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This article contains story spoilers for 2017's Horizon Zero Dawn.
We’ve waited five long years for the next chapter in Horizon Zero Dawn’s story but, with its sequel only a month away from release, we still know surprisingly little of what Aloy will be getting up to in Horizon Forbidden West.
We spoke to developer Guerrilla Games about its plans for players and how they actually reach back a lot further than Zero Dawn’s release in 2017. The seeds for Horizon Forbidden West go back to when the team was still at work on Zero Dawn. “We never thought of [the first game] as standalone,” Horizon’s narrative director Ben McCaw tells me. “A lot of the ideas for Forbidden West were actually developed during the development of Zero Dawn.”
Watch Horizon Forbidden West gameplay, below...
Nor was the direction of the series a secret, senior writer Annie Kitain points out. Dotted through Zero Dawn are data logs you can read that name the Forbidden West region. They tell the story of the Carja tribe and “their push into the West to try and claim those lands. Out there they met fierce resistance from the Tenakth tribe. They managed to push the Carja out of the West. And at that point the Carja closed off their border and declared the West forbidden.”
Since that failed push into the West there’s been little news of the region. When you arrive there, following your quest to find the source of the blight that’s ravaging the world, Aloy will be stepping into unknown territory. You’ll meet the Tenakth and find out what’s happened to them in the years since the war.
That lack of news goes both ways, though, McCaw explains. In Zero Dawn Aloy went from being an outcast to the Nora tribe to “becoming the most important person in the world” to the people of the Eastern lands and Northern territories. But she’s unknown in the West. “The Forbidden West is controlled by different tribes with different motivations; she's going to have to prove herself all over again,” McCaw says.
Kitain adds that while we’ll be seeing new lands and new people, this is still a continuation of the first game, not a do over. “One of the key things that Aloy learned in Zero Dawn, was that Elisabet Sobeck is her genetic mother. Now she has that knowledge, it's put this pressure, this burden on her to live up to Elisabet’s example. In the six months since the end of Zero Dawn, she's really felt that pressure of trying to stop the blight, and carry that burden on her own. And that's something that she carries with her into the Forbidden West.”
She won’t be entirely alone. Two characters joining you on your journey are Varl and Erend, who Aloty won around to her cause in the first game. They show how far you’ve come in your journey so far, Kitain says. “Varl in particular, he's someone who, at the end of Zero Dawn, like many others in the Nora tribe, sees Aloy as the anointed, this religious figure of the Nora tribe. But he, more than others in the tribe, cares about Aloy as a person. He wants to make sure that she's okay, he worries about her and this burden she carries. Having Erend and Varl there is to keep that connection to who she was as a person in Zero Dawn.”
Travelling with companions is itself going to be a challenge for Aloy, McCaw says. “Because she grew up as an outcast, Aloy's someone who really hasn't ever learned all the tricks of the social world. That was new to her in the first game, and that education continues into the Forbidden West except under very, very stressful circumstances. She has to deal with old friends, new companions, new threats, new tribes. We really concentrated on putting her under a lot of pressure.”
In Zero Dawn you met a string of different tribes. Each with their own politics, customs, and leadership. The Carja, for instance, were based in warm regions and had been able to build large cities for their monarch, the Sun-King Avad. The Nora, however, were based in the cold mountains and had stayed largely within their villages, not exploring into other regions.
Guerrilla is taking a different approach in Forbidden West. Instead of meeting many different tribes, most of your interactions will be with a single tribe: the Tenakth. Though, it’s not quite so simple, as Kitain explains: “the Tenakth are three distinct clans, and they themselves have their own conflicts.”
As well as uncovering the reasons behind the tribe’s fracturing, you’ll see how the clans have evolved while still following the guiding principles of the tribe they’re a part of. “The process really begins on the art side,” McCaw says. “Guerrilla has a world-class art team. They've created a post-post-apocalyptic setting 1,000 years in the future, to the point where it’s almost a fantasy setting. They then look at the physical culture that that world would create. So for instance, our world revolves around the machines. And that's why you see so many machine parts in all the tribes’ decor, outfits, armour, and weapons.
“They do the exact same process when it comes to geography. They look at the ecotopes that the player will encounter, and they imagine how a tribe would adapt to that ecotope. And you can see that in all of their decor, in environmental storytelling, in equipment. They kind of build it from the ground up.
“With that in mind, one of the most exciting aspects of this in the Forbidden West is the Tenakth tribe. The tribe is split up into three different clans. And each of those clans lives in a different ecotope. So you get to really see how each clan developed based on their physical surroundings.”
The chief problem facing the Tenakth is a new rebel faction led by Regalla - someone you’ll be facing throughout Forbidden West. With the help of Sylens - your sometimes friend, sometimes enemy of Zero Dawn - she now has the ability to hack the machines stalking the land of the Forbidden West. With the help of this machine army she’s quickly taking ground from the Tenakth factions.
In your journey to stop the blight, you’ll also need to get to the heart of Regalla’s rebellion and also find out why Sylens is helping her. Naturally, I did ask, but Guerrilla weren’t going to give it away.
“He's our man of mystery,” Kitain says. “He was helping Aloy in Zero Dawn and now in the Forbidden West he definitely has his own agenda and his own plans. That's something that Aloy will have to discover and figure out.”
While it seems a strange, antagonistic move to help Regalla, McCaw says it’s not a break from character for Sylens. “He always has, in a certain sense, a consistent motivation. I really don't want to get too into what that is, but it is the same motivation that he had in Zero Dawn. It's carried through Forbidden West. It's one of the biggest secrets of the franchise. And it also is very much wrapped up in Aloy's quest to figure out what's going on with the blight. So rest assured that Sylens is not taking some kind of strange heel turn. He has a very consistent motivation between the two games and it's something that players are going to have to figure out.”
Colour me intrigued.
Horizon Forbidden West will be released for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 on 18 February 2022.
Featured Image Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
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