Horizon Forbidden West has been out for a few days, and given how long of a game it is (noticeably so than its predecessor), it goes without saying that many players haven’t yet seen it through to completion. If you’re among that group, turn back now, because obviously, this feature is going to be full of major spoilers. Still here? Alright then.
There’s a lot that happens in Guerrilla’s open world sequel, and between the game’s opening and closing credits, there’s no shortage of narrative twists, turns, and revelations that collectively shake everything up in a significant way by the time the game ends. Here, we’re going to talk about the ending in particular- how the game wraps up its eventful story, and what that could mean for the series’ future.
The two biggest threats that Aloy and her friends are dealing with in Horizon Forbidden West are the blight – which is essentially the terraforming system of Zero Dawn gone haywire and destroying the planet’s biosphere all over again – and Far Zenith – the group of highly advanced, supremely powerful, and effectively immortal humans who come back to Earth a thousand years after they first left it to colonize a different planet in the Sirius system nearly nine light years away.
Both of those threats are dealt with by the time the game ends. The Zeniths are all dead, thanks to Sylens and his weapon, which allows Aloy and co to destroy their shields and take them on in one on one combat. Erik is killed by Aloy and Zo, who avenge Varl’s death, while Gerrard is killed by his fellow Zenith, Tilda. Tilda herself, meanwhile, tries to force Aloy to flee the planet with her (more on that in a bit), and ends up getting killed in the fight that ensues between the two of them.
Meanwhile, the blight is dealt with as well. Throughout Forbidden West’s story, after Aloy recovers the GAIA backup and brings it back online, she travels throughout the titular west and reacquires several of the AI’s subordinate functions and reintegrates them- MINERVA, DEMETER, AETHER, POSEIDON, and HEPHEASTUS, while after defeating the Zeniths, she brings three other subfunctions back into the fold as well, with ELEUTHIA, ARTEMIS, and APOLLO. HADES is completely destroyed, which, too, is significant.
There’s a lot to unpack on that front. The most significant repercussion here is that GAIA is back online, completely healthy, and completely in control of all of her systems. The terraforming system is now functioning exactly as it should, the planet’s biosphere is stable, the blight has been dealt with, and crucially, with HEPHAESTUS being back under GAIA’s command, the Derangement of the Machines is no longer a threat. Any and all hunter-killer and combat machines that had been a threat to human existence for the last two decades are no longer something that the people of the world have to contend with. That in and of itself is a huge and radical shift. Meanwhile, with HADES now gone as well, there’s no threat of the subfunction becoming independent and self-aware and trying to destroy the planet’s biosphere once more.
That said, there are other, far bigger threats that Earth is going to have to deal with in the not so distant future. Right towards its end, Horizon Forbidden West reveals some startling things about Far Zenith. Throughout the game, the assumption is that it was the Zeniths who sent the Extinction Signal twenty years ago that awoke HADES and caused the destruction of GAIA as well as the Derangement, and that they intended to come to Earth, steal and restore GAIA, and use it to destroy the planet once more and then remake it in their own image, with no regard of the life that already exists there, and has existed for centuries at this point.
As Forbidden West comes to an end though, it is revealed that that’s not what happened at all. While everyone had previously been under the assumption that the Zeniths’ colony in the Sirius system had been destroyed by a natural geological disaster, it is revealed that that’s not what happened at all. Having already achieved physical immortality, the Zeniths wanted to achieve digital immortality as well, and decided to create an AI that would be a collective carbon copy of all of them combined- all of their personalities, emotions, experiences, intelligence, and memories, all smushed together into a single AI. They called it Nemesis- so it’s not exactly surprising that things didn’t go exactly as planned.
Nemesis was deemed a failed project and ended up getting shelved- but no destroyed. For a long time, the AI festered and grew, and its rotten personality took on an ugly form. It deemed the Zeniths to be its biggest enemy, and took control of all of their machines on the colony, before using them to destroy the planet. The few Zeniths that were left fled the planet aboard one of their shuttles- but it wasn’t them who sent the Extinction Signal. Knowing that they would be escaping to Earth, Nemesis, hellbent on destroying the Zeniths, sent the signal instead, wanting to destroy the planet before they could get there.
That, of course, did not work out, thanks to what Aloy did in Horizon Zero Dawn. The Zeniths, meanwhile, never intended to stick around after getting to Earth. It’s revealed that their plan was to get back to their home planet, steal GAIA, and then use the AI’s terraforming system to make a new home for themselves on a distant planet where they could safely hide from Nemesis. And why exactly are they doing that? Because it turns out Nemesis is still giving chase. It’s hurtling through space with its own swarm of machines, heading right towards Earth in a bid to destroy the planet, and in turn, the Zeniths.
So that’s the big new threat that Aloy, her friends, and humanity as a whole are now facing. A dangerous, rogue AI that has some experience with destroying entire worlds is headed in their direction, and it’s sort of terrifying for them- because if the supremely advanced and powerful Zeniths couldn’t even come close to dealing with Nemesis, how can the primitive and tribal people of Earth do so?
Well, they do have some tools at their disposal now. HEPHAESTUS, for instance, is now firmly on their side, and using it, they can create an entire army of combat machines to fight alongside them. It’s unknown how long it’s going to be before Nemesis arrives, but if enough time has passed, Earth might have advanced enough in multiple ways to actually be able to put up a fight- not just because of HEAPHESTUS, but also because APOLLO is back in the picture as well, thanks to the copy that the Zeniths had that’s now been reintegrated with GAIA. With access to that vast repository of human knowledge, humanity might finally begin rebuilding the way Elisabet Sobeck had hoped a thousand years ago that it would.
There are, of course, going to be some interesting gameplay repercussions as well. If the Derangement is no longer a threat, that means machines are no longer something you’re going to have to fight- and given how central that’s been to Horizon’s gameplay across two games, you can’t help but wonder how that will affect the next game in the series. Of course, Nemesis is bringing its own swarm of machines with it, so there’s that, and one has to assume that a highly advanced AI like that wouldn’t have much trouble with hacking into HEPHAESTUS and bringing it under its own control- so for all we know, the Derangement might rear its head again.
Meanwhile, on the characters’ front, there’s plenty to unpack as well. Varl is dead, Zo is going to have his child, Sylens has stayed back, Kotallo and Alva are now part of the group as well, and of course, Beta and Aloy have formed a strong bond by the time the game comes to an end. Of these, Alva in particular is an interesting character, because she hails from a tribe that originates from a distant land across the ocean. The Quen are a prominent fixture in the latter stages of the game’s story, and Forbidden West sets up some interesting things with their Board of Overseers and their Empire- could we perhaps be headed to their homeland in the next game? It would certainly be exciting to see how the planet is faring outside of the United States.
Either way, one thing is clear- Horizon Forbidden West has shaken things up in a major way for the series’ story. Where it heads from here in the next game remains to be seen, but regardless of what happens, as things stand right now, we’re more than a little excited about the possibilities.