There’s obviously no shortage of open world games out there, and while there’s no denying its merits and popularity, there’s also no denying the fact that there are traps that most open world games fall into all too often that make a large number of them feel like just another face in the crowd. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule- every now and then, something special comes along that stands head and shoulders above most of its peers and delivers an open world experience that stands alongside the best of the best. The newly released Horizon Forbidden West is, without the shadow of a doubt, one such game, and here, we’re going to talk about a few things that help it stand out as an open world adventure.
Gliding isn’t exactly an uncommon mechanic in open world games these days, thanks to a certain Nintendo Switch exclusive and the influence it has exerted in the last few years- we’re not complaining though. We love gliding in open world games, and thankfully, there’s plenty of that going on in Horizon Forbidden West as well. The Shieldwing might not be central to the game’s traversal loop and functions as more of an ancillary mechanic, but it’s excellently executed, from how easy and enjoyable it makes exploring the world to just how good it feels to use. Jumping off a towering peak and gliding across the sweeping landscape below you remains equally exhilarating every time you do it.
Going hand-in-hand with the Shieldwing’s efforts to make traversal faster and more enjoyable, climbing in Horizon Forbidden West also sees significant improvements. Where Horizon Zero Dawn’s climbing was painfully limited – not only in how little of it there was in the game but also how excruciatingly linear and guided it tended to be – in Forbidden West, there’s just so much more to climb, and the world is, as you might expect, designed around these expanded abilities. Being able to freely climb across mountains cuts out a lot of the frustrations that bogged down Zero Dawn’s exploration every so often- and of course, combining that with the Shieldwing only doubles that effect.
THE UNDERWATER SECTIONS
Underwater traversal is another one of Horizon Forbidden West’s new introductions, and while underwater sections are often disliked by people in games, here, they actually add a lot of value. There isn’t a huge amount of emphasis on it, but being able to dive deep underwater to explore sunken ruins while avoiding deadly machines makes for a nice change of pace, and just adds another layer to the experience.
SEVERAL INCREDIBLE LOCATIONS
This, of course, is where Horizon Forbidden West’s world shines brightest. Zero Dawn already had some of that going on, with the city of Meridian and the area surrounding it being a prime example of some the game’s splendorous sights and vistas. Forbidden West cranks that up to eleven- the game’s world is just full of such strikingly gorgeous sights that take the breath away. These are, of course, best left unspoiled, but Guerrilla has already revealed one such location- the settlement of Plainsong, which is nestled inside ancient satellite dishes, joined by bridges and brimming with vegetation.
Here’s an area where a surprising number of open world games fall short- if a game is going to have a massive open world, it’s crucial for that world to have enough variety to justify all that real estate, otherwise it can become too repetitive and samey. Thankfully, Forbidden West doesn’t have that issue. Dense jungles, snowcapped mountains, pleasant grasslands, towering ruins, cracked deserts, gorgeous sand dunes- there’s no shortage of visual variety throughout this map.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Something else that helps the open world stand out is the ridiculous level of attention to detail it exhibits from top to bottom, which is something that lifts up other aspects of the experience as well. Not unlike its predecessor, the way Horizon Forbidden West brings its open world and its areas to life with tiny little details and flourishes just never ceases to impress, no matter far into the game you get. The way the sky looks an angry red when you’re caught in the middle of a sandstorm, the way the vegetation sways in the wind, the way the gorgeous looking water sparkles and splashes- it all just makes you appreciate the world more.
IT LOOKS AMAZING
In 2017, when Horizon Zero Dawn launched, it was immediately lauded as one of the best looking console games ever made. In 2022, history has repeated itself, because Horizon Forbidden West is just drop-dead gorgeous. That is as much down to the impressive tech of the Decima engine (and the way Guerrilla has used it, of course) as it is down to the boundless creativity the game displays with its art design and aesthetic. No matter what you’re doing in the game, there’s always something beautiful to gawk at.
Of course, Horizon Forbidden West’s open world has plenty of side content on offer as well. That’s the case with any game that goes down this route, but Forbidden West’s optional offerings stand out in a way that very few other open world games do (which includes Zero Dawn as well). There’s an incredibly amount of variety in the activities that are on offer in the world, from side quests and errands to melee pits and hunting grounds, from rebel outposts and salvage contracts to relic ruins and so much more- and there’s just the perfect amount of each activity throughout the world, so that none of it ever becomes too frequent, or too repetitive. Add to that the fact that so many of them come with their own narrative flourishes, excellent design, and unique ideas to make them stand out, and what you have is a game where the optional content feels a step above what most other similar games have to offer.
So often we see open world games going a little too far with the whole “bigger is better thing”- when that comes at the cost of quality and ends up feeling almost procedural, that can be a big problem. In Horizon Forbidden West, where there isn’t much to complain about on those fronts, the massive size of the open world very much feels like one of the game’s bigger strengths. No matter how much of the map is left unexplored for you, you always know the game is going to have something excellent on offer, because it strikes almost the perfect balance between quality and quantity.
CAULDRONS AND MACHINES
Let’s wrap things up with something that is by no means new to Horizon Forbidden West, but very much retains its quality. In Zero Dawn’s comparatively lackluster open world, the cauldrons were often some of the best side content on offer, and though Forbidden West’s world is much more densely packed with interesting things to see and do, cauldrons are still a highlight. Not only is each one of them a blast to find and tackle in and of themselves, they also let you override and control more and more machines, which, in turn, keeps on adding to the combat and traversal, further improving those areas as well.