Horizon forbidden west: the first preview

Horizon Zero Dawn Provides a great foundation for the post-post-apocalyptic world that Guerilla Games has created. In it you’ll find robotic creatures as impressive as the Brachiosaurus when it first appeared in Jurassic Park stomped across the screen. In the midst of this world lives the straight up PlayStation icon, Aloy, and a surprising amount of layers of mystery, lore and history can be found in this game. Following up on that experience is far from easy, but after four hours of gameplay in which we’ve been playing the Sequel, Horizon Forbidden West, it seems that all promises made by the predecessor are fulfilled.

Zero Dawn did not disappoint at all. In fact, the game represented an incredibly successful launch for a new PlayStation franchise. It became nevertheless clear that there is need for improvement and the responsible persons could improve here again. And, if we look at Aloy’s new adventure, Guerilla has really dealt with every single aspect that needs improvement. The combat is significantly more complex, we can explore more freely, and the world is bursting with fascinating life (robotic and human). There is a lot of meaningful stuff to do and experience here. The Forbidden West awaits us with all its splendor, but fortunately we are not forbidden to tell you why it is an adventure that we can not wait to experience.

I climbed Forbidden West not necessarily at the same level of knowledge as Aloy in the sequel, because Guerilla kept a lot of secrets to himself. After entering their journey, however, new answers opened up and maybe we can save humanity this way.

"Since the events from Horizon Zero Dawn Six months have passed and Aloy notices that this red rot has spread everywhere. This is a devastating threat and she must find a way to stop it", says Narrative Director Ben McCaw. "At the time the game begins, there are a few things that we haven’t talked about or shown yet."

Who Zero Dawn has played, will be able to Forbidden West feel right at home in terms of gameplay. But this was improved at the same time. SIf you are new to the game, you will find your way around just as easily. The first big question that came to mind when we looked into Forbidden West was, given the footage released so far, how much freer we could move around in this world. Zero Dawn got a lot of things right, but navigating it while climbing was just frustrating. We’re sure there are more people who spent ages making Aloy climb a rock that maybe she shouldn’t have necessarily climbed.

Not every millimeter of Forbidden West can be scaled, which may be disappointing to some. However, it immediately became clear – and we took great note of this – how much more of this world we were able to explore. This is a HUGE relief. Whether you are on your way to a destination or just want to explore an area for the fun of it, you will greatly appreciate this. This is a much more natural and satisfying experience.

This is also helped by the improved Focus, the detective mode that Horizon-World. Focus can now be activated simply by clicking R3. This way the scan pulses around Aloy and reveals things you can discover. You can also see where you can literally climb the world, thanks to yellow lines and markers. Just a few impulses are enough to see how much more of this world may be climbed and what is not just an obstacle in the way Aloys. If this isn’t great news!

Focus has been improved in other ways as well. Further, you can scan robotic enemies and find out what various detachable parts are present. Instead of just scanning such a creature slowly and precisely, you can also use the D-pad to focus on each of these elements. IYou can now mark certain parts of a robot and not just the whole monster. This seems like a minor thing, but it also shows how much effort Guerilla has obviously put into making the world of Horizon explore in great detail. They kept what worked, but even that was improved in clever ways.

Okay, back to the topic. A nice addition is the pullcaster, a kind of grappling hook that allows you to navigate Aloy to more difficult to reach places on the map. Furthermore, this can be used in combination with the Shieldwing, the glider that Aloy got almost at the end of our demo. Aloy starts on a hill and glides through the air with the Shieldwing. With the Pullcaster you can then approach interesting points close to the cliffs more easily, which is a nice addition for Zero Dawn was not really possible yet. I was only able to test this combination a little bit, but this is an interesting addition that should make navigating the sequel’s massive map even more exciting.

New in town

As if all that doesn’t sound rewarding enough, it seems Forbidden West to be built quite purposefully. This means that everything you can do has a purpose somewhere, which again feels extremely satisfying – and always in different ways. You will certainly spend a lot of time with the settlements. We spent in Forbidden West quite a bit of time in Chainscrape first, and we suspect that some of you will spend many hours there.

Chainscrape is a small town bursting with life, and although this town is smaller than the metropolis of Meridian from Zero Dawn it feels more dynamic right away – and for good reason.

"We really wanted to listen to the fans and address the critiques as well, as well as our own internal feedback. Accordingly, there were some things we wanted to do better in terms of the settlements, including trying to make them feel more lifelike, with better animations, better flows for the NPCs, and also for the audio", McCaw explains. "We really wanted to improve the audio from the crowd so that when you go to a particular place in a settlement, it has its own personal audio. There’s also the situation where Aloy is in the Forbidden West and meets new tribes, especially the Utaru and the Tenakth. We wanted them to be as different from each other as possible, including having NPCs doing different activities that they might do even in that tribe only. This should breathe more life into the whole thing."

In the middle of Chainscrape, a busy brewery awaits you and it features so many incredibly detailed animations of characters having a beer with each other, telling each other stories and laughing as they do so. But the settlements are not just NPCs you can’t interact with. There also seems to be more side missions – and they are well worth playing. One of the first side missions we dealt with introduced us to the two lovely craftsmen Delah and Boomer. After completing their mission and getting certain machine parts for them, we received a brand new weapon, an explosive Javelin Thrower.

"In general you can say that if you are looking for a side mission in Forbidden West If you let Aloy in, that’s usually not the last you’ve seen of the NPCs", McCaw elaborates. "And besides, everything is linked to the storyline we’ve talked about before, the story of Aloy, her companionship, her evolution as a character and how she fits herself into the human race; starting from the outsider turned savior. How does it really fit into the overall picture of all these tribes and the people??"

Besides the more meaningful side missions and the many details that gave life to Chainscrape, there were also many more objectives that I discovered inside and outside the city. There are several ways to compete in pit fights; there are vantage points Aloy has to connect her view of the Focus with places in the world. There are salvage contracts, due to which Aloy must chase after various machine parts. And of course, in today’s market, it’s nearly impossible not to establish your own in-game game like Gwent or Orlog. Machine Strike has the potential to be a damn entertaining game to boot.

In Machine Strike, players compete on a board of different terrains against their opponents with an arsenal of carved machines reminiscent of the machines you encountered in the world of Forbidden West can encounter. All machines have different health, attack and movement information and any kind of terrain can have a positive or negative effect on these machines while you are trying to take out your opponents’ fleet.

We only played a few tutorial missions, and there will be plenty more opportunities in the game to play Machine Strike, collect game components and design strategies. But it already excited us a lot, also thanks to the little twists that affect the real robot’s armor, overcharge ability, and more.

All of these objectives don’t feel like potential problems of an open-world game, and McCaw explained to us how the entire game was created with more and better rewards in mind, whether it be new equipment opponents, outfits, weapons, or key elements in the story of the Horizon-World.

"It’s great to have a big open world, but if all the activities feel kind of tacked on or not connected to it or important, then it’s not a great feeling. So we wanted to make sure that there is a certain path through this game, where players can experience the main mission if they wish and get to the end of the storyline as quickly as possible. Thereby the focus is strongly on the battles", says McCaw. "But if there’s constantly something to do in this world, a board game, a pit fight, a camp or outpost connected to Regalla’s rebel forces, and things that are revisited from the previous game, then those elements have to feel like part of the game. You must be part of the action."

This theme is once again one of the big disappointments of Zero Dawn on, as the side missions and side stuff didn’t feel worthwhile, often just time consuming instead of entertaining. Guerrilla seems to have really taken this criticism to heart and has decided on the content of Forbidden West considerably more thought. The world is richer in terms of quantity and quality, and we’re really looking forward to crossing the border and Forbidden Wilds to explore in more detail than just for a few minutes.

Forbidden Enemies

Overall, we found the cast of characters in Zero Dawn We did a pretty good job of that, although the highlights were the Aloy portrayed by Ashly Burch and Lance Reddick’s Sylens. But to be honest, we fell in love with almost every character we came across, which can be attributed to good writing and quick, unique characterization.

Aloy captivated me from the first minute I saw her and Burch plays it with incredibly charming determination that it was fun to watch her override unwilling bureaucrats and take matters into her own hands. Likewise, one suffers along as she is separated from Erend and Petra.

"We wanted Aloy in Forbidden West under as much pressure as possible. And accordingly, she faces pressure to fight the rot that threatens the entire world. And she suffers from the pressure of fighting the machines and simply surviving in this world", McCaw describes. "But there is also the pressure to live up to the example of her genetic mother, Elisabet Sobeck. She’s probably one of the greatest characters in history [of this world] and someone who almost saved the world with Links. It has set the bar very high for Aloy and that affects her interaction with other people. Also, it’s important to remember that Aloy grew up as an outsider and only gradually began interacting with others in the previous game."

"Aloy’s companions provide different types of interactions that bring to light different aspects of Aloy’s personality. This is a common thread throughout the game. It’s actually one of the big themes of this game, how she reacts to other people, how she feels in relation to other people and how that changes her as a person… And Aloy’s companionship stand out in the plot and in the themes of Forbidden West Really in focus."

And although the entry into the game hinted at some new tribes that Aloy will interact with in the West, the arrival of her new opponent also cast its shadow: Regalla. What an entry she completes. Regalla is played by Angela Bassett and is immediately presented as a force not to be underestimated. She and her entourage of Tenakth rebels are introduced in a setting that shows rather than explains, and does so in an impressively powerful way. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a villain entrance in a game that made such an impression, and apparently they’ve only scratched the surface of Regalla’s true power here so far.

Taking on powerful characters is nothing new for Aloy, but at the heart of the story is how she faces challenges and doesn’t necessarily go her way alone.

Aloy’s arsenal

Luckily, Aloy has a few new tools and skills to fall back on. We only got to see the beginning of these abilities, but there are now six ability trees in total that you can upgrade according to your play style. A few new abilities we were able to test, including the ability to shoot arrows in a higher arc so they rain down on enemies from above. Other abilities return, including the ability to slow down time while aiming.

The abilities should go well with the new arsenal consisting of equipment and outfits that you can acquire over the course of the game, as another nice twist is that the outfits now match the abilities much better. Some of these will even give you a boost, making these abilities even more useful.

You can upgrade your weapons at the workbenches in the settlements. Also, Aloy can draw on stockpiles, so she doesn’t have to carry everything around with her all the time.

It should also be noted that significant improvements have been made to the melee combat. The animations of Zero Dawn In and out of light and strong attacks felt a bit odd at times, especially when Aloy rolled to dodge. Now the movements within the animations and the transitions between them are much smoother. Overall the whole thing feels more rounded. We also noticed this with the Resonator Blast, which allows us to charge up the spear and quickly perform direct successive attacks. Once it starts to glow, we can perform much stronger attacks that even cause us to transfer energy into the enemy’s body. If we shoot an arrow at the enemy, it can cause a devastating explosion.

New weapons like the Javelin Thrower also await you, but old acquaintances are back as well, including tripcasters and standard options for arrows. But meanwhile, there’s a wider range to choose from, including plasma and acid. Especially the latter we saw in our game again and again.

If the acid arrows are fired at acid canisters that come with the new Bristleback enemies, the arrows do massive damage and even the swaths of acid that come from them can still ravage your enemies. Between the new bristlebacks and the returning scrappers, we felt comfortable reusing old familiar techniques and combining them with new ones to see which strategy works most effectively against both man and machine.

These machines, of course, provide a great incentive to get into the world of Horizon to be kidnapped. Forbidden West still manages to surprise and impress and frighten. Again, old familiar machines return, new ones are there as well. The Bristlebacks, as previously mentioned, are new, while Chargers return alongside Scrappers, Burrowers bury themselves deep underground to escape your abilities, but can also be mighty trouble. Guerilla definitely holds some more big fights Forbidden West back, which we are not allowed to explore until the game appears. But at least we already got to mess with another newcomer, the poisonous Slitherfang.

We’ve also had a go at the new arena for Forbidden West Attempts, an optional arena where you’ll have to overcome various challenges against a variety of machines. Of course, you’ll need to complete these challenges in a certain amount of time to earn awards and unlock some of the rarest equipment items. By the way, in this arena you can also compete against friends to see who does best.

The slitherfang fight offered everything a classic Horizon-confrontation with such a formidable machine needed. With a mixture of fear and joy, we cautiously fought against this opponent, who came up with an incredible variety of attacks: a lightning-slinging tail that could set entire sections of the battlefield on fire, fearsome biting attacks, the ability to burrow underground and reappear in unexpected places. Slithrfang is an excellent example of the ingenuity that Guerrilla brings to Horizon in the fight.

Combined with all the new weapons and abilities (which we only scratched the surface on), the Slitherfang fight was as rewarding as it gets with Zero Dawn still eliminating the biggest opponents was. With new tricks for Aloy and the opposition, the fights also stay fresh and varied, and we enjoyed winning – or at least surviving.

This fight we played in Forbidden West’s Framerate mode, although we kept switching back and forth between the different options throughout the game to always choose the best mode for each section.

Like its predecessor Forbidden West a beautiful game. Playing on the PS5 represents everything so far in the Horizon-Universe seen, however, in the shade. Great visuals with extensive views over the mature levels and the numerous details in settlements like Chainscrape, the smoother animations inside and outside of battles. Forbidden West amazed again and again.

It is also pleasing that where Zero Dawn often held directly on the two involved characters during conversations, at Forbidden West is zoomed away. The characters are more uniquely animated and this applies to both their movements and facial expressions. In addition, every outfit was impressive down to the last detail, whether it was the work clothes from Oseram or the armor and body paint of the Tenakths.

Nevertheless, you can accept the minimal loss of quality if you switch to performance mode to enjoy better framerates, which is good for the speed of the confrontations. Both options are excellent and we will certainly use one or the other depending on the section.

It should also be noted that the feel is excellent. You can feel the tension of Aloy’s bow as she draws it, but Guerilla was careful not to make it feel too extreme. Mostly the controller came to life when machines were around. We found that the DualSense integration enhanced the immersive gaming experience, but never distracted us. The same applies to the 3D audio. This is especially useful when you’re exploring the world, passing by a settlement and listening to the conversations of the NPCs moving all around you. And even in combat it comes in handy, because it can tell you if an enemy is approaching that you don’t have on your screen at the moment.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait too much longer to see how it all fits together in the end and when playing Horizon Forbidden West we were able to make sure that Guerilla did everything possible to Horizon-Developing the world with this chapter.

"There’s an enormous amount of plot and territory, and yet there’s still plenty of combat as well. What we gave you to play with is really almost at the beginning of Aloy’s journey, at the beginning of her journey into the Forbidden West and also at the beginning of their evolution as a character", teaste McCaw to us.

In conclusion, it remains to say that almost everything we liked about Horizon Zero Dawn disturbed, in Horizon Forbidden West has been tackled. Aloy’s new journey seems to be a much more robust and rewarding adventure than we would have initially expected. At the same time, impressions remain that make us wonder and marvel, as we already knew from the predecessor and for which we appreciated it so much. We still don’t really know what the Forbidden West has in store for us, but we will definitely find out.

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