Horizon Forbidden West: Evolving Aloy

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Horizon Forbidden West: Evolving Aloy

From art design to character storylines, Guerrilla reveals what’s new for its hero in the upcoming sequel.

Since the launch of Horizon Zero Dawn in 2017, Aloy has lived in the hearts of our players, and her story of survival, self-discovery, and sacrifice resonated with many. That story is set to continue in the upcoming sequel, Horizon Forbidden West, which takes place six months after the events of Horizon Zero Dawn. Aloy has travelled west to investigate a mysterious and deadly blight. In these uncharted lands, she will meet strange new tribes and encounter ever more deadly machines. Together with old friends and new companions, she must brave this new frontier to find the answers she needs to save life on Earth. 

Spoiler Alert: Please note this article contains some spoilers for Horizon Zero Dawn and its storyline.

Aloy’s story, woven from love and loss, makes for a very compelling adventure. People from all over the world have shared with us the impact Horizon Zero Dawn has had on them, and they want more. After revealing Horizon Forbidden West’s gameplay trailer late May, fans were ecstatic to see Aloy again, fighting against machines and raiders, and even reuniting with her old friend Erend.

From outcast to heroic Machine hunter

Guerrilla’s Narrative Director Ben McCaw understands these reactions well. “In Horizon Zero Dawn, Aloy goes from being the least important person in the world – a humble outcast – to the most important. Not only does she become the greatest machine hunter in the land, she discovers that she is the key to understanding Earth’s past and saving its future. Along the way, she gathers key allies to her side, like Varl, a kind Nora hunter who lost his sister in the Proving; Erend, a strong but sensitive Oseram Vanguard; and the Carja Sun-King Avad, an enlightened ruler trying to rescue his people from their bloody past.

‘But Horizon Zero Dawn ends with Aloy’s job only half-finished,” Ben continues. “One threat has been vanquished, but another looms in the form of a strange red blight that’s strangling the land. So in the six months between games, she has been on a mission to discover how to stop this insidious infection. Fans can get a glimpse of her journey in the five-issue Sunhawk collection from Titan Comics. This mission has been tough. She’s had to travel fast and leave a lot of her gear behind. Even so, she has pursued the mission with the same determination, strength, and drive that she showed in the first game. In that sense, she hasn’t changed a bit.”

A hero, a hunter, an explorer… Aloy carries a lot on her shoulders as she continues to face challenges and dangers in these lands. From a narrative perspective, it was important to convey Aloy’s strength and emotional intelligence, and to provide her with lessons and experiences throughout the game to develop further as a real and relatable protagonist.

“Born and raised as an outcast, Aloy has a unique perspective on the world,” explains Ben. “She is deeply compassionate towards those who suffer, and highly driven to punish powerful oppressors. Although she has made many friends during her adventures, she still feels like an outsider, and the truth is, she has no real home. These aspects of her character will be explored in depth as she ventures into the mysterious frontier of the Forbidden West.

‘This goes for the story as well. It starts with the same Aloy that players fell in love with during Horizon Zero Dawn. But we’ve added new tribes, new companions, and new complications, all of which will force Aloy to change. We don’t want to spoil how, but there are some big surprises along the way! We have no doubt that players will enjoy watching her evolution.”

Horizon Forbidden West doesn’t just show an evolution of Aloy’s character, but also offers more freedom in the way she moves through and experiences the world. “In Horizon Forbidden West, we wanted to keep and expand everything that made Aloy such a great and engaging character, but also add much more. She’s still the same nimble and accurate machine hunter, but we’ve added tons of depth to the combat system. It’s still exciting to explore the world with her, yet we’ve made traversal more varied with tools like the Pullcaster and Shieldwing, both of which were on display in our gameplay trailer,” says Ben.

Concepts and collaboration

Aloy’s transformation throughout her journey is not only done through the narrative team’s brilliant writing; it’s a collaborative effort between various teams at Guerrilla, from concept art to animation to audio and more.

Ben agrees. “Multiple teams have invested countless hours in her every aspect: her combat moves, her animations, her gear, her hair, and her dialogue. Not to mention Ashly Burch’s inspired voice performance. All of this effort makes Aloy feel real. It also makes her a great fit for all kinds of players: those who want to fight, to explore, to engage with tribes and NPCs, or simply to just take in her presence in a beautiful world. So many people work hard to make all this possible.”

One of these people is Bastien Ramisse, Lead Character Artist at Guerrilla who’s been heavily involved in Aloy’s character since day one.

“Bringing a character to life is always an exciting process,” he starts. “From a creative perspective, we often experiment with multiple design sketches and proposals. This is also when we start discussing how to develop and build a better understanding of the character and its subtleties.’

‘With Aloy, a long period of gestation and collaboration with talented artists happened to reach the unique and iconic look we all know of her today. As character artists, the team is mainly focusing their attention to always improve the quality and fidelity of the models. So it’s the involvement of multidisciplinary team members such as narrative, concept art, rigging, animation, audio and lighting (to only name a few) mixed with our perseverance and effort which is the true magic that creates fictional characters. It allows them to become a believable and inspirational hero for everyone.”

Aloy is well known for her wavy red braids and agile warrior build, but what truly drives the design is the authenticity and practicality of placing and experiencing the characters in the world they live in.

“The team always designs her outfits with the intention to allow graceful and fluid movement over heavy and impractical costumes. We also believe that meticulously placed details are part of immersion and tell an often unspoken story. At Guerrilla, we are always eager to explore and expand the identities and cultures of our tribes. While the Utaru tribe was briefly included in Horizon Zero Dawn, they feature more heavily in Horizon Forbidden West, with an updated design, grounded fashion construction, and expanding the use of materials to create practical clothing to fit their day-to-day activities, environment and hierarchical diversity.”

More detail than ever before

The development and subsequent launch of the PlayStation 5 console has given teams at Guerrilla even more means to aim for high quality and visual benchmarks we are so passionate about, and brings an added layer of detail and authenticity to the game.

“Each generation of consoles brings extra power that lets us add even denser polygons to our character models, so we can create finer details such as peach fuzz, smooth contouring, or finer texture details and accurate materials expression, to name a few. And not only do visual aspects benefit from the new PlayStation 5 hardware — we have also increased the number of skeletal joints to bring our deformations and facial expressions to a whole new level for more credible and immersive character performance. All in all, a dream come true for both players and developers!”

Just because the team has been pushing the boundaries on the PlayStation 5 version of Horizon Forbidden West, doesn’t mean that the PlayStation 4 version will be compromised, notes Bastien. “We actually developed and tested the game simultaneously on both PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, because it’s very important to us as a studio to ensure PlayStation 4 players get an equally immersive experience. With our knowledge from Horizon Zero Dawn, we knew that we still had some unexplored resources that could push the realism and quality of our character assets forward; it’s great to now be able to tap into that knowledge and experience for the sequel.’

‘From an artistic point of view, Horizon Forbidden West really stands on the shoulders of a successfully established design foundation in Horizon Zero Dawn,” Bastien continues. “The most noticeable differences and improvements for Aloy in terms of technology is the push of facial and body capture accuracy, allowing more realistic shapes and surface details on characters as well as the careful increase of polygon density to capture handmade and used outfits.”

And Horizon Forbidden West will have a range of outfits for Aloy to benefit from; similar to and perhaps familiar from the first game, outfits allow for protection against a variety of dangers that Aloy encounters and can be purchased from Merchants or found in the world. A new addition to the system is that outfits in Horizon Forbidden West have skills attached to them, so players can boost their abilities in different ways. Maximizing these skills happens through a new and improved Skill Tree, something we will tell you more about some other time…

Evolving the Cosplay Guides

The efforts that go into Aloy’s outfits (and those of the characters she meets during her journey) do not go unnoticed in the Horizon community. Cosplayers have been exploring these characters for years, bringing them to life in their own way and using that high level of authenticity from within the game to inform their material choices for their own costumes. To make their design process easier, Guerrilla loves to provide extensive Cosplay Guides with highly detailed renders and explanations on materials used.

“Aloy’s Utaru Harvester outfit, which she wore in the recent gameplay trailer and is featured in our newest Cosplay Guide, is a successful cocktail of old applied rules to preserve the look and feel of Aloy, with a pinch of new exploration of the Utaru tribe. The outfit uses a wide variety of natural materials such as reed, jute, rattan, linen and leaves found within the surrounding area of Plainsong.”

Bastien hopes that, through the material library the team uses throughout development, the details and realism of tribal materials such as hide, leather, suede and wood will be useful and inspirational references. “At Guerrilla, we are always so honored to see dedicated cosplayers investing so much time and passion in the hard labor of crafting real life costumes of our digital version of Aloy. From artists to artists, we understand that such a creative project is an often uncharted and sometimes tedious path, so we are hugely excited and can’t wait to discover your newest creations after the game hits the shelves.”

Ben attests to that sentiment: “We’re excited for players to experience many of the game’s new features. Our new traversal tools. Underwater exploration. Enhanced combat. Spectacular machines. But most of all, we can’t wait to see how players react to all the characters Aloy will meet in her journey across the frontier of the Forbidden West. From old friends to new comrades and tribes, she will experience many highly personal stories… and these will affect her quite a lot. It’s safe to say she will never be the same!” For more information on Horizon Forbidden West, please visit here. We’ll be back soon with another developer blog!

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  • Keep up the great work, we are looking forward to play this masterpiece : )

  • Greatness 💯💯
    Can’t wait.

  • The 1st one was awesome, But ONLY when nobody else was online. It’s solo game play limited the game for me. I think this game NEEDS a co-op upgrade, Let us make a “Tribe” and have 2 friends join to play together. Give it a replay-ability so it’s not just another “I’m done, What’s Next” !

    • Not everything has to be ruined by following the “games as a service” model. Some of us very much enjoy a story based game thats not meant to keep you grinding at it for 3 years. And if that’s not your cup of tea, and you only want to play games coop, that’s fine, there are plenty of games that are built just for that kind of purpose, to the point where that’s the norm these days.

  • I wish this game could’ve made it out this year. Would’ve swept the GOTY awards. Now it’s going to get ignored in a stacked year just like the first one largely did. Real shame as I know the game will be great.

    • Yeah, I felt sorry for them the first time, releasing right around Zelda:Breath of the Wild. Which then swept all the gaming awards and HZD got nothing except Playstation specific awards. Will it happen again next year?

    • Game awards are won by whoever hands over the most money. So it really doesn’t matter when it comes out or how good/bad it is.

      Of course in a year with more titles the bribes are going to be more expensive…

  • One aspect that I’m hoping to see improvements is the dialog animations. It would be wonderful to have more realistic facial animations that fits what they are actually speaking and not only generic mouth mouvements.

    Looking forward to this game, thanks for the great work!

  • I love this info for Horizon Forbidden West. Was her look turned down because of the current western trend of having less attractive women in video games? With thay being said, I have a spot right Next to Horizon for Forbidden West and cannot wait to get my hands on the game.

  • Nice to know that it was tested and developed simultaneously on PS4 and PS5, but I honestly miss information and some gameplay from the PS4 version. Unfortunately it’s still hard to find PS5 for sale at an acceptable price, so I’ll have to settle for the PS4 version

  • Astonishing character detail! I love how you can see the little hairs on her cheeks, forehead and ears, and even see the tear fluid at the bottom of her eyes in the side perspective. Her skin looks more realistic in terms of color and texture. I’m really amazed by how much detail they managed to add while still retaining her traditional look (and not having her look like a different character altogether, like the characters in Uncharted 4).

  • I absolutely loved HZD (favorite game from the PS4 generation), but I hope we get to learn more about Aloy as a character, since she had little personality in the first game. Once in a while she would be hilariously sarcastic, but that was it. What does she like to eat? What does she do to unwind? Who is this woman when there isn’t a world to save? I’m going to love HFW regardless, but I’m all for Aloy leveling up in the personality department (not change what’s already been established, but expand upon it).

  • I don’t get these references to PS4 and PS5. You need to show us tangible differences between the 2. You can’t say things like PS5 is being utilised blah blah blah……. without explaining a single thing about how that is true.

    Hermen Hulst’s interview, after the PlayStation showcase 2 weeks ago, about the PS5 version being better…… was utterly pointless and proved nothing of the sort.
    ” It looks great on both.”

    “For PS5, the level of detail on Aloy, her kits, her lighting, it’s just exceptional.”
    So it won’t be exceptional on PS4?

    “Even more amazing, we see the environments have so much going on too.”
    Same again, you could say that about either.

    “From the ruins of San Francisco to those new underwater areas, everything just looks breathtaking.”
    More PR nonsense, what has that to do specifically with PS5?

    “And it loads really fast because of the SSD.”
    Sure but the PS5 and PS4 versions are the same thing when you are plodding around the map at a fixed speed that was only designed for the PS4. Guerrilla have even said a year ago that there won’t be flying mounts because PS4 can’t handle it.

    “Plus the combat in the game offers so much variety. It’s all based on player choice. There’s so many cool weapons and tools.”
    Again, just Phil Spencering it up here with nonsense, may as well be saying nothing at all.

    Will there specifically be ray tracing, better LOD, better vegetation, higher resolutions and frame rates on PS5 over PS4? How hard is it to give us anything? Insomniac Games were very clear of the differences between PS5 and PS4 Miles Morales before launch. If the PS4 version of Horizon Forbidden West “hasn’t been compromised”, then the PS5 version has.

    And its only Monday, sigh.

    • I for one feel you are asking the REAL questions here. After being a gamer for so long, it’s easy to point out lazy PR statements (like politicians who never answer the actual questions asked of them). Let’s not even get started on the use of non-gameplay trailers.

    • Must be grumpy because it’s Monday. Not sure how we read 2 different things. They didn’t say anything about any being compromised, no ps4 and ps5 games from Sony has had any ps4 compromises. Also this is an article about Aloy specifically. What was said isn’t even hard to understand. They’re saying they upgraded her model on ps4, but the differences noticeable is mostly in facial animation and details. The lighting and such comment clearly meant they were able to take lighting to a whole next level. Don’t know what you expect them to say. It’s pretty clear that like Spiderman, it won’t be a giant upgrade on the last Gen. The differences will be details. Same things Insomniac spoke on for character models was thing like Hair being alot more realistic and such. You’re acting like Insomniac gave all the info for Spiderman before release. You only really heard everything just before release. Even gameplay was only 2 months before to the point people started delay rumors lol. Gotta relax a bit. Not sure why you’re reaching so hard lol. Just expect it will be slightly better looking on ps4. On ps5, it’ll have more detail, better models etc.

  • “Just because the team has been pushing the boundaries on the PlayStation 5 version of Horizon Forbidden West, doesn’t mean that the PlayStation 4 version will be compromised, notes Bastien. “We actually developed and tested the game simultaneously on both PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, because it’s very important to us as a studio to ensure PlayStation 4 players get an equally immersive experience. With our knowledge from Horizon Zero Dawn, we knew that we still had some unexplored resources that could push the realism and quality of our character assets forward; it’s great to now be able to tap into that knowledge and experience for the sequel.’”

    How do you push the boundaries on PS5 while developing the game to run on decade-old PS4 hardware?

    Still looking forward to the game, but this is so dishonest it upsets me.

    • They’re using a play on words. It’s to fool you into thinking that developing on two generations of consoles and PC takes no extra effort and time. It’s insulting that they think we’ll buy what they’re saying.

    • Push the boundaries has nothing to do with having a ps4 version. They can up details to a point ps4 can’t do. Nothing dishonest about it. You’re creating false meanings for it.

      Example, the best looking game on PC can look better than anything on consoles, turn down the settings to low and it probably looks worse than a ps4 game. It could push boundaries when playing in max. Doesn’t mean you can’t play it at lower settings lol

  • While I absolutely adored Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn I did feel her facial expressions could use improvement, especially during dialogue trees with NPCs, so it’s fantastic to hear this has been a focus of development for the sequel! I’m also excited to hear that Aloy will grow and evolve during Forbidden West and not just stay a static character. I would love to see a model gallery in Forbidden West like in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II or Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. The characters and their outfits are so beautiful and detailed I would love to be able to look at them closer up. Keep up the great work, Guerilla! I’m super pumped for Forbidden West!

    • In Frozen Wilds they already did a pretty good job with the expressions and in general animation during dialogues. But always room for improvement!

  • Did you make her less ugly in the sequel?

    • I think if they made her any more attractive, you’d give up real women. I think you should concern yourself less with garbage you read on the internet and maybe go outside.

    • “real women”

      This doesn’t mean anything at all. As an Art Director & character artist myself, I can tell you you’re vision of what the character is supposed to look like is based off of both the artist’s goals and how it fits into the game world. Aloy’s face is a PURPOSEFUL decision to tread the middle. For example, there are no ‘models’ in a post apocalyptic environment, but to say that no humans – especially the HERO – cam look like an icon, is utterly bizzare and ridiculous. If Kratos of GOW looked like a typical plumber, you’d probably be protesting. It’s the same thing. It’s a choice by the artists and CD to keep the character in line with both world AND their belief of what she should look like. The artists and story are in control here.

      Also, to pour water on this nonsense about so called “real women” , I’ve recently watched a few videos of swimwear week across the globe. They were a ton of attractive women walking down the stages. They weren’t robots. They were actually real people. This silly idea that real people just look like average trash is false in many many ways.

      Be honest, a lot of the outfits for alloy actually look pretty bad. There are tons of weird shapes and material combinations that just don’t really look good together. I played the hell out of that game and the artist in me is always wishing she looked better, she’s the hero of the story. In truth it’s not just her, other tribes you come across the creative direction for the outfits range from basic to just kind of weird and not making much sense. It’s almost like they wanted to make something tribal and Indian like, but not enough to offend so adding weird metal parts and places where they just didn’t fit and didn’t have much of a flow.

      Ironically Aloy looks amazing in her recent genshin appearance. Can the same people complaining about real women complain about that version of Aloy is “too pretty?” Of course not, it would be insanity.

      So to wrap up, I don’t buy this real women don’t look attractive or interesting or look completely very average nonsense. We don’t create stories to show the most average person doing interesting things. We make these stories most often to show people who are extraordinary who do extraordinary things even with humble beginnings. I don’t have any beef with Verizon it was a great game for what they designed, but the lead character was not the reason that this game won awards. I can scroll through my collection of her outfits right now and 90% of them look terrible. If that’s what constitutes a real character to you, then you’re focused on the wrong thing entirely in this fantasy genre.

  • What I want to know is how are we going to explain away our gear from Zero Dawn. That armor set I got at the very end is very high tech compared to anything I’d expect to get in Forbidden West. She already seems massively down graded in skills and gear compared to what I left off with by the end of Frozen Wilds and the Main Campaign of Zero Dawn. I know these explanations are tough, but your sibling studio SMS did this for Kratos often enough. So I’m wondering if the same care is given here.

  • Gotta say, Horizon Zero Dawn started off almost perfectly. I think her tribe should’ve put her at fault for what happened at The Proving. That guy who didn’t like her could’ve survived and blamed her. Her tribe people already weren’t a fan of her taking part. Then the rest of the game is how she sets out to right that wrong (amongst the other main plot) and ultimately become accepted by her tribe while also saving the world. I felt she became their emissary or whatever way too quickly.

    • That one crone – I forget the name – was already providing a healthy share of antagonism even after the Proving. As far as the quickness – well, it’s a long game unless you fast track it, maybe that’s why it didn’t feel the relations with Nora progressed all that fast to me. She had dialogue about how she wasn’t really much of an “emissary”, that only other nations even saw her as Nora. Aloy, despite the Nora, and all that. Plus of course while we only played for double-digit hours, in the game world it would’ve been… I dunno, months? Especially when counting Frozen Wilds. All the distances etc are hugely compacted for gameplay purposes, after all.

    • Fair points! I just expected Aloy to feel totally alone and betrayed after her guardian died at the beginning, but instead the Nora welcomed her with big arms. But I guess the mission she was given was enough to set her off on her journey. Guess I was wanting more “KOTOR”-like story elements and pay offs.

  • This game will be perfect if it has gyro aim.

  • I really wish I liked Horizon as it’s the next big exclusive but I absolutely can’t stand it.
    However if Kojima can do another game with this engine and add in physics I’d be very interested.

    • I don’t think it deserves all the hype it gets, either – but I don’t dislike it.
      It’s just a single player game, one-and-done. Not worth more than $40, imo. My jam is with replayability, like online multiplayer has.

  • I hope you will fix the clipping issues, such as Aloy’s hair clipping through clothes or the bow on her back. It breaks immersion.

  • please fix her face, it doesn’t look right in the animation, it’s too oversized, I think you guys tried a new facial animation recording method and it just didn’t turn out too well, you need to re touch it up and re adjust it

  • Had a curious flick through the cosplay guides. Great detail and even showing back and front of accessories. It’s cool you guys took that extra step for the fans.

  • I had a lot of fun with this game, getting lost in mystery of the overgrown world and lore at launch, a lot of things I’d like to see improved and introduced to the second game already present in the trailers so I’m confident I’ll love this one even more. I always saw this as a February launch again so the delay only boosted my ego, see you soon Aloy.

  • I enjoyed 1st game still play it fresh look to open world gaming Aloy looks same to me just updated for PS5 I can’t wait for it get some people moan about the delay I don’t see delay good thing make sure when games come out its 100% big free don’t want another Cyberpunk fail do we 1st game killed of Rost her step father so wonder if Aloy going lose someone close to her in this game Last of us part 2 did something launch date soon be here I can’t wait

  • greatness awaits .
    Can’t wait …….

  • I really liked the first one looking forward to the next one so much.

  • I miss more details about PS4 graphics – for example a comparison with PS5 or any PS4 gameplay.
    I’m waiting already 9 months for my PS5 and probably won’t get it before Forbidden West so PS4 info is still more relevant for me.

  • I’m definitely looking forward to embarking on Aloy’s new adventure. It’s so exciting, I can hardly belive that it’s almost here already. Keep them coming Gorilla and team!!!

  • I can’t wait for HFW to hit PC, PlayStation was the first console i ever had growing up, the PSX, but as i became a middle class truck driving adult who is primarily a PC gamer now, i love that Sony is bringing their games to PC. I have a handheld gaming PC, a OneXPlayer, to replace my Switch and it runs HZD at 800p30fps on the original PlayStation graphics. Hopefully when the Steam Deck comes out it can run PC ports moving forward for the next couple years.

  • I wasn’t so exciting about a game since Genshin Impact I just know the game will be great, like HZD was one of the best games I’ve ever played, I can’t wait for it ! :D

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