In a year that has seen a handful of exceptional games, Horizon Forbidden West has emerged as one of the best. Its sprawling, diverse open-world, exceptional presentation value, and engaging combat and exploration makes it an experience where dozens of hours can go by in a flash. Aloy’s journey across the harsh west coast of North America improves upon what came before in plenty of key ways with new environments, machines, and tribes littering the land ensuring the Guerrilla-developed sequel is far from a rehash of what came before.

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The tribes of people are particularly compelling, as the reach of the Carja, Nora, and Oseram don’t stretch to the Pacific. Instead, Aloy finds friends and foe in the Utaru and Tenakth, with other tribes present in Horizon Zero Dawn feeling like fish out of water in the sunshine-soaked scenery. Learning about the culture of each is made easier by the allies that Aloy collects throughout, and their base of operations that is in use to prepare for the final fight is a contrast to the lonely story of the previous game. It’s a neat idea, but to be a truly welcomed addition the base walls need to be lined with more memorable interactions and conversations.

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Horizon Forbidden West’s Base Provokes a Collaborative Story

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Through large portions of Horizon Zero Dawn, Aloy was alone in her quest to stop the Eclipse and HADES, so when she interacts with friendly faces, it can be hard to remember who they are or how they relate to Aloy’s quest. Horizon Forbidden West fixes this with its base, a settlement nestled in the snowy mountains that connects Tenakth territory and Plainsong. What was once a regional control center in the Old World is now where the hero and her allies can rest, recuperate, and plan for the events that make up the game’s conclusion.

The base makes decent headway into making Horizon Forbidden West‘s world-saving story feel like a collaborative effort rather than one woman against all odds. It’s a step in the right direction, but with many of the characters spending the vast majority of time at the base rather than in the open-world, it can feel like they’re just tools for Aloy to deploy when needed. The characters are unique because of the lives they have led up to the events of the game, but when they make a home in the base it’s easy to feel like their culture, heritage, and backstory fade into insignificance after a while.

Horizon Should Study Mass Effect

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This never seems to happen in Mass Effect, which adopts a similar philosophy, swapping out a base for The Normandy. In Mass Effect characters spend time in different areas of the ship during time between missions, but when Commander Shepard heads out to take the battle to the Reapers or prove his loyalty to crew mates, there’s always a strong chance that the characters aboard the ship will follow him. Instead of spending potentially dozens of hours on the ship waiting for Shepard to bring good news, they are out earning their stripes with him.

As a result, when the characters do interact, it’s seamless. Jack’s disagreements with Miranda or Garrus’ romance with Tali each feel natural because the characters aren’t constantly in different places on the ship never talking to one another for too long. Some of Horizon Forbidden West‘s characters like Kotallo and Beta sit in their respective rooms throughout, so the game lacks opportunities for them to interact, show how different each personality is from one another, or reveal how complex they are as a character.

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Characters are a Strength in Horizon Forbidden West

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The characters on offer in Horizon Forbidden West are each fantastic. Alva’s glowing optimism, Kotallo’s serious, but honorable nature, and Zo’s soothing and motherly aura all do well to offset Aloy’s shielded, unapproachable, and sometimes rude personality. She’s under an immense amount of pressure, so her nature is more than justified, but the implementation of more immediately likable personalities does wonders for the story, making players really care about the cause. To have them spend this much time in the base, infrequently conversing with any real consequence is a shame, especially given that they each are deeply rooted in the place that they are from.

Alva is from the other side of the Pacific Ocean, and it reflects in her personality, whereas Aloy’s life as an outcast influences her sense of wonder. The base as it exist in the 2022 game feels like the character interactions and development between Aloy’s allies is done when she — and thus the player — are absent. Bringing the base to the forefront of the story would be a good way to make the side characters feel more like valid components of the narrative rather than a misfit group that pops up at the game’s conclusion, with the promise that they will feature more heavily in the third game.

The chatter that happens in the base of Horizon Forbidden West is pleasant enough, and keeps its inhabitants from ever feeling stale, but there is plenty of room for improvement. It’s clear that the follow-up has ambitious plans for its story, shooting for the stars, meaning the potential for a shake-up is evident. Characters have become increasingly important in Horizon, so giving players more of an insight into not just how Aloy interacts with them, but also how they get along with each other could be the key to making Horizon 3 special. Players need to see the characters spend more time with each other and witness an evolution in their relationships, as the team-emphasis that Forbidden West presents has to feel like all members are on the same page.

Horizon Forbidden West is available now for PS4 and PS5.

MORE: Horizon 3: Why the Oseram Tribe is Pivotal for the Fight Against Nemesis

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