Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Horizon Forbidden West Devs Tease Aloy's New Villain, New Mysteries, and More

Horizon Forbidden West is looking to expand Aloy’s story and world in some major ways. The sequel, coming to PS4 and PS5 on February 18, is not only introducing a new region, as evidenced by its title, but is also introducing new tribes and new threats, bringing back beloved characters from Horizon Zero Dawn, and exploring new mysteries about Guerrilla Games’ fascinating world.

A new story trailer ahead of the launch next month teases what’s in store for Aloy, including a focus on new villain Regalla (played by legendary actress Angela Bassett), and what exploration into the Forbidden West means for Aloy’s journey. To find out more, IGN spoke with HFW’s narrative director Benjamin McCaw and senior writer Annie Kitain about what the new trailer teases, and how Forbidden West uses the revelations of Zero Dawn to craft new mysteries.

Also, if you haven’t yet played Horizon Zero Dawn, some spoilers for the original game may follow, as we discuss those events and their relation to the sequel.

New and Returning Faces

One of the most immediate takeaways from the trailer is just how expansive Aloy’s new quest is going to be. But no matter how big the story gets, the writers always intend to keep it rooted in the personal stakes at play for Aloy and the player.

“We have the Blight and Regalla’s rebels and Sylens’ machinations, so she's up against all of these threats,” Kitain said. “But as we hint at in the trailer, she really can't face that alone and she needs to rely on her companions to get through that. You have this epic adventure that she's on, but we also wanted to make sure she has these connections and forms these new connections with characters that she meets throughout the game.”

One of the most prominent new characters in the story trailer is Regalla, a name you’re probably familiar with if you tried to snag one of Horizon Forbidden West’s special Regalla Edition releases. The new trailer primes her as a major force to be reckoned with, one players will have to contend with in order to fulfill Aloy’s quest.

“Regalla is someone who's driven by hatred, specifically hatred of the Carja tribe, and she's willing to burn down the world to get the kind of vengeance that she wants,” McCaw explained. “And she's going to plow through anyone who gets in her way…From an emotional perspective between Aloy and Regalla, it's an unstoppable force and immovable object.”

“And one of the things that Aloy will have to discover as she's going into the Forbidden West is Regalla and her ability to override and control these machines, how that is connected to her own mission to stop the Blight,” Kitain explained.

Of course, Regalla won’t be the only antagonistic force Aloy must contend with. Lance Reddick’s memorable Sylens pops up briefly in the new trailer and will remain a key figure in Aloy’s journey, though he’ll continue to surprise the player in his actions.

“Sylens, he's always a man of mystery. In Zero Dawn, he was helping Aloy make her discoveries, but in the Forbidden West he really does have his own agenda and his own plan,” Kitain said. “A lot of that we're really excited for players to discover as they go through this journey, but part of his plan does involve helping Regalla… why exactly he's doing that, that's the mystery that we can't wait for players to find out.”

“Sylens always has a plan and that plan is never quite what you think. That's how it was in the first game and that's how it is in the second game as well,” McCaw added.

But another new face you may notice in the trailer is a new companion character introduced in Forbidden West, Alva (played by Shameless’ Alison Jaye). She’s part of a new tribe Aloy will encounter in HFW, and a highlight of the story for the writers.

"Sylens always has a plan, and that plan is never quite what you think."

“When we were developing that character, we were looking for a blend of knowledge and innocence, and we were pretty happy with the result,” McCaw explained of her creation. “Then we saw some of the concept art for the character and we were like, ‘Oh, this is great.’ And then Alison Jaye got cast and she just blew us out of the water. It's a great performance; it's funny, it's a bit tender, and she's just a great character and there's no way that fans aren't going to like her.”

“She's brilliant and she's curious, but she's a little unsure of herself. And her role in the tribe is to help interpret the ancient past. So, that's something Aloy will learn as she meets her and gets to know her,” Kitain explained.

And Aloy will obviously have a continued interest in the ancient past (or our relative present and near-future, as the timeline of Horizon goes). With the revelation at the end of Zero Dawn that Aloy is a genetic clone of scientist Elisabet Sobeck, and, in a sense, her daughter, Aloy is very much contending with the fallout of what this new relationship in her life means. Even if Elisabet lived long ago.

“It’s everything,” McCaw said of that relationship. “Aloy feels a crushing burden, not just of the responsibility to stop the Blight and help the people of the world survive, but also to live up to the ideal of her genetic mother. And this is a major, major theme within the game. And like any mother-daughter relationship, we haven't fully explored it, it's infinite.”

Don’t Let the Mystery Be

That relationship is one of several major surprises that come throughout Zero Dawn’s story, as did the revelation that Aloy’s world was a post-post-apocalyptic United States. With those answers uncovered, though, and in fact a major part of what we’ve seen of Forbidden West - the remains of San Francisco have served as a major tease for the sequel - is there any mystery left for players to discover in the sequel?

Well, yes, quite a bit of it, and it’s foundational to the worldbuilding McCaw, Kitain, and the rest of the team do.

“When we think about Horizon, we typically think of it in terms of these four big pillars,” McCaw explained. “You have beautiful nature, you have robotic megafauna. You have Aloy, a machine hunter, a tribal hunter, and you have the tribes themselves. But there's also a fifth pillar, and that fifth pillar is the mysteries of the ancient past. And we knew we couldn't do a sequel to Zero Dawn without going deep, deep, deep into that zone. We had to develop mysteries that would be compelling to the player, would have to do with the past, but would also be personal. We feel that there's some big revelations yet to come, and that whatever it is, whatever speculation is out there, whatever you think is going to happen, you're going to be surprised.”

“We see a lot in the story trailer, but that's really just scratching the surface,” Kitain elaborated. “There are a lot of mysteries in the Forbidden West, some that we hint at in the trailer and some that we haven't mentioned yet.”

Of course, if you’re not familiar with all the intricacies of Zero Dawn’s story, or perhaps didn’t read every data point in the first game, fear not - Guerrilla is ensuring the experience will bring both new players and those returning after a long time away up to speed through the early parts of Forbidden West. And if you are a fan of hunting down every bit of lore you can get ahold of, don’t worry, Forbidden West’s writers are also hoping to satisfy those players as well.

"There are a lot of mysteries in the Forbidden West, some that we hint at in the trailer and some that we haven't mentioned yet."

“If you really want to get into the world and the lore then it goes as deep as you want and that's how we approach [those data points]. And we really tried to continue the spirit of what you had in Zero Dawn to give you that depth, but also to surprise you a little bit. So there's some new facets of our view of the 21st century that people will be surprised and pleased with,” McCaw explained.

And there will certainly be plenty of world to explore - while the story trailer indicates we’ll see Aloy setting off on her journey, lest fans be worried that the west is just a small portion of the world, McCaw confirmed “the vast, vast majority of the game takes place in the Forbidden West.”

But Aloy’s journey to and through this new region gave the writers and developers time and space to introduce and explore all the new ideas and characters being introduced. But don’t worry, Horizon isn’t turning suddenly linear.

“I'm really pleased with the way this worked out with the open world; it's a huge open world with lots to do, lots to explore,” McCaw said. “But it's also staged for the player in a way where it's not everything at once. It's not a linear path, but it's a path that…takes you through the tribes and introduces them and companions to you,” he continued, noting players won’t get lost in the many new and returning threads of Aloy’s journey.

We’ll get to see how that journey plays out in just a few weeks, as Horizon Forbidden West hits PS4 and PS5 on Feb. 18.

Jonathon Dornbush is IGN's Senior Features Editor, PlayStation Lead, and host of Podcast Beyond! He's the proud dog father of a BOY named Loki. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.


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