As all sequels should, Horizon Forbidden West is promising to make some big and significant improvements over its predecessor, Horizon Zero Dawn, which was already a pretty damn good game, so it goes without saying that it has the potential to be something really special. Ahead of its imminent launch, here, we’re going to take a look at a few of those changes and improvements.
Let’s start with the obvious one. Machines are what Horizon is all about, and Zero Dawn had a large variety of these already. Forbidden West, unsurprisingly, is going to follow suit. In addition to many returning mechanical beasts, Forbidden West is also going to introduce several new ones, including the likes of the elephantine Tremortusk, the massive snake machine Slitherfang, the turtle-like Shellsnapper, the dramaeosaur-like Clawstrider, a new flying machine known as the Sunwing, and more.
BETTER ENEMY AI
Combat is a core part of Horizon, an as such, one of the areas where Guerrilla is making some key improvements is enemy AI. During tense encounters, for instance, as enemies try to chase you or get to your position, they’re going to have better pathfinding, and will be better equipped to traverse rugged terrain by jumping, climbing over obstacles, and more. Additionally, a number of machines will also be capable of swimming, so they might dive underwater to chase after Aloy if she jumps into a body of water. Conversely, some amphibious machines will try and jump out of water if you try to escape them by going to land.
IMPROVED HUMAN ENEMIES
While machines are obviously the star of the show in Horizon Forbidden West, human enemies – which was one of Zero Dawn’s weak points – are also going to see some major improvements. Human enemies will fall under different classes and categories, each with their own unique behaviours and fighting styles. The Champion class, for instance, will be calm, composed, and confident, and will try and look for weaknesses as they circle in on you. The Rebel class, meanwhile, will be aggressive and rash, confident when going up against you in groups, but less so when they face you solo.
Stealth was another one of Horizon Zero Dawn’s weaknesses, and it seems like Guerrilla is looking to make some notable improvements in this area. Breaking line of sight to re-enter stealth is going to be a viable strategy during encounters, while enemies, too, will be better equipped to deal with you during these situations. Human enemies will investigate disturbances, hunt for you in groups, communicate with each other during searches, and more.
Again, this was one of Horizon Zero Dawn’s weak points, but it seems Forbidden West is putting quite a lot of emphasis on improvements in this area. In addition to general strikes, melee combos, and the speed of combat being better when you’re wielding your bow, and the fact that certain human enemies will be more focused on up-close combat, another major improvement is Valor Surges, which are powerful rechargeable attacks, with each skill tree having its own unique one.
Oh, and speaking of skill trees…
REVAMPED SKILL TREE
Horizon Zero Dawn was technically an RPG, but its progression mechanics fell a little short of offering the kind of extensive progression options and customization opportunities that are usually expected of the genre. With its sequel, Guerrilla is introducing a completely revamped skill tree that should tackle that problem. In total, the game will have six different skill trees, each focusing on a different style of play. These will be Warrior, which will focus on melee combat; Infiltrator, which will focus on stealth; Hunter, which will focus on ranged attacks; Machine Master, which will focus on hacking and overriding; Survivor, which will focus on health and resources; and Trapper, which will focus on traps. Each of these categories will have 20-30 unlockable skills, and each tree will also have its own unique Valor Surge.
Another aspect of Horizon Forbidden West’s expanded focus on RPG mechanics as compared to Zero Dawn is its revamped upgrade system. Workbenches will be found scattered throughout the game’s world, and using these, players will be able to use resources gathered from the world to upgrade weapons and armour across multiple tiers, with new upgrades offering new skills, ammo types, and more. Each weapon will also have multiple tiers, and with each of these, that weapon’s stats will increase, in addition to other perks, such as improvements to your ammo capacity. Upgrading the Common Bow, for instance, will unlock the new Acid Arrows. Meanwhile, outfits can also be upgraded anywhere between 3-5 times, with each upgrade bringing stat improvements and improved effectiveness of whatever perk that outfit comes with.
New mechanics are being introduced in the form of tools and items in Horizon Forbidden West that should collectively make traversal and combat far more dynamic than they were in Zero Dawn. One of these is the Shieldwing, which is essentially Forbidden West’s take on Breath of the Wild’s paraglider- because what’s an open world game in 2022 without paragliding?
Another new tool that Aloy will have at her disposal is the Pullcaster- which is essentially a grapple hook. Using this, Aloy will not only be able to grapple onto distant ledges or objects in the environment and pull herself to them, but do the same with enemies in combat as well. On paper, it seems like the Pullcaster is going to be quite versatile, but it remains to be seen how central of a mechanic it will be in the game.
Climbing in Horizon Zero Dawn could often feel a bit too stilted and restrictive, with Aloy only being able to move strictly defined handholds and ledges. Things are going to be different in Horizon Forbidden West, which is bringing in a free climbing system. Essentially, that means that out in the open world, Aloy will be able to climb any and all surfaces. Combined with the Shieldwing and the Pullcaster, this should make movement and traversal a lot more fluid and enjoyable (and, incidentally, not too dissimilar from the aforementioned Breath of the Wild).
Underwater is another one of Horizon Forbidden West’s big new additions. Exploration, traversal, and combat beneath the waves are going to be a big part of the experience, adding a new layer that wasn’t present in Zero Dawn. How big exactly? That remains to be seen- but we’re hoping that they’ll be implemented well, because as we all know, that isn’t always the case with underwater gameplay in games.
Horizon Forbidden West, as its name suggests, will be taking players to a completely new frontier, which means a new map- so how exactly will it differ from the map in Zero Dawn? According to Guerrilla, the sequel’s map is going to be “a little bit bigger”, and will also be more densely packed not only with content, but also with landmarks and locations in the world itself, including several new settlements.
Settlements are going to be much more front and center in Horizon Forbidden West, it seems, with a few (like Chainscrape) having been revealed already. One of the key new details with settlements, however, is that the NPC AI is going to be much better than it was in Zero Dawn. That’s thanks to the implementation of a new crowd system. Lead living world designer Espen Sogn explains, “In Horizon Zero Dawn, there were a lot of assets and things in the background. In Horizon Forbidden West, they’re not just textures: they’ve been elevated into actual objects that are being used by people in-game. Where you previously saw a person standing in front of a forge, they will now actively engage with what’s around them: moving materials, leaning on walls, drinking from cups, talking to friends, and just living their daily lives. They move and exist with purpose.”
BETTER SIDE QUESTS
Side quests are another area where it seems like Horizon Forbidden West is making key improvements over its predecessor, and one of the ways the game is doing that is by rewarding players with better stuff and by having more interesting side quests in general. Speaking with Game Informer, game director Mathijs de Jonge said: “There’s a lot more variety in that sense – a more sense of accomplishment that you actually get something cool in return for doing these quests. That was another part where we felt like we had some room for improvement. So you get a cool weapon or you get a cool outfit, something that’s really useful for your next quest or activity.”
Cutscenes, too, are an area where Horizon Forbidden West is looking to take notable steps forward from its predecessor- because as players will remember, Zero Dawn often showed some pretty poor animations for characters during some of its cutscenes (in side quests in particular). In Forbidden West, Guerrilla is promising much better quality, thanks to improved facial animations and full motion capture.