There’s no denying that the world of Horizon Forbidden West is utterly gorgeous. Lush, verdant, and impeccably detailed, the terrain invites you right in from the moment you take your first steps as Aloy. But for all of its beauty, what really makes this a world I want to keep exploring is the way the environment paints a picture of the past. Everything in Horizon Forbidden West, for the most part, has been reclaimed by nature, but traces of what once was can still be seen. From the bones of rusted metal cars to corroded lamp posts and the ruins of decaying buildings, I’m constantly drawn to the way it subtly tells a story of what was lost and what used to be.
This is no more apparent to me than when I look out over an impressive vista from the top of a signal tower in the opening area. In the distance, I see what appears to be the remains of a massive, broken down machine with tentacles that snake out across the landscape. Even though it lies dormant, the sheer scale of it is enough to make me feel intimidated. What really holds my attention, though, is the sight of old, decaying satellite dishes just beyond the machine. The shape of the dishes are instantly recognizable and it immediately dawns on me that I’m seeing yet more traces of a bygone era. Nothing captures my imagination quite as effectively as the marks left behind by the Old Ones.
As you may already know if you’ve played Horizon Zero Dawn, the Old Ones is the name for the past civilization that inhabited the world before the machines began taking over the land. Just as we still find evidence of past lives and periods of history buried beneath the earth, remnants of the people that came before can be found throughout the Forbidden West. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the adventure, but what I’ve already come to encounter in the opening moments fills me with a sense of wonder. In a way, it speaks to the wannabe archaeologist in me who’s always had a fondness for history. For me, it’s infinitely fascinating to learn about how people used to live, and how much has changed over the course of history through the artifacts they left behind.
What makes the artifacts so interesting in Horizon Forbidden West is the fact they’re all so familiar. Instead of finding ancient items that are alien to us, you find wristwatches, keys, and rings. As Aloy, the purpose and function of these items have been lost to time. Now, they’re simply regarded as curios from the old world that can be sold for metal shards; keys are known as “ancient chimes” and a digital wristwatch is an “ancient bright bracelet”. I love how it mirrors the way we value everyday items from thousands of years ago.
Relics and ruins
The beginning hours quickly reminded me of just why it is that I find the world of Horizon so fascinating. It opens with you exploring the ruins of an old center where you start to learn more about the space-faring plans of the people before catastrophe struck. My imagination runs wild at the thought of what this place once looked like before it fell victim to the machines. As the prologue unfolds, you get to see the remains of an old, tarnished space shuttle covered in moss and foliage. Thoughts begin to swirl about just how far these people came and how many technological advances they made before everything was snatched away from them.
Since it’s set in a unique post-apocalyptic future, there’s something quite sad about seeing the remains of the old world decorating the natural landscapes. As I set out into the open world for the first time, I come across the first location of a vista point which acts as a window into the past; through Aloy’s focus, you get to see what a place originally looked like. The site itself used to be a very picturesque lodge, but now all that stands is the rundown walls of the structure framed by rusty benches.
Just outside, I stop to take in the view of a school bus sunken into the earth. Leaves and grass grow over the broken frame of the vehicle, which sits dilapidated beside a decaying bus stop. I can’t shake the feeling that these remnants are like ghosts or echoes of the past that haunt the world as we know it now. They remind you of what was lost… Of the future that was taken away. The people who rode that school bus are no longer there. The visitors of the lodge are gone. And now, the ruins that still remain are all that’s left to tell their story.
Horizon Forbidden West has the kind of environmental storytelling I love. Sure, you stumble upon a data point that tells you about the past world directly, but the wreckages of old buildings and the metal shells of cars say so much more. They speak to people who once saw this world as home before the arrival of the machines. I’ve always been fascinated by this side of Horizon Zero Dawn, and I’m so excited to see that Forbidden West is delivering on this aspect even more. One thing’s for sure: The world is one I know I’ll continue to spend a lot of time soaking up and exploring for a long time yet.
Check out our Horizon Forbidden West review to find out why we think it’s “nothing short of phenomenal”.