Horizon Zero Dawn: Forbidden West is just around the corner and launching with the PS5. With that in mind, I wanted to explain the story so far, and where the sequel will start.
Horizon Zero Dawn started with an infant named Aloy, who was in the care of Nora outcast Rost. The Nora are a tribe that shunned Rost, and continue to also shun Aloy, who is desperate for community, and friends.
The world is clearly in the future, and there are mechanical monsters that are similar in aesthetics to creatures from the past. The Nora tribe members appear to wear mechanical jewellery, and they ergonomically apply some of the mechanics from these wild metallic creatures to themselves as fashion and also use them as weapons.
One day, Aloy falls into a hole in the ground which turns out to be an underground bunker from yesteryear. Upon exploring the bunker, Aloy discovers a “focus”. The focus allows Aloy to see holographic indicators of her surrounding environment. The tech is clearly ancient, and from the past, which the Nora have little knowledge of.
Rost, despite being laden with mechanical tools himself tells Aloy that the technology is dangerous. This is a running theme throughout Horizon Zero Dawn and is particularly present when learning about the past. Aloy also expresses an interest in her mother to Rost, which, like the past is a mystery too. Rost tells Aloy the only way to get those answers is to get back into the Nora tribe through a right of passage called “The Proving”.
Aloy begins training for The Proving which requires skill with weapons, climbing and generally highly impressive athleticism. Aloy completes her training and after meeting her Nora community competes in the challenge. Aloy wins the challenge, but tragedy strikes when Cultists attack, kill most of the Nora and also kill Rost.
Aloy is thrown over a cliff edge as Rost dies at the hands of Cult leader Helis. When Aloy awakes she’s back in the Nora homeland, being nursed back to health by a matriarch of the Nora. The matriarch explains that Aloy was found as a baby on the worshipping altar. The other matriarchs believed her to be a curse, and that’s why she was given to Rost as a baby.
Aloy learns more about the cult she encountered through a cult member called Olin. They are called The Eclipse and worship a mechanical leader called Hades, who provides the ability for the Eclipse to have control over some of the mechanical creatures through something called corruption.
Aloy discovers that the Focus has another ability as a communication device. An unknown person called Sylens dials into Aloys focus and begins talking to her. He provides her with information, and lets her know he is very interested in the history of the earth and machines.
Aloy learns that she can access secret, ancient locations called cauldrons because she has a similar genetic make up to someone called Elizabeth Sobeck. This allows her access through the front doors. Through these locations we can start to uncover what happened to the human race, and why things are as they are.
The mechanical beings were created to work for the good of mankind. They were given the ability to feed on biological elements if they were unable to recharge elsewhere. This became a serious problem because this biological feeding option also included humans and other creatures. A glitch occurred which made mechanical creatures uncontrollable and become unbound from their programming, starting them on a path to use humans as bio-fuel and also considering them a threat. This was called the Faro virus.
Faro, was the CEO of the company that built the machines, and in effect brought the end of the world as they knew it. The remaining humans developed a plan to rebuild earth, utilising some of the very tech that had destroyed it. In them meantime, the machines slowly destroyed everything, and then went dormant when they ran out of bio-fuel. Humans, creatures and plant life no longer existed. Minerva, an ai left behind by humans to find the deactivation code for the machines decades after humans were gone eventually managed to shut them down.
Gaia, an ai designed to repopulate the earth using machines was built towards the end of the humans initial existence. This was project Zero Dawn. Gaia would first initiate plant life, terraform the planet and then repopulate the earth with humans using cloning technology. It’s learned that the humans actioned this plan 974 years ago. There were 9 ai’s in total with different roles.
Apollo was designed to teach the human clones all of human history and knowledge once Gaia had birthed them with the cloning technology. Unfortunately we learn that Faro, not content with destroying the planet with his virus riddled machines, also decided that destroying human knowledge (and the knowledge of his mistake) was the right approach. He sabotaged Apollo and killed most of the rest of the brightest human minds who were leading the Zero Dawn project.
Cyan was built to oversee the Firebreak facility, which is designed mainly to prevent an eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera. Cyan operates in the same way as Gaia, but on a smaller scale. Cyan is programmed with emotions, and is for all intensive purposes a human like mind. This was a secret kept by the programmers when it was built as it violated the Turing code. Cyan survived until being corrupted by Hephaestus. Aloy and friends rescued her from Hephaestus, allowing her to continue her role of stabilising Firebreak and volcanic eruptions.
Minerva was a codebreaking ai designed to manually regain access to the machines. Unfortunately for humans, even with an ai mind it was known it was going to take far too long, decades in fact, to discover the code, and shut the machines down. Humans would have passed long before then. Minerva did indeed shut the machines down, which allowed Gaia to enact her plan rebuilding and repopulating the earth without the corrupted machines to destroy it.
Aether and Poseiden were built to detoxify the atmosphere and water after the hundreds of years of machines dominating the planet so Gaia could begin her work repopulating the planet. Aether and Poseiden did this with machines built by Hephaestus in the cauldrons.
Hephaestus was responsible for constructing machines designed by GAIA that would detoxify the planet’s terrestrial, aquatic and atmospheric environments and help to create life. Hephaestus was released from some of its programming bounds by Hades who unleashed a virus on the ai’s. It became more intelligent and because humans had started to hunt machines it considered them a threat. Hephaestus began constructing machines to kill humans, and also enslaved the ai Cyan before Aloy was able to override it, setting it back to just mass producing metallic human hunters
Hades was a fail safe. If Gaia did not get the balance of creating a new earth quite right, Hades would activate eradicating everything to restart the process and allow Gaia to begin again. Hades was never initially needed, and remained dormant, until an unknown signal activated Hades, who attempted to stop Gaia’s attempt at restoring the planet. Gaia in an attempt to destroy Hades then self destructed making the decision to leave humans to fend for themselves.
Hades managed to unbound itself from Gaia, but was heavily damaged. It proceeded to send out signals for help to an audience not advanced enough to receive it, until Sylens discovered it and then helped to restore Hades. Hades then proceeded to try to reactivate the robots Minerva had shut down, and condemn humanity again.
Once learning about the ancients, the ai’s and the steps that were taken to put the world in it’s current condition Aloy also learned that she herself was actually a clone, created by GAIA with Elisabet Sobeck’s genetic material. This was done in the hopes that this clone could access GAIA Prime and restore the subordinate functions of the other ais, but unfortunately it became clear that Hades had destroyed the hopes of that.
Hades gained control of many machines through and began a mission to destroy Aloy. Hades reactivated the machines of the past through the Spire and began an assault on Aloy, the only person with the knowledge of how to defeat Hades.
Aloy destroyed the machines and kills Helis. She manages to take a code given to her by Gaia, and her new staff created with the help of Sylens, to deactivate Hades and terminate the extinction protocol Hades is responsible for.
Aloy then travels to find Elizabeth Sobecks body, and says goodbye to the mother she had set out to find at the start of her journey. In a final cutscene Sylens is seen trapping the remains of Hades’s program, and heading towards a huge spider-like machine.
The sequel is soon to be upon us, and we’re likely to see life underwater, more of Hades and explore more of earths history in the last thousand years.