The Horizon series has a knack for bad timing. When series debut Horizon Zero Dawn released, Breath of the Wild came out mere days later. Last year, when Horizon Forbidden West came out, Elden Ring was on its heels days after. Now, it seems, Horizon is overshadowing itself.
It’s been just over a year since Forbidden West came out and, aside from the recently released Horizon Call of the Mountain for PlayStation VR 2, the franchise is largely sitting idly.
Sure, Horizon Forbidden West’s DLC Burning Shores is set to come out in April. But that’ll be more than a year after the game’s release. It’s also taken second string to the aforementioned PS VR2 launch Call of the Mountain. Giving players their first taste of Horizon in so long via Call of the Mountain pins the series’ fortunes on the highly unproven power of the PS VR2’s ability to draw in players. Given that the first PS VR was nowhere near as successful as Meta’s Quest lineup, it’s a risk, to say the least.
“Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores sees Aloy pursue a sinister threat in the untamed wilds of Los Angeles, now a treacherous volcanic archipelago,” reads the description of the announcement trailer for the upcoming DLC. The trailer also shows us a Horus—a creation of the 21st century that helped bring about the end of the civilization of its time by replicating monsters that would in turn devour the world around them—fully animated and looking angry. This appears to be the natural big bad of Burning Shores.
Burning Shores also breaks from Horizon Forbidden West as a PlayStation 5 exclusive. The main game it’s tied to came out on both PS4 and PS5. Although it’s worth noting that it finally seems to be much easier to snag one of the new consoles these days, that’s still not an insignificant portion of players left out.
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About a third of physical Forbidden West sales were for the PS4, according to Gamesindustry.biz. Digital owners can download either the PS4 or PS5 version automatically. And owners of physical PS4 copies receive free upgrades for the PS5 version, so the figures on old-gen physical discs don’t tell the full story. Yet, it’s highly unlikely that every PS4 player has since made the jump.
Chatter around Forbidden West has died down to a whisper. And when it picks up again, some fans will inevitably be left out of the conversation entirely.
Almost as quickly as talk of Forbidden West being a Game of the Year contender began, it was replaced with talk about Elden Ring. Only one of those predictions came true.
Sure enough, Forbidden West snagged myriad nominations, including for Game of the Year at multiple award ceremonies, but the only win it seems to have gotten is Best Storytelling from the Golden Joystick Awards. (Disclosure: I am a voting member of the New York Videogame Critics Circle, which holds the New York Games Awards, where Forbidden West was nominated in three categories.)
This isn’t all down to timing. After all, these awards look at releases from an entire year. But the lack of accolades sure didn’t help ignite much interest or conversation, and there didn’t seem to be much uproar over Forbidden West being overlooked. Instead, the game was forgotten, garnering neither recognition nor controversy.
Horizon Forbidden West has fallen from its peak of 224,509 Twitch viewers to a paltry average of 227 views over the last week, according to Twitch Tracker. Elden Ring, meanwhile, has experienced a significant drop since its big launch numbers, but it still managed to bring in an average of 17,019 viewers in the last week. Its rank at 26 a year out from launch, while Forbidden West comes in at 363.
This isn’t to say that Horizon isn’t a popular franchise. People, myself included, love both games. It’s also a AAA Sony exclusive, with the budget and prestige to match, and it’s got a solid 88 on Metacritic. But it could be so much more. God of War (2018), another Sony exclusive (though it’s since made its way to PC) has more average viewers and ranks higher among the most popular Twitch games than Forbidden West. It does have its own recent sequel, God of War Ragnarök, possibly giving it a boost, but Forbidden West should be able to hold its own against a five-year-old title.
However, all that could change now that Forbidden West has joined the PS Plus library this week. PS Plus allows subscribers to access games from its ever-changing library at no extra cost, and it can allow many who held off previously to finally dive in. There already appears to be a slight uptick in Twitch numbers, but that data point can’t show us how many more people are playing the game, just who’s watching streams of it.
This is where we stand in February 2023, feasting on crumbs. A PS Plus addition here. A PS VR2 game there. We wait as we see Horizon Forbidden West’s Burning Shores DLC on the horizon, excuse the pun.
Zero Dawn and Forbidden West’s overshadowings, from Breath of the Wild and Elden Ring respectively, cannot be changed. And the franchise has largely thrived in spite of those ill-timed releases, but now, the series needs to get out of its own way to break through the gaming landscape, which will never be anything but crowded. Let Burning Shores shine. Wow us. Remind us why we went on those journeys with Aloy, why we fell in love with its hellscape of a world, why we’ve delved into the lore and narrative with vigor.
If Horizon isn’t able to breathe life into its franchise, the passion fans do have for it might just burn out.