Horizon Forbidden West, Guerrilla Games’ sumptuous homage to the concept of lens flare, is massive—so massive, in fact, that it doesn’t have a skill tree. Nope, it has six.
In Horizon Forbidden West, you play as Aloy, a young woman with deadeye bow proficiency. You can amplify Aloy’s toolkit across half a dozen categories: warrior (beefs up proficiency at close-quarters combat), trapper (makes traps on the battlefield a bit more effective), hunter (essentially the catch-all tree), survivor (helps Aloy stay alive longer), infiltrator (unlocks wetwork tech and abilities worthy of Mission Impossible), and machine master (train robot dinosaurs as if they’re Pokémon).
Read More: Kotaku’s review of Horizon Forbidden West
Each individual tree, save for the trapper one, has more than two dozen individual skills three broad, conveniently size-organized categories:
- The small, circular nodes confer passive boosts. These sometimes show up multiple times in a skill tree, or as perks affiliated with certain sets of armor. The bonuses stack.
- The large, triangular nodes are active abilities, typically weapon techniques that eat up stamina, which recharges automatically, and quickly.
- The slightly larger, just-as-triangular but also upside-down nodes are so-called “valor surges,” extremely powerful game-changers intended to get you out of a pinch. (Were Aloy part of a MOBA’s roster, valor surges would be her “ult.”) You build up a valor meter by defeating enemies. Once full, you can press R1 to activate whichever valor surge you’ve equipped. They can be leveled up twice.
Horizon Forbidden West awards skill points at a rapid clip—you get them for leveling up, yes, but also for completing nearly every type of activity, from main missions down to optional mini-games—but it’ll take you a long time to fill out the tree. For perspective: By the time I rolled the credits, 50-odd hours in, I’d unlocked maybe two-thirds of the available skills. What’s more, once unlocked, there’s no way to remap skills, which makes mapping out your build from the jump all the more imperative. To that end, here are the 10 you should unlock as soon as you can.
Overshield, a valor surge, is exactly: It gives you a temporary shield. At first, it’s nothing more than a temporary overcharge to your health meter, but when it’s maxed out, it’ll grant you 400 bonus health, deflect a fifth of all melee damage, and explode when depleted, dealing shock damage to any nearby enemies. Overshield is particularly advantageous at early levels, when your health reserves are so low that activating it can essentially double your health bar—well, until you run out of valor.
Whether or not you plan on rocking a stealthy build, you’ll want to invest in stealth stalker, a valor surge that temporarily cloaks you. It’s a moderately helpful valor surge for combat, sure. If things get hectic, you can pop it on and disappear from sight, giving you a chance to catch your breath. (In my experience, I’ve found it more effective against machines than humans.) But it’s an enormously helpful surge to activate outside of combat. For one, it allows you to lay out traps without risk of detection. For another, it’s invaluable for the rare mission—including one in which you have to tail a robot pterodactyl undetected—that demands a quieter approach.
You can technically heal yourself in Horizon Forbidden West by drinking potions, but those require precious resources to craft and take a few seconds to consume. It’s far more helpful to heal yourself using the game’s signature healing mechanic: By tapping up on the directional pad, you’ll consume berries from your pouch. The healing works automatically in the background, meaning you can still move, dodge, and attack while restoring health. Plant forager increases the amount of resources you earn from Horizon’s scavangeable vegetation—like the vivid blue medicinal plants—so you get two berries rather than one. It’s a time-saver while exploring, sure, but it’s a life-saver while in the middle of a fight, ensuring you needn’t spend battles plucking every individual plant just to survive.
Braced shot is a blast—literally. Nothing helped me throughout Horizon Forbidden West more than this combat ability, which is so good it should probably be treated like one of the words in the game’s title. Braced shot turns any equipped sharpshot bows—the long-range, slow-firing class that act like snipers—into a rocket launcher. By aiming your sharpshot and holding R1, you’ll tee up an arrow affixed with a small bomb on the end. The longer you hold R1 down, the more ammo it eats up, but the more damage it does, too, even taking out some low-level enemies in a single hit when fully charged. Braced shot depletes about half of your stamina meter per use, but you can always invest in stamina-boosting skills later to make up the difference.
Once you’ve unlocked both levels of quick trapper, a perk that decreases the amount of time it takes to set up a trap, you can place traps down in a second flat. Defeating high-level machines is contingent on placing the right traps in the right spot and hightailing it back into cover. A fun quirk about those high-level machines: They always seem to turn around right at the worst possible moment. Best to minimize the amount of time you’re in the open.
At first, Aloy’s pool of melee attacks is fairly limited, consisting of two moves—a light attack and a heavy attack—and exactly zero combos. But pouring skill points into the warrior tree can open up several combos, the most helpful of which is nora warrior. Once unlocked, you can string three light attacks into a heavy attack for a combo that can knock smaller enemies over. After an enemy is knocked over, you can tap R1 for a critical strike, a spear attack that deals significant damage (and does even more if you choose to invest in the warrior tree’s critical strike+ skill).
Horizon Forbidden West features a Bullet Time of sorts for its arsenal of bows and arrows. Personally, I call it Bowlet Time, but the game officially deems this ability concentration. By zooming in, you can slow down time for a few seconds. You can improve the perk’s efficacy via three skills, all of which are found in the hunter tree: deep concentration, which causes your Bowlet Time to drain less quickly; concentration regen, which minimizes how long it takes to recharge; and concentration+, which increases your total reserves. Horizon Forbidden West’s aiming can be finicky, especially in hectic fights. You’re better off spending as much time as you can in slow motion, where it’s easier to land precise shots.
You’ll quickly find a ropecaster, which allows you to tie down, and thus immobilize, most machines. The weapon is far more effective with penetrating rope ability. Though it eats up a lot of stamina, you attach ropes to any part of a machine, and you can do so without having to waste time fully drawing the bowstring back, giving your target an opportunity to move out of the way. Plus, penetrating rope doesn’t eat up any ammo. (Ropecaster ammo is among the most resource-intensive in the game.) You don’t need to have this move in your toolkit right off the bat, but take it from me: Once you hit the point where flying enemies are par for the course, you’ll definitely wish you had it.
You can’t go wrong with any of the above (he said, endorsing the advice he’d already loudly endorsed). But again, there’s no way to reallocate any skill points once they’re assigned. My suggestion is to wait until you make it to Barren Light, Forbidden West’s first real settlement, just so you get an idea of how you play and figure out which skills you should unlock to support that play style.
And if you’re looking to build out your skill tree fast, focus on the relic ruins, environmental puzzles devoid of any combat. Each one rewards you with two free skill points, plus a whopping 5,000 XP, which is essentially a free level-up in the early goings. Fair warning, though: Some relic ruins are total stumpers, and sadly, there’s no skill that makes ‘em any easier.