It’s not exactly unheard of for a video game sequel to court fans who were largely uninterested in the previous game (Grand Theft Auto 3, Uncharted 2, Fallout 3, Team Fortress 2and many more follow-ups all attracted wider audiences than their predecessors), but those instances are typically reserved for games and franchises that were either just missing that little something or games and franchises that greatly benefited from the introduction of new technology.
Well, considering that Horizon Zero Dawn has reportedly now sold over 20 million copies, it’s not like this series really needed to change all that much to reach a significantly wider audience. Given the current shortage of next-gen consoles and development complications caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s also not like Guerrilla Games was in a position to make this a true PS5 exclusive built from the ground up to take advantage of that hardware. From a business standpoint, it makes all the sense in the world that Forbidden West sticks fairly close to its predecessor in terms of most of its basic design decisions.
However, there have been people (including fans of the original game) who have spent the five years since Zero Dawn’s release asking for changes. While some of those changes amounted to little more than relatively minor QOL improvements (we’ll get to those in a bit), others hoped an eventual Zero Dawn sequel might break free of its checklist-based, Ubisoft-style open-world shackles and fully embrace some of the concepts that set it apart (such as its hunting systems, unique mythology, and wonderful characters). There was an idea that Horizon Zero Dawn may be a kind of test run for the new franchise and that Forbidden West would really lean into what really makes this series stand out.
That expectation is certainly part of the reason why some of Forbidden West’s most notable shortcomings feel as significant as they sometimes do.
Horizon Forbidden West Sometimes Struggles to “Go Bigger”
“Bigger” has long been the guiding light of many sequels (especially video game sequels in the open-world era), and Forbidden West certainly won’t disappoint so far as that basic expectation goes. It offers a significantly bigger world filled with more characters, more enemies, more mechanics, and more story.
“More story” doesn’t necessarily translate to “better story,” though. Much like Zero Dawn, Forbidden West’s greatest narrative strengths are the quality of its world and mythology. Some of the best storytelling moments in the game happen when you take a little time to look around and really think about how and why this somewhat primitive world was built upon the ashes of a high-tech “advanced” society. To its credit, the game also does a pretty good job of expanding both our understanding of the world that was and our appreciation of the world that is via sequences that often blend the two concepts and use them to enhance each other.