Should You Play Horizon Zero Dawn Before Horizon Forbidden West?

The anticipated first round of reviews for "Horizon Forbidden West" dropped today, including our own, detailing a fantastic game that also happens to be one of the earliest examples of a first-party PlayStation 5 title. Given the high marks from reviewers, many gamers are likely tempted to dive into the new title on Friday, February 18, when it is released to the public.

While we are sure many of those people have already played its predecessor "Horizon Zero Dawn," there are probably some who still haven't gotten around to it yet. That begs the question: does one need to play "Horizon Zero Dawn" before firing up the new title? Obviously, if you want to start at "Horizon Forbidden West" without first playing "Horizon Zero Dawn," no one can stop you. With that said, is a playthrough of the older game necessary to understand the sequel's story, or are these two standalone games?

The answer is simple

The short answer to this question is an emphatic "yes." These are not standalone games, and "Horizon Forbidden West" is a direct sequel to "Horizon Zero Dawn." That means the events of the first game lead into the events of the second, so if "Horizon Forbidden West" is your entry point for the series, you're going to be missing a lot of context for what happens in the sequel.

It isn't just story context that you miss out on, either. While Aloy meets plenty of new characters in "Horizon Forbidden West," there are a number of returning faces, as well, and without playing the first game, you'll have no idea who these people are or why they're important to the character. Conversations between Aloy and returning characters make plenty of references to the events of the first game, so without that prior knowledge, you'll likely be completely lost by a number of the dialogue segments.

You should play Horizon Zero Dawn anyway

If today's mostly positive reviews of "Horizon Forbidden West" have you caught up in the hype but you've yet to play "Horizon Zero Dawn," this is the perfect time to dive in. "Horizon Zero Dawn" is a fantastic game in its own right and stands on its own as a title that's well worth playing.

Part of what netted "Horizon Forbidden West" its high score is its rich sci-fi world, but that's shared with "Horizon Zero Dawn." The first game in the trilogy does a very good job of establishing that world and immersing you in it, and by the time I was finished playing it, I wanted more. Thankfully, with "Horizon Forbidden West" on the, well, horizon, that won't be a problem for those who are just beginning their journey with the franchise, as the game will still be waiting there when you finish up "Horizon Zero Dawn." If you like open-world titles and sci-fi stories, playing through "Horizon Zero Dawn" and its sequel – in that order – should be a priority for you.