Aloy in Horizon Forbidden West
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Credit: Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment

The Week in Gaming: Horizon Forbidden West impresses on PS5; Sonic’s next move; Dragon Quest XII & more

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May 28, 2021, 5:52 PM EDT (Updated)

Welcome to The Week in Gaming, the place where we pause each week to take a look at the video game news beats both big and small that you might be missing — while also taking a peek around the corner at what's ahead. Check in each Friday for news (and occasionally even views) on everything from sprawling RPGs to Metroidvania platformers to the latest in VR and free-to-play. We'll even throw in a good old-fashioned board game every now and then!

Watching the new extended gameplay trailer for Horizon Forbidden West, it’s easy to appreciate some of the small details that helped make its predecessor, Guerrilla Games’ out-of-nowhere 2017 hit Horizon Zero Dawn, such a great and groundbreaking game. There’s an RPG-like emphasis on connecting with the character you’re controlling; one that the studio could easily have skipped with no harm done to the series’ action-centric gameplay.

But this is a AAA title, and no detail is too small. Hero Aloy worked in solitude in the first game to stop a tech-driven apocalypse (while discovering her own incredible sci-fi origins), and here she is again: alone, muttering encouragement to herself, bantering taunts to the enemy, and reminding herself to stay focused on the goal. She responds to context so often, and so accurately, that it’s a little dizzying to think about the behind-the-scenes development headaches that must go into creating such a dynamic character in an open-world game.

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Judging at least from the new trailer, it works: Forbidden West appears to give players firsthand, moment-by-moment access to Aloy’s inner monologue, and it’s an effective way to reinforce that she views herself as a lone wolf…even when there’s backup. Sure, she’s gained allies along the way. But at the end of the day, with her back against the wall, she knows no one’s coming. If humanity has any hope of inheriting a new and better world, it’s up to her — and hardly a second of the action lets you forget it.

That may sound grandiose, but all those little cues are there for a reason. The first game did a stone-cold persuasive job of making Aloy the lynchpin of the world’s fate in its post-apocalyptic story; a unique tale of how the world we know collapsed and its human descendants, 1,000 years in the future, are completely cut off from an understanding of where they truly come from. New myths and religions forge the social glue that holds primitive, post-collapse tribal society together, even as the hulking ruins of Denver’s skyscrapers stand as silent, flora-engulfed witnesses to the scientific secrets of the past. It’s an ambitious world of lore, but it’s also what helped set Horizon Zero Dawn apart as a piece of media that felt like more than just a game.

Credit: Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment

Finding out you’re the techno-messianic heir to a fallen world’s hopes for revival can do a number on your head. But fortunately, Aloy was raised not to take any nonsense (R.I.P., Rost), and her grounded, just-one-person world view made her an endearing hero in the first game; someone who was perfectly fine just living up to her potential with the one lifetime she’s been given. Even from just the 14 minutes of action Guerrilla showed off in this new footage, it’s evident that Aloy’s gift for composure and leave-it-to-me confidence is intact as Forbidden West picks up six months after the events of HZD.

That’s important when you’re likely to spend upward of 40 hours — perhaps well upwards — experiencing a game through the eyes of a single character. And if all this talk of character and story seems a strange swerve away from what really drew fans in during this week’s Horizon-themed Sony State of Play presentation, it’s partly because the new game’s sprawling, 14-minute clip speaks for itself when it comes to announcing Horizon Forbidden West’s new-gen ambitions.

Credit: Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment

There’re only so many words you can lavish on Guerrilla’s obvious obsession with artfully-rendered world building, buttery-smooth action, PS5-worthy graphics (though HFW will also release on the PS4), and care for evolving Aloy’s familiar bug-out bag of exploration and fighting tools. As you can see in the clip, which finds Aloy rescuing her old friend Erend, Sony’s carefully-curated vertical slice from the upcoming game looks and plays fantastic. Did anyone expect anything less?

Still, there are nuts-and-bolts gameplay takeaways from Guerilla’s huge peek beneath Forbidden West’s long-concealed development shroud. Writing this week at the PlayStation Blog, narrative director Ben McCaw laid out some of the new toys and tricks that the clip showed off, including the Pullcaster (a climbing and traversal tool that lets Aloy span large distances), the Shieldwing (a sweet piece of aerial technology that functions like a digitally-deployed parasail), and the self-explanatory diving mask — which essentially serves as a gateway to Forbidden West’s seemingly expansive underwater world.

Credit: Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment

Aloy’s weapons have leveled up as well, though this week’s preview likely only hints at their new upgrades and uses once the full game is in players’ hands. Already one part weapon; one part hacking tool from the first game, Aloy’s spear is even more versatile, thanks to a new stun ability. Aloy can hurl grenades with her slingshot, select from an array of new arrow types to wield her bow as an armor-shattering tool, and power all of her gear up at a workbench — which the studio teased, but didn’t show.

Horizon Forbidden West will take Aloy from the Rocky Mountain and desert southwest setting of the first game, putting her on a path toward the Pacific coast and the ruins of cities like San Francisco (where the new gameplay clip is set). Thanks to the way the first game obliterated any preconceived plot ideas fans could expect from early teasers, we almost hate to summarize what Guerrilla’s sharing of the new game’s story. But it involves finding an answer for a mysterious “red blight,” an ecological threat of unknown origin that blankets the environment and promises a different kind of world-ending setup than Zero Dawn’s relentless AI menace…or so we think.

Credit: Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment

First Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, and now this. Sony’s upcoming games for the new console generation look gorgeous (and for the record, we’re pretty amped about 343 Industries’ Xbox-exclusive Halo Infinite, too). Call it a hunch, but we wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the PS5 and Xbox Series X end up being responsible for jacking up new giant-screen TV sales as the year rolls on — if, that is, Sony and Microsoft can work through their ongoing supply issues and get their consoles in the hands of all the players who want one. One thing’s for sure: the games themselves are on the way, and they look amazing.

Horizon Forbidden West doesn’t yet have a release date, but Guerrilla says more info is coming. When it arrives, Aloy’s next chapter will be a cross-generation Sony exclusive for the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4.

Spare parts

For some fans, nothing distills the pure essence of classic turned-based gameplay wrapped up in a quintessential RPG story like the Dragon Quest franchise. Right on time to help commemorate the iconic series’ 35th anniversary, Square Enix revealed this week that the next Dragon Quest game is in the works, and it officially has a logo and a name — Dragon Quest XII: The Flames of Fate.

In related Dragon Quest news, Dragon Quest III is coming back from the distant past in a refreshed, “HD-2D Remake” version that recasts the old-school classic with a “unique three-dimensional feel” similar to the look that Square Enix established with 2018’s Octopath Traveler. Neither DQ XII nor the DQ III remake has a release date, though both will be arriving on current-gen consoles.

 

- Things will be familiar but different at this year’s E3, when Microsoft will stage its first-ever Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase. Uniting what’ve traditionally been two of E3’s most -hyped stage presentations from years past, it’s the likeliest place to catch Bethesda’s newest updates on Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Starfield, DOOM, and much more. It all goes down at 1 p.m. ET on June 13, with E3 itself kicking off on Saturday, June 12 and running through Tuesday, June 15.

- Blizzard announced this week that it’s canceling its annual BlizzCon player gathering for the second year in a row, due to ongoing logistical challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic across its world-spanning World of Warcraft and Overwatch fan base. Instead, the studio plans to stage a “global event for the early part of next year, combining an online show along the lines of our recent BlizzConline with smaller in-person gatherings,” according to Blizzard’s update. There aren’t any dates or details yet, but Blizzard says it will reveal more “as our plans come together.”

 

- Super-slight details here, but Fortnite is teasing some kind of crossover with Mistborn, author Brandon Sanderson’s popular cycle of high fantasy novels. Fortnite’s official Twitter account sent out the above clue earlier this week, with Sanderson following suit by retweeting the post. What could it mean? We don’t know, but things tend to move fast in the Fortnite info-verse, so it’s probably a short matter of time before Epic Games lets everyone in on the secret.

- Sony may not be taking part in E3 these days, but that isn’t stopping its traditional pre-E3 rollout of steeply discounted games as part of PlayStation's annual Days of Play promotion. From now through June 9, score deals on big-name PS4 games including Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us Part II and more; or pick up discounted PS5 titles like Demon’s Souls and Spider-Man: Miles Morales…to name just a few. The PlayStation Blog has all the details, including a full rundown of the games as well as more promotional goodies.

- While we’re talking Sony, PlayStation Plus members are going galactic with June’s lineup of of free PS Plus titles, with Star Wars: Squadrons leading a three-game list that also includes the PS4’s Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown and Operation: Tango (available for free to PS5 players only). Warp on over to Sony’s blog post for additional info. 

- Microsoft has revealed its June Xbox Games with Gold lineup for subscribers to its Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate services, headlined by Injustice: Gods Among Us (available June 16), along with a trio of lower-profile titles including NeoGeo Battle Coliseum, (originally a PS2 game), The King’s Bird, and Shadows: Awakening (available June 16). Check out the Xbox Wire blog for more. 

- ICYMI: Sonic is speeding back with a just-announced new main installment in SEGA’s iconic ring-chasing series, teasing the next big-ticket Sonic the Hedgehog platformer with a short but sweet clip (IGN has it here) that zeroes in on our blue hero’s quick feet scampering through hi-resolution forest scenery that looks decidedly next-gen. Planned for a 2022 release, it’s just one among several Sonic-related game reveals (including a remaster of 2010’s Sonic Colors) that SEGA showed off during this week’s Sonic Central livestream.