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Horizon Forbidden West's Ending Explained

The following article contains spoilers for "Horizon Forbidden West"

"Horizon Forbidden West" is the sequel to "Horizon Zero Dawn," so it's only natural that fans hope it's just as great. Luckily, "Forbidden West's" story is impressive enough to match and even exceed expectations. Aloy's (voided by Ashly Burch) tale picks up fairly soon after the end of "Zero Dawn," and her attempt to deal with the ongoing natural disasters by relaunching GAIA quickly brings her to the titular region, where great challenges and grave dangers await. 

"Forbidden West" takes lots of new characters and many returning favorites, and runs them through a sprawling, enticing story that does exactly what a good sequel must. The game's plot takes everything that worked in the first game, expands it, and adds a few fresh ingredients that dramatically increase the stakes for everyone involved. But how does everything end, where does the game leave its characters, and what surprises may loom in the future of the franchise? Here's the ending of "Horizon Forbidden West" explained. 

Aloy has a new Nemesis

For much of "Horizon Forbidden West," Aloy's main threat appears to be Far Zenith, the group of space-faring, hyper-advanced, borderline immortal survivors of the machine apocalypse. It also seems that they're behind the strange signal that kicked off the events of the first game. Unfortunately, they're only the most pressing problem, and the full situation is far worse.

The endgame of "Forbidden West" reveals that while the Far Zenith folks are definitely antagonists, they're not the source of the signal that woke HADES (John Gonzalez), and couldn't care less about colonising Earth at this point. They're simply after a copy of GAIA (Lesley Ewen), which they need to escape a bigger threat: Nemesis, a particularly nasty AI that holds a white-hot grudge against humanity. 

An experimental attempt to download copies of Far Zenith minds into an artificial consciousness database, Nemesis was confined and abandoned as a failure. The AI's decades-long predicament made it hate its creators so much that it vowed to destroy humanity. When it finally escaped, it immediately crushed the entire Far Zenith civilization. When it realized that some people attempted to escape toward Earth, it decided to wreck the planet by awakening HADES. Oh, and since HADES failed, Nemesis — a giant ball of energy, hate, and ability to create any destructive machine it desires — is now on its way to Earth. 

Nemesis is clearly a mightier foe than anything Aloy has faced so far. Then again, its beef is ultimately with the Far Zenith people. Aloy and her allies have already killed Nemesis' tormentors, and as a longtime lonely outcast herself, she should have plenty of common ground with the rogue AI. Who knows? Maybe they actually manage to talk things out in the hopefully inevitable sequel.

Regalla is more than just a rehash of Helis

Both "Horizon" games feature an early wham moment that takes the player's expectations and joyfully flushes them down the drain. In "Zero Dawn," the sudden and unexpected massacre of the Nora during the Proving thoroughly uproots what up until that moment has seemed to be a pretty basic "outcast becomes the hero of the tribe" story, and introduces principal human villain Helis (Crispin Freeman) out of the blue.

"Forbidden West" replicates that story beat pretty faithfully with the diplomatic meeting between the Carja and the Tenakh. The parlay is rudely interrupted by the Tenakh rebel Regalla (Angela Bassett), whose machine-riders slaughter almost everyone, including a number of named characters who have received ample screen time. As such, "Horizon Zero Dawn" veterans can easily assume that Regalla fills the role of Helis in "Forbidden West," and should be disposed of at the earliest opportunity.

However, this is just another way the game plays with your expectations. Regalla has her own reasons to rage against the Carja, and when Aloy eventually confronts her, there's an opportunity to spare her. Do so, and Regalla becomes a reluctant but staunch ally, who joins Aloy's forces in the final battle ... and even willingly sacrifices herself to save the day. 

The many faces of Tilda

In a game full of major twists, Tilda (Carrie-Anne Moss) is responsible for some of the biggest surprises. As the game delves deeper into the Far Zenith faction, she establishes herself as a level-headed and nice individual who's simply stuck with the wrong crowd, and who's quick to assist Aloy when the opportunity arises. Unfortunately, she has ulterior motives. It turns out that Tilda not only knew Dr. Elizabeth Sobeck (Ashly Burch), but was deeply in love with her — and the flame has kept burning all this time. 

Though Tilda doesn't particularly care for her more ruthless comrades, her ultimate goal is still very similar. She wants to leave Earth to its doom and terraform another planet into a new home. Unlike other Far Zenith folks, though, she wants to take Aloy with her, since the protagonist is a genetic clone of her true love. Aloy's not a fan of the plan, so Tilda tries to abduct her using a giant mech, thus serving as the final boss of the game.

However, people who pay attention to the lore scattered around the "Horizon" world find out early on that there's even more to her. As a recording you can find in the early stages of the game reveals, Tilda actually ends up being the saving grace of the entire game. She's the one who convinced Elizabeth to give Far Zenith a copy of APOLLO, without which GAIA couldn't be rebooted in "Forbidden West." In other words, Tilda is an antagonist who becomes an ally who becomes an antagonist again, all the while being the person whose actions enable victory for the good guys in the first place. Yet, despite this apparent zig-zagging, her arc and personal motivations are completely believable. That's good writing, that.

Sylens might finally join Team Aloy for good

To say that Sylens (Lance Reddick) doesn't start "Horizon Forbidden West" on great terms with Aloy is a severe understatement. While he has a reasonable explanation for his HADES-stealing antics from the first game, he remains firmly on deuteragonist territory. His actions in "Zero Dawn" are often questionable and even detrimental to Aloy, but while this is also true in "Forbidden West," his agenda is actually not too different from her mission. However, his plots are still complex and he still enforces a strict need-to-know policy, which doesn't particularly endear him to Aloy. 

Sylens' late-game actions are a fine example of his complicated nature. While his shield-canceling tech is absolutely instrumental in defeating Far Zenith, he doesn't exactly earn any brownie points when it turns out that his plan to deal with the Nemesis threat is very much in line with the villains: escape to space before Nemesis arrives, and use GAIA to terraform another, hopefully safer planet while Earth goes boom. Naturally, Aloy has other ideas.

So, does the end of "Horizon Forbidden West" feature the fight between Aloy and Sylens that's been brewing for a long, long time? Quite the opposite, in fact. In a rare display of mutual respect, Sylens politely explains his point of view and asks Aloy to join him, while she requests his help to prepare for Nemesis. He comes around and decides to stay, and the two end the game as firm allies with a shared mission statement. While Sylens will probably always march to the beat of his own drum, he's clearly grown to respect Aloy ... and, perhaps, to appreciate the world he lives in as much as the one that was before. 

Aloy and Zo get their revenge on Erik

Aloy's fellow Nora massacre survivor Varl (John McMillan) goes through a lot over the course of the two "Horizon" games. In "Forbidden West," he's the first character the protagonist meets, and later, the two survive Regalla's ambush together. After the incident at the GAIA facility, he finds Aloy and takes her to recuperate at a Utaru village, and strikes up a romance with their gravesinger, Zo (Erica Luttrell). Like Aloy, he's clearly a formidable Nora who seems to survive pretty much everything life throws at him ... which, in all likelihood, is exactly what the game wants you to think before Erik Visser (Marc Kudisch) turns up and casually runs a high tech blade through the overwhelmed Brave. 

Varl is arguably the most prominent fatality in "Forbidden West," and while his death comes well before the endgame, it sets up one of the biggest fights near the end. Erik tries to kill Aloy even before he murders Varl, but the loss of her friend makes things extra personal — both for Aloy and Zo, who helps defeat the sadistic Far Zenith enforcer during the game's climactic battle. 

Aloy's friends will potentially expand the Horizon world

The "Horizon" franchise doesn't shy away from sequel bait. "Horizon Zero Dawn" teases the future of the series by having Sylens spirit HADES away, and by leaving the source of the mysterious signal that activated the AI antagonist unrevealed. However, that's nothing compared to the final moments of "Horizon Forbidden West," which are basically a promise that Aloy will return. 

In the end of "Forbidden West," the surviving members of Aloy's group scatter to warn everyone about the impeding Nemesis threat. Not just their own tribes, either — everyone they can find. The implication here seems to be that the potential next installment of "Horizon" might have a much greater scope than anything we've seen so far. After all, the existence of the Quen tribe — implied to come from somewhere in the game's equivalent of the Pacific Islands or perhaps even Asia — confirms that humanity exists outside what used to be the United States. Even in the unlikely scenario that the "Horizon" games have already introduced all GAIA-created tribes, the existence of Far Zenith implies that other groups may also have found ways to survive the Faro Swarm. Judging by Ted Faro's (Lloyd Owen) grisly fate, some of these methods might be quite grim, too. 

It remains to be seen how far-spread the world's human population truly is, and whether the "Horizon" series intends to explore faraway locations in the future. However, the very fact that it's implied should be enough to excite fans.

Hephaestus just can't be contained

Though HADES is the most prominent hostile AI in the "Horizon" series, and Nemesis seems to be the most powerful one, the robot-building HEPHAESTUS (Stefan Ashton Frank) is easily the peskiest, most persistent thing Aloy encounters. Introduced in the "Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds" DLC, the builder AI considers machine-hunting humans a threat, and provides a mighty challenge for Aloy. In "Horizon Forbidden West," HEPHAESTUS has only grown stronger. 

The creative and cunning HEPHAESTUS is far and away the hardest subordinate function to catch, and the quest to merge it with GAIA drives a considerable chunk of the plot. In the end, Aloy and her allies manage to use the AI's troublesome features — compulsive robot-making and ability to take over systems — to their advantage by releasing it in Far Zenith's systems to build machines that attack the villainous faction. However, this means that HEPHAESTUS is still on the loose at the end of the game. Knowing how much it evolved between "The Frozen Wilds" and "Forbidden West," it'll be interesting to see what happens to it in the franchise's future. 

In the end, Aloy finally belongs

Throughout the two "Horizon" games, Aloy's fighting as many inner demons as deadly machines. After all, she spends the vast majority of her life as a complete outcast. Then, she sees her father figure and much of her tribe mowed down in a ruthless attack. After that, she finds out that she's a clone of a legendary scientist who lived a thousand years ago, and that she's the only person who can save the world from a borderline incomprehensible threat. And then, she has to do that all over again. 

"Horizon Forbidden West" makes it clear that no matter how much praise she gets and how many friends have her back, Aloy's struggling under her burden, and finds it difficult to connect with people because she doesn't truly feel that she belongs. All of this changes by the ending of the game. While it introduces the worst apocalyptic scenario yet and hope for survival seems nonexistent, Aloy manages to finally figure out her place in the world. What's more, the introduction of fellow Elizabeth clone, Beta (Ashly Burch), means that she doesn't carry the burden of being the only person with the scientist's all-important genetic structure anymore. As such, the threat of Nemesis might loom large over Earth, but when you see Aloy and Beta deploy GAIA together, it's clear that Aloy's personal ending is a happy one.

The protagonist indeed ends "Forbidden West" in a pretty good place. She has a newfound "sister," she's learned to embrace her alliances, and commands a team that's on a mission to unite the world against a massive threat. While "Zero Dawn" and much of "Forbidden West" are clearly one-woman shows, a potential third game might feature a very different, far more cooperative Aloy.