The action role-playing game Horizon Zero Dawn, released in 2017, is the story of an outcast young female hunter named Aloy. She lives in a world of primitive warring tribes and deadly machine animals. And in the course of that first game, she not only has to uncover clues about her own secret ties to the past but dig up information about a bygone high-tech society, all while coming to grips with the fact that, unbelievably, she’s the only person who could save mankind from a predetermined extinction.
The new Horizon Forbidden West picks up six months after the world-saving action of that first game. Aloy has saved the day and gained a lot of respect from the people around her, but there are more questions and land-corrupting, deadly plagues to deal with. So the brave heroine ventures into the Forbidden West for answers, a place dominated by bloodthirsty foes called the Tenakth. And there she finds clues to a new off-world threat that she didn’t realize was there all along.
Aloy takes on scores of quests and must straddle two very different but equally dangerous threats: one, swarming and primitive, and another that seems, technologically, almost overwhelming. In that light, this game relies on the standard gameplay trifecta for an action/adventure title: combat, platforming and puzzle-solving. And Horizon Forbidden West proceeds without feeling like the action ever bogs down or devolves into a slogging grind.
Top-tier actors Angela Bassett and Carrie-Anne Moss lend their voices to two of the game’s central driving characters.
A good sequel tends to raise the stakes and strengths of its predecessor, and Horizon Forbidden West does both. Aloy and her friends are very likeable, and their well-written, quest-filled storyline—venturing across an incredibly detailed, almost realistically beautiful open world—juggles many moving parts with panache.
The game mechanics are easy to pick up. And other than some occasional camera glitch issues and some unscalable mountain areas, game movement and controller interaction both feel pretty seamless.
From a story perspective, Aloy and her friends are all willing to sacrifice everything (and in some cases do so literally) to face an impossible foe and find a way to restore their world to a place of peace, growth and harmony. In fact, there are times when Aloy fears that she doesn’t have what it takes to face the monumental task before her. But she pushes on with resolve and a sense of duty.
The game stresses that, in all challenges, people must rely on their wits, their friends and a source of inner strength to move forward and do what’s right.
This is an action-adventure game, so players will find themselves in combat with human and machine foes on a regular basis. Aloy must use her wits to strategically make it past aggressive machines and people. And that combat can become intense and frenetic at times as the heroine is often forced to land blows or shoot arrows while dodging.
Aloy uses bows and elemental-tipped arrows (fire, acid, shock, etc.), a spear, blasting tripwires, explosive bomb traps, rudimentary slings and some futuristic guns. But if she falls in battle, the game returns her to a save point for another try.
Human enemies die and fall to the ground with light spurts of blood. Blood can stain the ground in certain areas. (Some cutscenes depict killed and impaled individuals, and someone is crushed by a large heavy object.)
In addition to the violence, there’s also a bit of language to be found, including the use of the s-word, and exclamations of “d–n,” “a–,” “b–tard and “p-ss.” I caught a single combination of God’s name with “d–n.” A bit of light sensual innuendo can be found in some messages. And though gender is never discussed, Aloy interacts with characters of questionable gender. Aloy can wear battle armor that’s either very formfitting or midriff-baring.
Aloy drinks beer with a friend. And one character gets drunk. There’s some betrayal in the story mix. Some people worship the machines in the land—thinking some are gods. The central game story quests take about 40 hours of gameplay. (Side quests add from there.)
Horizon Forbidden West is unquestionably an enjoyable, well-made and often beautiful game. It takes on its sequel duties with an immersive story and appealing characters that gamers can feel an emotional bond with. But parents of younger players should only venture in with the realistic expectation of typical levels of T-rated violence, language and other content.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.