The first entry of Horizon Zero Dawn was released back in 2017. Now, five years later, its sequel has finally arrived. Not only that, but it’s available for both PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 users. No matter the console of choice, many are excited to get back to the 31st century and journey with Aloy across the vast expanse of a newly reborn world, where living machines have taken over––and may end up doing so permanently if rogue AI is concerned.
With the game now on shelves, let’s take a look at what fans can expect in the opening couple hours of the game.
The Forbidden Lore
With there being such a long delay between games, naturally, a lore refresher may be needed. The game does give players a nice narration from Lance Reddick’s Sylens, who was last seen teased as the probable villain going into this new outing.
The narration does give a small reminder of events past, but it may not hurt to watch a proper recap video on YouTube. It’ll quickly become clear how much lore the first game set up and how much may have been forgotten. In addition, though, a section in the menu, the Notebook will be made available to the player to read up on characters and events that may have slipped their mind.
Forbidden West doesn’t waste any time getting Aloy right back into action. She’s been looking for backups of GAIA across the land but to no avail. Since the closing moments of the first game, only a few months have passed––six to be precise.
Now, the blight has spread even further, with its red glow giving off the impending sense of danger, so it’s fitting how it’s one of the first things to be seen in the game.
It’s not long before Varl shows up and ends up being the Ellie to your Joel (for those Last of Us fans out there). As for why Varl comes along as a companion, I’ll leave that out for now, but the game is clearly making a distinct move to try and further both his character and relation to Aloy.
He also has another function: reminding players how to play the game.
That Casual Tutorial
Aloy casually gives Varl an extra Focus, which opens up a whole new world. Of course, someone has to teach him how to use it.
Generally speaking, tutorials can be the hardest parts of games to get past. It’s easy to lose attention and divert it elsewhere; another game, show, or movie.
Thankfully, Guerrilla Games strikes a nice balance. While re-introducing the players to all the various control schemes, they lean on establishing the new dynamic between Aloy and Varl within the two’s banter.
Lore is also sprinkled in which sets up the game’s general direction, bringing up information that Aloy hysterically finds a need to bounce off Varl, who has no idea what any of it means. It’s all almost enough to make one forget they're in the middle of a tutorial.
Most of the controls at the player’s disposal are carried over from the first outing. However, there is one key new control option that’s worth touching on: Gyroscopic Aim.
One of the new and much talked about features of Forbidden West is the addition of Gyro Aim assist. It’s not required by any means and has to be turned on in the game’s menu, but it’s an interesting tool in the accessibility arsenal the game provides.
This option does exactly what one may think it would: allow one to physically move the controller around for additional aim precision. It’s fantastic in theory, allowing controllers a level of precise control that wasn’t there before. However, in practice and in motion, it’s a different beast entirely.
Don’t expect to pick it up instantaneously. So far, I’ve found myself aiming wildly while trying to effectively master the new option, flailing arrows in every direction.
It’ll click with time… hopefully.
A Visual Feast
For any doubting the visual prowess of the series, which is silly in and of itself, have no fear. The world of Horizon remains blindly bright and vibrant, alive with vegetation and machines alike.
Like most games these days, there are optional graphical modes to play with. One favors resolution, while the other framerate. As someone who generally prefers the better resolution and additional details, it’s become harder and harder to pull myself away from the fluid framerate that fidelity mode provides.
With how fluid the rest of Horizon is, from the player’s movement to everything around them, it feels like a game deserving of the highest possible FPS––though have no doubt, lots of crisp details will be lost over the other modes; sacrifices have to be made.
As for the endless intricate and visually intriguing machines that inhabit the world, those remain just as awe-inspiring. Within the first few hours of the game, players will only get a small glimpse of the new metal animals added to the roster this time around, but both otter and serpent-themed creatures can be expected.
Another Journey Into The Horizon
For those hoping for more of what they loved in the original Horizon Zero Dawn, based on the opening alone, it seems like that’s exactly what’s on the menu. But, of course, the first few hours alone don’t show off all the new elements of the game.
The expansive open-world remains inaccessible even up to that point, with at least an additional hour or two. While some swimming can be done, the more explorative open water sections showcased in previews, as well as flying birds are large mammoths, are also absent.
With the opening couple hours in mind, one thing is for sure: for any that haven’t played the first game, it would probably be best to start at the beginning and not jump ahead. Simply from a lore perspective, jumping right in is only bound to be confusing and not provide the proper experience to those playing it.
However, it’s probably a safe assumption that most people chomping at the bits to play Forbidden West are those who have had Aloy's first expedition under their belts for a long time.
Horizon: Forbidden West is available on PlayStation 5 now.