Forza Horizon 5 Hands-on Preview – Viva La Horizon Festival!

Kai Powell

With less than a month before release, Forza Horizon 5 is about to mark the twelfth entry in the long-running Microsoft racing franchise and a fantastic return to form for those eager to get behind the wheel of the more arcadey side of the series. Wccftech received the chance to go hands-on with Playground Games’ latest entry on Xbox Series X at our leisure, controller in hand.

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For the final preview, we were given full access to the first hour of this year’s Forza Festival set in a mildly fictionalized version of Mexico. From the very beginning, players are airdropped onto the landscape as they race to the festival, a series tradition. This time, players take the wheel of a pretty diverse assortment of vehicles, including a Ford Bronco, Toyota GT Supra, and Corvette Stingray Coupe. Thanks to the prowess of the SSDs in the Xbox Series X, there’s no loading time between these transitions between vehicles, cleverly masked behind the cinematics of your chosen vehicles being dispersed across the countryside with all the finesse of a Wild Speed action montage.

After you finally make it to the Horizon Festival, you’re given the lay of the land and get to show off your created character. There’s a decent amount of customization early on, including a small selection of prosthetics for your driver. A personal touch is the ability to pick your name or nickname from a massive list of monikers. Luckily for me, Kai was included in the Forza Horizon 5 roster, and it was amusing to hear my name being delivered by the various announcers running the show, although the delivery still comes across as pretty awkward in practice.

When it comes to putting rubber to pavement or dirt, Forza Horizon 5 continues the spinoff series’ traditions of being more arcadey than sim. For a casual racing fan like myself, this made for a racing experience that was instantly accessible during my 90-minute preview. There are no extra boosts or nitrous to worry about in races, so it ultimately comes down to personal skill behind the wheel. Of course, Forza Horizon 5 is still quite generous when it comes to rewinds and getting you back into a more suitable position after careening off the edge of the track or plowing through stationary barricades around the racetracks.

Any time you’re not actively taking part in a race, you’ll spend just as much time racing between venues around the substantial open-world (Playground Games is touting nearly a dozen distinctive biomes to race through across their version of Mexico) as you will diving into the menus and customizing your rides. While the Horizon subseries is easily more on the action side to appeal to more amateur drivers and those that don’t want to fiddle around with individual tire pressures, there’s still a robust amount of customization to each aspect of your ride. Each little tweak you do is instantly visibly represented on your vehicle and instantly adds to the unique appeal of each ride. Whether we’ll see the itasha car designers jump in on day one will be an eager surprise to discover just how many Squid Game or Fate Grand Order rides we’ll see on the Forza Horizon 5 marketplace.

Each event and action you complete banks up experience that feeds into your primary progression, in turn rewarding the player, not just with the ability to take on more races but also some generous rewards for each quickly achieved milestone. It’s hard to say if Playground Games will be as generous with the lottery rolls in the full release, but each time I spun the wheel, I was rewarded equally with new wheels just as much as new digs for my green-haired racer. With each card offering up a small bounty board of tasks to complete in exchange for new bonuses, I could see the loop of rolling for new cars and spending a couple of hours behind the wheel to finish the board and earn more spins to be an addictive loop. At least this kind of gacha won’t need any real cash infusions to keep rolling. That being said, if you did want to throw some extra cash towards time saver DLC, I did spy some treasure maps for purchase to fill your minimap with collectibles to discover across the open world.

Unbeknownst to me, my Forza Horizon 5 adventure would only last up until unlocking the first house, leaving many of the future story details an utter mystery. With no way to save my progress up to this point to see what other events I could undertake, I was brought back to the title menu and was asked to start with a fresh save. It’s only been a few days since I last got my Forzavista fix and I’m already itching to get back behind the wheel of my 200hp Mitsubishi Starion once more.


Forza Horizon 5 will be available on Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and PC starting November 9th, 2021, while Premium Edition owners will get to begin their pace four days early on November 5th.

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