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- Horizon Forbidden West
Horizon Zero Dawn was an excellent RPG and possibly the best example of why developers should be able to experiment in other genres. But some of its brilliance was lost because of its release date. It came out only a few days before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a game that arguably pushed the open-world genre forward with its systemic, freeform gameplay. That made it hard for a more typical open-world game to compete. And now, judging by the Horizon Forbidden West gameplay reveal, the sequel seems like it was able to learn from one of Nintendo’s best games.
Horizon Forbidden West’s best new tool: the glider
The glider is the biggest Zelda-like influence seen in the Forbidden West demo. At around 10 minutes in, Aloy whips out the Shieldwing to slowly and safely descend down to the beach from up high. Link was not the first to wield a paraglider, but Breath of the Wild’s success can be attributed to that valuable tool. It gave players more control over their movement and paired well with the climbing mechanics since it gave a way for Link to get down after climbing to the top of a structure.
Aloy was not as versatile in Zero Dawn. There were only specific sections where she could descend gracefully, which were scripted rappelling points. This meant that the game told players where they could go down and made more freeform traversal in the open world a little less free. It was restrictive coming off Breath of the Wild where Link was only restrained by his stamina. And now, that restriction is off.
Horizon Forbidden West’s other best new tool: the grappling hook
Aloy’s grappling hook was the other big movement-based improvement shown in the demo. Dubbed the “Pullcaster,” this piece of equipment lets Aloy shoot up structures to climb them or to propel off for a speed boost similar to Batman’s grapnel gun in the Arkham games or Rico’s grappling hook in the Just Cause series.
While Link did not have such a tool in Breath of the Wild (Eiji Aonuma, series producer, told IGN it “completely [broke]” the climbing during their tests), it speaks to the game’s BOTW-like focus on traversal abilities this time around. Zero Dawn was fairly stiff as Aloy could only climb with her hands like she was a pre-Uncharted 4-era Nathan Drake.
Being able to zip around more fluidly usually results in a better open-world game since makes the spaces feel less dull and empty. There’s a reason moving around in Spider-Man is leagues more interesting than going through fields in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. It lets players better interact with the world and not just move through it. Zero Dawn fell into the latter camp a few too many times while Forbidden West appears to be less poised to.
Climbing to new heights
However, it seems as though Forbidden West isn’t taking Breath of the Wild’s climbing system. Judging by the demo, Aloy is still locked to predetermined ledges. Her Focus now allows her to tag climbable ledges, which implies that she won’t be able to climb wherever like Link or most spots in an Assassin’s Creed game. After all, if she could climb just about anywhere, then there would no reason to have such a scan function.
This is a little disheartening as it potentially takes some of the player choice out of the situation by making curated handholds. Being able to scale up a structure in whatever way is more liberating than going up ones Guerrilla has picked out. However, as Aonuma said, a grappling hook might make the climbing feel less special so perhaps Guerrilla came to a similar conclusion and took the other path.
Regardless of this divergence, Forbidden West’s traversal seems to be vastly superior to its predecessor. And, given the similarities, it’s hard not to partially thank Breath of the Wild. The first game wasn’t given the time to borrow and learn from such a revolutionary title and releasing so closely together only made Zero Dawn seem more dated in comparison. Guerrilla hasn’t revealed much more about the game so it’s unclear what other games inspired it or how far the Zelda inspiration goes — hopefully it adopts the more systemic elements and exploration-heavy, icon-light world — but it has shown that it is on the right track in improving on its best series.