Horizon: Forbidden West is a big game. It's the sequel to Horizon: Zero Dawn, and if you're just getting into the series you might be wondering what's going on. Aloy was also the protagonist in Zero Dawn, and her journey has brought her to an entirely new region of the world.
If you want to jump right into Forbidden West without playing through Zero Dawn (which is understandable, since both games are very long), here's a summary of Aloy's first adventure and the events that led her to travel west.
Major spoilers for Horizon: Zero Dawn are beyond this point.
The Motherless Child
The world into which Aloy was born is one inhabited by tribes of humans in the rough equivalent of the late Stone Age and early Bronze Age, and players can tell almost right away that this society is built on the long-forgotten ruins of our modern world. Robots in the form of animals roam the earth in packs, behaving similarly to their biological counterparts, who are nowhere to be found.
The Nora, the tribe inhabiting the Rocky Mountains, worship a sacred peak that they believe to be the home of All-Mother, the goddess who created humanity. When a newborn baby girl was discovered alone inside the sacred mountain, the tribal elders were divided; some argued that the girl was a gift from All-Mother, but others pointed out that a motherless child in their matriarchal society was a bad omen who would bring curses on their people.
The infant was given to Rost, an outcast warrior who had been exiled by the tribe, to raise. This compromise allowed the child to remain close to the tribe but far enough away that if she was indeed cursed she could be kept out of Nora society. Rost named the baby Aloy and raised her as his own.
As a child, Aloy was naturally curious. While exploring near Rost's house in the wilds, she stumbled into ruins of the Metal World, the society of the Old Ones – us. The Nora considered such places to be taboo, as their folklore was full of stories of Metal Devils, enormous machines who could only be defeated by a god or a great hero.
Inside the ruins, Aloy found a small triangular device that could be worn on her ear. The device showed images and played recorded sounds of the Old Ones, and Aloy quickly learned it was called a Focus. In spite of Rost's dismissal of the Focus as nothing more than a toy and a distraction, Aloy dedicated herself to learning how to use it. The Focus' augmented-reality interface allowed Aloy to "see the invisible," and as she grew up it proved to be useful in hunting.
Shortly after finding the Focus, Aloy saves the life of a young tribesman named Tal. Although Tal is grateful and remembers her kindness years later, his companions treat Aloy with derision since she is an outcast. When a boy named Bast throws a rock at her, Aloy asks Rost why they are considered outcasts and who her mother was.
Rost says that he doesn't know, but tells Aloy that by birthright she is allowed to attempt the proving, a coming-of-age ritual for prospective warriors. This is the only way for the young girl to be accepted as a member of the tribe, and if Aloy proves the most capable of her year's aspirants the tribe's elders will be bound by tradition to grant her one boon.
Aloy resolves to win the Proving and use her boon to force the Matriarchs to reveal her mother's identity. She trains tirelessly with Rost, becoming a skilled hunter and a strong athlete by her nineteenth birthday, when she is eligible for the Proving.
The night before the proving, Aloy visits the Nora's main town at Mother's Heart. There, she encounters several outsiders who are visiting as part of a merchant caravan, including a foreigner named Dervahl who also has a working Focus – the first Aloy has ever seen besides her own. The traveler is reluctant to speak with her, and quickly excuses himself.
At the proving, Aloy's strength, speed, and prowess are tested. Bast, the boy who attacked her years ago, is also competing and does everything he can to undermine Aloy's progress. To make up for lost time, Aloy takes a daring and dangerous alternate route, ultimately completing the Proving mere steps ahead of Bast and another competitor; Vala, the daughter of the Nora war-chief.
Her victory makes Aloy a full-fledged Nora brave, accepted, and respected within the tribe, but in her moment of triumph, the Proving Ground comes under attack by a mysterious group of warriors wielding the lead-spitting weapons of the Metal World.
Aloy rallies the other newly-minted braves to fight the attackers, but Bast, Vala, and the others are all killed. She is cornered by the enemy leader, whom she later learns is named Helis, and is only saved by a timely intervention from Rost. Aloy's adoptive father had been watching the Proving from afar, and when he realizes that the invaders have set explosives he throws the barely-conscious Aloy over a cliff, reasoning that she might survive the fall but would not survive the blast. Rost himself is killed in the explosion, and Aloy wakes up later beneath the Sacred Mountain.
The Matriarchs found Aloy half-dead after the attack, and brought her inside the Sacred Mountain, trusting All-Mother to heal her. They reveal to Aloy that the tribe has come under attack by machines, corrupted and controlled by Helis and his warriors. Aloy swears vengeance on Helis, and demands that the Matriarchs tell her everything they know about her origin.
The Matriarchs tell Aloy that she was found within the mountain, and suggest that she travel into the sacred site herself. At the heart of the mountain, Aloy finds a metal door. To the Matriarchs' astonishment, a light and a voice appear at Aloy's approach. The system, which the Matriarchs believe to be All-Mother herself, shows a woman who looks like Aloy but a few decades older, who it names Elisabet Sobeck. Aloy concludes that this must be her mother.
The digital voice denies Aloy entry to the door, claiming that something called the Alpha Registry is corrupted and that her identity cannot be verified. The Matriarchs interpret this as a sign that Aloy has been chosen to "purify" the corruption within All-Mother, and anoint her as a Seeker; a ceremonial role that allows her to leave the Nora's tribal homeland without being considered tainted by the outside world.
The Override Module
As she departs for her journey, Aloy assists her tribespeople in defending against an assault by Helis' machines. After destroying a scorpion-like Corrupter, Aloy uses her Focus to analyze its parts. She harvests the Override Module from it, and after some experimentation discovers she can use it to temporarily take control of lesser machines.
Aloy uses the Override Module to ride machines and make them fight for her, and by the time she leaves the Nora homeland, people in neighboring regions are already talking about the red-haired woman who commands machines.
The Carja Sundom
Southwest of her homeland, Aloy visits the Carja Sundom, a comparatively advanced civilization that worships the sun. There is bad blood between the Carja and the Nora, as the previous Sun-King was a tyrannical warmonger who enslaved Nora tribespeople in brutal raids.
The current Sun-King, Avad, led a rebellion, killing his father and taking the throne for himself. The young monarch seeks to reconcile with his neighbors but is occupied with rebels called the Shadow Carja, his father's exiled supporters. Introduced to Avad by his commander Erend, whom she had helped previously, Aloy discovers that the Sun-King's enemies are her enemies; Helis commands the Shadow Carja forces and seeks to awaken dangerous machines to overthrow the Carja capital of Meridian. Aloy resolves to continue helping Avad and Erend, and as part of her investigation makes a chilling discovery.
Sylens And His Secrets
Dervahl, the merchant who Aloy met the night before the proving was working with the Shadow Carja, who held his family captive and blackmailed him into funding and supporting their cause. His Focus transmits everything he sees and hears to HADES, a sentient machine worshipped as a god by the rebels. Upon seeing Aloy's face, HADES immediately directed its followers to kill her.
Aloy has no idea why HADES wants her dead, but starts to receive messages from a mysterious benefactor calling himself Sylens. Communicating with Aloy via her Focus, Sylens directs her to explore the ruins of the Old Ones in her search for answers. Aloy doesn't trust Sylens, but having few other leads she agrees to work with him.
The Faro Plague
Exploring the remnants of the Metal World, Aloy begins making discoveries about the fate of the Old Ones. In the mid-21st century, a corporation called Faro Automated Solutions produced a line of military peacekeeping robots. These machines were capable of self-replication, able to convert biomass into fuel for emergencies, and were effectively impossible to hack or compromise. When a network of these robots went rogue, the company was unable to regain control of them and they started killing and processing everything that they encountered.
Desperate to avoid a massive scandal, CEO Ted Faro recruited his nemesis, a former executive who left due to moral concerns over the creation of the peacekeeper line. The genius roboticist and polymath was a woman named Elisabet Sobeck – the same woman whose face Aloy was shown at All-Mother Mountain.
Sobeck determined that, based on the rate at which the robotic swarm was expanding and the time it would take to find a solution, a complete collapse of the global biosphere was inevitable – all life on Earth would be destroyed in a matter of months. With the support of the United States government and Faro's near-limitless financial resources, she devised, implemented, and oversaw Project Zero Dawn.
Project Zero Dawn
After she learns about the disaster that destroyed the Old Ones, Aloy is directed by Sylens to the ruins of the Zero Dawn project facility – located directly beneath the Shadow Carja's desert fortress. She disguises herself as a mercenary and infiltrates the stronghold, finding a cliffside entrance to the chambers below. Though it is clear that the Shadow Carja have been trying to excavate and use Old One technology for their war against Sun-King Avad, Aloy presses onward.
She learns that Project Zero Dawn was never meant to stop the apocalypse. Elisabet Sobeck had determined that such a task was impossible and instead implemented a plan to reverse the damage over a long period of time, so that Earth could be inhabitable again.
The Worst-Case Scenario
Assembling a team of experts from around the world, Sobeck developed an artificial intelligence called GAIA that could maintain the project long after the last humans had reached the end of their natural lifespans. Through nine subordinate AIs, GAIA would decrypt and neutralize the Faro Plague, then terraform the barren planet to restore the biosphere. At that point, frozen human embryos would be incubated, raised, and educated by the APOLLO AI to give them the full benefit of their predecessors' knowledge and culture.
One of the AIs built to facilitate the project was HADES, the machine-god that is trying to kill Aloy. Originally, HADES was a failsafe protocol; if the terraforming process went too far outside acceptable parameters, HADES would take control of the project and return the planet to its lifeless starting point, allowing the process to start over. How he has become active after the restoration of humanity and why he seeks to kill Aloy is still a mystery,
Meanwhile, the United States military devoted all of their efforts to protecting the Zero Dawn facility from the Faro Plague, buying Sobeck and her team enough time to complete the project. To do this, General Herres, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the public that Project Zero Dawn was a weapons project that would destroy the plague. Millions of conscripts and professional soldiers died protecting the facility, never knowing that humanity was doomed.
The Alpha Registry
Deep within the facility, Aloy finds Elisabet Sobeck's office and an intact copy of the Alpha Registry file. This data will allow her to bypass the door back home at All-Mother Mountain. Before she can leave the ruins, though, she is cornered and captured by Helis and his soldiers.
Helis condemns Aloy to die by gladiatorial combat in the Sun-Ring, destroying her Focus before dropping her into a pit of vicious machines. Aloy is able to defeat her opponents, humiliating Helis before his followers, before Sylens arrives to rescue her. Blasting a hole in the wall of the Sun-Ring, he brings Aloy an overridden machine on which to ride away and outrun their pursuers.
Sylens gives Aloy one of his many spare Focus devices, revealing that he has been persistently backing up her original device's memory in case anything happened to her. All of Aloy's data, including the Alpha Registry, is intact. Sylens reiterates that he is driven only by pragmatism and refuses to travel with Aloy back to the Nora homeland.
To distract Aloy while he prepares for his assault on Meridian, and to placate HADES following his failure to kill Aloy twice now, Helis orders another attack on the Nora tribe with the intent of massacring them, burning their settlements, and salting the earth of their lands. Aloy races hundreds of miles home to assist in the defense of the Sacred Land.
After helping to turn the tide of battle against Helis's soldiers and machines, Aloy returns to the heart of All-Mother Mountain. With the Alpha Registry restored, the door greets Aloy as Elisabet Sobeck and allows her to pass through.
Within, Aloy finds one of the many bunkers scattered throughout the world where humans were gestated in artificial wombs and educated. However, the digital classrooms are inoperative, unable to connect to the APOLLO system. The knowledge of the Old Ones is inaccessible.
Scanning through the facility's logs, Aloy finds a final entry, made centuries after humans were released back into the wild and the facility was shut down. Roughly two decades ago, a direct command from GAIA reactivated the facility to gestate a single human clone.
The log entry, left by GAIA herself, indicates that her main server became compromised by an unknown entity seeking to gain control of the entire system. Unable to defend against the attack and having lost control of her subordinate functions – including HADES, whom the cyberattack reactivated – GAIA overloaded her reactor, destroying her main facility. This effectively killed GAIA and left much of her system inoperable.
Her last act before destroying herself was to reactivate the Lightkeeper Protocol, a discarded initiative within Project Zero Dawn that would have had the project leaders raise and train clones of themselves to maintain the project across generations. Using a stored embryo never meant to be gestated, GAIA created a genetic copy of the only person she knew that could find a way to restore her system and keep humanity safe – Elisabet Sobeck.
Aloy is a clone of the woman who gave life on Earth a second chance.
The Mountain That Fell
Aloy emerges from the facility to find that the Nora believe her to be the Anointed of All-Mother for being able to pass through the door. Knowing the superstitious elders will never understand what she has learned, Aloy tells them that All-Mother informed her that her destiny is to lift a curse by destroying a Metal Devil. She calls for the Nora to travel west to Meridian, reconcile with the Carja, and help to defend the city against Helis's impending attack. The Matriarchs invoke the Seeker Blessing on all the warriors who volunteer, allowing them to leave the Sacred Land.
While the Nora are mustering for war, Aloy rides ahead to visit what's left of the main GAIA facility. There, she discovers the fate of Elisabet Sobeck and the other Zero Dawn leaders. After the Faro Plague broke through the army's final defensive line, the heads of Zero Dawn relocated to GAIA Prime, sealing themselves in for the rest of their lives to complete the project. As the lockdown was completed, they detected that a malfunctioning seal would allow the swarm to detect and overrun the facility. Without a second thought, Elisabet Sobeck donned an environmental suit and left the facility, repairing the seal from the outside with no way to re-enter. Her last communication with her team was that she would try to make it to her family's ranch to die at home.
The remaining staff continued their work, optimizing and improving GAIA. Meanwhile, Ted Faro – sealed inside his personal bunker – began to suffer a serious breakdown. Convincing himself that technological progress, rather than his own greed and shortsightedness, had doomed humanity, he hacked the GAIA system, locking out Sobeck's team. He proceeded to delete the records of human history, science, and culture from APOLLO – including the story of his own failure – and vented the atmosphere from the facility, killing the remaining Zero Dawn leaders.
After learning this tragic story, Aloy recovers the Master Override, a data module that will allow her voiceprint – or rather, Elisabet's – to command HADES to shut down.
Sylens and HADES
When she emerges from GAIA Prime, Aloy finds Sylens waiting for her in person. He confesses that he originally gave HADES its army. Having found the AI trapped in a disabled weapons platform, he agreed to help it in exchange for knowledge. Sylens learned the secrets of 21st-century math, science, and programming from HADES, and coached the AI on what to say to the Shadow Carja to convince them it was a god from their legends.
Sylens insists that he never realized HADES wanted to eliminate all life on Earth, and leaves Aloy his spear and his workshop before setting off on a journey to the Forbidden West in search of more knowledge.
The Battle of Meridian
Aloy returns to Meridian, where her allies have gathered to defend the city from Helis' army. Aloy determines that HADES' objective is the Spire, an Old One tower that served as the city's founding landmark. The Spire was originally constructed as part of the MINERVA system, which decrypted the override codes for the Faro Plague and broadcast them across the globe to shut down the killer robots. HADES intends to use the Spire to broadcast an activation signal, resurrecting the Faro Plague to scour the Earth of life.
When the Shadow Carja attack, Aloy fights Helis a final time, defeating and killing him. She then rushes to defend the Spire as HADES, housed in a Deathbringer platform, attempts to take control of it.
Supported by Erend and her other friends, Aloy disables HADES' hardware and uses Elisabet Sobeck's authorization codes to deactivate the AI. The Shadow Carja are defeated, saving Meridian – and the world.
After the battle, Sylens remotely uploads HADES' consciousness to a portable device he custom-built, intent on forcing it to teach him about quantum physics and other advanced sciences. Meanwhile, Aloy takes a journey in search of the Sobeck Ranch. There, she finds the remains of Elisabet Sobeck still in their environmental suit, thus being in the presence of her "mother" for the first time.
The Frozen Wilds
Sometime after the battle, Aloy travels to the frigid lands of the Banuk tribe in what was once Yellowstone – which she later learns is Sylens' homeland. There, she helps a shaman named Ourea purify her spirit-guide, which Aloy recognizes to be an AI system named CYAN.
CYAN has been compromised by HEPHAESTUS, one of GAIA's subordinate functions, in an attempt to use the region's geothermal activity to power its manufacturing facilities. For reasons Aloy does not yet understand, HEPHAESTUS has been creating robots that are hostile and dangerous – she suspects that whoever reactivated HADES also subverted HEPHAESTUS. These questions all remain unanswered as Aloy continues her journey in Horizon: Forbidden West.
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