One of the most anticipated games of the year, and the first half of Xbox's one-two punch for 2021's holiday season, is Forza Horizon 5 from Playground Games and Xbox Game Studios. Despite its release date still being weeks away (Nov. 5, 2021 for those with early access), Forza Horizon 5 is already practically guaranteed to be one of the best Xbox racing games available.
What makes the upcoming open-world racer particularly interesting, however, is how it continues to encapsulate all the reasons that Forza Horizon games attract players that don't normally play racing games. I've never considered myself a car lover, and have never expressed more than a passing interest in the intimidatingly deep world of automobiles, but ever since my first foray in the fabled Horizon Festival with Forza Horizon 2 on the Xbox 360, I've been hooked.
Creative freedom is endless in Forza Horizon
Forza Horizon 5, like the four games that predate it, is an open-world "simul-arcade" racer, meaning it aims to offer casual arcade-like driving mechanics with deeper simulation-like settings and options for players. Every Forza Horizon game to date has been built on these accessible, yet surprisingly deep, gameplay mechanics, with peerless visuals that set the bar. What makes Forza Horizon games especially intriguing, however, is how it truly leaves it up to the player how you play and what you do.
It's easy to jump into a Forza Horizon game and be able to find something to love, even if you don't progress in any way. The vibrant open worlds featured in Playground Games' titles beg to be explored, and it's possible to spend hours upon hours doing just that without once touching the deeper simulation elements or even racing.
Forza Horizon games give you boundless creative freedom. When you enter a Forza Horizon game, you're introduced to a world that lets you accomplish anything you want, be it becoming a world-tier racer that dominates every race; an artist that meticulously designs and personalizes custom vehicles; a tuner that works tirelessly to unlock every ounce of performance contained inside cars; an explorer that aches to see every inch of Forza Horizon's gorgeous worlds; a wild risk-taker that aims to tackle every chaotic jump, speed trap, and drift zone; or any combination thereof.
Many open-world games attempt to give players freedom, but still dictate the ultimate path they take. In Forza Horizon, the journey to become "the best" isn't pushed upon the player, but is rather a natural evolution of playing the game in general. Forza Horizon 5 appears to up the ante in every way, giving players more control than ever before over their personal Horizon journey, while opening the doors wider for any newcomers that have yet to experience what a Forza Horizon game can offer.
Forza Horizon 5 brings meaningful evolution
Forza Horizon 5 aims to bring meaningful additions to the series beyond the obvious, like massively improved visuals and the largest world yet, by giving players more freedom and power than ever before.
For one, the game will feature major improvements to accessibility and inclusivity, including a new, easier difficulty option for players who have no or little experience with racing games, cleaner and easier-to-use UI and menus, a myriad of quality-of-life improvements to various systems, and more. This, combined with Forza Horizon 5's intent to launch simultaneously on the largest number of platforms yet, with Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, Xbox Game Pass, and Xbox Cloud Gaming all on board, means Forza Horizon 5 will be accessible to a greater number of people than ever before.
The creative freedom that has made previous Forza Horizon games special in the past is also set to reach new heights here. Players will be able to customize their cars with more nuance and personality than in previous entries, with more powerful tools for turning bland cars into pure art. There are even additional options for character creation, including prosthetic limbs and pronoun options. On top of this, the new EventLab feature will let players build their own all-original game events, obstacle courses, races, and more with a suite of options and tools that resemble what the developers use to build the game itself.
The new Horizon Adventure revamps the single-player portions of Forza Horizon 5 to more openly reward players for every playstyle, making it more feasible to "beat" the game and reach the Hall of Fame, no matter what attracts you to FH5 and how you play. Whether you spend an hour taking beautiful photos or dominate several races, FH5 will make sure you feel rewarded for your time spent in-game.
The Forza Horizon 5 map that all of this exists on is the most visually stunning the series has delivered yet, giving players dozens of hours of playtime doing nothing but exploring the 11 intricate biomes and various environments. This world even evolves over time, with a day and night cycle, dynamic weather events, full-blown seasons, a plethora of life like dogs and goats, and much more.
All of this ties into the game's online capabilities, which are expanded to connect more people all at once. Forza Horizon 5's world will be filled with spontaneous minigames to participate in with nearby players, will make it more seamless to connect with strangers in a safe environment, and will offer more ways in general to have fun, whether by yourself or surrounded by fellow players all over the world.
Forza Horizon 5 is built to give players more control, freedom, and choice over how they play the game, even if that "how" doesn't necessarily include aiming for first place in every race and diving deep into the inner mechanisms of every meticulously recreated vehicle in Forza Horizon 5's car list. I have spent hundreds of hours in the Forza Horizon games over the years, and most of that was probably spent painting my cars and exploring the vast worlds on offer rather than jumping into races and vying for the top position.
Every player pursues their own path
On the surface, it may appear that Forza Horizon 5 is just another racing game, but the complete package on offer in Forza Horizon games manages to attract players who would normally never approach the racing genre with any amount of interest. In every early look we've gotten, it looks like Playground Games is preserving this special "something" that Forza Horizon games possess, and even manages to evolve it by making the title more accessible to and more accepting of different kinds of players.
I'm one of many that has found themselves drawn to Forza Horizon partially because of its openness, and Forza Horizon 5's intelligent, targeted changes and additions make me more excited for this unique racing game than practically anything else releasing this year. The ludicrous levels of creative freedom afforded to players in Forza Horizon 5 and its Mexico-bound open world practically guarantees that gamers of every variety can find something to love, even if other attempts to dive into the genre have failed to captivate.
Every player pursues their own path in Forza Horizon 5, and you don't have to love cars to love the endless possibilities available.
If you're interested in experiencing a racing game unlike any other, Forza Horizon 5 is now available to preorder, and releases on Nov. 9, 2021 (Nov. 5 for Premium Edition preorders) on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass day one, and PC.
Not just another racer
An epic adventure
Forza Horizon 5 is the latest project from Playground Games and continues the epic Forza Horizon adventure with a new roster of amazing cars and a brand-new location to explore.
All your gaming needs, in one subscription
Is the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate the best value in all of gaming? It's possible. Ultimate bundles your Xbox Live Gold subscription, an Xbox Game Pass subscription for both Xbox consoles and Windows PCs, and Xbox Cloud Gaming for on-the-go. Forza Horizon 5 will be available through Xbox Game Pass day one, including on consoles, PC, and the cloud.
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Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.