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Horizon Forbidden West beginners guide: 6 tips and tricks to get started

Sequels tend to make the assumption that at least most of the people picking up the game have played, if not beaten, the prior entry in the series. With Horizon Forbidden West, that mostly rings true. Sure, the game does give you a nice recap of the first game’s important story beats, but some of the more technical parts of the game’s combat in particular are glazed over in favor of introducing new and exciting mechanics. Even if you played Horizon Zero Dawn, it could easily be years since you last touched it before you crack open Horizon Forbidden West.

This is one of the biggest games seen yet on PS5 — and PS4 for that matter — and hitting the ground running is the best way to experience this adventure with Aloy. However, unlike Aloy, you may have lost some of your edge in surviving the harsh world full of robot dinosaurs. Or this could even be your first encounter with this world. The West is an entirely new beast for you and Aloy alike, so getting a head start on what you need to know right off the bat will make your quest go that much smoother. Here’s our full beginners guide to Horizon Forbidden West.

Customize your experience

Aloy stands on a mountain in Horizon Forbidden West.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Sony first-party games have started an amazing trend of offering a ton of accessibility and customization options to allow as many people as possible to enjoy them. Horizon Forbidden West is the latest to follow this trend, and has some impressive ways you can tune the experience to your liking. First would obviously be choosing your difficulty, which is broken down into five standard options, plus a Custom mode and the choice between Explorer and Guided modes. You will need to pick one right from the start, but you can change it at any point you like in the options menu.

The normal difficulty options are Story, Easy, Normal, Hard, and Very Hard. The only difference among these are how much health enemies have and how much damage they do to Aloy. However, if you pick Story or Easy you can also adjust how long your Concentration — the ability to aim in slow motion — lasts by default, trigger Auto Concentration when aiming as opposed to hitting R3, Auto Heal to make Aloy heal herself when her health drops below 50%, and Easy Loot to make enemies drop their components even if you don’t target them.

If you pick a Custom difficulty, you can set how much damage you will take, how much health enemies have, plus toggle Easy Loot, Concentration Duration, and Auto Concentration.

Explorer mode makes the game more immersive by removing on-screen indicators leading you toward your objectives, while explorer leaves them on.

In terms of accessibility, one option you should check is how much time slows down when you open your weapon wheel. During the heat of battle, especially after you fill up your wheel with tons of weapons and ammo types, you might appreciate a longer, less-stressful time to grab the right tool.

Aim Assist is just what it sounds like. The higher you set it, the more the game will help you hit your mark.

Auto Sprint is one that you should immediately turn on to avoid having to constantly hit the sprint button every time you stop to grab something off the ground (which will be often).

Pick up everything

Loot was a big component in Zero Dawn, but it was frustrating at times because of how limited it was. Aloy could only hold so much of anything, aside from currency, but the maximum amount wasn’t all that much either. This led to far more scavenging than was fun. Crafting is probably more important in Horizon Forbidden West, and Aloy still can only carry so much on her person, but thankfully now she has a magical stash of items that any excess materials you grab can be teleported to. Every berry, dye, rock, stick, and machine component you can’t hold will be waiting for you at your stash.

Once you need to restock, just visit your stash at one of the various locations it appears at, and just select Restock All Categories to top off on everything you use. If you’re diligent about picking every flower and item you come across, when the time comes to replenish what you need, you can just hit a button and continue on with no worries.

Learn the damage types

Aloy wields a bow in Horizon Forbidden West.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Horizon Forbidden West, just like the first game, is an action RPG at heart, and exploiting enemy weaknesses is key to taking down machines that could squash you without even noticing. There are a total of nine different damage types if you include all the elemental options. The first three wider categories are Impact, Tear, and Explosive.

Impact is the most common and basic damage type, dealt by using standard ammo types and Aloy’s basic spear attack.

Tear damage is strong for removing different parts from machines. You will want to aim attacks with this damage type carefully to remove components to cripple what machines can do.

Explosive is pretty self explanatory. It makes things go boom, which does a ton of damage, but is also going to destroy any components caught in that blast.

Element wise, you can play with Acid, Fire, Frost, Plasma, Purgewater, and Shock. Acid functions like a DOT poison status, similar to Fire’s burning. Frost can make enemies take more damage once they become Brittle, while Plasma explodes after a short time. Shock, believe it or not, can stun enemies.

Purgewater causes enemies to enter a Drenched status, which does two things: removes any elemental effects from their attacks, and makes any Frost and Shock attacks deal more damage to them.

Turn on climbing annotations

This is technically another accessibility feature, but deserves its own section. A huge criticism of the first Horizon was, in part, the limited climbing system. While your freedom of movement has been expanded in Horizon Forbidden West, you still can’t climb anything you want. Normally, you can scan environments with your Focus to highlight handholds Aloy can use to climb up set paths, but rather than have to slow down to a crawl using your Focus on everything, turning on Climbing Annotations will make these climbable surfaces visible at all times, without the use of your Focus.

To turn this on, open up the Settings menu and go into the Visual tab. From here, just flip Climbing Annotations Always On to active and enjoy knowing exactly where you’re able to climb at a glance.

Don’t spread your skill points too thin

Aloy climbs a cliff in Horizon Forbidden West.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The skill tree in Horizon Zero Dawn was fairly limited, even after the DLC added an additional branch. For the most part, you could get everything you wanted before too long. Horizon Forbidden West, on the other hand, has six full skill trees that all have very different, and useful, abilities depending on what style of player you are. The different trees are: Warrior, Trapper, Hunter, Survivor, Infiltrator, and Machine Master.

Warrior skills focus on melee combat, Trapper on, well, traps, Hunter on things like Concentration and Weapon Techniques, Survivor on healing and defense, Infiltrator on stealth, and Machine Master on overriding machines.

You earn skill points to invest in these trees by either completing different quests, both side and main, or just by earning enough XP to level up. Make sure to look over your options carefully before committing. While it is possible to earn enough skill points to get every single skill in every tree, you can’t reset or undo any points you spend. In the early game especially, when points are harder to come by, investing in too many areas will slow down how quickly you reach the deeper, more powerful skills in each tree.

Explore everything

Aloy looks at a giant Slitherfang in Horizon Forbidden West.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Last but not least, have fun exploring this world. Horizon Forbidden West is a beautiful and almost intimidatingly large world to dive into, but you never know what you’ll come across. The more you clear the fog on the map, the more you will fill it up with things to do. Sure, some things you stumble on might not be completable immediately, but just like in a Metroidvania game, you’ll love that feeling when you get something that unlocks a new area you found but couldn’t progress through.

Side activities also will help keep you leveled up enough to never hit a roadblock in the main campaign. Also, the world is so stunningly beautiful it would be a waste to just keep your head down and go from story mission to story mission. Nothing you do in Horizon Forbidden West is without reward of some kind, so take your time and soak it all in.

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Jesse Lennox
Jesse Lennox loves writing, games, and complaining about not having time to write and play games. He knows the names of more…
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