Horizon Forbidden West has finally arrived; the latest PlayStation Studios release from Guerrilla Games and Sony Interactive Entertainment, and a sequel to 2017’s immensely successful Horizon Zero Dawn. Forbidden West delivers a thrilling experience from start to finish, elevating almost every aspect of its predecessor to new heights, while adding a plethora of engaging gameplay and traversal mechanics.

In this new entry to the series, you must roam the Forbidden West, a more treacherous land than that of the original game; inhabited by the Tenakth, a legion of aggressive, primitive clans. Across this vast new map, Aloy encounters an expanded range of biomes and conditions, and terrain structures which are more challenging to scale. In order to assist in tackling these obstacles, Guerrilla have introduced a variety of new traversal machines. For example, the Pullcaster allows Aloy to zip to particular points in the environment and interact with any materials adorned with a grate-like pattern. A repurposed energy shield adds the ability to glide across long distances from points of elevation. Furthermore, the focus markings for climbable surfaces have been greatly improved, making identification of scalable heights simple. Subpar traversal mechanics were heavily criticised in the original game, due to instability and occasional climbing jank. These complaints have been rendered history with the adjustments made by Guerrilla for Forbidden West and the game is all the better for it.

In the sequel, Aloy’s task is to restore the power of the intelligent AI GAIA, whose role is to govern Zero Dawn. Unfortunately, something has gone awry among GAIA’s nine subordinate functions and a horrendous blight covers the lands of Earth. Machines which are far more savage are frequently appearing across the lands and the ecosystems of Earth continue to deteriorate rapidly. Throughout all of this, Aloy must also contend with the tribes of the Tenakth, in addition to the Regalla, a rouge tribe led by a tyrant who wishes to assume control of all Tenakth tribes and head East to conquer all civilisations. To add insult to injury, the Regalla have discovered the ability to override machines and thus can harness their power in order to achieve their goals. I do not wish to spoil any more of the game’s key plot points for prospective players, however, all more that needs to be said about the story is that fans of Horizon are in for a treat.

Forbidden West’s map is quite simply stunning to behold. The biome diversity on show is utterly breathtaking, including lush forests, snow-capped mountains and barren deserts. Geometric density and detail are ground-breaking and set a new visual standard of open-world adventure titles. Texture detail and art direction are masterful, conveying a true feeling of a living, breathing world teeming with flora, fauna and… well, machines. The environment is so captivating, that I had amassed ten hours of playtime before finishing the first main mission, simply due to getting sidetracked exploring. I truly must tip my hat off to Guerrilla’s design team for the game, they have outdone themselves in immersive world building.

On the topic of length, Forbidden West is an enormous game. If you simply wish to speed through the game’s main quest, only partaking in minimal side content and a bit of scavenging, you should easily expect to invest 30 to 40 hours of playtime. However, if you plan to tackle the wealth of side content, be it Side Missions, Errands, Settlements or any of the other content categories, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the game reach the hundred hour mark, caveating that I haven’t yet completed all of the content in the game.

While only the main missions are mandatory to complete the game, Guerrilla have set a tremendously high standard of side quest quality in Horizon Forbidden West. Side Missions feel general feel no different to Main Missions in terms of quality and writing. During my playthrough, I experienced times where I had thought I had just completed a major Main Quest, only to release it was just a Side Quest after consulting the Quest menu.

This is likely the area where Forbidden West takes the largest step up from Zero Dawn. While the latter admittedly had some filler quests and content which felt like it was designed to fill a void or pad, the sequel includes nothing but interesting objectives for the player to tackle. It is quite impressive that a game this enormous in scope and scale can retain such a lofty bar for quality across main and side missions. I will certainly be continuing to work through the breadth of the game’s content offerings beyond this review, as there’s plenty more for me to see in the Forbidden West before I depart!

Combat is another area where the game has improved significantly over Horizon Zero Dawn. While the combat in the original game was far from poor, there were some glaring gaps in quality, such as human combat. Thankfully, Guerrilla have obviously invested in addressing this for the sequel and human fight dynamics have substantially improved, with better AI, immensely upgraded combat animation and more fluid melee combat gameplay. These improvements to melee combat are given plenty of opportunity to shine through, owing to the increased amount of human combat in the Forbidden West; where the human threats equal the threat posed by the more aggressive machines. While stealth combat is fairly similar to the original game, ranged combat has also received some tweaks. A variety of new ranged weapons and ammo types have been introduced, however, I won’t spoil the fun on discovering these first hand. Overall, however, the arsenal available to Aloy in Horizon Forbidden West is both formidable and highly enjoyable for the player, conveying a sense of power while keeping the combat feeling challenging and engaging.

A number of new machines have been introduced, many of them being new, more aggressive threats spawned by the forces which seek to destroy life on Earth. These new machines range from smaller, regularly encountered basic enemies, to larger mini-boss style enemies which will usually be encountered as part of a scripted event. There are also many more enemies which can reveal your position while in stealth and call more machines to their location. One of the most annoying new machines I have encountered is a pretty common enemy who jumps around like a kangaroo, thrashing powerful kicks down upon Aloy from above. The movement pattern is a bit more unpredictable from these Thrashers; an example of the greater level of challenge found in the Forbidden West. There are several new machines which will likely cause a dropping of jaws from fans of the series, however, I shall leave those surprises to be discovered independently.

Dialogue encounters and facial animations are further beneficiaries of upgrades from the original game to the sequel. In Horizon Zero Dawn, dialogue scenes with characters often felt a bit stiff and static, with a lack of human animations imparted upon the characters for realism. Forbidden West has addressed this and introduced far more expressive and emotive body movements during sections of dialogue. This ties in with much improved facial animations across all characters to create far more immersive and believable characters and conversations.

Just as in the original title, the game’s score is enthralling and a masterpiece in composition. Exquisite music tracks accompany each biome, with combat music given a slightly more tribal feel, in order to represent the nature of the Forbidden West. I have found myself listening to the soundtrack multiple times even when not playing in the last week or so, as the music is simply superb. This was entirely expected as Horizon Zero Dawn had a similarly spellbinding score, as have most PlayStation Studios titles of recent times.

Another new mechanic which has been added in Horizon Forbidden West is underwater traversal and enemy encounters. The original game was devoid of the expansive underwater sections you’ll find in Forbidden West, primarily due to technical limitations and a lack of time to solve them. Guerrilla themselves have admitted that years were spent developing the underwater engine technology used in the sequel and I can simply say that the hard work has paid off. The game has numerous gorgeous underwater areas which are filled with both passive and aggressive lifeforms. A number of new machines which live and hunt underwater have been introduced, and a completely different approach must be taken to dealing with these threats that the machines on land, owing to the difficultly of using Aloy’s weaponry while deeply submerged. This is another stellar addition which adds to the scale, depth and immersion in Horizon Forbidden West.

Visually, Horizon Forbidden West continues in a long line of PlayStation Studios titles which push visual fidelity to new benchmarks on the PlayStation 5 hardware. The game is entrenched in lush, crisp, detailed texture work, enormous levels of geometric detail and rock solid performance at 60 frames-per-second in the Performance Mode. While the Fidelity Mode is noticeably crisper, running at a higher resolution, the different is not enough to sacrifice the fluidity offered by the higher frame rate and the game still looks gorgeous in the performance mode. Character models are incredibly detailed and lighting and shadow quality are top notch. All of these elements come together to deliver an exquisite package of visual splendour, one which is doubly impressive considering that it was made to run smoothly on PlayStation 4 hardware, as well as on PS5.

If I had to make one complaint about Horizon Forbidden West, it would be that the haptic feedback and adaptive trigger usage in the DualSense controller do not feel quite as well developed as some of the game’s peers in the PS5 first party lineup. Haptic feedback in particular does not feel as refined and punchy as, say, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Nevertheless, this is a very minor complaint for an otherwise perfect sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn.

In summary, Guerrilla Games have brought together a variety of exciting new mechanics, impactful enhancements and boundary-breaking technical achievements to deliver one of PlayStation 5’s best experiences yet. Horizon Forbidden West is an essential addition to any PlayStation owner’s library and is sure to captivate anyone who was a fan of the original game. The Horizon IP has been lifted to incredible new heights and I cannot wait to see where Guerrilla takes the series next!

DISCLAIMER: This review was carried out using review code kindly provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.