Horizon Forbidden West: The Best Skills and Builds

Horizon Forbidden West encourages you to pursue a variety of playstyles, but some of Aloy's best skills truly stand apart.

Horizon Forbidden West
Photo: PlayStation Studios

Like so many other games with a skill point system, Horizon Forbidden West is designed to encourage you to experiment with a variety of playstyles and character build possibilities. However, it’s far more likely that you’ll find yourself staring hopelessly at the game’s six skill trees as you wonder (and worry) which unlockable skills are really the best.

So far as that goes, you’ll (probably) be happy to know that Forbidden West’s skill system is balanced in a way that makes it possible to thrive and survive regardless of how, exactly, you level your character. Unlike some games we may be talking about later this week, you don’t have to worry about making things harder on yourself because you built your character the “wrong way” or because you missed out on some incredible ability. 

That being said, there are a few skills in Forbidden West that stand apart from the pack as well as a few ways to improve your character that will help you overcome the game’s toughest challenges and offer something closer to an “optimized” build. 

Horizon Forbidden West: Every Skill Tree

Here are the six skill trees you’ll be working with in Forbidden West as well as a brief explanation of what each one essentially “does:”

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Warrior – The skills in this tree primarily affect Aloy’s melee abilities and general effectiveness in close-quarters combat. 

Trapper – The skills in this tree will help make your traps more powerful and more efficient. 

Hunter – This tree contains a variety of skills that will improve your long-range combat abilities as well as a few skills that will help you better manage the various resources you acquire. 

Survivor – The generally useful skills in this tree will help increase your defenses in combat as well as boost the effectiveness of the game’s various healing items. 

Infiltrator – This tree contains a variety of skills that will greatly enhance your stealth abilities as well as a few talents that will you better manage your combat resources. 

Machine Master – The skills in this tree boost the damage you do to machines, your ability to control them in combat, and your proficiency with heavy weapons. 

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Horizon Forbidden West: How to Earn Skill Points and Reach Max Level

Horizon Forbidden West‘s skill point system is really as simple as it can be (which is honestly kind of a problem in a few ways).

Every time you gain a level in Forbidden West, you’ll earn new skill points to spend. Leveling in the game is a pretty straightforward process (you’ll earn most of your XP by completing main quests and side quests), though you may choose to pursue a few of the game’s side activities (such as finding every Tallneck in the game) in order to level up a little faster and reach your optimized “build” a bit quicker.

While you’ll earn additional health points each time you reach a new level in Forbidden West, leveling up in this game doesn’t automatically make you “stronger” in any other way. The growth of your character is tied to how you spend the skill points you earn from reaching new levels.

Unfortunately, you eventually reach a “cap” at level 50 and currently can’t respec your character. That means that you will reach a point in the game when you’re not only unable to acquire additional skill points but will essentially be locked into the points you’ve already spent.

That being the case, it’s important to understand a few things about the “best” way to build your character in Forbidden West

Horizon Forbidden West: The Best Character Builds

I can honestly say that it’s not worth fretting over whether or not you’re playing Forbidden West with an optimized build. The game is not only well-balanced in terms of the usefulness of the various build possibilities, but you’re generally going to be better off utilizing a combination of skills, tactics, and weapons rather than relying on a specific playstyle that emphasizes one skill tree over all the others.

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Having said that, there are a few build styles in the game that will generally perform better than others as well as a few builds that you’ll need to consider early on if you’re going to work towards them by the time you reach the end of the game.

First off, I wouldn’t recommend trying a full melee build unless you’re willing to really commit to that playstyle or lower the difficulty setting. Melee combat is much better in Forbidden West than it was in Zero Dawn (and it’s great against those tricky human enemies), but maximizing your melee build is a slow process that doesn’t really start to pay off until the late game. It’s not impossible to play the game that way, but doing so requires you to acquire pretty much every Warrior skill available as well as a few Survivor skills. It’s just a limited style that is best pursued by those who really love the melee combat system.

Along those same lines, you’ll probably also find that it’s worth investing in your bow over your spear. Not only does the bow tend to be more useful in the long run, but certain “melee skills” benefit from weaving in the occasional bow attack whereas ranged builds rarely ask you to use your spear outside of certain stealth abilities. 

It’s also somewhat tough to commit to a full “Machine Master build.” Whereas most of the game’s other skill trees offer generally useful skills that you can weave into a variety of playstyles, Machine Master skills generally ask you to commit to overriding machines and making that your main combat tactic. That’s certainly not impossible, but it’s a relatively strange way to play the game that also makes the encounters against human opponents feel even more awkward than they already do.

Your best bet is to focus on a few key passive/resource management abilities early on (we’ll talk about those more in a bit in the section below) before evenly distributing points across a few different combat tactics. So far as that goes, I highly recommend spending those early “combat points” on the Infiltrator and Hunter tress as you’ll probably be using those skills at some point regardless of how you choose to play the game.

You may also choose to spend more points in the Trapper tree after you acquire your key initial abilities, but even with a Trapper build, you’re going to want to spend quite a few points on stealth abilities and maybe a few points on Survivor and Hunter skills. All of those skill trees softly flow into each other in ways that make it hard to get the most out of one of them if you don’t invest a little into all of them.

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Basically, the best Survivor, Hunter, and Infiltrator skills are useful in the vast majority of situations whereas Trapper is a touch more specialized and Warrior and Machine Master are typically either barely touched or fully committed to.

Horizon Forbidden West: The Best Skills In the Game

While your choice of skills in Forbidden West will ultimately come down to your preferred playstyle, there are a few abilities in the game that are either worth building around or are worth getting regardless of what else you choose to do.

Stealth Stalker

This incredible skill grants you access to a cloaking device that won’t turn you completely invisible but will make it significantly more difficult for enemies to detect you. 

You’ll have to invest a few points into the Infiltrator tree to acquire this ability, but it’s worth it even if you’re not going for a “full stealth build.” This skill makes it much easier to weave stealth into your preferred playstyle (which you’ll probably want to do regardless of your personal play preference, as noted above), and you can even use it to escape a nasty combat situation from time to time. 

Braced Shot

This hilariously powerful skill basically lets you turn your arrows into rockets at the cost of some extra ammo and weapon stamina. 

You’re obviously going to get more out of this ability if you decide to invest in complementary skills that improve your weapon stamina regeneration and ammo crafting abilities (more on that in a bit), but the general power level of Forbidden West’s bow makes it easy to recommend this skill to pretty much everyone. 

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Nora Warrior

This basic Warrior tree skill unlocks a simple spear combo that makes it much easier to stagger enemies with a few well-timed melee strikes.

This is another one of those skills that you can acquire fairly early on and should probably do so regardless of whether or not you’re going for a “melee build.” There will be times when you’ll need to rely on your staff to get out of a tough situation, and this skill makes basic melee combat significantly more powerful than it would otherwise be. 

Resonator Blast

Resonator Blast is a key melee skill that allows you to charge and unleash a powerful spear blast that makes anything affected by it significantly more vulnerable to arrows. 

This is one of the earliest melee skills you can acquire, and it’s certainly one of the first “melee combat” skills you should invest a skill point into. It’s a core melee ability that also makes it much easier to rely on your bow during close combat situations. 

Ammo Expert

Ammo Expert is a passive boost ability that allows you to craft more ammunition with the same amount of resources. It’s about as simple as a skill in this game gets but don’t let that distract you from the fact that it’s a near-essential upgrade for all but a few builds. 

Unless you’re going for a full melee character (which, again, is kind of a tough sell), you’re going to be relying on your bow and similar ranged weapons to some degree, which means that you’re also going to want to craft ammo at some point. This early skill makes it significantly easier to craft additional ammunition and better manage your resources. 

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Medicine Capacity

Most Forbidden West players will quickly realize that they’re going to need to rely on the game’s Medicinal Berries regardless of whatever healing skills and items they end up acquiring as you progress through the game. They’re just a quick and efficient way to restore a little health in and out of combat. 

That’s why you’re probably going to want to spend a skill point or two on Medicine Capacity: an early skill that increased the number of Medicinal Berries you can carry in your pouch. It’s honestly hard to imagine not picking this skill up at some point.

Silent Strike Gain

Silent Strike Gain allows you to recover a little weapon stamina and gain some Valor whenever you execute a Silent Strike attack.

This ability is honestly a near necessity for the majority of Forbidden West builds. Weapon stamina and Valor are two of the most important combat resources in the game, and this is one of the best ways to contribute to those resources without having to go your of your way to change your tactics. 

Quick Trapper

If you’re not using Forbidden West’s traps in some capacity, you’re missing out on one of the best (and most useful) parts of the game’s combat system. 

Quick Trapper makes even basic traps even more useful than they already are by reducing the amount of time it takes you to set one. The ability to set traps almost instantly really makes it easy to appreciate the various ways you can weave them into combat, so I’d advise going out of your way for this skill and learning to love it. 

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Stealth Tear

While I’m a little hesitant to recommend yet another stealth ability and reinforce the idea that’s the only (or even the “best”) way to play the game, it’s hard to talk about the best skills in the game without giving a shoutout to Stealth Tear. 

This skill increases the tear damage you deal to machines when performing stealth attacks. That basically means that it allows you to gather more resources (including rare resources) from machines just by utilizing stealth attacks you’re probably going to be using anyway. Given how valuable some of those resources are (especially in the late game), you’re probably going to want to devote some skill points to gathering them, and this is one of the best ways to do that without committing to the “Machine Master” lifestyle.

Deep Concentration

While I can easily recommend any of the Concentration skills you get from the Hunter tree (and you might want to invest skill points into all of them at some point), I will say that Deep Concentration will probably end up being the most valuable Concentration ability for most players. 

This skill reduces the depletion rate of your Concentration bar, which I’ve found is slightly more useful than increasing your overall Concentration limit or even your natural Concentration regen ability. This skill makes it easier to maximize your Concentration usage in combat and use more Concentration in the long run.