The open world of Horizon Zero Dawn is a true playground for players. Gallop through the wilds on your trusty Charger to take in the lush environments and vibrant settlements. Embrace your inner hunter and sneak through bandit camps, taking down enemies silently and disable any means for them to call for back-up. Or climb to the highest mountains for gorgeous views and mysterious Old World secrets…
Horizon Forbidden West, our upcoming sequel and continuation of Aloy’s action-packed adventure, is built on the same principles of player freedom; in fact, it was important to the team at Guerrilla to offer even more ways to explore and experience the world.
Spoiler Alert: Please note this article contains some spoilers for Horizon Zero Dawn and its storyline.
Travel through the Forbidden West
In the gameplay trailer, you’ll have seen Aloy using a variety of new tools in the Forbidden West. “Building upon the foundation of Horizon Zero Dawn, we have added a number of new ways to move through the world,” says David McMullen, Lead Systems Designer at Guerrilla. “Aloy can climb freely on and across huge sections of rocky terrain; even more machine types can be used as mounts; grapple points can be found throughout the environment which allows agile vertical traversal; swimming underwater has opened up a whole new aspect of exploration; and gliding with the Shieldwing provides the ultimate view of the beautiful world of Horizon Forbidden West – not to mention a quick way down from great heights!”
Captured on PS5
Before we dive deeper into some of these new mechanics, David will share some insights about the development process, the challenges that come with it, and why it was a goal for the team to increase the amount of player freedom throughout Aloy’s adventure.
“Our traversal design decisions were always in service of increasing dynamic interactivity with the world around you. This could be to empower the player to manipulate and destroy their environment with a tool like the Pullcaster; or grapple-launching into a glide with the Shieldwing to set yourself up for a strike from above. What excites us most is how our mechanics, new and old, synergistically interact with each other to provide varied and dynamic approaches to any scenario.’
‘This wide array of new options also posed challenges to how we think about level design. We need to allow for players to outsmart us, using new moves or tools to bypass some of our challenges in clever and unpredictable ways. Traversal puzzles won’t always have a binary solution; we encourage players to experiment and have fun with the new tools. We will offer a variety of challenges, regardless of playstyle or skill or previous experience in Horizon Zero Dawn.”
And of course, the new features of the PlayStation 5 hardware presented another exciting challenge. While Horizon Forbidden West is developed and published for both PS4 and PS5 from the ground up, there are some highlights for those who will play on the latter console.
“The DualSense wireless controller is heavily featured throughout our mechanics,” David says. “From the scrape of rubble as you push a crate, to the sensation of an unravelling winch as you use the Pullcaster — with the increased adaptive trigger tension as you pull! We’ve also added extra tactile dimensions to increase both the gameplay value and the feeling of being part of the world Aloy is moving around in; these can be subtle as the sensation of grass brushing around you to indicate you are entering stealth grass, or the pop of the adaptive trigger as you reach maximum draw with a bow. We even use the absence of adaptive tension to help communicate when you’re out of ammo.”
Our Horizon community loves discovering new areas and climbing up high vantage points; to this day they share lots of images, videos, and memories of their adventures in-game! This level of immersive exploration was naturally something the team at Guerrilla took to heart during development of the sequel, David mentions.
“The free climbing system in Horizon Forbidden West is a huge feature we are extremely excited about, as it has allowed us to make large sections of the terrain climbable (where it makes sense visually and narratively) in a way not previously possible in Horizon Zero Dawn. Rocky surfaces in these areas are freely climbable without the use of tribal handholds!’
Captured on PS5
‘Another addition was the high vault traversal mechanic, which essentially allows Aloy to hoist herself on top of any object of jumpable height with room to pull up. Combined with the ability to free climb and adding grapples to our environment, the potential for exploration is greatly increased.”
Two other reveals from the Horizon Forbidden West gameplay trailer that have fans – and Guerrillas – very excited are the previously mentioned Pullcaster and Shieldwing: new tools at Aloy’s disposal to make her more agile during both exploration and the inevitable battles she’ll be fighting in the West.
“The Pullcaster is a mechanical wrist-mounted device with two separate functions,” David explains. “The first function is a grapple mechanic, allowing the player to swiftly and easily ascend the environment and providing a dynamic traversal/escape option to the player toolkit. When grappling, the player can activate the launch — throwing them into the air, where they can grab a higher ledge, fire their bow, glide, strike-from-above or even grapple to a further point.’
‘The second function of the Pullcaster is a winch, meaning the player can dynamically manipulate, move and destroy the objects in the environments. Think about pulling a hidden loot chest from a ledge, or tearing open a vent to create a new climb path.”
“The Shieldwing was always a team favorite, it provides not only the most exhilarating way to return from an epic climb but also the most picturesque! This tool is invaluable with having so much more verticality, where backtracking down the same trail holds less of an appeal as on the way up.’
‘Hopefully players appreciate this level of freedom, as well as new gameplay, combat and exploration opportunities. The Shieldwing combines well with numerous other mechanics both in and out of combat, such as landing on your mount, ziplining, the strike from above skill, and more…”
A majestic but dangerous frontier
While exploration and traversing around the world all sound idyllic, the Forbidden West is also full of danger, with many unknown enemies and a roster of new machines for Aloy to deal with. It’s imperative to have the right weapons, ammunition, and skills available for when you stumble upon an enemy base, or an angry Tremortusk…
As with traversal, it was similarly important to evolve combat design further from Horizon Zero Dawn, and build on the principles of player freedom and choice in an open world. With new combat mechanics, enemy types, and weapon variation (to name a few aspects), players can easily assess a dangerous situation and choose how to enter a combat scenario – then actively swap between combat tactics.
Guerrilla’s Lead Combat Designer, Dennis Zopfi, shares how the team expanded its key features in Horizon Forbidden West. “One of the focus points that influenced all our combat decisions was increased player choice, and we applied this to everything: melee, weapons, outfits, skills and other new mechanics. We wanted to give players more tools, depth and dials to play with.’
‘One entirely new concept in Horizon Forbidden West is the workbench, where you can upgrade and strengthen weapons and outfits. This unlocks new perks, mod slots, skills, and offers a bigger degree of customization, resistances, and new abilities for players!”
Another way to upgrade Aloy’s abilities is through the skill tree. “In Horizon Zero Dawn, skills were bought and unlocked as you levelled up,” Dennis explains. “While that principle remains in the sequel, we completely redesigned the skill tree with additional tracks and skills; within the skill tree, skills also synergize with those that are either already present on outfits or need to be unlocked on them.”
If you read our previous blog on Aloy , you’ll have learned about how character development has multiple teams involved; the Combat team also plays a huge role in her evolution.
Dennis agrees: “We always start with the character and how we want the player to perceive her during gameplay. In Aloy’s case this means traits like smart, fast, agile, precise, and resourceful; our role is to translate these into game mechanics. Of course having launched Horizon Zero Dawn already, we had a base to start from, so for Horizon Forbidden West we looked at where these traits can come through stronger or maybe what could be added. There are the direct combat mechanics, like shooting and melee, but also indirect ones, like the skills, outfits, upgrades, and weapon techniques. It is a nice design challenge to make all these behind the scenes systems work together in the engine.”
New weapons and tools
And it’s not just Aloy who’s evolved since Horizon Zero Dawn. The Forbidden West is a majestic yet dangerous frontier with many mysterious threats that Aloy might encounter. This creates an additional goal for Dennis and the teams to make sure she has the right weapons and tools available to handle these battles.
“We wanted to bring melee and ranged combat closer together,” says Dennis. “Aloy is not a character who deals with brute force, so we were looking for ways to have the player go back and forth between melee and range, where she could use her precise bow skills to work towards a big payoff moment. A new example of a skill that does this is the Resonator Blast, where you charge up the spear with melee hits and when fully powered up, the energy can be placed on enemies (humans and machines alike) and followed up with a projectile – resulting in a big damaging explosion!’
‘Then there is the Valor Surge feature; there are 12 in total, with each of them representing and strengthening a specific approach to the game. You unlock and upgrade them through the skill tree with skill points. There are three levels of each Valor Surge: the higher the level, the longer the charge up, but the more powerful the attack.’
“This level is shown on the purple bar you could see during the gameplay trailer: you’ll receive more Valor – or charge up that bar – through skillful actions such as hitting weak spots on enemies or removing components. In the video you could see Aloy perform the Radial Blast on the burly Tenakth warrior. ’
“It was also important to reward players who go into a melee situation, as it’s very dangerous to be so close to enemies, especially the machines! If you are skilled and daring, you can do some really good damage with these new features – just be careful!”
Aside from these encounters, there’s another level of combat skill needed now that some enemy factions can mount machines. Players will have to keep a close eye on both the enemy mount and its rider, according to Dennis.
“In Horizon Zero Dawn, machine and humanoid encounters were very separate; they never really operated as a group against Aloy. The world has changed in Horizon Forbidden West, with more danger, more enemy factions, and more machines – and they can now fight together in groups, which poses a real challenge for our hero, and the player.’
“When it comes to mounted combat, the player will have to adapt and decide whom to take out first and in what most effective way; human enemies have weapons, attacks, and abilities that machines don’t and vice versa, so they complement each other in these encounters; keeping you on your toes!”
In the gameplay trailer, Aloy has a host of new weapons at her disposal. Familiar weapons like the Hunter Bow, Sharpshot Bow, and the Blast Sling will of course return, but there are plenty of new weapons to try out too.
“The goal for the weapons in Horizon Forbidden West was to give each of them a stronger personality, which is also expressed in how you have to handle them,” Dennis smiles. “Each weapon has their strengths and weaknesses in terms of the ideal situations to use them in.’
“The Spike Thrower, for example, is a new, high damage weapon which, when thrown at the right moment, makes it easier to hit larger targets. For elemental damage, such as fire or adhesive, you can choose to stick with the Blast Sling, and so forth. Each weapon comes with different perks, ammo types, and weapon coil slots to customize them further — though some weapons need to be upgraded first before you can make them stronger.”
More freedom and dynamic gameplay
As both David and Dennis have demonstrated, increased player freedom and player choice was absolutely at the heart of Horizon Forbidden West’s development cycle:
“There’s a number of other subtle yet impactful additions that enable more dynamic gameplay,” summarizes David. “Just to name a few examples: Aloy can wall jump, leap away from a climb surface, high vault, and more. While these might sound like small things, combined they make for engaging environmental challenges and more player options.”
Dennis attests to that: “We put a lot of effort into creating more choice and depth for the players, and are super excited to see how people will play as Aloy with so many new possibilities of skills, weapons and gear she can obtain throughout the mysterious Forbidden West. We had a lot of fun creating cool and powerful combinations for players to discover, and we hope people will enjoy the game when it launches!”
For more information on Horizon Forbidden West, please visit here. See you soon for our next developer blog.
Read more about Horizon Forbidden West