Aloy is back for another post-post-apocalyptic adventure in Horizon Forbidden West. This PlayStation 5 sequel is to be expected after the success of 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn, which is today considered to be one of the best games released on the PS4.
An original IP from Dutch developer Guerrilla Games, the Horizon franchise is one ripe for further exploration and expansion. And rumor has it that Guerrilla has plans to not only make a sequel but a third installment, turning the Horizon series into a trilogy, but this has not been confirmed. For now, we know that Horizon Forbidden West continues Aloy’s story “as she moves west to a far-future America to brave a majestic, but dangerous frontier where she’ll face awe-inspiring machines and mysterious new threats,” according to the PlayStation Blog.
In the debut trailer, we watch as Aloy explores new locations, such as a version of San Francisco reclaimed by nature, and faces new dangers. A new pestilence corrupting the land seems to be at the center of this story, possibly the work of rogue AI introduced in the first game. You can read our full breakdown of the trailer here.
Having a chance to explore this world further is exciting and we have a wishlist of things we’d like to see improved or added to the game when it hits the PS5.
1. Address Appropriation Critiques
In 2017, video game writer Dia Lacina wrote about the game’s use of derogatory language and how it highlighted an indifference to modern Native American cultures. Horizon Zero Dawn narrative designer John Gonzales responded, saying “it’s impossible to predict what it is that may offend. Certainly we were not intentionally being insensitive, or to offend in any manner.” Some of the criticism raised around Horizon Zero Dawn led me to books like 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, which pushes back on the American education system’s framing of Native cultures as inherently more primitive than European cultures — a portrayal that is used as easy shorthand for Horizon’s wounded humanity.
Removing historically harmful language is just the easiest of possible changes that could acknowledge the debt the game owes to Native American imagery. Especially when it comes to the location (“Forbidden West” evokes American colonization of the West and manifest destiny, which resulted in dire consequences for Native Amerian cultures), a lack of acknowledgement begins to seem like a clear sign of prioritizing aesthetics over real culture.
Horizon hasn’t shied away from directly addressing other real-world issues: Aloy faces sexism, learns about climate change, and reads scathing corporate missives calling for more profitable wars. Horizon Forbidden West is a chance for the developers to address injustices against the Native American people who once lived on the far-future lands Aloy is exploring.
2. More Far-Future Worldbuilding
Horizon’s worldbuilding intertwines human stories with a science fiction apocalypse. In typical video game fashion, players find audio and written logs to contextualize the past: in this case, total human extinction before an AI-run failsafe brought people back into the world. The end of humanity (and its new beginning) are treated with gravitas, humor, and remarkable voice acting, as are subjects like catastrophic climate change. The sequel has a chance to deepen the worldbuilding even further.
West of Utah is forbidden to the characters we’ve already met because of unknown dangers: vast deserts and salt flats, nuclear fallout, razor-sharp plant life, and cities drowned under lakes. Like most of the world, the West Coast was a battleground against the robots that brought about the end of humanity. The next game might look more into the future than the past, with new AI to discover, but these new place will also bring their own histories.
3. More Riding Machines
In the trailer, Aloy rides the trusty strider, one of a few friendly machines you can override and tame to move around faster. One of the primary fantasies of the game is climbing around these living beasts: look at the Tallnecks, giraffe-like moving transmission towers. Will Aloy be able to ride new types of machines in Horizon Forbidden West?
Underwater exploration also seems to be on the menu, according to the trailer, so what about surfing on one of those giant turtles? Or scanning the landscape from the back of a flying machine?
Hopefully, the sequel will introduce interesting new ways to get around and explore the land.
4. More Tangible Effects on the World
While Horizon Zero Dawn’s side quests were engaging and showcased interesting bits of storytelling, there wasn’t a sense of how exactly non-essential quests changed the world around Aloy. With base-building a major trend in games lately, Horizon Forbidden West could include elements of this mechanic to show how Aloy’s actions help people in the long term. Maybe she’ll have a central location to return to, like Horizon Zero Dawn’s city of Meridian, that she can build upon. This idea could also illustrate what Aloy’s priorities are and how her personality is changing.
5. Aloy Grows Up
The voiceover in the trailer has Aloy insisting that she’s the only one who can complete her mission. In a way, she’s right: as the genetic copy of a long-dead scientist, she can unlock areas no one else in the world can. But it’s also a sign of her underlying characterization.
Raised by one man outside a village that exiled her because they thought a goddess wanted them to, Aloy is used to living alone and distrusting organized religion. Most of the game’s major groups have made her feel unwelcome to one degree or another. Some of her strongest relationships aren’t with people at all: she’s still working on restoring GAIA, the AI in charge of returning life to the Earth, and downloading journal entries from Elisabet Sobeck, the scientist Aloy was cloned from.
The sequel’s new setting could further flesh out how she connects with others, especially in a land where she doesn’t know anybody at all. It’s likely her opinion on community will change or deepen, depending on who she meets in the Forbidden West.
6. Returning Characters
Although many of Horizon Zero Dawn’s characters are tied to a specific geographical location, they’re charming enough that I do hope some make appearances in the Forbidden West. Vanasha, a spy for Meridian’s court, might travel far enough to find herself out west. Varl, a boy Aloy’s age, hails from her home village but is working on reaching outside his religious box. Sun-King Avad is a popular choice but seems likely to stay inside his kingdom, and the roving marauder Nil would be a likely candidate but could be dead, depending on the player’s choices in the first game.
The one character we know is present is Sylens, who is bound to intersect with Aloy at some point in the sequel. He’s looking for AI too, but his heartless, information-first approach to discovery means they’re likely to clash about how exactly to go about the search.
7. Bigger Robots
The mammoth machine seen in the trailer shows Horizon Forbidden West is well-prepared to challenge players with fearsome new foes. The biggest bad in this robot world is the Titan, the many-armed machine seen embedded in several of Horizon Zero Dawn’s landscapes. Titans are both factories and war machines, almost as big as mountains. We have to fight one of them one day, right? This is as much a hope as a fear.