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Horizon Forbidden West on PC is the definitive way to experience this game

Introduction

With many PlayStation exclusives having made their way to PC over the last 18 months, it has been a rocky road for many of them in the way of poor performance and/or a plethora of bugs to battle through at launch. In fact, many new PC titles often release with major technical problems to the point that this theme has become a meme within the wider gaming community.

The Last of Us Part 1 required many months of patching to mostly sort out the shader compilation stutter and mouse movement jitter issues, Dead Space Remake still has traversal stuttering and has essentially been abandoned by the developers, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor still has shader compilation stutters, Hogwarts Legacy still looks better on High than it does on Ultra and has broken ray tracing.

Even the newly released Dragon's Dogma 2 is facing a challenge, with fans being forced to seek out DLSS Frame Generation mods to mitigate the underlying poor performance the game has launched with, forcing CAPCOM to offer a public apology for the negative Steam reviews.

Horizon Forbidden West PC Review

Many of us were dubious when no reviews were published even 24 hours before the launch of Forbidden West. This is typically not a good sign, especially given that Horizon Zero Dawn launched with several technical issues that required many patches to fully resolve, although to be fair, Zero Dawn was not originally ported by Nixxes, who came into the picture during later patching phases to fix the problems the first game faced.

Horizon Forbidden West PC Review

Having played Zero Dawn a year after it launched in 2021, I found myself getting bored of traversing the open world after about 9.5 hours; it felt like a laborious grind. I've picked it up again here and there since then, but never truly felt connected to the gameplay and mechanics, so I was a bit hesitant about buying Forbidden West. That was until I watched the Digital Foundry technical preview just before launch and was convinced that my pre-order was a safe bet and there was no need to cancel.

The story is set 6 months after the ending of the first game. You do not need to have played Zero Dawn to know what's going on either, as a cinematic shows you everything you need to know before throwing you into the new world where Aloy embarks on a journey on the hunt to find clues to the mysterious plague called The Red Blight that has started to take over the world.

System requirements

We wrote about the requirements published by Nixxes at the start of the month. These specs remain the same post-launch and are very modest.

Preset Very Low Medium High Very High
AVG Performance 720P @ 30 FPS 1080P @ 60 FPS 1440P @ 60fps / 4K @ 30 FPS 4K @ 60 FPS
Processor Intel Core i3-8100 or AMD Ryzen 3 1300X Intel Core i5-8600 or AMD Ryzen 5 3600 Intel Core i7-9700 or AMD Ryzen 7 3700X Intel Core i7-11700 or AMD Ryzen 7 5700X
Memory 16GB RAM
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 4GB or AMD Radeon RX 5500XT 4GB NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 or AMD Radeon RX 5700 NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 or AMD Radeon RX 6800 NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4080 or AMD Radeon RX 7900XT
Storage SSD, 150GB
OS Windows 10 64-bit (version 1909 or higher)

The game does not employ any ray-tracing effects. Nixxes told Eurogamer that they had considered this at first, but decided it already looked great as it was. This also explains the need for an RTX 4080 to achieve 60 fps at 4K resolution using rasterised effects. The demand at this resolution on the GPU is quite high, and whilst an RTX 4080 matches or beats a 7900XTX in many areas, the AMD cards tend to do better in raster performance, hence the 7900XT flanking the RTX 4800 in these requirements.

Horizon Forbidden West PC

I have been playing this on my i7 12700KF and RTX 4090 system. The display is an ultrawide QD-OLED running at a native 3440x1440 144Hz.

First load & streaming textures

With many PC games today, there is a need to add a startup parameter to the Steam shortcut to skip intro titles and whatnot, or worse yet, need to download modified game files to bypass them. None of that is needed with Forbidden West. You can immediately press escape to skip them and get straight to the title menu.

If it's the first time the game is launched, or if the graphics card driver has recently been updated, then a shader compilation step is completed, this took about 30 seconds on my i7 12700KF.

The title menu defaults to continue, so pressing spacebar as soon as you see the title screen, your save will load into the game within 5 seconds. This is probably the fastest click-to-game load I have ever seen yet.

Horizon Forbidden West PC Review

Once in the game, there are no stutters at all to be seen. Nixxes have confirmed that they don't use the full DirectStorage scope of features, but instead the most efficient parts for use within the context of Forbidden West. The technical details are mentioned in the Eurogamer article, but in short, the game will stream in assets as you play, with little to no impact on performance.

Input methods

Forbidden West fully supports controllers, including the PS5's dual sense with adaptive triggers (wired mode only). I gave motion controls for aiming a shot using the 8BitDo Ultimate and had no problems using Steam Input, which worked out of the box.

Horizon Forbidden West Motion Control

However, mouse and keyboard are unbeaten thanks to the quick reaction times and camera movement that only a mouse can afford you.

Performance

Even though I am on an RTX 4090, what I said about poorly optimised games in the introduction still affects high-end GPUs out there. The Last of Us, for example, struggled to get 100 fps without having to turn on upscaling, and even then, it did not exceed 115 fps average with regular dips to the 80 fps range for seemingly no reason.

With Forbidden West, there are no such issues, and there is a wide selection of video and graphical settings to tweak. The Video settings are as follows:

Horizon Forbidden West PC Review

The graphics options only go up to Very High. Whether Nixxes will add an Ultra preset or maybe even a ray-traced one in a future patch remains unclear, though they have hinted by saying to watch this space:

Horizon Forbidden West PC Review

If I load up a save and then enter these settings screens, I can adjust each setting and see a preview of the game behind update with how that change affects what's on screen. GFX settings done right.

Horizon Forbidden West PC

Whether I am running DLAA, DLSS, XeSS, or even FSR 2.2, the framerates are consistently high and evenly matched between them all. DLAA only being slightly behind due to it being a native resolution AA method:

For Nvidia users, the game ships with DLSS dll file version 3.5.10, but you can easily swap it out for the latest version, 3.6.0, from Techpowerup. I have not noticed any visual or performance differences, but it's an added peace of mind for me personally.

The below custom benchmark numbers were using the highest GFX settings at 3440x1440 and measured in a controlled area outdoors during daylight and with AI machines running around:

Average FPS Minimum FPS Maximum FPS 1% low FPS 0.1% low FPS
DLAA 119.7 109.2 135.9 96.3 80.7
DLSS Quality 135.4 127.5 138.8 103.3 94.9
FSR 2.2 Quality 136.7 129.8 138.7 105.7 97.6
XeSS Quality 134.9 123.4 138.9 103.9 97.4

Note: My maximum framerate won't exceed 139 fps due to this being my global framerate cap since the refresh rate is 144Hz on a G-Sync monitor. Generally speaking, to avoid screen tearing, you don't want a game running at or above your refresh rate. A game like this supporting Nvidia Reflex will framerate cap by default anyway through Reflex, so no manual intervention is needed other than enabling Reflex in the game settings. For games not supporting Reflex, I would recommend a manual framerate cap of about 3-5 fps below your refresh rate for the best G-Sync (or FreeSync) experience.

Horizon Forbidden West PC Review

Zooming in to pixel-peep at about 300%, it was evident that DLSS Quality was slightly sharper than DLAA. There is no general upscaler sharpness slider in the game at all; the only sharpness control is in the Graphics screen, which controls a global sharpness filter that is set to 5 by default.

The image reconstruction side of DLSS is doing a great job at matching DLAA. This isn't the first game I have seen where DLSS is as good or nearly as good as native resolution. This seems to bear strongly on the developer implementing any upscaler properly. It's great to see a game where you can be confident that no matter what preference you have toward native, upscaled, or dynamic resolution, you are getting the excellent picture quality.

Horizon Forbidden West PC

What is surprising is how FSR 2.2 is implemented here. Generally speaking, FSR always performs the worst in games with visible temporal stability issues and ghosting of moving particles on-screen. None of these issues were obvious in Forbidden West.

Here is a video showing each upscaler being compared in a static scene:

Only in the far distance and around Aloy in specific lighting conditions is some form of minor temporal instability noticed, but only when you zoom in closely. I did spot some fizzling on moving particles if I recorded a video of a static scene and paused whilst butterflies were flying past. This fizzle does not exist on the other upscalers.

There is no ghosting when using Frame Generation whether an using an upscaler or native rendering, but using Frame Generation does exhibit very slight motion juddering which we have seen in other games before, which then got fixed via a future patch. The Last of Us Part 1 springs to mind. Some gamers may be sensitive to this, so it is worth keeping this in mind.

Horizon Forbidden West PC

The CPU optimisation sees healthy utilisation across all available cores with no single core being under or overworked, good use of multi-threading in a game like this probably explains why there are no stutters that I have noticed. It also means the chance of being CPU-limited could be higher as a result. The more cores that are available, the higher the framerate averages will be.

I found that at 3440x1440, the CPU usage hovered from 40% and reached all the way up to 70% at times, all whilst maintaining triple figure framerates with stable frametimes. This is likely due to the way the game is streaming in assets constantly.

There have been some comments on a couple of gaming forums about Frame Generation and/or frametime inconsistency issues related to the loot windows and cutscene stutter whereby Frame Generation disables itself for a moment resulting a frametime hitch on-screen. I can observe the hitch on my RTSS overlay graph if I enable Frame Generation and open a loot window after killing a machine, but the on-screen rendering performance remains unaffected. Cutscenes for me are smooth with no stuttering observed.

It could well be that the 4090 is powering through any underlying issue, although reading overall feedback on the game from the same forums paints a picture that shows excellent performance generally speaking.

Gameplay

The gameplay mechanics are unchanged from Zero Dawn, so if you liked that, then you'll be right at home here. What is different, though, is how much more enjoyable Forbidden West is now. I mentioned earlier that I got bored of Zero Dawn 9.5 hours into the quest, mainly due to the landscape traversal not feeling as dynamic as it does in the 2nd game. Each area you visit feels like its own biome, the verticality is exploited better I feel here too giving more room to explore without getting bored.

Horizon Forbidden West PC Review

I also enjoy the combat more than in the first. The machine AI feels more brutal than before, something about them makes it a bit more challenging this time round requiring some pre-planning and on-the-fly strategy which is fun.

Horizon Forbidden West PC Review

Overall, the key word is fun. There are a lot of parkour elements in Forbidden West, lots of exploring and crafting but once you're levelled up, you're good to go.

One thing that cannot be avoided, though, is the handholding when doing certain things like climbing. Aloy will always move or reach for the correct path; you never have to second-guess. Some may like this as it takes the tedious nature out of climbing, which is often the case in other games, but others want total control, which I can understand, too.

Horizon Forbidden West PC Review

One part of the mechanics I don't like is that disable the double tap of a direction key to dash/roll is on by default, I recommend turning this off in the mouse/keyboard settings. One too many times I have double-tapped by accident only to roll off a cliff or high point inside a cavern somewhere.

The combat is excellent, and with a mouse and keyboard, this is amplified even further. Playing on an ultrawide monitor helps with added immersion, thanks to the extra field of view. It feels like this is the way this game is meant to be played.

Horizon Forbidden West PC

Verdict

With Nixxes doing the porting, a level of polish was always to be expected given the track record for solid PC ports, but the lack of pre-launch reviews and radio silence other than the PC system requirements did fill many minds with some concern, was it going to be another Zero Dawn with technical issues at launch?

Thankfully expectations were exceeded, and I find myself needing to nitpick to find faults in an otherwise excellent PC port of an already excellent PS5 title. We now get to play this game in ultrawide, with high framerates at much better resolutions.

Horizon Forbidden West PC Review

So, what are the flaws? There are a few, and these are not anything to do with Nixxes. The main ones are screen space shadows and reflections. These are implemented in the base game in such a way that in general they look great, but as a PC gamer they do catch the eye as you're walking past certain regular scenes in the game.

Take, for instance, water reflections, as you move the camera around a large body of water, the typical flaw in screen space reflections rears its ugly head:

Horizon Forbidden West PC Review

See how reflections of the distant scenery disappear? This is a common theme in all games using screen space reflections, some worse than others.

I would also have liked to have seen more options on where the camera is placed behind Aloy. There seems to be only two options to select, left sided and dynamic. In various games you can press a keybind which cycles camera placement behind the character, there is no keybind setting for this in Forbidden West. On an ultrawide display, this would have been incredibly handy at times.

Horizon Forbidden West Camera Position

Screen space shadows also exhibit a more subtle side effect at times. In the GIF below, I zoom into a dark area of the rocks where no light is entering; simply zooming into it brightens up the crevice. This same effect is observed to a greater degree in larger scenes, like entering a dark cave when it's daylight outside. I have also seen NPC shadows vanish right in front of me, only to re-appear as the camera pans around, this is especially repeatable in the Plainsong area.

Horizon Forbidden West PC Review

Other than that, an excellent new release for PC gamers to enjoy, and if this is a sign of what future PC ports look like then I'll be very happy indeed.

Update - 2024.03.29

Nixxes has released a patch this week which looks to fix a number of reported issues. The patch brings the game version to 1.0.43.0 and the release notes state:

  • Various crash fixes and stability improvements.
  • Resolved an issue that prevented players from claiming rewards at the Hunting Grounds when using the mouse.
  • The HDR Max Luminance slider is now functioning correctly.
  • The game is now able to save when the Documents folder is rerouted to the root of a drive instead of a folder.
  • DLSS 3 Frame Generation is now active in cutscenes and while UI screens such as the weapon wheel are displayed.
  • Photo Mode now shows the correct ‘Hide UI’ button prompt when using a controller.
  • Fixed a bug that could result in multiple Quest categories being highlighted at the same time.
  • Resolved a bug that caused a mouse cursor offset on the map on resolutions other than 1920x1080 pixels.

Verdict
8
Excellent
Horizon Forbidden West (PC)
Pros
Excellent optimisation across the board Fun combat and gameplay Great use of all upscalers Immersive cinematics thanks to ultrawide
Cons
Transition shadows can be jarring Water reflections can be jarring No sharpness slider for any upscaler Lack of camera position options
Price
£49.99 / $59.99
Release
Now

 

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