The epic, sprawling, story of Horizon Forbidden West is one of the many reasons the game is so addictive. When we last saw the daring warrior Aloy at the end of 2017's Horizon Zero Dawn, she’d defeated the evil program HADES and, she thought, saved the world. But questions still lingered. How did HADES get awakened? And why did Sylens, Aloy’s shady partner in the game, keep a copy of HADES for himself?
Those questions get answered rather quickly in the story mode of Horizon Forbidden West and pose even more questions—questions that will keep you in front of your PlayStation for hours upon hours. I personally am almost 60 hours into Forbidden West and I can’t stop. It took me about 40 hours to complete the main story, but that was only about 35% of the massive world that Guerrilla Games has created. Previously, I spoke to narrative director Ben McCaw and senior writer Annie Kitain all about the game. We talked about its development and challenges before diving into some of the specific spoilers from the game.
The interview that follows discusses many of the big character reveals, twists, and even the tease toward a third game that comes at the very end. So if you’ve played the game and are curious, read along. But if you don’t want to be spoiled, be careful.
In Forbidden West, we learn that thousands of years ago, while Aloy’s original version, Elisabet Sobeck, was trying to save Earth, a rival group of humans was trying to escape it. These people, the Far Zenith, took a ship into space hoping to reach a faraway world. However, along the way, it exploded. Or did it? It turns out the Far Zeniths faked their deaths, survived, and discovered immortality. Now, in Forbidden West, they’re back and want to take back Earth. I asked McCaw and Kitain about the creation of those characters and how early on they were part of the story.
Ben McCaw: They were all in place early. We knew the role that the Far Zenith colonists would play in the overall story, even as we developed Zero Dawn. What we didn’t know, I think, is their sort of exact personalities. And over the course of development of the game, we got more and more excited about the idea that they are reflections of some people that we see on Earth right now. Some very powerful people. And that idea really took hold with us and we truly engage with it. And we had a lot of fun with it. I don’t want to call it satire, but it definitely has a component of that.
Annie Kitain: So we knew Far Zenith was involved, but like Ben was saying, we didn’t know the exact specificities of their characters. And Tilda’s character (played by Matrix’s Carrie-Anne Moss) is someone who you can see that evolution come along. We knew what role she had in the story. But the more art [appreciation] side of her came along as we developed the character, and that really brought a lot to her personality, to the background, and gave us a better understanding of how we can express her character.
Along her journey, Aloy meets several characters and even full tribes whose stories aren’t fully developed, even in the side quests of Forbidden West. Tribes like the Quen, who come from across the ocean and know about Focuses, open up all new stories for potential sequels. I asked if, when creating these characters, there’s a thought process to maybe using them in different ways going forward.
McCaw: I think that’s part of the consideration of everything we do. I mean, of course, they are characters that die and then it’s like, that more or less concludes their story, although maybe not completely, because, you know, [Aloy’s father figure] Rost kind of comes back a little bit in this game. But yeah, it’s a big world. It’s an evolving franchise. We’re always thinking about the future. Absolutely.
In our previous interview I asked McCaw and Kitain what they were most excited for fans to see without spoilers. I then circled back and asked the same question, but this time with the spoiler filter off.
Kitain: It’s definitely the relationship between Aloy and [the Far Zenith Elisabet clone] Beta. Like, that’s the heart and soul of of our story, and it’s related to how she’s dealing with the pressure I’ve been mentioning of trying to live up to Elizabet—and then she’s confronted with someone who’s very different, but she feels should be the same or similar. That was such a challenge to get right and the process of iteration we went through to make the course of the relationship work was a real challenge, but it was so gratifying to see come together, and that’s what I’m so excited for players to get to experience.
In Forbidden West, Sylens begins as an enemy to Aloy but, much later in the game, is forced to become an ally. I asked about how they balanced the character that, at first, the player might hate and then, eventually, has to work with.
McCaw: Well, so I just want to say upfront, I never hate Sylens. One of the things I like about Sylens, first of all, I love the character, and I love Lance [Reddick, who provides the voice], who’s fantastic, right? But one of the things that’s important for us about the character is he doesn’t actually change. His motivation is pretty, pretty consistent through both games, which is ultimately he’s after knowledge. That’s what he wants, right? And he needs to survive in order to acquire it all. And that kind of doesn’t really change.
Kitain: I would add though that what I really enjoyed about Sylens’ character, at the very end of the game, we have that moment where he does pause. He does reflect on Aloy’s impact on the world. So I agree with Ben that he doesn’t change overall. But just having that moment, I think, you like him a little bit more. But I’ve always liked Sylens. He’s just fun to write, but from a more audience perspective, players perspective, we kind of get more of his side.
Finally, at the very end of Horizon Forbidden West [last chance for avoid the game’s biggest spoiler] we learn that the Far Zenith humans who have been Aloy’s enemies this whole time have their own enemy, Nemesis: a chaotic, unstoppable ball of energy from their centuries of research that destroyed their planet, sent HADES that signal from the first game, and is now heading to Earth. And it’ll be up to Aloy and her friends to stop it... if and when there’s another game. I asked what, if anything, the writers could tell me about Nemesis?
McCaw: So that’s a little bit difficult to answer. I can’t really say more about Nemesis than what you see in the game. But that part, I think, it’s pretty, pretty evident that that’s an enormous challenge that’s kind of rolling right towards Aloy and the planet Earth. And yeah, I guess all I can really say about that is I feel like there’s definitely more fun to be had there.
Kitain: Yeah and I would add that, you know, one of the great things about the world of Horizon is the mysteries that that are set up and questions that are answered. So we always enjoy creating more mystery, creating more things to wonder about for the future. So that’s definitely a part of Horizon.
Horizon Forbidden West is now available for PlayStation 4 and 5. We can’t recommend it enough.
Wondering where our RSS feed went? You can pick the new up one here.