Horizon Forbidden West is one of the most anticipated first party titles of the year and finally releases on February 18th for PS4 and PS5. With such a sizable leap in terms of world size, gameplay and production values, there is a lot to break down. Let’s take a look at 15 things you need to know before picking it up.
Following the battle with HADES in Zero Dawn, you’d think Aloy and friends would be enjoying a peaceful rest. Alas, a new threat has begun sweeping the land in the form of a plague that destroys everything. To find the cause, Aloy travels to the Forbidden West and encounters tons of new threats, both human and Machine. Visually, Horizon Forbidden West is a big step up from its predecessor and this extends to the cinematics which now feature full motion capture and improved facial animation, resulting in more natural conversations.
The Forbidden West consists of the remains of California, Utah and Nevada with areas like San Francisco and Yosemite Valley available to explore (not including all of the submerged buildings and ruins). Its name was bestowed by the Carja, denoting a mysterious land that very few have returned from alive…and those who did had often gone mad. Various other myths abound but time will tell if truth is stranger than fiction. As such, along with controlling Machines and using them as mounts, Aloy will have new movement options like the Shieldwing for gliding, the grappling hook to either quickly climb or launch into the air, and free climbing for surmounting more different types of terrain.
In the midst of so much danger, there will also be new settlements for Aloy to take refuge in. Chainscrape is located on the border and property of the Oseram, though you’ll likely find other tribes roaming about and conducting business thanks to its “abundant natural resources and opportunities for adventure and risk.” You’ll find various merchants, vendors, Stitchers, Hunters, Herbalists and even Cooks (with Aloy now able to eat meals for a boost). You’ll also find Workbenches for upgrading weapons and outfits – more on that in a bit.
Many of the tribes in the Forbidden West will be familiar, with the Oseram, Utaru, Carja and Tenakth all being featured. The Tenakth have a much bigger role though, being established as a strong force in the region. Each has their own unique culture and way of going about things, which is reflected in-game. The Utaru are more relaxed and keen on mingling while the Oseram are historically more patriarchal (so expect lots of high fives and punching of shoulders). The Tenakth base their beliefs on the ruins of the Forbidden West and project a stronger, more aggressive attitude.
A “Living World”
One key talking point has been making Forbidden West’s settlements feel more “lived in.” Along with an improved crowd system and better animations, Guerrilla has added more unique behaviors and activities for its NPCs. You’ll see characters walking about, performing their daily tasks (which can vary based on the tribe), or just hanging out and having a good time, laughing or ranting about their day. The result is a settlement that’s an extension of the world’s people and their cultures as opposed to a simple hub full of NPCs.
Older Machines like the Snapmaw, Stalker, Watcher, Thunderjaw and Stormbird will be making a comeback but there are plenty of new threats for Aloy to tackle as well. There are the Sunwings, pterodactyl-like creatures that harvest energy via the solar panels in their wings; the massive Shellsnapper, which resembles a snapping turtle and is capable of camouflaging itself; the armored Rollerback which tries to roll through its foes like an armadillo; and the Slinterfang, a towering cobra-esque Machine that can easily wrap around a building, emit sonic pulses to stun Aloy and even use lightning. Though about 24 Machines, new and old, have been confirmed till now, Guerrilla Games previously touted “dozens of new Machines.” So expect some surprises along the way.
Machine Weaknesses (and Buffs)
Each Machine has its own unique strengths and weaknesses which Aloy will need to exploit to survive. The Sunwings are vulnerable when gathering solar energy to fly but are also more alert while doing so. The Slinterfang, despite its overwhelming size and weaponry, is weak to Ice, Fire and Plasma. However, you should expect all of the machines to also be more mobile with many now capable of traversing rough terrain and swimming underwater to give chase.
Aloy isn’t the only human that can override Machines this time around. Human enemies can now mount and fight alongside said Machines, as seen in the initial gameplay reveal with the Tremortusk. However, there are also new types of human foes to deal with outside of Machine combat. These include the Champions who calmly size up their opponents and Rebel Soldiers who are like hyenas that attack more aggressively in groups.
New and Returning Weapons
Guerrilla has been keeping a vast majority of the new arsenal under wraps but several weapons like the Hunter Bow, Blast Sling, Ropecaster and Sharpshot Bow have been confirmed to return from Zero Dawn. Among the new weapons is the Spike Thrower which lobs explosive javelins at foes, and there also new Cluster and Adhesive Grenades. New melee weapons, including different spears, have also been confirmed.
Six different playstyles, each comprising 20 to 30 unlockable skills, adorn the new skill tree. There’s Warrior which is focused on melee combat; Trapper for placing and disarming traps; Infiltrator, emphasizing stealth; Survivor for health and resource management; Hunter for ranged combat; and Machine Master for hacking. There are a number of different benefits like a small amount of health regeneration, using less resources while crafting and much more that should provide an edge.
Among the new abilities are Valor Surges, of which there are 12 in total. Two have been seen thus far – a powerful melee strike that can knock a Clawstrider off balance and an AoE ability that stuns foes before Aloy finishes them off with a combination attack. As players perform more tactical actions, they’ll build up to their next Valor Surge, and each can be upgraded to become more powerful.
Weapon and Armor Upgrades
Upgrading your gear is more important than ever in Horizon Forbidden West. Both armor and weapons now come with skills. New skills like Acid Arrows can be unlocked by upgrading a weapon while armor upgrades can improve stats and other perks by a significant margin. There’s a lot more emphasis on mixing and matching skills, tailoring your build to what suits you best. However, Metal Shards are no longer the answer to everything when crafting – you’ll need to hunt specific Machine Parts for different upgrades (for which jobs can now be created, a la Monster Hunter). Side quests have also become more rewarding so you’ll find new weapons and outfits by taking on different tasks.
By now, it’s fairly obvious that this is going to be a big game but that extends to the download size as well. According to PlayStation Game Size on Twitter, Horizon Forbidden West will require a 96.35 GB download (that too without a day one patch). The account notes that some games in the PlayStation database tend to be 10 to 20 GB bigger than on consoles but that’s still more than 76 to 86 GB. Compare this to Horizon Zero Dawn, which only needed 48.1 GB at launch on PS4 without patches.
Performance Mode and Quality Mode on PS5
PS5 players will have two modes to choose from at launch: Quality Mode, which runs at 4K with “full graphical settings” and 30 FPS, and Performance Mode, which runs at 60 FPS (resolution yet to be revealed). The PS5 version also sports improved environmental details, a cinematic-grade lighting system for its gameplay (which is present only in cutscenes for the PS4 version) and better water details.
Developed Simultaneously for PS4 and PS5
Despite these differences, development has occurred simultaneously on both PS4 and PS5. Game director Mathijs de Jonge said back in June that much of the development and testing had already taken place on PS4. Whatever the resolution and framerate ends up being on previous-gen, it should provide a relatively enjoyable experience. And though future titles releasing for PS4 and PS5 require a $10 previous-to-current gen upgrade, Horizon Forbidden West’s upgrade will be free.