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Forza Horizon 5 guide: What to do in your first few hours

How to customize and upgrade your cars, which races to run first, and more

the futuristic interior of the Mercedes-AMG One, with a rectangular steering wheel and a tablet-shaped dashboard, in Forza Horizon 5
You get to drive the futuristic Mercedes-AMG One in Forza Horizon 5’s opening sequence. After that, it costs 2.7 million credits in the Autoshow.
Image: Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios

Forza Horizon 5 launches Nov. 9 on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and Windows PC. It’s a huge open-world racing game (the largest map in the series to date) with tons to do.

Our Forza Horizon 5 beginner’s guide will help you focus your first few hours to develop a good, multipurpose racing setup; understand Forza Horizon 5’s progression, gameplay loop, and unlockables; and how you can buy, paint and customize cars for looks and performance.

When is Forza Horizon 5 available?

List of local times when Forza Horizon 5 unlocks for players Image: Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios

Forza Horizon 5’s $99.99 Premium Edition gave early access to buyers beginning Friday, Nov. 5. The base game itself launches Tuesday, Nov. 9, on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and Windows PC via both the Microsoft Store and Steam.

Those who bought the Deluxe or Standard edition may begin pre-loading Forza Horizon 5 now. It will unlock at 12:01 a.m., in your country’s local time, on Nov. 9.

Forza Horizon 5 is also available beginning Nov. 9 at 12:01 a.m. local time to all subscribers of Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Game Pass for PC, and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. It may also be preloaded from Xbox Game Pass right now.

Before you start: Check your settings

The difficulty options menu in Forza Horizon 5.
Traction control you may want to turn on or off depending on how powerful your car is. Stability control should almost always be off. You need full control of the car to get the most speed out of it against higher AIs.
Image: Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon

Forza Horizon 5 has lots of display, notification, and controller settings to set the game to your preference, and they’re available from the start menu before beginning the game. We recommend the following options in particular, for those playing on a gamepad.

  • Difficulty: Steering — We like Simulation steering (over Auto-Steering, Assisted, or Standard). The extra control is necessary if you’re taking off traction and stability assists, which we also recommend.
  • Difficulty: Traction Control — Set this to Off, mindful that you may need to turn it back on when driving high-torque supercars. Traction control does what it says (keeps you from spinning your wheels, especially at launch) but does so at a cost to acceleration, and this is vital when racing against higher AI difficulties.
  • Difficulty: Stability Control — Always leave this Off. Stability control also slows the car and makes it harder to sustain drifts when racing off-road. Like most racing games, you will need to take assists off to get the most out of your car, and to beat higher-level AIs.
  • Difficulty: Damage & Tire Wear — There is no XP gain from Cosmetic Only or Simulation damage. You just get a trashed-looking (or driving) car. We’d rather have fun without being worried about dinging up the car, so set this to None. Note: Your car will still get dirty, for those who like visual proof of their mud-bogging or rallying at the end of a race. You can reset the dirt and grime by opening photo mode (down on the D-pad), tapping the Left Bumper to Reset Cosmetic Damage, and accepting the prompt.
  • Difficulty: Rewind — Again, there is no XP gain from leaving this assist off. Set it On because it will come in handy when you’re trying to nail a jump or land a stunt that requires repeated attempts, or if you’ve missed a checkpoint. Rewind is also useful when you want to go back and revisit a moment for a beauty screenshot.
  • Advanced Controls: Steering Axis and Acceleration Axis — These will help fine tune your gamepad handling with stability and traction control off. Follow the on-screen instructions to give yourself a stick that doesn’t overreact to slight nudges, to control your car’s stability. This means, for steering, increasing the Steering Axis Deadzone Inside and decreasing the Steering Axis Deadzone Outside. For your traction, it means increasing the Acceleration Axis Inside and decreasing the Acceleration Axis Outside. You should not need to change it more than 5 or 10 clicks in either direction. You can adjust the Deceleration Axis Inside and Outside if you wish, but with Braking set to Anti-Lock On in the difficulty menu, you shouldn’t need it.
  • Video: Graphics Mode — Set this to Performance. It prioritizes 60 frames-per-second performance over resolution. The better frame rate helps you feel and understand your car’s responsiveness as you tune the inputs and the vehicle setup. It’s vital to a good-handling ride, and comes at almost no noticeable cost to Forza Horizon 5’s gorgeous visuals.

All of these settings can be changed in the game by pressing Start and then going to the Settings panel of the Campaign tab in the main menu.

Test your controls in the Introduction

Forza Horizon 5 begins with the familiar race-to-the-festival montage. You’ll be driving the 2021 Ford Bronco, the 2020 Corvette Stingray Coupe, the 1989 “Desert Flyer” Porsche 911, and the 2021 Mercedes-AMG One.

There’s no way to “lose” these races, and you can rewind as far as you want, for any reason. Use these sequences to get a feel for the different cars’ handling on different terrain. You want the Bronco to drift and slide without fishtailing, which means you need to be able to finish with a good counter-steer, one that doesn’t oversteer, at the end of the slide. At extremely high speeds, you want the AMG-One to make subtle, broad changes in direction rather than snapping to your inputs and spinning out.

Customize your character

A large list of dozens of nicknames Forza Horizon 5 can call the player
The commentators will call you loads of names and nicknames. Yes, even “Count Driftula.”
Image: Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon

After the opening sequence, your driver will be introduced. Give them any look you prefer. (And don’t pay any attention to the obnoxious emcee trying to hustle you onto the stage. Mute the TV while you make your choices, if necessary.) If the user name associated with the Xbox account playing the game is in Forza Horizon 5’s audio library, the game will automatically call you by that name. You can’t change this name (or nickname) yet, but you can from the “Your Name” panel in the “My Festival” menu when you later visit Horizon Central, a House, or an Outpost. You also get to pick a vanity license plate to go on every one of your cars, in the style of the nation where it was built. This plate can also be changed later.

Drive your first big set-piece

A rally car launches off a ramp with a large cargo plane in the distance
Horizon Festival Mexico’s jolly jumbo plane isn’t the only flying machine in this video game.
Image: Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon

After customizing your character and sitting through a cut scene, you’ll choose the car you want to drive first. Don’t worry — all four are already in your garage and can be driven later. Moreover, you won’t be racing with this vehicle in your first special event. So pick whatever looks most appealing for an open-world drive out to the event start location.

Your first event, “On a Wing and a Prayer,” will be in the 1994 Hoonigan Ford Cossie V2. It’s likewise very difficult to “lose” this event, and if you do finish second, it doesn’t matter. You get to keep the Cossie, and it will be handy in off-road and road racing scenarios.

Go on your first adventure

Forza Horizon 5 has several chapters that are unlocked as you acquires “Accolades,” a secondary form of XP. Technically, the opening sequence and “On a Wing and A Prayer” are the first two chapters. You get a sneak preview at your next chapter right afterward: You can find an old “Vocho,” or VW Beetle, or take a picture of a Mesoamerican totem in the middle of a sandstorm. It doesn’t really matter which you prefer to do. Both are the opening acts for later multistage chapters that will quickly unlock after about five events in the open world.

Compete in your first race

Winning screen showing a gold car in the background and a 2018 Mercedes-AMG as the first place prize.
The “First Course” series of three road races is a seasonal offering available right now in Forza Horizon 5. It has a pretty swell car reward for winning.
Image: Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon

The onboarding above takes about 30 to 45 minutes. After this, the whole map is yours. There isn’t much on it at first — tons more events will be available as you earn Accolades and are invited to start new chapters, which involve opening new hub outposts themed to a certain style of racing.

For the first race, we recommend Airfield Cross Country Circuit in the lower southwest of the map. It’s a lot of fun and uses the Cossie very well. After the race, head to the southeastern end of the airstrip and smash the Fast Travel board that is inside the crumbling hangar. That completes an initial accolade that delivers the 2003 Nissan Fairlady Z, a great drifting car that can be upgraded cheaply. [Note: When the game tells you that you’ve been awarded an Accolade unlockable, you’ll still have to go to the Accolades screen (Start button from the Map) to collect it. If you’re not seeing something in your garage, check your Accolades for unclaimed gifts.]

Use the Fairlady, or the Corvette that’s in your garage (you may select a new vehicle before any event without retrieving it in-world) to compete in the nearby Aerodromo Drag Strip, a fun drag race worth some easy credits, XP, and accolade points. You may need to put traction control on to keep from spinning your wheels at the launch. A non-upgraded Corvette should be able to easily smoke the field at Highly Skilled AI difficulty.

For drag racing on automatic transmissions, there’s no need to manipulate the clutch at the start. Just hold down the right trigger and off you go. But for high-torque cars, or playing without traction control, you may need to feather the accelerator to get a smooth launch before dropping the hammer.

At the end of the airstrip is a Danger Sign, which means a big jump. Get a good head start and see how far you can go! Some special editions of Forza Horizon 5 will give you additional cars to start the game. We managed to launch the 2017 Ford GT (included in the Premium Edition) 1,872.6 feet — all the way into the river. You’ll need to go about 2,000 feet to clear it.

Customize your first car

This is a natural regrouping point to head back to Horizon Festival Mexico’s main hub and put your own personal brand on a car, now that you’re familiar with one or two. Drive to the hub and press X to enter it, which gives you access to the Autoshow, Auction House, Upgrades & Tuning, and Designs & Paints menus.

If you want to alter the Cossie, don’t worry; its elaborate livery is the “factory color” option. So you can paint it as you like, and always return to the original look with the first setting in that vehicle’s paint menu.

How to get your color exactly right

screen showing how you paint a car a different color in Forza Horizon 5
Special finishes, like semi-gloss, matte, and flake paints, are available in the Special tab of the colors menu.
Image: Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon

For painting the car with custom colors, Forza Horizon 5 uses HSB sliders. Select a color from the menu (special finishes, like matte, flake, and two-tone, are in the Special tab) and press X. This will bring up the sliders.

If you want to get your color exact, we recommend looking up the hex code of a color you have in mind ( and are good resources) and then finding out what its HSB (sometimes called HSV) values are. Here is a simple spreadsheet that converts those values into their corresponding numbers in Forza Horizon 5’s sliders. Feel free to copy it to your own spreadsheet and use it for your own custom paint jobs.

Upgrading your car’s performance

Menu showing performance changes to the Hoonigan Cossie with an upgrades package
The setups browser in Forza Horizon 5 features packages of parts and settings that other players have used to upgrade their cars. It features a histogram that shows you exactly what you’re getting in terms of performance.
Image: Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon

From the Upgrades & Tuning panel, you may either Auto Upgrade the car, which gives it parts taking it to the maximum end of a performance range (S2, S1, A, B, C, or D), or Custom Upgrade the car with individual parts (this is useful mainly for cosmetic parts, like spoilers or rims).

If you aren’t knowledgeable about actually tuning cars (things like camber, tire pressure, and differential) go to Find Tuning Setups. Here you will see community-created parts-and-tuning packages, with a histogram showing the areas in which they will improve (or reduce) your car’s performance. The Find Tuning Setups panel, and the ability to purchase and apply their parts, is also available before any race from the event’s menu. Leaning on others’ creations is a good way to be more certain you’re giving the car the qualities you want (better launch, better top speed, etc.).

Lastly, give your new ride its own horn! You’ll see the Car Horns tile in the Garage Tab. It’s under Barn Finds. There are a few dozen standard horns and many more musical horns and sound effects to unlock. (Yes, there is “La Cucaracha” and “Mexican Hat Dance.” There’s also the Microsoft Teams join-meeting alert.)

Your second race: Pick a road race

It’s a good idea to pick a road race on a hard surface to help you set your assists, dead zones, and controls for high-performance road and track cars, for the long haul. We ran the Emerald Circuit (western end, northwest of the airfield) in a Ford GT to find a sweet spot for acceleration and traction. Again, some cars are so powerful that you will need traction control. But use it only on the fastest ones in your fleet, as the hit to their acceleration won’t be as profound as it is on slower cars.

Go to your new home

A rally car parked in the driveway outside a home done in Spanish architectural style
Mi casa es mi casa, amigo. Get your own.
Image: Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon

After winning two to three events, the safehouse in Mulegé will open up for purchase. This is a kind of hub world that keeps you from having to go to the central festival to buy or upgrade cars. Some also come with perks and boosts. Mulegé’s Casa Bella unlocks Skill Songs, which double your XP when they’re playing on the in-world radio. The Premium Edition of Forza Horizon 5, again, includes a VIP pass that makes La Casa Solariega near Teotihuacan free. “Buying” it unlocks 5 Super Wheelspins, which will add significantly to your in-game funds and fleet of cars. (If you bought the Standard Edition of the game, you can get the Premium Edition content for $49.99; Xbox Game Pass members get a $5 discount.)

After unlocking Casa Bella, you’ll have an opportunity to open your first outpost with the next chapter of Horizon Adventure. We chose to begin Horizon Wilds, which will open a dirt racing hub. Its exploratory route ends at the Airfield, again, and a Barn Find leading to the 1991 Jaguar Sport XJR-15. Going to the top of La Gran Caldera for Horizon Baja is also very fun, lands you a F-150 Prerunner Deberti, and opens the Cross-Country outpost and its races.

Play in the Arcade

A rally car in the foreground looking out over a steaming lake of glowing hot magma
Horizon Baja’s initial expedition takes you to the top of La Gran Caldera, where the floor is hot lava.
Image: Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon

From here on, Forza Horizon 5 opens up into a free-roaming game where you may spend lots of time discovering new activities, or blazing through favorite races in faster and faster times. It’s really up to you. Your cash reserves should be enough by now that you can splurge on one or two flashy rides, running 100,000 to 300,000 credits, at the Autoshow. This is a collection game, so go for it whenever you feel like it. Credits are awarded plentifully after every race, whether for completing them or in Wheelspins as you level up.

But take a moment to at least try the Horizon Arcade early on, which is a rotating set of timed objectives, usually involving destroying something. Horizon Arcade events are marked by a purple blob and a blimp icon on the map. Drive to its location, wait for the event to start, and follow the instructions at the bottom of the screen. Horizon Arcade is a productive way to rack up lots of money, XP, and accolades.

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