Horizon Forbidden West is an extremely deep game with limitless options for customizing your beast-slaying experience. Perhaps one of its most intricate facets involves upgrading Aloy by unlocking a dizzying number of skills spread across six different skill trees. Below, we outline our personal pick for an incredible melee-focused build while pointing out critical alternate buffs that may be worth the investment. There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to skills in the Forbidden West, so let’s get right down to it.
Horizon Forbidden West surprising melee build
Horizon Forbidden West is marketed and sold as a game focused on ranged attacks with Aloy’s trusty bow, but, in our playthrough of the campaign, we were surprised by just how effective our heroine’s melee attacks truly were. The series’ developers at Guerilla Games spent lots of time trying to make melee better in the second installment, and they largely succeeded in doing so.
Whether we were squaring off against human or beast, the loop of charging our staff and unloading a powerful heavy attack did monstrous amounts of damage even against late-game bosses.
Given this discovery, we decided to go all-in on melee for a single build just to see how it played. But, because we were going to be fighting up close and personal with most of our foes, we split our attention towards the health-focused Survivor tree too. As it turns out, creating one of the game’s most surprisingly good builds involves dumping almost all your points into these two trees while occasionally making sure your ranged buffs are being taken care of in the Hunter tree.
As long as you complete a moderate amount of side quests and Rebel Outposts in addition to narrative missions, you’ll be able to nearly max out these two combat styles midway through the campaign.
The end results for doing so are truly awesome. You’ll be whacking down the game’s toughest monsters in just a few hits, and you’ll have access to some totally broken Valor Surges that emphasize those strengths even more. Here’s a summary of what you can expect:
- Resonator attacks that shred opponents and still make use of long-range strategies.
- Massive amounts of melee damage with additional buffs when health is low.
- You’ll knock down machines often and will be able to kill them instantly with a Critical Strike.
- You'll almost always have plenty of healing berries and can gather more instantly.
- Valor Surge - Toughened vs Melee Might: Based on the combat condition, you can choose to give yourself temporary unlimited health or one-hit melee kills with ridiculous damage.
Playing Forbidden West from a melee perspective will no doubt look and feel different from the footage you may have seen during past gameplay trailers, but it’s absolutely viable if you don’t feel confident in your precision behind a bow. It may seem like a risk to have such a lopsided build, but it can also serve as a relentlessly powerful strategy for newcomers.
Other skills worth considering within and outside melee
Not everyone is going to feel comfortable taking such a one-sided approach, which is precisely why we’ve scoured each of the game’s six skill trees to point out other essential skills worth building toward if you have the points to spare.
Our mindset in this list rests on the belief that Forbidden West is much more a game about stat buffs and much less about specialized abilities. Each tree has its share of specific combat maneuvers or combo breakers, but we haven’t found one that seems truly essential on average difficulty levels. It’s possible that virtuosos of the game’s combat system may uncover unique uses we couldn’t, but we found the more all-encompassing benefit of a stat boost allowed our Aloy to keep feeling increasingly more powerful the longer we played.
Here are some of the buffs we liked from the first tree.
- Resonator Boost/damage
- Melee Damage
- Power Attack+
- Critical Strike+
- Valor Surge Melee Might
As was true in our favorite melee build above, these buffs ensure Aloy does lots of damage with her Resonator attacks and shreds when it comes to heavy combat and Critical Strikes. Melee Might provides a damage boost up to 300 percent, as well as instant knockdowns for you to do even more damage with your souped-up strikes. As long as you have potions to compensate for the damage you’ll likely take, it’s a devastating Valor Surge.
We didn’t experiment much with traps while playing Horizon Forbidden West, but there are some players who swear by them despite the feature being somewhat nerfed in the sequel. If you still want to live that life, here are a few skills to focus on.
- Skilled Salvager
- Quick Trapper
- Trap Limit
These baseline buffs ensure you’re getting enough resources to craft traps and that you’re able to carry as much as possible. Unfortunately you can’t make limitless traps this time, so you’ll have to use them sparingly. This limitation makes the Trap Specialist Valor Surge not as essential as it could be. However, if you find comfort in this playstyle despite the quantity nerfs, there’s no denying how effective traps can be against seriously powerful foes.
Hunter is the ranged combat skill tree, which means any good build in Forbidden West should devote a moderate amount of attention toward unlocking these essential buffs.
- Deep Concentration
- Ammo Expert
- Concentration Regen
- Valor Surge Master
- Valor Surge: Ranged Master
With these skills established, you’ll be able to hit enemies in their weak spots more effectively, and you’ll have more time to do so. You’ll also buff any active Valor Surge, which is a really nice benefit to have that’s useful across the other five trees. As for Ranged Master, offering health recovery on every hit is a decent perk to equip when you’re inside dungeon areas that don’t have medicinal plants to harvest.
If you’re the type of player that takes lots of hits, the Survivor tree becomes immensely valuable. We liked it enough to max out the whole thing, but here are a few must-have skills for those who prefer to build a bit more restrained.
- Medicine Proficiency
- Low Health Defense
- Plant Forager. More resources from plants.
- Medicine Capacity
- Valor Surge: Toughened
These skills ensure you have lots of medicine for healing and that it’s effective when used. We also maintain that Toughened just might be the most OP Valor Surge in the game, offering crazy health regen and resistance to almost anything that comes your way. It’s like having infinite health. Everyone should use it.
Considering how much faith we placed in melee and limitless health, it’s no surprise we weren’t big on stealth in our playthrough of Forbidden West. That said, there are a few skills here that are worth investigating anyway.
- Silent Strike Heal
- Low Profile less visible
- Valor Surge: Radial Blast
Silent Strike Heal is yet another perk worth keeping in your arsenal during sequences when it’s not possible to harvest medicinal berries. The Low Profile skill aids that playstyle a bit more. As for Radial Blast, it’s basically the only good AoE attack in the entire game. During close-quarters sections when surrounded by human foes, this ability lets you bust through the noise with gusto.
We know there’s also a Machine Master tree, but, because so many of its biggest advantages focused on mounts, we didn’t see anything here as being absolutely necessary. Once everything else is set up the way you like it, it seems like Machine Master might be best suited for some end-game fun.