It’s time to rise above our ruin!
Hi, I’m Mark from Amazing Gaming Productions.
Today I review Horizon: Forbidden West.
The Horizon Series is fast becoming one of my favourite computer game series – the storytelling is excellent and consistent throughout the games.
I know it gets flack from all kinds of places, including would be gaming journalists who think they understand story theory, which they do not.
But Horizon: Forbidden West is one of the best stories I have seen in a video game.
The review has many spoilers, so do not continue if you want to play the game.
If not, keep reading.
Main – life vs machines
While some people say, “I’m disappointed the bad guys were not Far Zeniths, because we should hate on billionaires” – claiming that should be the only lesson we have to learn right now, they are wrong.
As I stated in my Static Character Arc series, using Horizon: Zero Dawn, the theme is humanity’s over relying on technology. The Thematic conflict was Humanity and Life vs Machines and AI.
We saw the theme through humanity’s overreliance on war machines, which created the Faro Plague. In the present, the Terraforming network is putting the world at risk of extinction, and Aloy has to save it from Hades, who was hell bent on destroying all life on Earth because of a mysterious signal.
In this story, we find out the thematic conflict started the destruction.
The Far Zeniths forgot the lesson of over relying on technology through the Faro Plague by creating something that destroyed them. They created an AI that would allow them to transfer their consciousness to any mechanical or biological body. It failed.
That turned out badly for them, they created Nemesis, which hates them, and then it destroyed their civilization on Sirius, and when they fled, Nemesis sent the signal to destroy all life on Earth, to deny the Zeniths safe harbour.
The conflict has always been – humanity and life vs machines and AI, so Nemesis is the perfect enemy for Aloy and her companions to face in the next game.
Secondary – character vs personality
Another theme HFW played with is the difference between character and personality.
Let me define this – character is our observable behaviours, and personality is our internal motivations.
You can see the differences between Elizabet Sobeck, Aloy and Beta.
You can see that Elizabet was bitter. Even in the one cut scene with Travis Tate, you can read it off her body language. She hated humanity so much but reluctantly protected it with Zero Dawn.
Aloy was the same gifted technologist as Elizabet, who wanted to protect life, like Elizabet. However, Aloy is much more empowered and optimistic. She did things that Elizabet could not do – like parkour through a world, climbing mountains, fighting machines, and swimming in the ocean.
Beta, on the other hand, is constantly afraid. Raised by two AI personalities, she is shy and reclusive. She is terrified of anyone, but there is some hope. She is learning to be brave because of Aloy, a genetic clone like her, can do things that inspire her. Now she is becoming a member of the team.
You also see it in the difference between Gaia 1 and Gaia 2 – Gaia 1 sacrifices itself to try to save all life on Earth, while Gaia 2 is willing to kill the Zeniths to do the same. Perhaps, this is a change that can help with Nemesis, where Gaia 1 may not have been able to fight.
Storytelling Devices – The Red Herring
The Zeniths are a red herring – which was awesome because good writing always distracts the reader/viewer/player until there are surprise endings.
Mass Effect 1 had a red herring because the conduit was a miniature mass relay, not a weapon. There was also the red herring that Saren was your opponent.
While HZD tried to do this until you realize Helios was not pushing the story because it was Hades… Forbidden West does much better distracting you from the main enemy because you learn about it in the very end.
Let me tell you; I knew something was up through the story because if the Zeniths were the main enemy of the story, they were going in blind. They are taking too many risks to want to destroy Earth and humanity. They could have sent a signal to Earth with 30th-century humanity that could have reversed it in a few weeks – not the primitive people that inhabit the world. Nemesis would not care, it could take care of 30th-century humanity anywhere, or so it thinks.
Again, this is awesome – Forbidden West is great.
If people did not get Aloy is a gifted technologist who cares about others, you need to realize it now. Many people mistook her awkwardness or independence the wrong way. She is not a “strong independent woman” or “an outcast”. I am gifted like her, and I tend to be independent because few people understand me, and its taxing to be around too many people.
In the first game, she does not have to grow as a person. She is an Introverted outcast raised by Rost. Leaving the Sacred lands and pursuing her goal was second nature to her. She has always lived by exploring, learning and adapting. These are considerations of why I consider the start of her story as a static character arc. She does not change – her behaviour does not change at all.
Now she is building a team to help her rebuild the terraforming network. Of course, an Introvert without experience dealing with people stumbles around. She has never had a leadership role that lasted more than a few days. Now she is leading a group of 5-6 people.
Her inexperience is immediately evident with Beta. Aloy looks at her as a “defective version” of herself. She should be just as capable of learning and being like Aloy. But during most of the time in HFW, Aloy shows such cold disdain for Beta. During one cutscene, Aloy says to Beta – it is a good thing you are not a Nora then. Beta’s response was one of shock and shame – receding from Aloy.
I wanted to crawl into my TV, grab Aloy and ask her – did Rost ever treat you like this? Aloy eventually wins Beta by talking about Rost’s influence on her life, which makes her life different.
Throughout the game, she starts to connect with her new companions, learning the value of traditions and different ideas. From Zo, Varl, Kotallo, and Alva. I like Alva’s response to Aloy’s dismissal of her beliefs of the Ancestors, the old ones, and the Legacies – “Of course they are dead, that is why they are ancestors!”
Aloy realizes that you can not just dismiss people’s beliefs, ideas, or capabilities. Everyone is on a different journey, and she needs to accept even someone genetically the same as she is different – right back to the character vs personality sub theme.
Of course, it is fun to see the dynamic between Aloy and Sylens – two gifted people, but where Aloy is all about doing whatever it takes to save as many people as she can, Sylens will sacrifice 1000s to achieve his goals. These two contagonists will be exciting to see in the next game. They almost always never get along, but now they have an uneasy truce. Sylens is very logical, whereas Aloy makes value based decisions – there will always be enmity between these two groups.
Aloy has learned a great deal – she is becoming the leader she needs to be because the world is in for one huge surprise when Nemesis shows up.
Guerrilla Games shows they are upping their storytelling game in the Horizon series.
With excellent themes of man’s overreliance on technology and character vs personality – everything they do shows the story, not tell the story. We do not need some holographic AI in the Horizon series to inform us the conflict is about organics vs synthetics.
And the use of great red herrings with the Zeniths as side threat.
Aloy’s journey from awkward introvert thrust into a leadership role to a seasoned leader who inspires others to take risks was also excellent – especially the growth of her more spiritual side – speaking to Varl and Elizabet, even though they have left.
Horizon: Forbidden West shows what it takes to make great gaming stories.
Thanks for taking the time to read my review.
If you like it, feel to share it on social media.
And if you have any comments or questions, use the comment section below.
Have a great day, guys!