should feel like, not just in terms of production quality, but creative combat.

Overall Score 94
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Jerry Williams

Jerry Williams

Jerry has been reviewing games at RPGFan since 2009. Over that period, he has grown in his understanding that games, their stories and characters, and the people we meet through them can enrich our lives and make us better people. He enjoys keeping up with budding scholarly research surrounding games and their benefits.