Horizon Forbidden West nails its open world by making every side quest matter

Horizon Forbidden West
(Image credit: Sony)

Horizon Forbidden West's side quests are enthralling. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the side quests in Horizon Forbidden West are among the best I've come across in any RPG I've ever played. Every single one is well thought out and meaningful in some way, making me feel like I'm having an impact on the world outside of the main story. In big open-world settings, it can often be overwhelming when presented with so many things to do and see. And while Aloy's adventure certainly has its share of errands, points of interest, and collectibles, even the smallest tasks feel worthwhile. 

As someone who's greatly intrigued by the history of the world Guerrilla Games has created, I relish the chance to learn more by exploring relic ruins, and every time I finish a smaller errand or side quest, I feel like I've gained something  - be a better understanding of the setting or a useful reward. As a result, I've spent the majority of my time so far in Horizon Forbidden West actively delaying my pursuit of the main story for as long as I can. After all, when the side quests are this enjoyable, it's no surprise I find myself wanting to seek out more.

There are some spoilers ahead for an early Horizon Forbidden West side quest, The Roots that Bind. 

Close encounters

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: Sony)

One Horizon Forbidden West side quest I can't stop thinking about revolves around the Utaru tribe in an area known as Plainsong. After finishing up a mini-questline in the opening portion of the adventure, I could hardly wait to see what awaited me here. Following an encounter with an Utaru local known as Nel, I was assigned the quest 'The Roots that Bind', and was initially tasked with venturing north to take on a group of attacking rebels. On the surface, I must admit, it didn't sound especially notable as far as side quests go. 

When I met Kue after the fight, though, the whole thing took a more meaningful turn that carried significant weight. Every Utaru wears a small pouch of seeds they're given at birth that is important to them, I came to learn, which are then planted at death. The seeds are how the tribe remember their loved ones and "celebrate their place in the cycle". Kue spoke of a small white flower his daughter called Wintersong that she carried right up until her last breath. Now, those flowers are planted in the earth of Riverhym, the location I had just helped to protect, and I quickly realised how much this place means to Kue and the others. The fight I'd just helped them win against the rebels suddenly felt like it had real purpose. And, after hearing such a story, I was all the more invested in seeing out the rest of the quest.

When it comes to great side quests, the best examples are often those that hold meaning – they aren't just included for the sake of offering you something else to do. Mass Effect 2 delivers in this respect thanks to its high-stakes suicide mission, for example, whereby every side quest you do as Commander Shepard to recruit and help out your crew increases your chances of survival - which in turn brings added weight and a real purpose to everything you do. The Witcher 3 also includes fantastic, in-depth side quests that were all too easy to get invested in thanks to their engrossing storytelling; whereas Red Dead Redemption 2's random encounters make its Wild West setting feel so alive. 

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: Sony)

"What really sets the side quests apart is the way the world reacts to your involvement with them."

Horizon Forbidden West's side quests are memorable for the stories they tell, how significant they often feel, and the manner in which they build a more complete picture of the setting and its people. But what really sets the side quests apart is the way the world reacts to your involvement with them. Depending on the nature of the side quest, there are times when you can return to a location and see how your actions have impacted the area and its residents. The missions you've completed can even come up in conversation with people you meet later down the line, which reinforces the idea that what you're doing has an impact – so much so, that others are taking notice. 

As a big fan of RPGs, I'm certainly no stranger to filler quests that puff out big sprawling worlds. I think that's why I've especially enjoyed exploring Horizon Forbidden West. Everything feels like it has a purpose, a meaning. A lot of the side quests I've encountered so far in Horizon Forbidden West play out like the Roots that Bind. I think they'll go one way, but I end up being completely taken aback by just how much depth there is to each story. When I returned to Riverhym a short while later, I stood before the white flowers Kue spoke of. Knowing the meaning behind those flowers made my efforts worthwhile – a small detail that let me know I'd successfully helped protect a place that truly matters to those who reside there. 

Starting off the adventure for yourself? Check out these Horizon Forbidden West tips for toppling technological titans.

Heather Wald
Senior staff writer

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.