Horizon Forbidden West: outsmart your enemies

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Horizon Forbidden West: outsmart your enemies

What threats await Aloy, and how can you prepare yourself in the best way possible? Guerrilla talks all things combat.

The epic landscapes and ruins of the Forbidden West may be breathtaking, but danger lurks around every turn. Aloy’s enemies, both human and machine, have multiplied since the end of Horizon Zero Dawn. Whether she comes across a convoy of cargo machines and their guardians, a squad of rebel warriors looking for a fight, or a pack of Stalkers cloaked in the forest, the heat of combat will bring new challenges… but also opportunities to turn the tables.


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


Combat evolved

For the team at Guerrilla, one of the goals for Horizon Forbidden West was to significantly evolve the combat design from Horizon Zero Dawn, and to continue to build on the principles of player freedom and choice during encounters in the open world. 

“Aloy is a smart and agile combatant,” says Charles Perain, Combat Designer. “In Horizon Forbidden West, the tools at her disposal generate a wide array of tactics that allow her to engage with physically stronger opponents — from fully armored humans to very large machines.’

‘Our changes to combat design stayed true to Aloy’s identity. First, we wanted to add additional depth to gameplay and increase the skill cap for players, through skills like melee combos and Valor Surges. Players who spend some time perfecting their combat skills will find some efficient and stylish ways to dispose of their enemies. Second, we wanted to cater to a variety of playstyles and really focus on freedom of choice. Through new weapons and outfits, which can be upgraded at a workbench, players can adapt their tactics. Finally, we wanted to design challenging enemies that encourage players to use all their abilities and skills. A whole new set of machines as well as advanced human enemies will keep players on their toes throughout the game!”

“It was important to us that players feel like Aloy has grown in her skills and confidence coming from her adventures in Horizon Zero Dawn and the Frozen Wilds,” says Richard Oud, Gameplay Animation Director at Guerrilla. “She gained a lot of experience and that needed to show in her animations. Our aim was to show that Aloy is more comfortable traversing her environment – without losing sight of the fact that she’s human, of course, so things don’t always go perfectly for her. The grapple mechanic is a good example of this: she is more agile and resourceful, but at the same time we show the physical struggle when she’s being pulled up on bigger inclines.”

The AI team has played a big role in improving the combat system, especially when it comes to increasing the challenge level. Lead AI Programmer Arjen Beij: “We wanted enemies to feel more authentic by improving the fluidity and continuity of motion, like making enemies (and companions) more capable of traversing rugged terrain. The AI in Horizon Zero Dawn already supported some dynamic terrain changes, but we wanted to take this further by adding jumping and climbing as a systemic part of their behavior. As you are playing the game, the AI will be searching for opportunities to take shortcuts, where it previously was a cumbersome detour.’

‘Another example is that more machines are now capable of swimming and have the ability to dive and chase Aloy underwater. Amphibious enemies can also use jumps to get in and out of the water, so if you are unlucky they will combine this with an attack.”

Authentic animation

As detailed in a previous blog, the skill tree has been overhauled and restructured, featuring many new abilities that promote and enhance different playstyles or combinations of those. From an animation perspective, increased possibilities for Aloy and her enemies presented some unique challenges for the team.

“We extensively research to understand the anatomy and locomotion of a character,” explains Richard. ‘There are lots of differences between animating a human or a machine, however the core pillars for what we wanted to achieve with both were very similar.’

‘First, we wanted to create clarity for players. Each human class or machine is designed around a clear gameplay function, which the animation team communicates to the player through actions, posture, and motion. We rely on readable silhouettes and behaviors that the player can recognize, so you can anticipate or react to an enemy move. We play around with the timing of those movements to not only create windows of opportunities for the player to strike, block, or run, but also to show some personality traits in the animations themselves.’

‘Then we have the player and enemy responses. We work closely with the game designers to make sure we end up with fun yet challenging gameplay, whilst maintaining the authenticity of the characters. Enemies usually have some time to show their intention, so the player can respond accordingly and get that fast and (almost) instant response from the input.’

‘Finally, we look at flow and rhythm for both human and machine enemies to make a combat scenario more interesting. For example, we experiment with different ranges (short or long), multiple directions (forward, sideways, up, etc.), speed and timing (fast or slow strikes) and strength (small or big hits).”

Creating clarity and intent in a combat situation was not just a goal for the animation team. “We try to show the state of enemies through acting, posture, and vocalizations,” says Arjen. “The grace period before you are detected is acted out by having the enemy approach you. Enemies will investigate disturbances such as an arrow landing nearby or spotting a machine that you took out silently.’

‘You can also escape from combat by breaking line of sight and sneaking away. When enemies discover that you are not where they expected you to be, they will start searching. Human enemies team up and search for you as a group, with the team leader giving orders and coordinating the work. Through animation and context-dependent speech, the player will have plenty of cues to figure out their next move!”

This can help create opportunities during combat. “There are many ways to efficiently tackle a combat situation in the Forbidden West; how a player chooses to do so has a real impact on the duration of the fight, the risks involved and the cost in resources,” says Charles. “Some players prefer clearing enemies stealthily, while others will use the focus to analyze their opponents and find the best tactics to dispose of them efficiently. Or they might like to go head on with the spear and bow… at their own risk!”

Bringing battles to life

And those combat cues do not only exist in visual form; Guerrilla’s Audio team plays a pivotal role in breathing life into these epic battles. Senior Sound Designer Pinar Temiz explains how machines, unique enemies to the world of Horizon, have to sound just right.

“Our main challenge for the machines was to balance the established sonic characteristics from Horizon Zero Dawn with the freshness and complexity of the new surroundings and machine types in the Forbidden West. There are machines with even more expressive animations and world functions in this new frontier — which required even more detailed sound design to match. We had to apply what worked well in the first game and build a sound palette that made each machine come to life, while keeping them unified in their ‘Horizon-ness’.’

‘Machines have unique audio cues that are designed to help the player distinguish between a melee or a specific ranged attack. Melee attacks are communicated by a distinct sound that builds up towards the impact moment, while ranged attacks are communicated through their weapon specific charge up sounds, or projectile sounds. Especially in encounters that involve multiple machines surrounding the player, these audio cues will help attract player attention towards the most imminent attacker or source of danger, allowing them to respond in time.”

Sound Designer Lovisa Bergdahl explains how Adhesive, an elemental effect, required a very hands-on approach to create: “The Adhesive effect starts off liquid, bubbly and gross, and slowly solidifies until it cracks and dissolves. To get that sound right, I spent several days playing with slime and going through the sound library looking for the slimiest and stickiest sounds. There are both my own recordings of stretching rubber, sloshing liquids and slime, as well as sound library assets and sounds my colleagues had recorded. It was simply put, disgusting and fun.”

Awe-inspiring Machines with unique abilities

Sound isn’t the only thing that makes the machines in the Forbidden West more impressive and threatening than before. 

“The team did a lot of research to get to the core personality and character traits of an enemy, as we were looking to make the world as authentic and immersive as possible,” Richard explains. “We’d usually start with a full enemy overview, including its intended strengths and weaknesses as well as keywords and traits that could fit the character. Then we’d start studying nature documentaries, feature films, encyclopedias, comic books, concepts art, and more — anything that will help get to the core of the character.’ 

‘Once we have that overview, we create a moodboard video to clearly show the teams the intended personality, motions, and behaviors. For example, the fast and agile Clawstrider is very vicious and aggressive to encounter. They’re alert and calculated, which was a lot of fun to animate: we added small personality gestures so the player can understand what they are all about.”

Pinar adds: “When the player alerts a machine, intentionally or not, these vocalizations help recognize the mode a machine is in. If a machine is in an idle, non-alert state, you’ll hear much calmer, more sporadic, and stylized natural vocalization to reflect the personality archetype we came up with within their individual sound design.”

New enemies to deal with

Aloy does not just encounter many threatening machines in the Forbidden West… She also has to deal with an increased number of human enemies, for example with Regalla’s rebels, a faction of the Tenakth tribe. This led Guerrilla to focus on a more in-depth combat system for encounters against humans, including new enemy classes with their own combat behavior and functions.

Richard begins: “The goal was to make human combat as deep and challenging as machine combat. This meant extending the combat system and adding more variety in the way you encounter human enemies in the world. We want to give the player the option to engage in their own playstyle, whether they prefer ranged or close combat encounters. Switching between strategies resulted in a lot of transition animations which feel smooth and reactive.”

The combat team added a neat new feature to make switching between ranged and close combat feel even more rewarding, according to Charles. “The resonator blast rewards players for using spear combos: whenever Aloy attacks with melee, the resonator in her spear stacks up some energy. This energy can be blasted at the enemy and will stick to them for a short duration. Shooting it with an arrow before it dissipates will deal a huge amount of damage! This mechanic creates a powerful synergy between close combat and ranged combat, encouraging players to transition smoothly between both.”

“Since there are a lot of new archetypes in human enemies, we had different Mocap sessions to help bring these characters to life,” Richards tells us. “We worked with an experienced Mocap actor who knew how to deal with heavy stunt work and was a master in portraying different combat styles and personalities. We would explore idle behavior for specific classes, as this would tell us a lot about the kind of choices we were making for the character. For example, with the Champion class, it was key that the character came across as confident and experienced. So, the actor moved calmly, looking for gaps in the opponent’s defense and circling around while not losing eye contact and continuously closing in. It almost felt like a wolf stalking its prey!”

That starting point of idle behavior and linking the acting to a certain animal really helped clarify the different personalities and approaches for the team, Richard continues. “The Rebel Soldier enemy behaves a lot like a hyena, which resulted in a rowdy and versatile personality with a lot of uncontrolled and ungraceful motion. The posture is hunched over and from a behavior point of view we think of them as being aggressive in groups, but at the same time hesitant in small numbers. They don’t always exactly behave like this from a combat and AI perspective, but it gave the team a better understanding of the character and helped us define choices in poses, combat attacks and personality.” 

Gear up for the Forbidden West

Despite all the danger that lurks in the Forbidden West, Aloy will have plenty of opportunities to gear up and prepare before facing the worst of foes. It’s up to you to decide how to approach a situation, by using your skills, the surroundings, and the cues that the world gives you.

“There are many things players can do to be best prepared for combat,” Charles smiles. “Have Aloy wear the appropriate outfit and weapons, and use the workbench to upgrade them and unlock additional stats, perks and ammo types.’

‘The scanning mechanic from Horizon Zero Dawn is still in place, and will highlight your opponent’s weaknesses as well as their movement path. Don’t forget to craft potions and keep your berry pouch filled to the brim in case things go awry. And lastly, mix all the new traversal tools with our combat mechanics to create truly spectacular action!”

“We hope players are just going to have a lot of fun fighting these enemies,” says Arjen. “Initially outnumbered, but then to find their own solutions to the obstacles that the enemies provide. The machines can be formidable enemies, each with their own pacing and unique attacks, yet it should be possible for players to take control of the situation and win by using different tactics. Melee combat has gotten a significant upgrade and in combination with the resonator blast system allows you to string together some pretty impressive moves.”

Richard agrees: “We’re really looking forward to players discovering new machines and all their capabilities. We’ve focused on variety and different gameplay experiences for players to explore as they head into the Forbidden West. We love to see player reactions as they encounter new human enemies and machines, especially really intimidating ones like the Tremortusk!”

If you are a returning player, we hope you will feel a sense of familiarity and appreciate the variety and depth that’s been added to all combat and player progression systems, and for new players, this is a chance to enjoy an immersive and challenging system full of different combat encounters.For more information about Horizon Forbidden West, please visit here.

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70 Comments

  • Though it seems unlikely, one of my main hopes for this is that you start with weapons from the last game and create/find/earn new ones to combat the new, harder machines.

    In terms of continuity, it would make little sense for Aloy to be defenceless and need to re-learn skills.

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  • This looks like it is going to be very similar to the first game. The only thing new is story, dualsense, and graphics. Why are people so hyped for a short and similar experience? Because they only know playstation and this is the best they get, unfortunately.

    • That is the definition of sequel! To improve upon an already existing foundation: not only story and hardwarewise but they have a new location, new lore and settlement, new Robot and human enemies, new weapon, traversal etc. all these are more than enough for a sequel, this is not a PS5 remaster of the 1st game. Hopefully you do not expect Batman or Superman-like gameplay mechanics in Spider-Man 2, else you are set for massive disappointment

    • I guess if they have enough confidence in their game, maybe we can get a demo. If people like the demo, they can buy it used on ebay for $50 or less.

    • Vanlischtenstein
      Don’t waste your energy. Was curious about that ridiculous comment and tried looking up the profile. Nothing comes up for a reason. Either a hater made a account or they’re known to be anti Sony and protected themselves by hiding it lol.

      There’s no sequel that completely does away with what made the game great. Also the fact that these clips all have new mechanics shown off lol

    • Bully – You one of those people who think if you believe something is true it has to be true?

    • Have you played the first game? Have you read any of these posts? For goodness sake, there is so much more in the next game, fact check before you say such ridiculous things, or get out of this blog

    • Haha, go away fake PSN account, used to simply comment here and nothing more.

    • i have a high end PC and a PS5 so no, I do not know only Playstation i have plenty games on both platforms but their single player games are amazing each and every one, if I liked horizon zero dawn because I would not have to be excited by horizon forbidden west???
      you say the same thing when Microsoft release halo or gears of war??? same gameplay and same games for like 20 years now…

    • All sequels look like the first in many ways. Why would they change the entire look of a game completely, that would make zero sense. And they are showing off completely new mechanics and tech.

      Nice of you to waste your energy on something you just want to troll because of insecurity and jealousy.

    • Bro go back to animal crossing and fortnite

    • Animal crossing and fortnite, individually, have more replayability than this hash.
      If you all like playing a game that is very similar to the one before it, that’s cool; I’m not going to stoop way down low to your levels and insult yuh.
      If you’re that bored, where a different animation comes up when you swing a weapon, or how different it is that you have to crawl through weeds, like a snail, to avoid detection, or how a “new” weapon makes killing… the same – that’s cool & I’m glad you all are easily amused at $70. 🍰

    • Oh, it’s alkalinetp, a well known butt-hurt resented troll that roams within the blog comment section. Ignore him.

    • Aaaahhhhh ok then big man, ever played the game? If not ever play a story-based game or a game in the same series? they normally need the same content so the players will enjoy it as much as the previous game. Now plz read the post and stop speaking nonsense

    • Well, If you’re that bored, where a different animation comes up when you swing a weapon, or how different it is that you have to crawl through weeds, like a snail, to avoid detection, or how a “new” weapon makes killing… the same – that’s cool & I’m glad you all are easily amused at $70.

      Who do you work for? We’re working on getting your docs ready 🧑‍⚖️😜🍰

    • Who do you work for? We’re working on getting your docs ready 🧑‍⚖️😜🍰

    • Especially, tikiresqual 😁

  • Wow great job guerrilla keep up the good work

  • Can’t wait play on pc at september :)

  • Hype ratcheted up another notch.

    Looks good and is sounding great, roll on 22nd February.

    Ps – sorry to read every time that trolls feel the need to negative up the comments.

  • Every time one of these comes out with some new clips I somehow get more hyped!! Feb 18th can’t come soon enough!

  • Looks AMAZING!!!
    I have my PS5 already, so bring it on, baby!

    • I’ve had my PS5 since launch day and completely agree. It looks phenomenal!

      Can’t wait to play this day one (pre-ordered the Regalla Edition)

  • Love all these additions, especially the upgraded melee stuff. I really felt that a proper full blown up close system was it’s main flaw. Not to the exact extent I want based on how it looks, but much better than I expected

  • I definitely can’t wait to play it!!!!

  • Looks insane!

  • Game development is so hard, and the amount of work that goes into these games, is truly amazing… It so annoying when people shout negative comments before it’s even released. Some games won’t appeal to everyone…. Thats fine…. no one is forcing you to buy it…. But to me, Zero Dawn was a great game and had a great expansion story as well…. so…. I can’t wait to dive further into this world.

    • Same here, loved Zero Dawn. Did I want the sequel pushed back to 2022 so Guerilla could be tasked with WASTING months of development time, that should be spent on a new game, but instead its wasted on “fixing” an already released PC port of Zero Dawn for a few measly thousand players on PC?

      No, I did not. And that’s the only place where my complaints come from.

  • Game continues to impress

  • I will rent it on ps5 I will never support the new direction with pc port the best version.

    • Truth. My friends are so hyped to get this game… on PC.

    • Most people don’t have PCs that will be powerful enough to play over PS5 settings. I will support devs and AAA titles and a great machine that is also an amazing value in the PS5.

    • Don’t listen to sdodge’s D. A.

      Many people have pc’s as powerful or more powerful than ps5.

      Ps5, graphically, is about equivalent to pc’s last gen nvidia 2000-series video cards. Most gen 4 nvme’s on PC are as fast or faster than ps5.

    • I know that computer very well can be more powerful, that wasn’t the point. The point is most people can’t afford one or just don’t buy one more powerful, and you would have to spend over $500. That is why the PS5 is still such a good option for money and time… I own a nice P.C. and I actually play games twice. My point is what most people invest in.

    • Now you’re trying to say you said something about investment in your op? 🤨

  • Not with that same beach location, I won’t be checking out any of it lol.

  • PC version it is then! Hope it comes soon enough on Steam.

    • I’m certain it will be longer than September 22 for pc version but if you mindthe possibiilityof spoilers andeveryone playing it while you wait how long waz god of war to pc Horizon zero dawnclosest waz death stranding like 8 months and that was outsourced lets be real anyone that thinks HFW comes out on pc sep 22 must believe allrumors that you hear

  • Appears to be more “lip” service on a game we ALL know will be full of bugs day 1….

    And by all appearances, this will not be worth 70bucks….

    Prove me wrong!

  • Day one, Day F-in one👌🏾

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  • Day one of course. This looks incredible. I loved the first one, can wait to play this.

  • gfycat? tf?

  • Liking the improvements !

  • This looks phenomenal!!

  • All that looks great, but I have a question that no one seems to be able to respond to:

    – Why is it that the PS5 version of Horizon: Forbidden West costs more than the PS4 version on the PlayStation Store?
    – Wasn’t it confirmed that the PS4 version would have a free upgrade to the PS5 version?
    – I don’t seem to have an option to pre-order the PS4 version from the PS5 PS Store (whereas other games with a free upgrade, do). I *have* to use the web-browser version of the PS Store to be able to see the PS4 version of the game. Any specific reason for that?
    – Isn’t this misleading for the people that may not have followed the news and think that the only way to pre-order the PS5 version of the game is to pay a higher price?

  • Hey Guerrilla please add gyro aiming options for Horizon Forbidden West.

  • It looks like the use of the Tripcaster will require you jumping over your traps, a much more realistic choice compared to being able to phase through a trapline in HZD

  • Combat is AMAZING !!!!!!
    I can not WAIT for this game….

  • I’m a bit more gassed, I got my little brother to play and Platinum Horizon ZD/DLC. The one game we share mutual love for, this is icing on the cake form Guerilla and I think they took the right direction of focus for a sequel even though cross generation. Gameplay/sandbox fun to 11

  • No need for that when the game is that easy. I wish Sony start including a real Hard Mode on his games.

  • There is so many improvements but the combat is the biggest one and it was needed because the melee and range combat was so much lacking in the first game and the skill tree didn’t give you any interesting skills i can’t wait to play on the hardest mode

  • I am absolutely loving these Horizon blog updates! It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited to learn about an upcoming game.

  • OMG the Graphics for this game are just complete

  • Looks better than anything currently on xbox or nintendo. Cant wait to play it on ps5.

  • In the last game we had the chance to travel around the world and search for power cells to unlock a special type of armour in an ancient ruin. Are we going to get something similar, like will we get another type of armour/weapon we can’t buy and can only be obtained by gathering certain things/objects from around the world?

  • I am using PS Vita for over a year now and my PS glitches while I play Sac Boy else it works pretty well. Can you please help me resolve the issue? I just want to know if there is something wrong with the game or the system?

  • Horizon forbidden west must have flying in this sequel or in my opinion it will not feel like a sequel. I will be holding out buying day one. I know the devs said they couldn’t fly in the game in HZD due to hardware limitations. Now we have a multiplat and I feel PS5 owners are being robbed of a true sequel if flying not in the game. This will not truly feel like a epic game.

    New enemies, better weapons, improved skill tree, new traversal, smarter enemy AI with good melee and swimming is cool and all. But I just feel like this is incremental improvements. Many old games had flying and I mean Horizon FW needs flying with arial combat. Not just flying for fast travel animations but full control of flying with new arial robots fights against each other and ground enemies. So guerilla need to come correct but with this not reveal yet make me think flying is very small chance of happening. I would think this would be one of the first reveals to hype up the game. I hope we have only seen a sneak peek of what’s in the sequel after waiting 5 yrs.

  • Only 2 more months its almost time.

  • WOW

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