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Horizon: Forbidden West is one of the greatest game sequels of all time

So begins Aloy's journey into the forbidden west. (All images in this review were captured by Ars Technica on PS5 hardware, unless otherwise noted.)
Enlarge / So begins Aloy’s journey into the forbidden west. (All images in this review were captured by Ars Technica on PS5 hardware, unless otherwise noted.)

Sony Interactive Entertainment

This review of Horizon: Forbidden West includes as few spoilers as possible—and leaves most of the series’ first game unspoiled, as well.

Any review of new PlayStation-exclusive game Horizon: Forbidden West could make a case for the game’s greatness simply by listing how much stuff there is to see and do. More unique biomes. More intense monsters. More modes of traversal. More weapons, more traps, more abilities. Not to mention greater plot stakes that build on the fantastic foundation of the 2017 original, Horizon: Zero Dawn.

But for me, this sequel is memorable less as a bullet-point list and more as a synthesis of the efforts of so many brilliant designers, engineers, writers, artists, and animators. H:FW is perhaps the greatest triple-A gaming adventure I have ever seen because of how all its parts fit together in ways both obvious and subtle.

I wanted to go there—so I did

One of Aloy's modes of transportation in <em>H:FW</em>.
Enlarge / One of Aloy’s modes of transportation in H:FW.

Sony Interactive Entertainment

I warmly recall the first time I saw the game’s titular Forbidden West region open up, full of visual and gameplay possibilities. The region’s fields, mountains, and enigmatic wreckage of a bygone era stretched out as far as my PlayStation 5 could render. Every pixel looked precisely painted; the scene combined the deep blues of a river-riven landscape and the rich orange glow of a sunset.

Then the “camera” swung around to aim at series hero Aloy, her face rendered in real-time with more telling details and finer animation than ever before. She had to contend with a cantankerous high priest, and the resulting conversation was a triumph of gaming role play. Aloy’s confidence as a world-saving warrior shone through in equal parts humor and heart, and I couldn’t imagine tapping the “skip dialogue” button. I want to be this hero, I thought.

After that conversation, I looked around a wide-open landscape. One objective was clearly marked on an in-game map, yet plenty of other landmarks were visible when I put the map in my pocket. In particular, I saw a half-destroyed building at the top of a steep cliff—and it had a couple of yellow markings subtly placed around it. I want to go there, I thought. So I did.

I clambered, climbed, figured out mild traversal puzzles, and reached the top of this mountaintop fortress. I looked out on the wide world below, covered with familiar and brand new robo-dinosaurs. Those beasts would need taming, trapping, and killing—and after collecting some promising treasure, I tapped a “rappel” button to dramatically lower myself and begin the hunt.

A different kind of video game “season”

New, brilliantly lit underground caverns.
Enlarge / New, brilliantly lit underground caverns.

Sony Interactive Entertainment

The game repeatedly leads players into brilliantly staged moments of discovery. Sometimes these moments are cheekily hidden in a corner of the map that reveals a surprising cavern filled with puzzles and plot reveals. Sometimes the discoveries take place on H:FW‘s wide-open plains, where memorable sneak-and-trap monster encounters play out next to the stunning, sky-filling relics of a past civilization.

Every time the game’s unique mélange clicked, I found myself pausing to examine how the pieces fit together seamlessly—and coming away impressed. No open-world adventure game has ever done so much to fix the genre’s issues of bloat and aimlessness. H:FW organically leads players through dozens of hours of stories instead of barreling toward a single primary goal.

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