I have always been interested in the intellectual worldview of Horizon Zero Dawn more than any other exclusive experience from sony, and this interest owes a great deal to the unique direction that the developer has adopted, and also expanded on perfectly in Horizon Forbidden West. In particular, the revolutionary science fiction ideas that I believe to have a strong connection to the early works of Issac Asimov, one of the pioneers of the golden age of Science Fiction literature.
Asimov was convinced that this type of literature serves the interests of humankind, and reflects all the topics that touch on our empty reality while having the ability to imagine our imminent future with perfect accuracy. Horizon Forbidden West is not far from that vision, despite being criticized for its story, as there are many names and concepts that act as obvious references or homages to the legacy left by Asimov and all the influencers of the literary field, and all of the story beats work towards the same goals left by Asimov and his novels.
Spoilers for Horizon Forbidden West from here onward, please be forwarned.
Gaia & The Human Evolution
One of the obvious references is Gaia, a hyper-powerful AI that is capable of storing an awful amount of information and energy in its collective memory, and with its subordinate functions, it carried out the terraforming and restorative process of Planet Earth after its doom. There is a reason Gaia is the center of this universe and the main driving force of the events and the lifeline of the planet, as it simply is a reflection of Planet Gaia, one of the main locations in Asimov’s Foundation Series.
The peculiar aspect about this planet was that all its inhabitants were tied together into a telepathic group consciousness when it was founded, and that consciousness extended later into the non-human life and the inorganic material. In the novels, Gaia had basically the same functions as the Gaia from Horizon, due to the sheer size of its mental powers, which enabled it to control the matter of inanimate things and even the lives of humans, and shape history as it sees fit.
Of course, the goal in the novels was not fighting robotic dinosaurs, but instead, an inhabitant from this planet with similar powers to the collective conscious of Gaia, used his mind control powers to disrupt the protagonist’s plans and theories regarding galactic socio-historical trends, as his theories mainly relied on not having any outside interference or forced control from any nonhuman party, which leads us to the real danger of Horizon Forbidden West, and that it was never actually about fighting dinosaurs or robots, but about humanity and the right course of their evolution.
Asimov’s Foundation series was mainly concerned about Psychohistory, which I elaborated on in another article, but in short, it was a statistical approach that tried to determine the future of humanity based on real data, and the series was mainly about predictions coming true, and factors that try to thwart these prophecies. It should be noted that Asimov really was able to predict many modern achievements in his works and quotes as explained here, and much of the plot of the first game revolves around the dichotomy
Nemesis and Human Extinction
This really gets more interesting and much clearer, especially concerning the direction of Horizon Forbidden West, which might have been a drastic change to some players, when in reality it was the natural course of action. In the novel Nemesis by Asimov, humans are able to achieve the technology of “Hyper-assistance“, allowing them to travel in space and reach the newly discovered planet nemesis, which has a bacterial life that possesses a form of consciousness and telepathy (a concept similar to Gaia of Asimov’s Foundation series).
This is all very similar to the plan laid out at the beginning of the game by the Far Zenith group, which specializes in space colonization. Just like how Nemesis resented the humans for abandoning it during colonization, the bacteria on Nemesis quickly evolved to form a conscious and dangerous community that threatened the path of the Nemesis star itself and would cause it later to fall on Earth and cause the mass extinction of humanity.
Horizon Forbidden West takes a direction very close to this basic idea, but later toned to the context of modern AIs that has inherited the same names and functions of these planets. It is always wrongly perceived that Horizon Forbidden West should have continued on the path of robotic evolution, and maybe could have made sentient dinosaurs or something, but no, it has been and will always be a story about humanity, just like the genre it derives from.
The Goal of Horizon Forbidden West
Much like Asimov’s novels, sci-fi stories are mainly concerned with analytical and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, and the potential consequences of scientific, social, and technological innovations in any potential literary framework, even in fantasy and although this fine point remained a source of contention for a while between authors, critics, and readers, about what works can be considered sci-fi and whatnot, they all agreed on the basis that after reading such works, you can immediately witness a reflection of their messages in your current reality.
This is most evident in the casting choice and their implementation within the story. Yes, this time Aloy is no longer the omnipotent influencer of her world, but it seems that everyone now (new and old) has an opinion to say about the matters and the planet in general. The residents do not suffer from ignorance and disillusion as before, but get accustomed to things in their own way, and developed many intellectual and social techniques to cope with the striking development and the fast decay of the planet and the forces that try to deny its evolution.
Horizon Forbidden West is a completely different experience from the first part. The game still has the same characters and looks, but it works on a completely different set of values and ideas, and the story itself is no longer a journey of self-discovery as before, but rather a direct critique on social problems that can only be employed in this charming way within the framework of science fiction stories, all while making a wonderful homage to its influences in various creative ways.
The story has been restructured in this manner, much like how the core of Nemesis was mainly about the lack of a family connection, Aloy also ponders on her true identity after finding out she wasn’t a real human and wasn’t lucky enough to have blood connections like the rest of her people. The story has radically refined her character to a person who thinks and reflects on her choices and connections, and she gained a soul that did not exist before. In my opinion, that was Horizon Forbidden West’s greatest achievement in general.