Top critical review
Horizon 2: Walking and talking with Aloy.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 22 February 2022
I'm currently on level 15, and I've probably put ten - twelve hours or more into the game. It's absolutely enormous. The map is simply huge. The graphics are great, even on a base PS4. Character models are amazing for the main players. However, some things have changed from the original, and they are not necessarily improvements.
First of all, the "mount call" option has been changed, so that you cannot simply whistle for a mount any time you want. If your mount gets thrashed, you have to find a new one and override it. For instance, I had made it all the way to the west and after lots of talking with yet another tribe (ugh), I had to fast travel back to the beginning to find a mount to override, because it was the only definite location for Chargers listed on the map. That's not good gameplay. What else was I going to do? Wander around thousands of feet looking for a Charger site? The nearest one listed was back in the east.
Secondly, the weapon system could be more intuitive, as in the first game. Everything from buying to using them seems to have changed. Their functions have been split across multiple different devices, which is a) not fun, and b) a little confusing. There are various other limitations like the number of traps that can be placed at any one time (*very limited — and practically useless — you start with 2). The valour thing is an interesting touch, but it adds more complexity to an already bloated and unintuitive design. It allows Aloy to deploy a special ability during a fight after building up 'valour points'.
Specific weapons can difficult to locate – they're scattered all over the map, and it's not a map that's easy to read. Remember that one guy in the center of Meridian who sold basically everything? Forget that. Not only do you need your weapons for hunting, but you'll have to hunt for your weapons too. Again, this doesn't amount to good gameplay; it's tedious.
The skill tree is another issue. It's split up into six sections, with each one focussing on various character abilities, such as strength, stamina/survival, traps. But different skill trees sometimes have abilities that only activate advancements for certain weapons, which I feel again, limits a player's choices.
I get what they were going for with some things here - they want you to experience it the way they intended. However, while the first game felt like a wonderful gift, and the devs said "here's a nice game, go and play however you want," now, it's like they're saying, "you're going to play this our way."
As stated, the map is absolutely enormous. There's no logical reason not to have an automatic mount call, or a golden fast travel pack. It's simply essential — this one single point is a design choice that is truly hard to fathom.
The story is plodding along slowly. My biggest hope for this game over the last few years as it was in development was that the devs wouldn't focus too much on the ongoing tribal stuff, because that's not where the meat of the story is - the story is Aloy, her connection to the past, what happened in the past, the terafforming system and the rogue AIs etc. Some of these questions have already been answered at this point in the game — and that small part of the story was fantastic.
However, the tribal factions were always a backdrop to that story, and in the first game offered a good villain and some friends for Aloy. Now, they're on my screen constantly, talking endlessly about tribal nonsense that isn't even slightly interesting. Why do I care that some whack job thinks a broken hologram is some of kind divine presence? This kind of stuff goes ON AND ON AND ON.
A VIP 'character' from the first game shows up quite early, and that was a nice surprise, but after that, it's Aloy running from one end of the map to the other dealing with tribal stuff while she collects important artefacts, which isn't interesting. Endless conversations with endless leaders and sub-leaders of tribal factions. This stuff feels like filler, only it's not - it's the game.
I've switched to easy mode and am sticking to the main story, hoping to plough through the main quests, because I just want to find out what happens.
Well, here I go, back for another conversation with another tribal chief, or commander, or leader, or sub-commander, about something or other — something something tribes are fighting with each other — all the while I'm just wondering what GAIA is up to.
I'll update the review if the story improves, but I do feel the gameplay mechanics have been messed up.
*EDIT: The game has a plethora of bugs also, as many have stated. I had to reload a previous save because a cut scene wouldn't trigger, preventing me from moving forward. In another instance, Aloy just got stuck in a crevice and I have to reload. These are just a few issues to mention.
*EDIT 2: The Story has improved significantly. Carrie-Anne Moss is a wonderful actor, and her presence in this game is like a ray a light. There are some locations on the Far west of the map that are simply a must-see; they undoubtedly represent the greatest graphical achievement on the PS4, and they are definitely worth seeing. I'm not Sure if they're worth £50 / €60, but very worth seeing regardless.
Flying on Sungwing is fantastic, and worth seeing / experiencing.
Not changing my 3 star rating, however. The wonder of the first game is not present. In my opinion, it should have gone a slightly different direction in terms of narrative, and the gameplay (while it has improved at this point,) still doesn't feel right.
(some spoilers may follow here.)
Writing this final addendum out of a feeling of sheer obligation, because I know how much this game must have cost to produce. To preface, I was a massive fan of the original — I played it multiple times, it was a wonderful game, full of mystery and intrigue and great combat — on top of that, it was enormously successful, by almost every metric.
The story does not hold up to the original, which was an intriguing mystery; what happened to the "Old Ones?" Where did they go wrong? etc. This story does not continue that thread. It introduces new, out of this world foes who are on screen for barely ten minutes (aside from Tilda.) It also, at the at the last moment introduces a new, nebulous, unseen enemy that is approaching from the stars, and implicates the Zeniths in an entirely new way.
This could have been foreshadowed earlier; it would have given the Zeniths greater background and motive and would it would have given us reason to care. Tilda's past relationship with Elizabeth is interesting, but her motive for wanting Aloy is borderline obscure; she wants her, Aloy refuses and so she decides to turn into a giant Robot and kill her, all within the space of five seconds. Talk about jumping conflict. Is Tilda unstable from 1000 years of immortality treatments? We don't know. We're never told.
And then, the game ends abruptly on an enormous cliffhanger — completely unlike HZD, which ended with Sylen's. I don't think cliffhangers like this are suitable anymore in a culture of immediacy.