Horizon Zero Dawn: The story before Forbidden West

Aloy fires her bow at a Shellback
Aloy fires her bow at a Shellback (Image credit: PlayStation)

Before you dive into the Forbidden West, you might want to familiarize yourself with the world of Horizon Zero Dawn. To start, here's the premise: Horizon Zero Dawn takes place in the 31st century where humanity has regressed to living in tribes with little knowledge of technology. This is due to a technological plague in the 21st century that wiped everybody out and leaving no way for future generations to learn from their mistakes. Machines, meant to rebuild the biosphere after extinction, still roam the lands.

Though Horizon Forbidden West does a great job at recapping the events of the first game, there's a lot to its lore that players might miss out on if they skipped Zero Dawn or just don't remember the details. Still, not everyone has the time to pick up a 20+ hour action-RPG ahead of its sequel, so we'll walk you through all of the important terms and events that you'll need to know.

This article will contain spoilers for Horizon Zero Dawn.

The Old World

Horizon Zero Dawn Old World Concept

Source: Lloyd Allan / Guerrilla Games (Image credit: Source: Lloyd Allan / Guerrilla Games)

Because Horizon Zero Dawn and Horizon Forbidden West take place in the 31st century after a plague wiped out humanity a thousand years prior, they refer to the world before the plague (so our present) as the Old World. 21st-century humans, likewise, are called the Old Ones. Nations we know like China and the U.S. exist within the game, though other countries like New Zealand fell to climate change. Instead of creating an entirely new universe, developer Guerrilla Games crafted an alternate reality of sorts. It's our world, but it's also not.

Humanity in the mid-21st century resembled today's real world, albeit far more technologically advanced when it concerns robotics and artificial intelligence. Like the real world, they also dealt with climate disasters and militaristic governments vying for power.


Horizon Zero Dawn Thunderjaw

Source: PlayStation (Image credit: Source: PlayStation)

Many of the machines that players see in Horizon are a direct result of Project Zero Dawn, which I'll delve into further in another section. These machines are usually large, mechanical beasts that resemble familiar animals and dinosaurs. Originally created to perform specific terraforming tasks — like detoxifying the air and water — to rebuild Earth's biosphere, they were reprogrammed to attack humanity during the events of Horizon Zero Dawn.

The machines fall into several different classes, including Acquisition, Combat, Communication, Recon, and Transport. Each machine usually also has variant models that could be more powerful or use different elemental attacks.

List of all Horizon machines:

  • Behemoth
  • Bellowback
  • Bristleback
  • Broadhead
  • Burrower
  • Charger
  • Clamberjaw
  • Clawstrider
  • Corruptor
  • Deathbringer
  • Fireclaw
  • Frostclaw
  • Glinthawk
  • Grazer
  • Lancehorn
  • Longleg
  • Ravager
  • Rockbreaker
  • Rollerback
  • Sawtooth
  • Scrapped
  • Shell-Walker
  • Shellsnapper
  • Slitherfang
  • Snapmaw
  • Stalker
  • Stormbird
  • Strider
  • Sunwing
  • Tallneck
  • Thunderjaw
  • Tideripper
  • Trampler
  • Tremortusk
  • Watcher

The Faro Plague

Horizon Zero Dawn Faro Plague War Machines

Source: PlayStation (Image credit: Source: PlayStation)

What wiped out humanity in the mid-21st century is known as the Faro Plague. Ted Faro, CEO of Faro Automated Solutions, wasn't content with his company's line of environmental robots, eventually deciding to produce military robots for the world's militaries. The AI controlling these robots went rampant and stopped responding to commands, attacking anyone and everything in sight. What's worse is that they were equipped with biomass converters for emergency fuel and could self-replicate. With no way to hack the software, these machines destroyed the world.

Project Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn Project Zero Dawn Facility

Source: Queenmirelurk / Horizon Wikia (Image credit: Source: Queenmirelurk / Horizon Wikia)

Project Zero Dawn was a top-secret project led by Dr. Elisabet Sobeck as a response to the Faro Plague. Realizing that Faro's machines could not be stopped and extinction was inevitable, Sobeck created a terraforming system designed to restore and rebuild life on Earth. Powering it all was GAIA, a benevolent artificial intelligence inspired by mother nature. With the help of nine subroutines, GAIA would ensure that humanity survived long after the Faro Plague.

Subroutines and functions:

  • Aether: Aether was responsible for detoxifying the atmosphere.
  • Apollo: Apollo was meant to educate new generations about humanity's history and culture. (This subroutine was sabotaged. As a result, humans knew very little of the Old World.)
  • Artemis: Responsible for reintroducing fauna into the ecosystem through preserved genetic material.
  • Demeter: Responsible for reintroducing flora into the ecosystem through preserved genetic material.
  • Eleuthia: Responsible for cloning humans through preserved genetic material.
  • Hades: If initial terraforming attempts were unsuccessful, Hades would reverse the terraforming process and start over.
  • Hephaestus: Hephaestus manufactured terraforming machines at facilities known as Cauldrons.
  • Minerva: To ensure it would never happen again, Minerva spend decades working on deactivation codes that would shut down the Faro Plague robots.
  • Poseidon: Poseidon was responsible for detoxifying the water.

Who was Elisabet Sobeck?

Horizon Zero Dawn Elisabet Sobeck

Source: PlayStation (Image credit: Source: PlayStation)

As I mentioned above, Dr. Elisabet Sobeck was the founder of Project Zero Dawn and a brilliant scientist. She initially worked for Faro Automated Solutions creating a line of "green robots" to combat climate change and help the environment. Sobeck ended up quitting after Faro pivoted to manufacturing military robots. After all human life went extinct, she and a small group were hidden away in bunkers finishing Project Zero Dawn. Unfortunately, Sobeck sacrificed herself in order to properly close a bunker seal that had malfunctioned, stopping the Faro Plague from finding their coordinates and preventing GAIA from its mission.

Aloy, the protagonist in the Horizon series, is a genetic clone of Elisabet Sobeck, meaning that she can use her DNA to control some of GAIA's functionality.

Horizon Zero Dawn: The story so far

Horizon Zero Dawn Tallneck Image

Source: PlayStation (Image credit: Source: PlayStation)

As a baby, Aloy was found near a sealed door within her tribe's sacred mountain. The tribal matriarchs believed her to be a curse sent by the machines, and she was cast out and raised by another outcast named Rost. Learning that those who win a competition called the Proving can become a member of the tribe and ask anything of the matriarchs, Aloy begins training so that she can ask the matriarchs about her mother and the circumstances surrounding her birth and exile.

The Proving is attacked by cultists known as the Eclipse, working under commands of the rogue subroutine Hades, which had ordered Sobeck's death. Aloy, due to her resemblance, was targeted. In her search to discover why the Eclipse had attacked, she stumbles upon records that detailed the end of the world from the Faro Plague.

Aloy, knowing that she must stop Hades before it performs its designated controlled extinction tasks, sets out to obtain the Master Override and stop it from ending the world. She is successful, uniting the tribes against an assault on the Eclipse, though a man named Sylens ended up betraying her and stole Hades away for his own purposes.

Into the Forbidden West

Horizon Forbidden West Aloy Bow Drawn

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

This leads us to Horizon Forbidden West. Aloy may have prevented Hades from destroying everything, but the mysterious signal that awoke it also unleashed the other subroutines, wreaking havoc on the environment. Aloy is now in a race against time to restore them to their proper functions and save the world once again.

Forbidden West is easily one of the best PS5 games to date and well worth anyone's time. Jump in now and you'll be prepared for the eventual sequel.

Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition cover art

Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition

Stop a new technological plague from wiping out humanity all while learning the mysteries surrounding Earth's previous extinction event.

Horizon Forbidden West Ps5 Box Art Large

Horizon Forbidden West

Continue Aloy's work Journey into the Forbidden West to restore GAIA and fix Earth's biosphere before it becomes uninhabitable.

Jennifer Locke
Games Editor - PlayStation, Android, VR

Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life. You can find her posting pictures of her dog and obsessing over PlayStation and Xbox, Star Wars, and other geeky things.