Horizon Zero Dawn: Full Story Recap (2024)

Horizon Forbidden West is here, continuing the adventures of Aloy as she journeys through the post-post apocalypse. The first game, Horizon Zero Dawn, tells a story wrapped in mystery, as we discover Aloy's history, and that of the game's world, along with the character. What happened to humanity as we know it? Why are there robot dinosaurs everywhere? Who exactly is Aloy, anyway? All these questions are answered, and it's worth knowing all the details ahead of the sequel's arrival on 18th February 2022.

As part of our Horizon Zero Dawn guide and Horizon Forbidden West guide, we've drawn up a full story recap of the first game so you can head into Horizon Forbidden West with your memory well and truly jogged. It has been nearly five years since Guerrilla's original action RPG debuted on PlayStation 4, so hopefully this will serve as a useful reminder, going over the main plot points from the first game and its DLC, Frozen Wilds. Obviously, this feature contains full story spoilers for Horizon Zero Dawn, so click away if you don't want to see them. Let's waste no more time, and jump right into the tall grass. Story recap time.

Before Horizon Zero Dawn

We will be going through the events of Horizon Zero Dawn's story in chronological order, starting with the events that lead us to the start of the game. It all kicks off long before we meet Aloy, in the 2030s, when humanity as we know it was facing some serious issues.

Global Warming Crises Threaten Life on Earth

Global warming accelerates, causing multiple life-threatening disasters across the Earth. Refugees from these events are forced to leave their homes, which have been swallowed by the rising tides of the sea. Whole countries are being lost to global warming, and the UK, home to an emergency refugee camp, loses control of its inhabitants, who clash with a forceful government. The result is the death of thousands of people. Pretty bleak so far.

Efforts to Fix Things

In 2040, a concerted global effort begins to try and combat the environmental catastrophe. The world's top minds use green energy solutions and advanced robotics and AI to slow and even reverse the effects that global warming has had on the planet.

Dr. Elizabet Sobeck, a genius robotics specialist, is recruited by tech powerhouse Faro Automated Solutions, reporting to head honcho Ted Faro. She joins the company due to her passion and expertise in environmental robotics, hoping she can use her know-how to help remedy some of the Earth's serious issues.

Efforts to Ruin Things

Unfortunately, in 2048, our mate Ted Faro decides he can make more money by investing in automated military operations instead, which seems less than helpful at this juncture.

Eventually, Faro introduces a line of machines known as Chariot, and these robots are capable of laying down enforcements through violent means. Sounds fine, doesn't it? The Chariot machines swarm, and the swarms operate as sort-of hive minds. The three major models in the line all serve different purposes, ultimately meaning each swarm of machines is self-sustaining and even self-replicating if necessary. As an emergency measure, all three models can consume biomass to refuel. Crucially, they also have no security measures in place. If anything were to go wrong, it would be near-impossible to override the robots and shut them down. Foreshadowing.

The Chariot machines are being sold to the remaining global superpowers to protect their countries and what few resources remain following all the damage dealt by a dying environment. This means those robots end up spread across all corners of the Earth.

Obviously, Sobeck is appalled by Faro's movement into military robotics and resigns, forming her own successful environmental tech company called Miriam Technologies in 2049. Faro's Chariot line of military bots continues to succeed, however, occupying the majority of Earth's armed forces. So ubiquitous are the machines that, in 2052, the UK drops its human military altogether in favour of a fully automated army. In 2055, the USA does the same.

The End Is Nigh

Fast-forward to 2062, and one of the Chariot swarms suddenly goes rogue. A supposed glitch means the company that owns the swarm loses control of the robots, and the machines operate independently. Among the swarm is a Horus unit, which is capable of producing more machines for its swarm — a huge, walking factory. Unfortunately, that's what happens, and a vast number of robots is generated. What's worse is that all these robots begin to use their capacity to refuel via biomass, which means they're walking the planet and consuming whatever biological matter they can find. Eventually, that includes humans. Uh oh.

Dumbass of the Century™ Ted Faro deduces it may take decades to hack into the swarm and shut them all down, thanks to the impenetrable security protecting all the Chariot machines. Obviously, in that time, it'll be far too late to save humanity. In desperation, Faro summons Elizabet Sobeck to help. She works out that, at the rate things are happening, the human race has just 15 months before the Earth is wiped clean of all life. That is about as bad as bad news can be. Was probably a Monday as well.

In the meantime, the wider world is starting to catch on that things are going wrong. The rogue swarm of machines is referred to as the Faro Plague, and the risk of word getting out about Ted Faro's catastrophic blunder is growing by the day. Sobeck uses this to her advantage; knowing Faro wouldn't want to confess to all this being his fault, she forces the company to fund Project Zero Dawn.

Project Zero Dawn

Project Zero Dawn is not an effort to stop the swarm. Instead, it is a means by which humanity's future is assured, terraforming the ruined Earth, repopulating it with humans, and reviving the planet's resources following the eventual shutdown of the so-called Faro Plague. It means that everyone alive at the current time will die, but humankind will live on should Project Zero Dawn be successful.

The scheme is led by an ultra-advanced AI named Gaia, who presides over nine other AI entities named after Greek deities. Each one is responsible in one way or another for restoring the Earth and its living population. One to restore the atmosphere, one to clean the planet's waters, some to reintroduce flora and fauna, one to bring back the human race, one to teach the new humans about the past, and so on. Hephaestus produces the machines needed to do things like restore the Earth's atmosphere, land, and water — in other words, all the animal-like robots you encounter in the game.

All of this is developed in a secret, concealed facility, populated only by Sobeck, Faro, the staff recruited to develop the AI programs, and their loved ones. A public-facing message called Project Enduring Victory assures the remainder of humanity that Zero Dawn will save them, but the truth is that this was never the plan. In reality, Enduring Victory is a military operation with the sole purpose of delaying the Faro Plague robots so that Zero Dawn can be completed. The human race alive at this point in the story will perish.

Zero Day and Beyond

Zero Day is the day estimated to be when the Earth's living population will be eliminated, save for the aforementioned humans working on Zero Dawn. The staff's loved ones are sent to Elysium, another underground facility built to sustain them for the rest of their natural lives. Zero Dawn staff get the opportunity to join their families in Elysium on Evacuation Day, but the team leaders elect to stay on and continue work on the all-important, but not ready, Project Zero Dawn, meaning they never see their loved ones again.

After this point, the Faro Plague swarm is running rampant across the Earth, soaking up all the planet's natural resources until not even the oxygen in the air remains. When there's nothing left, the robots enter a prolonged period of dormancy.

Now quite literally the worst person in the world, Faro suggests installing a failsafe into Gaia in order to shut her down should things go wrong, as they did with the Chariot machines. Reluctantly, Sobeck agrees.

Fast-forward a bit, and one of the doors to the Zero Dawn facility malfunctions, putting the project and the people working on it at risk as long as it stays open. The only way to close it and protect the people inside is to shut it manually from the outside, which is a serious design flaw, really. As the leading staff debate who should be the one to do the deed, Sobeck takes it upon herself to slip on a protective suit, head outside, and close the seal. After telling the team what she's done, she heads back to what remains of her childhood home, and dies.

Faro Loses It

Ted Faro is now a very unstable human being, racked with guilt about what has happened and determined to right his wrongs. He decides that the new human race will be better off not knowing about what came before; he reasons that teaching them about humanity's mistakes and filling their heads with information will only lead to more failures. He thinks it'll be better for them to go it alone and figure out things for themselves in a new world.

To this end, Faro gains security clearance to Apollo's archive — the one intended to teach future humans about the past — and deletes it. Then, he calls the remaining staff into a meeting room, confesses what he's done over a hologram call, and then drains the room of oxygen, killing them all. Now, Gaia and the other AI programmes are alone. Humanity is extinct. We're done.

Zero Dawn Continues

Minerva, the AI working on the code to shut down the robo-swarm, finally cracks it after 50 years(!) of deciphering. The code is broadcast from huge towers, and the robots are deactivated. Following this, fellow AIs take roughly 200 years(!!) to make the planet habitable again, and repopulate it with flora and fauna.

Then begins the process of reintroducing humans, with AI programme Eleuthia producing brand new little baby people, raised by automatons equipped to feed and nurture them. These machines teach the children up to a point, but with Apollo's archive of all human knowledge destroyed, this batch of humans grows up knowing almost nothing. Eventually, the humans deplete the facility of its food supplies in their adolescence, and the AI forces them out into the wider world to fend for themselves.

These people lack any knowledge of humanity's past, and so they venture out into the wider world and have to figure out how to survive. Fortunately, they learn to hunt food and fashion basic clothing, and eventually split off into various tribes. You will run into most of these during Horizon Zero Dawn, and as you'll find out, Aloy will be born into the Nora tribe.

Gaia Loses Control

In 3020, Gaia receives a mysterious signal that essentially robs her of control over the AIs serving under her — Apollo, Poseidon, and all the rest. This includes Hades, an AI programmed to essentially destroy all living things in order to start Zero Dawn all over again if needs be. All nine AIs are now free and have sentience, and things quickly spiral.

To further its goal of destroying life on Earth, Hades wants control of the terraforming programmes to kill everything off. Gaia, however, has other ideas, and instead blows up the Zero Dawn facility, sacrificing herself and any potentially dangerous tech so Hades can't use it. Hades creates a virus that frees it from Gaia, which also frees the other AIs, all of which disperse.

Hades puts out a signal to attract someone to help it in its plan, and a man named Sylens answers the call. He's important later.

Rost, Aloy, and the Nora Tribe

The Nora tribe is one that values family and loyalty above all else, with their society built around what they call the All-Mother. In fact, the All-Mother is actually the sealed door to one of the Zero Dawn cradles — a facility where the new race of humans was created. The Noras don't know any of this, though — they just worship it as a goddess.

Little do they know that the super-AI Gaia — before sacrificing herself — hatches a last ditch plan to save life on Earth from Hades and its drive to destroy. She instructs the aforementioned cradle's AI to clone Elizabet Sobeck. Theoretically, this would introduce a person with the smarts to figure things out and also who is capable of accessing all the old Zero Dawn facilities, because her DNA would match that of the long-deceased scientist. The clone is born, and the newborn baby placed outside the facility door.

The Nora find this child, and decide to put Rost in charge of raising her. Rost is what's known to the Nora tribe as an outcast — he left the borders of the Nora's land, and consequently is basically dead to everyone in the tribe. Rost names the baby Aloy, who is an outcast by association with Rost.

Horizon Zero Dawn: Aloy's Journey

Phew! This game has a lot of backstory to explain. However, we've just about got through it, and now we can go over the storyline as it happens in the game itself.

Aloy's Upbringing

Rost successfully raises Aloy as his adopted daughter, and she proves to be a tenacious and headstrong individual. As a young girl, she discovers that the Nora tribe have dubbed her an outcast. More than that, the people are uncertain of whether she is to be trusted or not, given that she was not born into the tribe, but merely found at the foot of the so-called All-Mother.

Anyway, after an incident sees Aloy run away in anger, she falls into a hole, stumbling upon some now-ancient technology. On the temple of a corpse, she finds a Focus. This is a device that sticks just above your ear and gives you holographic access to, well, pretty much whatever you want. It's tech from the age of the Old Ones, which is the name this new race of humans has given to the people who existed before Zero Day.

Rost reluctantly lets her keep the device and tells Aloy about The Proving, a Nora rite of passage that sees those who succeed become Braves — warriors. The winner of The Proving is rewarded with a request from the High Matriarchs, the leaders of the Nora. Aloy decides she'd like to know more about her origins (and lack of a mother), and commits to training for The Proving with this goal in mind.

After a sweet training montage, Aloy comes of age and is not only very physically capable, but is also super-intelligent, as she's been learning about the Old Ones using her Focus. Before The Proving, Aloy meets Olin, a member of the Oseram tribe who has his own Focus. As it happens, Olin is a reluctant spy, and through his Focus, Hades — the AI hellbent on carrying out its programming and destroying all life — detects that Aloy is a clone of Sobeck, and therefore a major threat. She also meets Erend, who comes into play later.

Long story short, Aloy then wins The Proving, but a violent cult called Eclipse ambushes, and massacres most of the other entrants. Their leader, Helis, is looking to find and kill Aloy, but just before he does the deed, Rost comes to her rescue. He saves her just before an explosion takes him out.

Once things settle down, Aloy confronts the High Matriarchs about her origins and they lead her to the All-Mother, which scans her and deduces she's Sobeck. She can't enter the cradle, though, as the data is corrupted. The Matriarchs dub her a Seeker, and allow her to explore beyond the Nora reaches in order to learn more about herself.

Adventure Time

The game properly kicks in now and we go out into the open world. Aloy's main path leads her to Meridian, a massive settlement where she hopes to find Olin once again. Along the way she destroys one of the old machines and gains the ability to override certain machines.

In Meridian, Aloy reunites with Erend, drunk because he's been very suddenly promoted to captain of his army. The pair work together to track down Olin, breaking into his house and learning about a location called Rockwreath.

When they get there, they find him, but two Faro bots have been revived. The voice of Sylens speaks to Aloy through the Focus, telling her he knows who she is, and he disables the Focuses worn by the Eclipse cultists. Next, Aloy interrogates Olin about the Eclipse and rogue AI Hades. He tells her he saw a woman just like her at a place named Maker's End.

The story takes a slight tangent before we head there, and we attempt to track down Erend's sister, who is presumed dead. The pair do find her, but she's on the brink of death, and in her last moments, tells them about a plot to destroy Meridian. Aloy and Erend save the city, no big deal, and then the redhead continues to Maker's End alone.

History Lessons

As it turns out, Maker's End is actually the ruins of the Faro Automated Solutions headquarters skyscraper. After dealing with an enormous ancient robot restored by the Eclipse, Aloy clambers all the way to the top of the structure, where she witnesses the final meetings in Faro's office between him and Sobeck. She learns about Project Zero Dawn and what happened to the Old Ones. After hearing all this, Sylens instructs Aloy to the Grave Hoard, which is the ruins of the military building from which all those Faro bots were commanded.

Aloy goes there, and finds the Eclipse working to restore a Horus machine, or Metal Devil as she knows it. These are the Faro machines that can produce more Faro machines. Aloy destroys a freshly made Deathbringer, and goes on her way to the orbital launch base, which unfortunately, resides underneath Sunfall, a huge city ruled by the baddies.

Before going there, Aloy disables the Eclipse's Focus network, meaning they can't communicate with each other as effectively. Then, she heads down to the orbital launch base and discovers the alpha registry — data that lets Aloy have access to basically everything, and that includes whatever lies behind the All-Mother's door. However, before she can leave, the Eclipse find her, knock her out, and trap her in a cage above a fighting arena. She manages to battle her way out of that situation like a champ, along with a helping hand from Sylens.

Aloy returns to the Nora tribe and it turns out the Eclipse are attacking it with a corrupted Thunderjaw. She saves the day, and then finally returns to the All-Mother, which lets her inside at last. Aloy learns about the first generation of new humans, but also learns that she is a clone of Elizabet Sobeck, brought to life in order to put a stop to Hades' plans by activating the override switch. Oof.

Fulfilling Her Destiny

Despite the devastating news that she doesn't have a mother after all, Aloy continues her journey by heading to the main Zero Dawn facility, which was blown to smithereens when Gaia sacrificed herself to prevent Hades going through with his plan. Among all the ruins, Aloy learns about the final days of the project, and crucially, finds the master override. She goes to Sylens' workshop, where he confesses to his involvement with Hades and the Eclipse. It transpires that Hades' plan is to use a massive tower to reawaken all the dormant Faro robots — the ones that caused the initial extinction — to kill all life once again.

Aloy heads to Meridian, where she and her allies get ready for an impending battle against Hades and the Eclipse. The forces clash, and Aloy takes down Helis, the man who almost killed her and did kill Rost at the start of the game. Then, Aloy uses the master override to defeat Hades, putting a stop to his plans, and shutting down all those corrupted robots. Hooray! Following this, Aloy travels to Elizabet Sobeck's final resting place to pay her respects.

Ominously enough, Hades isn't gone; the AI retreats and is held inside a lantern thing by Sylens, who speaks of finding the masters who awoke Hades. We'll figure out what that means in Horizon Forbidden West.

Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds

The Frozen Wilds DLC continues Aloy's adventures as she travels to a new territory called The Cut, found through a mountain pass north of the Grave Hoard. Here's a rundown of what happens during this chapter.

Pop Another Layer On

After hearing of mysterious new machines acting dangerously, and plumes of smoke erupting from a mountain, Aloy travels north to The Cut, a mountainous, snowy region home to the Banuk tribe. When she gets there, Aratak, chief of his tribe, tells Aloy that they have been attempting to take down a "demon" in the huge mountain known as Thunder's Drum. It's thought that this is the source of the new, hostile machines.

The Banuk's first attempt to attack the demon was a failure, and resulted in the disappearance of Ourea, a shaman from the tribe. Aloy sets out to find Ourea, and in the process, comes across mysterious towers that corrupt any nearby machines. No trouble: Aloy can override them with her spear. She's told to follow the shaman's path to find Ourea, who is apparently taking refuge in a shrine.

Ourea and the Spirit

Aloy eventually finds Ourea in an Old Ones building, which has been converted into a Banuk shrine to an unknown entity. Ourea calls it the Spirit, and using her staff, Aloy is able to decrypt a message from the Spirit. It calls out to Ourea, seemingly being forced to do something by the so-called demon. The pair resolve to work together and save the Spirit, who is seemingly trapped in Thunder's Drum.

The trouble is, the path to Thunder's Drum is controlled by Aratak, and he won't just let anyone up to the mountain. Ourea suggests that Aloy challenge Aratak to become the new chieftain, but before she can attempt this, she must gain the trust and attention of the Banuk people.

The Challenge

Once Aloy has completed a handful of tasks, she approaches Aratak to challenge him. He scoffs at the notion, but Ourea shows her face to back Aloy. It transpires Aratak and Ourea are brother and sister, and were driven apart by their different views on what to do about Thunder's Drum. Aratak accepts Aloy's challenge.

Aratak and Aloy compete in a race to hunt specific machines and launch balloons. Aloy must launch hers before Aratak launches his, or he wins. Towards the end of the challenge, the two meet in a valley, and something clearly isn't right. Machines corrupted by the demon interrupt proceedings, and the duo buddy up to take them down. Aratak decides to concede victory to Aloy, giving her his power and thus access to Thunder's Drum.

Thunder's Drum Time

Aloy, Ourea, and Aratak all venture up to Thunder's Drum together. Before they complete the journey, Aloy asks Ourea about Sylens, who comes from the Banuk people. She says he was a shaman like her, and his knowledge of machines is unrivalled. She explains that he gained the trust of the Banuk leaders, and eventually met them at a conclave. The next time they went there, all the Old World relics and more had been stolen. It seems he's always been a dodgy one.

Anyway, the trio make their way inside the facility. After fighting their way across a group of machines, Aloy learns that the Spirit is actually an AI programme called Cyan, responsible for preventing the mountain — which is actually an active volcano — from erupting.

Further in, and the demon has corrupted more of the facility. After traversing further again, it's revealed that the demon is in fact the AI programme named Hephaestus — this is one of the AIs from the Zero Dawn project, and the one responsible for building the terraforming machines that restored the Earth's ecosystem.

The group fights its way forward in order to shut down Hephaestus, and in order to free Cyan, Ourea sacrifices herself. Aloy and Aratak have little time to grieve, as they must make their escape from the facility, which is collapsing around them. They barely make it out with their lives.

Back to the Shrine

At the Banuk shrine where Aloy first found Ourea, Cyan can be found. Cyan talks to Aloy about what happened, and assures that, despite destroying the main facility in Thunder's Drum, the volcanic eruption will continue to be prevented for thousands of years. Cyan goes on to tell Aloy more about the fate of the Old Ones, explaining that catastrophic climate change was ultimately the cause of everything. Hephaestus, it transpires, was never at Thunder's Drum, but was operating from an unknown remote location.

Outside, Aloy talks to Aratak, and rescinds her status as chieftain, reinstating her predecessor. Job's a goodun.

Don't know about you, but we're going to have a lie down after that. Hopefully you found this Horizon Zero Dawn story recap informative and helpful ahead of the sequel's arrival. Are you excited to see where the story goes in Horizon Forbidden West? Tell us a tale in the comments section below, and take a look at our Horizon Zero Dawn guide for much more on the game.

Horizon Zero Dawn: Full Story Recap (2024)
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