If there’s one regard Horizon Forbidden West should be deemed Horizon Forbidden Best, it’s the optional stuff. Every side quest in the game culminates with a meaningful reward. In some cases, you get a cool weapon or set of armor. In others, you’ll catch a narrative denouement richer than what the main story has in store.
but Horizon Forbidden West is massive. After 60 hours, I’ve yet to even come across all of the possible optional activities. That’s to say nothing of the fact that there are—and this is not an exaggeration—15 different categories of side questsfrom fetch quest errands to platforming-focused cauldrons to combat-heavy activities like hunting grounds other the arena. Look: Time is precious. Indecision is very real, especially when you’re staring, stumped, at a bible-length quest log. If you’re looking to prioritize, here are the side quests you absolutely should not miss.
Mild spoilers for Horizon Forbidden West follow—nothing plot-essential, just some decoding of the game’s mysteries.
Shadow From the Past (Level 7)
Where to start it: In Barren Light, on the ramparts by the gate, by talking to a guard posted up outside a jail cell
Some of Horizon Forbidden West’s best side-quests don’t take place in a vacuum. They’re quest chains: If you start one, it’ll kick off a series of smaller missions that comprise one continuous narrative. The first can’t-miss chain starts with “Shadow of the Past,” which centers around the Eclipse—an antagonistic faction from the first game, Horizon Zero Dawn—and neatly wraps a lingering narrative thread. It’s a treat for those who played, and loved, Zero Dawn.
Plainsong is one of Horizon Forbidden West’s most striking locales, and is a hub area for the start of many side-quests. Screenshot: Sony / Kotaku
The Roots That Bind (Level 15)
Where to start it: In Plainsong, by interacting with an NPC on one of the upper-level platforms
Horizon Forbidden West’s open world is so vast that you could easily miss swathes of it if you don’t take on certain side-quests. “The Roots That Bind” is one of those, sending you on an escapade through the mountains north of Plainsong, Horizon’s first main hub city. It’s also one of the most wide-ranging side-quests in terms of gameplay, featuring two tough fights, a lengthy platforming section, and a rare stealth segment.
Thirst For the Hunt (Level 17)
Where to start it: By talking to Drakka, in the Arrowhand settlement, just southwest of The Base
Most quest chains in Horizon Forbidden West follow a linear path. But the one that starts with “Thirst For the Hunt”—in which you have to help two divergent facts of a desert-dwelling tribe source water—culminates in a mission where the ball is put in your court: You have to make a decision at the end that shifts how the narrative wraps up. And yes, echoing what you’d find in, say, a classic BioWare game, the choice is not an easy one.
Opening the Arena (Level 18)
Where to start it: In the Maw of the Arena city (you’ll get there via the story)
“Opening the arena” is a fetch quest (boooo) that grants you access to the arena (yay!), easily one of Horizon Forbidden West’s most entertaining side activities. Not only do you get to run unique combat challenges amid increasingly difficult parameters, you’ll also open up a storefront that gives you access to some of the strongest bows and outfits in the game.
Cauldrons are platforming-centric dungeons broken up by combat encounters…and weird future-techno doors that only open for Aloy’s future-techno spear. Screenshot: Sony / Kotaku
Cauldron: Iota (Level 22)
Where to start it: Head northeast from Salt Bite until you hit the northern border of the map
Horizon Forbidden West handles an open-world convention (climb the tall thing to defog the map) in an unconventional manner (the tall thing is a walking dinosaur called a tall neck). Smack in the center of the map, you’ll see a tallneck for the Shining wastes region. One catch: You can’t summit it until way, way later in the game, when you unlock an upgrade that I am going to stay silent on because it’s so damn cool you should experience the moment cold. If you want to defog that area of the map, clear the “Cauldron: Iota” mission.
What Was Lost (Level 30)
Where to start it: In The Base, but not until you’re pretty far into the game (as evidenced by the level pre-req)
Few missions are more frustrating than “What Was Lost.” You retread a dungeon you’ve already covered. You fight a boss you’ve already fought—twice. But the narrative payoff here is among the sweetest in the game. Horizon Forbidden West is ultimately hopeful, but it’s set in a day, unforgiving, relentlessly brutal post-apocalypse. Take the shining moments when you can get ’em. (Also you get some rare crafting components that’d be a pain to source otherwise.)
Learning Machine Strike (Level N/A)
Where to start it: In Chainscrape, by talking to the person at the “Machine Strike” board
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and, just being up front here, likely again and again and again): The “Machine Strike” tactical mini-game is a revelation. Don’t miss it.