Meet the Woman Who Helped Make Aloy One of the Best Video Game Characters of All Time

Aloy in Horizon Forbidden West.
Guerrilla Games

Horizon Forbidden West is the perfect kind of sequel: it builds on everything that was good about the first game in the series, improves on everything that wasn’t so great and adds a generous heaping of new features that make parts of the game feel entirely new. And it also builds on the very best aspect of the first game: Aloy’s story.

An outcast since birth, Aloy is used to being on her own. The first game spent its entire main story teaching Aloy to be independent in the face of overwhelming pressure. It’s one of the things that resonated with audiences — women are used to being told they don’t belong in games, and now here’s a woman they can play as who finds strength from being an outcast.

In Forbidden West, Aloy struggles to accept that there are people who want to help her and that doing so might put them in danger. Despite the deadly machines and cut-throat rebels, at times it feels like the biggest challenge Aloy faces in Forbidden West is letting people into her life. The result is a female game character who’s smart, strong, kind and loving, and watching Aloy grow in Forbidden West is one of the biggest joys of the game.

We had a spoiler-free chat about Aloy’s journey in Horizon Forbidden West with Annie Kitain, a senior writer at Guerrilla. Annie joined the narrative team in 2019, and her credits include contributions to The Sunhawk and Liberation comic series as well as Horizon Forbidden West. She told us about writing Aloy, the decision to make Varl and Erend accompany you on missions and her favourite side quests and interactions with your companions in Horizon Forbidden West.

Annie Kitain, a senior writer at Guerrilla Games whose credits include Horizon Forbidden West.
Annie Kitain

POPSUGAR Australia: What’s in store for Aloy in Horizon Forbidden West? What challenges will she face and what will she learn about herself and her past?

Annie Kitain: Six months have passed since the end of Horizon Zero Dawn, and in that time, Aloy has observed a mysterious red blight that’s strangling life across the land. Knowing that this blight is a symptom of the degrading biosphere, she’s been searching for a way to stop it.

This mission will lead her into the Forbidden West, where she’ll face a storm of new threats: Regalla’s rebels, deadly machines and human enemies, Sylens’ machinations, and much more. And as she ventures into the frontier, she’ll reunite with old friends, meet new companions, and encounter exciting new tribes — all part of an epic and emotional adventure.

In this next chapter of Aloy’s journey, we wanted to keep what players loved about her in the first game but find ways for her to grow and evolve. As Horizon Forbidden West begins, Aloy feels the pressure to live up to the legacy of Elisabet Sobeck, her genetic “mother,” a brilliant scientist who was responsible for saving life on Earth. And while Aloy accomplished some remarkable feats in Horizon Zero Dawn, she feels she needs to measure up, and it’s a burden she believes she must bear alone.

Aloy riding a mount in Horizon Forbidden West.

PS: You spend a lot of time with characters like Varl and Erend in Horizon Forbidden West, and they even come on missions with you. Why did you decide to give Aloy allies in this game? And can you tell us a bit about her reluctant journey towards accepting their help?

AK: One of our goals in Horizon Forbidden West was to enrich Aloy’s connection with NPCs, both with companion characters like Erend and Varl, and with side characters throughout the open world. That said, in Horizon Zero Dawn Aloy was an outcast and used to being on her own. And with that fierce self-reliance also comes loneliness, something that’s compounded by the pressure to live up to Elisabet’s example. The result is a conflicting desire for her — wanting to form connections with others vs. believing she needs to pursue her mission alone.

PS: We meet new tribes in Horizon Forbidden West, each with their own unique culture. How did you develop the customs and aesthetics of tribes like the Tenakth and the Utaru?

We work closely with our art and living world teams to craft fascinating tribes comprised of diverse and interesting characters. The visual language of each tribe is created from the ground up for the setting, including its material culture – such as the use of machine parts in clothing. From a story standpoint, side quests, in particular, offer the opportunity to explore a tribe’s beliefs and customs. It’s also important to us that we focus on character conflict, so we look for ways to explore a personal conflict within the larger framework of the tribe’s culture.

Plainsong in Horizon Forbidden West.

PS: What was the inspiration behind new machines like the Bristleback and Slitherfang?

AK: Awe-inspiring, deadly machines are one of the major pillars of Horizon, and we knew that the Forbidden West would need to be populated with machines that challenge and amaze players. At Guerrilla, we’re very fortunate to have world-class combat and art teams who design these intricate and dangerous foes. We look for inspiration from prehistoric and modern animals, and it’s a fun and creative process of imagining how cool it would be to fight something like a giant robotic snake.

Aloy fighting a Slitherfang in Horizon Forbidden West.

PS: There are lots of new gameplay systems in Horizon Forbidden West, like the base and dying your armour — how did you work these new systems into the core Horizon gameplay?

AK: Throughout Forbidden West, we placed a major emphasis on providing flexibility and depth to the world. From new traversal options like the Shieldwing glider to upgrading and customising your gear with dyes, many of these new features are in service of that goal. On the story side, the base helps accomplish our goal of deepening Aloy’s connection with NPCs. It provides a space where Aloy can check in on how her companions are doing, learn more about them, and offers a central place to return to throughout the main story.

PS: I’m loving the side quests in Horizon Forbidden West! What’s your personal favourite side quest or errand to play and can you share any stories from its development?

AK: That’s a tough one! I love all of our side quests for their different characters and conflicts. Just to name one, there’s a personal quest with Alva, one of Aloy’s new companions. I had a lot of fun writing the dialogue — both the more light-hearted and serious moments. I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s one moment, in particular, that was actually going to be a cutscene at one point, and we changed it to occur in-game instead. You’ll know it when you see it — and I think the result is fantastic and ended up being so much better!

PS: I’m so happy you added a mini-game! Can you tell us about how you came up with the idea or the rules?

AK: Our talented world team is responsible for designing the variety of fun and engaging activities throughout the open world. The board game, Machine Strike, was spearheaded by one of our world designers, Bart van Oosten, and he did such an amazing job. On the writing side, we work closely with the designers to ensure that our activities fit within the context of the world. We loved the idea that Machine Strike revolves around using game pieces that resemble the machines, and it made sense to us that the Tenakth tribe, with their interest in military strategy, would develop such a game. It’s a lot of fun to play!

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