In Horizon Forbidden West Aloy is much tougher, but so are the machines

Horizon Forbidden West
(Image credit: Sony)

Guerrilla's latest official PlayStation Blog post details all things combat in Horizon Forbidden West. The upcoming PS5 adventure has had no shortage of blog post updates in the run up to its release on February 18, 2022, but this latest might just be the most comprehensive yet.

The post is written by Guerrilla community manager Bo de Vries, who states that the developer wanted to ensure combat had significantly evolved from the 2017 original. In doing so, it sounds like Guerrilla is crafting a game that's equal parts more freeing and more challenging.

“We wanted enemies to feel more authentic by improving the fluidity and continuity of motion, like making enemies (and companions) more capable of traversing rugged terrain," explains lead AI programmer Arjen Beij. 

"The AI in Horizon Zero Dawn already supported some dynamic terrain changes, but we wanted to take this further by adding jumping and climbing as a systemic part of their behavior. As you are playing the game, the AI will be searching for opportunities to take shortcuts, where it previously was a cumbersome detour.

"Another example is that more machines are now capable of swimming and have the ability to dive and chase Aloy underwater. Amphibious enemies can also use jumps to get in and out of the water, so if you are unlucky they will combine this with an attack."

horizon forbidden west underwater

(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

A large portion of the blog post detailed how animations play into combat, and it sounds like enemies won't recycle the same canned movements time and again, as Guerrilla is injecting a dose of unpredictability into their actions.

"We rely on readable silhouettes and behaviors that the player can recognize," explains gameplay animation director Richard Oud, "so you can anticipate or react to an enemy move. We play around with the timing of those movements to not only create windows of opportunities for the player to strike, block, or run, but also to show some personality traits in the animations themselves."

However, even though it sounds like the odds are severely stacked against protagonist Aloy this time, she's not without new tricks of her own. The blog post details a new ability called the "resonator blast," a collection of energy that builds up when Aloy attacks with her spear.

When the stack is maxed out, Aloy can fire the blast at an enemy to mark them with a target. Shooting this target with an arrow before it disappears will dish out a huge portion of damage. As Guerrilla explains, the "mechanic creates a powerful synergy between close combat and ranged combat, encouraging players to transition smoothly between both."

Analysis: Aloy's most robust adventure yet?

It's heartening to see Guerrilla put all that new PS5 horsepower to use, as Horizon Forbidden West is sounding like it's shaping up to be everything the team couldn't quite accomplish with the first entry released back in 2017.

The improvement to AI and animation could make for a more unpredictable and dangerous adventure. We certainly don't like the sound of a rogue machine suddenly jumping out of the water to catch us off guard.

We're also happy to see Guerrilla make significant improvements to melee combat. It definitely felt like one of the weaker links in Horizon Zero Dawn, and now having melee combat more closely synergize with ranged abilities should help to keep Aloy moving quicker and more dangerously than ever.

We hope all these AI and combat improvements lead to the best game Horizon Forbidden West can possibly be. Having been delayed into 2022, we're more eager than ever to see how this extra time has benefitted the final product, and to Guerrilla's credit, the semi-regular PlayStation Blog updates have provided a good amount of insight into how the project is shaping up, likely for the better.

Rhys Wood
Hardware Editor

Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.