Forbidden West Horizon it’s all the rage. The latest Sony exclusive to hit PS4 and PS5, Aloy’s latest adventure has been praised by all sides. His history is rich, his world is beautiful and his technical design is simply stunning. In our review of the game, we thought its facial animations alone were worth shouting about, and we said it’s a video game that looks adorable and plays brilliantly.
This is especially true if you’re booting to a PS5. While the PS4 version sees it fine, you’ll only be able to fully appreciate the detail of Horizon Forbidden West’s gigantic robotic dinosaurs or the speed at which you can quickly travel across the map when playing on a high-end system. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart may have used the PS5’s speedy SSD for an impressive dimensional shift, but Horizon Forbidden West feels like the first game to truly push the entire system to its potential.
This is exciting and a little uncomfortable. For those of us who still haven’t managed to pick up a PS5, the game’s next-gen features are pretty much redundant, being a painful reminder of what we’re missing out on. If you’re like me, when you play a game, you’re going to want to play it in the best possible state, with no shortcuts and no missing features. That means the PS4 version of Horizon Forbidden West doesn’t look very appealing, with its graphical downgrade, slower load times, and lower framerate.
So what should you do? How can you fix Horizon while avoiding Forbidden West while waiting to get a PS5? The answer is simple. Don’t turn to video games, but look at the table in the Horizon Zero Dawn board game.
Started in 2018 and launched to retail last year, the Horizon Zero Dawn board game is one of many licensed titles from publisher Steamforged Games. A semi-cooperative, tactical miniatures game, it sets the bar high, trying to adapt the original game’s main combat loop into a tight 90-minute brawl that mimics the Hunters Lodge side missions from the original game.
Setup is simple. You and up to three friends will take control of a band of would-be hunters challenged to track down a dinosaur machine, follow its movements and eventually knock it to the ground in a flurry of volleys of arrows, slingshots and spear attacks. In between missions, you’ll gain new skills and learning abilities, as well as upgrade equipment in a process reminiscent of the video game’s light RPG elements.
Each hunt unfolds as an autonomous encounter. You’ll randomly select a batch of robotic beasts to chase on a modular board, before using your character skills to track, distract and defeat your prey in a tough action economy. Just like in the original video game, fights naturally divide into phases as you sneak past enemies, plant traps, deflect them into the most opportune position, before finally launching the attack with the element of surprise firmly on your side. Reduce the machines’ health to zero, while protecting your character and compatriots, and the hunt is yours.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game builds wonderfully on its source material. The machines follow patrol routes just like in the game, characters can hide in small grass to avoid alerting enemies, and attacks are aimed at specific components of the machines, which can be ripped off to disable their weaponry. You’ll be working together with your fellow hunters, but whoever lands the killing blow will earn a dose of Glory Points for additional rewards at the end of the mission. It adds a competitive edge to the hunt, allowing you to jump into the action at the last second to claim death for yourself and backstab your friends.
a heavy game
Make no mistake, the Horizon Zero Dawn board game does not attempt to recreate the original wholesale video game. It’s not a sprawling adventure, doesn’t follow an overarching narrative, and doesn’t even star Aloy (unless you bought the Kickstarter-exclusive version of the game that came with two extra Aloy character miniatures). Like all the best board game adaptations, it extends a specific feature of the Guerrilla Games original by adapting that concept for the tabletop rather than reverse engineering the entire video game in what would no doubt be an ill-fated attempt.
However, while it may be focused, it is not light. Its 50-page rulebooks speak to the weight of the game, and while it might not be the most complex dungeon crawler to come out in recent years, it’s certainly not family-friendly. Once you’ve played a match, you’ll likely find it runs more smoothly as it memorizes the turn order and basic beats of each fight. But the enemy step, in which opposing machines must be moved and activated in response to player actions, can take a little longer to get used to.
But this isn’t just a fake board game, it’s a licensed board game that has been funded by Kickstarter in recent years. This combination usually results in one thing for sure: the game will include a bunch of beautiful plastic miniatures supposedly designed to heighten the immersion of the game, but actually created to look incredibly pretty and convince potential Kickstarter backers to fork out their money.
It’s a solid business model and it certainly worked here. The miniatures included in the Horizon Zero Dawn board game are glorious, recreating the towering robotic machines from the video game in shiny, plastic detail. The base game includes several Watchers, Grazers, Striders, Scrappers, a pair of Shell-Walkers, and two Sawtooths as endgame enemies, and they’re all beautiful tabletop display models as well as functioning as game components.
Of course, if you’re after a specific machine, you’ll have to shell out a little more. An expansion pack containing a Behemoth, some Tramplers and some Broadheads will cost $54.95 / £54.99 / around $AU 76.50, so don’t expect to collect the entire Horizon lineup. But you might think that spending $59.95 / £54.99 / around $AU83.40 for a single, massive Thunderjaw to sit on your desk is worth it just for the weird looks your coworkers will give you.
while you wait
Do I prefer to play Horizon Forbidden West? Well, yes, but only because I’ve spent some time with the Horizon Zero Dawn board game. Its setup time may not surpass the PS5’s load speeds, and its thumbnails may not have the same graphical fidelity as the game’s character models, but it does a remarkably good job of recreating the core Horizon experience on the tabletop.
If nothing else, it made me more excited to dive back into Aloy’s apocalyptic machine world, reminding me how well-tuned the game’s stealth combat can be. Try it while you wait for a PS5 to land in your lap, and you’ll likely be even more eager to try Forbidden West.