While Horizon Zero Dawn was a wonderful debut entry from Guerrilla Games — a studio that was entering all-new territory with an open world action RPG — it did have its flaws. Built up towns were one of them; they looked cool from a distance, but had little to do once you got inside. Horizon Forbidden West goes to lengths to solve that with much more interesting settlements to explore. To that end, it's borrowed a fairly common RPG trope: an optional, in-universe mini-game you can enjoy in your downtime. For this game, it's something called Machine Strike.
Machine Strike is a pastime invented (and predominantly played) by the Tenakth tribe, which populates much of the titular Forbidden West. It's a strategic board game that, at least at first glance, bears similarity to Chess — two players take turns to traverse a grid-based board, moving and attacking opposing pieces. However, it's clear even in the tutorial that this is quite different from the classic we all know.
For starters, the board itself can feature any combination of different terrains. There are six terrain types, all affecting the playing pieces that occupy them in various ways. The main thing you need to worry about is how they change a piece's Combat Power, which is essentially a piece's attack or defence. The pieces themselves all resemble Forbidden West's many machines, and each one has unique properties you can use to your advantage. They also look really cool — little wooden representations of the bots you've been busting out in the open world.
After creating a set — you can use virtually any combination of pieces up to a maximum level of value — the game begins, and you can position them anywhere you like on the nearest two rows. What follows is a turn-based battle for control of territory, and a race to collect 7 Victory Points, earned by defeating opposing machines. A couple of key takeaways. One: it's a complex game, perhaps even a little too complex for what it is. Two: once you know what you're doing, it's pretty darn fun.
Each machine has its own range of movement, range of attack, hit points, and attack power. Additionally, some pieces may have unique Skills that affect terrains or other pieces in various ways. We won't go into absolutely every detail here, as there's quite a lot to wrap your head around. Thankfully, the game does a good job of teaching you all you need to know with some tutorials, and each piece has Notes you can peruse to understand how it works. Once you're up to speed, there are several NPCs dotted across the map that will challenge you to Machine Strike at varying levels of difficulty.
The strategy starts before the game itself does. When selecting a challenge to play, you'll see the board, which tells you what terrains it features, and your opponent's set of pieces. With this knowledge, you can create a set that excels on certain terrains, or that has machines with certain Skills you know will work well. When the game does kick off, you place your pieces down and begin a tactical dance; you want to eliminate the other pieces, but you don't want to leave yourself in a bad position afterwards. It's an engaging and thoughtful game that rewards tactical thinking and careful positioning.
With quite a lot to think about, it can be a little overwhelming sometimes. Terrain really does make a big difference, and more advanced manoeuvres like Overcharging or Sprinting can make or break the round. Things can very quickly take a turn, even against the Beginner level opponents — you might have an early lead, but if you fail to consider weak spots, differences in terrain, Skills, movement ranges, and more, defeat can come very swiftly. Like any game of this ilk, you need to read the board and proceed with care.
In the early goings, you'll only have a few, rather basic, machines with which to play, but you can unlock and purchase more as you progress in Forbidden West. Later pieces have more interesting Skills that can literally alter the playing field, as well as larger attack powers and health pools. However, using the more advanced pieces comes with a risk. Generally speaking, the more powerful a piece, the more Victory Points it's worth to defeat. You need to get 7 Victory Points before your opponent to win, and some pieces are worth more than 7 just on their own. When setting up, these pieces also cost more to bring into the game, meaning you'll have fewer pieces on the board. Do you go all-in on a couple of high power pieces, or spread your set out with weaker but more numerous ones?
The answer is a balance, of course, but with so many other variables to consider, it can, again, feel a little more complicated than it needs to be. In practice, though, all it really amounts to is bearing in mind how your pieces attack and watching the numbers with care as Combat Powers and other stats move up and down. Oh, and if you're really struggling, a glossary is accessible at any time, so you can explore all the rules at a button press. It's good fun — a more cerebral activity than launching dozens of arrows into robotic armadillos. We certainly appreciate the effort Guerrilla has gone to here, establishing Machine Strike as a part of the world, and making it a more detailed and layered mini-game than necessary.
We'd definitely encourage you to give it a try; the fact it's quite complex with all its varying stats and whatnot might sound scary, but it doesn't take too long to get used to it. Plus, you gain a bit of money, some new Machine Strike pieces, and even some Skill Points if you can defeat the in-game opponents, so it's not for nothing, either. If you're curious to learn more about the game's intricacies and all the playing pieces, we've compiled a guide: Horizon Forbidden West: Machine Strike - All Pieces and How to Play.
Have you sampled Machine Strike in Horizon Forbidden West yet? What do you make of it so far? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, and for much more on the game, do check out our comprehensive Horizon Forbidden West guide.