What is it with the Horizon series and coming out right before genre-shaking barnstormers? Horizon: Forbidden West is excellent with a few trickly foibles, just as Horizon: Zero Dawn was. But now my life is all Elden Ring for the foreseeable future, and with some other pretty hot games on the medium-term horizon… I just can’t see myself finding any more time to play it.
This all happened before, remember? Horizon: Zero Dawn released on February 28, 2017. It was a neat open-world game with beautiful graphics, a personable protagonist, and a really cool vibe, and sense of style. But then, four days later, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released. The board was wiped clean by Nintendo’s foray into open world action-adventure design.
It didn’t matter how cool Horizon (metascore 89) was; the conversation was now all about Zelda (metascore 96). Yes, Zelda launched alongside a new console – but the conversation wasn’t really dominated by the Switch itself; it was about Zelda. Oh my god, did you find this shrine? Have you seen this unorthodox puzzle solution? Did you see this guy beat Ganon and see the credits in just half an hour?
Ultimately, I didn’t go back to Horizon until the PC version, three years later. Playing it on PC (it’s great on Steam Deck, by the way), I acknowledge I missed out on the latter half of a pretty lovely game... but I also know I absolutely made the right prioritization decision back in 2017.
Horizon ultimately sold just fine, by the way – but its moment at the center of the gaming world’s thoughts was cut unceremoniously short by Zelda. It arguably deserved a little more attention than it ended up getting.
And now… it’s happening again. You have to feel for Guerilla Games, the excellent developer behind Horizon that has graduated from good-not-great, visually stunning shooters to games that feel like they’ve got more of a heart and soul, primarily driven by a protagonist that players really seem to love. Forbidden West is arguably the second ‘true’ PS5 game, the next to truly stun with next-generation visuals after Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
Forbidden West makes huge leaps forward in some areas that are niche but matter to me specifically, like how it has lighting that renders truly gorgeous, realistic-looking black skin - something that’s always been of interest to me, somebody with a fair amount of melanin. In fact, from what I’ve played so far it’s a solid improvement over the original in almost every way - except, perhaps, for Aloy’s constant chattering to herself as you explore, which is incessant as before.
But… none of that feels like it matters now. Seven days after Horizon Forbidden West was released, Elden Ring hit store shelves. Ohhhh, Elden Ring. I think the industry’s penchant to compare everything to Breath of the Wild is misguided at best (despite everybody drawing the comparison, Pokemon Legends Arceus has next to nothing in common with it, for instance), though Elden Ring is truly a game that does share some DNA with that seminal open world adventure – but it brings more than enough of its own ideas to the table to be a genre-disruptor in its own right.
I don’t think Elden Ring is quite perfect, but there’s zero question in my mind that it is a masterpiece. It’s exceedingly rare that I finish a game with an exhausting open world after ninety hours and… start over, hitting the New Game Plus button. It’s easily as good as Breath of the Wild, but in different ways.
I think it will be looked back on as one of the most important games of this decade, even though we’re only two years in. I think anyone else launching a medieval fantasy action RPG in the imminent future must be seriously biting their nails now (sorry, Final Fantasy 16). It’s no surprise that it has grabbed the attention of the industry and will dominate conversation for weeks or months to come. Just as Zelda did.
But… there goes Horizon, a great game, sailing off into the middle distance of both my and the public consciousness. I’ve nary seen a tweet about it this week. Everyone’s just posting their victories, their funnies, and their crushing failures in The Lands Between.
As for me? Well, I’m trying to keep Horizon at the forefront of my thoughts, and making a note to go back to it sooner rather than later, avoiding the inevitable, ever-growing temptation to wait for PC. If I manage that will probably depend on the rest of this year’s release schedule. Though with Final Fantasy spin-offs, Two Point Campus, Forspoken, Saints Row, Xenoblade, Fire Emblem, Live A Live, and Starfield already gearing up to sap my time – as well as Gran Turismo 7 apparently becoming a must play, now – I know it might not happen.
In Goldfinger, Ian Fleming wrote that “once is happenstance, twice is coincidence”. So I suppose Horizon’s second time having its attention swept away by a once-in-a-generation genre-shaker is, for now, still merely coincidence. But, from outside, this is beginning to look dangerously like a curse – if you believe in such things. Which is nonsense, naturally – but nevertheless fun to entertain.
So, you know… I look forward to Horizon 3 at some point in 2027… and GTA 6 a week later, I guess.