Horizon Zero Dawn: Story Recap & Ending Explained


Welcome! If you need a handy recap before Horizon Forbidden West drops in February, we’ve got you covered with our full story recap if you don’t fancy plunging back into this 25+ hour journey. Within this we’ll cover all the big plot points, including our theories over what will happen in the sequel too.

With that in mind, let’s dive in!

The world of Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn takes place in the 31st Century, with mankind’s future still uncertain. Thin pockets of humanity left in the world live in small tribal-like populations with limited access to technology. Most religions in this new world order revolve around the sun and nature, while our technologically advanced civilization is colloquially known as the “old ones.”

These aforementioned tribes inhabit different sections of the world. The Nora Tribe are fierce hunter-gatherers who live in the mountains and worship nature, known lovingly to them as “All-Mother”. This is the first tribe you encounter in the game.

In the dry, choked deserts lie the Carja, who are city builders and worship the sun. High up in the North lie the Banuk; a motley band of shamans and hunters who adore machines. The final tribe are the Oseram, who are well-known for their metalworking – and arguing.

In between these tribes lie vast stretches of rolling hills, abandoned settlements and breathtaking vistas. These areas are dominated by large robotic creatures known as machines.

Although they peacefully coexist with humans, a phenomenon known as the “derangement” has prompted a lot of these machines to grow more aggressive and attack humans. Even worse, larger and more deadlier versions of these machines have started to appear. But why? What caused this phenomena?

Who is Aloy?

With the basic background of the world established, the story puts you in the shoes of Aloy, a curious young girl cast out of the Nora tribe at birth and raised as an outcast. These fatherly duties fall to Rost, who teaches you the skills necessary to become a proficient hunter.

Before that occurs though, Aloy obtains a Focus during her first playable section of the game; a small augmented reality device that offers up a glimpse of the past. It also allows Aloy special perceptive abilities to see the world in a far more advanced way than her hunter brethren.

With her ancestry a secret (for now) and many details still a mystery, when Aloy comes of age she enters a competition called the Proving, which grants the winner the opportunity to become a Nora Brave, and – more importantly – a member of the Nora tribe.

What happens at the Proving? Does Aloy win?

Aloy wins the competition, besting her competitors but the Nora are attacked by cultists before Aloy can don her crown. In fact, Aloy is almost killed by their leader Helis, who holds her up by the scruff of the neck, growling for her to “face the sun.”

Just before her throat is slit, Rost scrambles up and saves Aloy. With explosives planted on the ridge, he rolls Aloy off the edge of the mountain, just as an explosive blast destroys him and – presumably at this point – everyone else on the ridge.

Who are the cultists that attacked Aloy?

When Aloy awakes, a Matriarch explains that the cultists had gained control of corrupted machines. These cultists happen to be part of a rebel Carja group known as the Eclipse. Through the use of her Focus, these cultists worked out where she was and decided to take her out.

Thanks to Oseram foreigner Olin, he informs Aloy that she was specifically targeted due to her uncanny likeness to a scientist known as Dr. Elisabeth Sobeck.

What causes the world to be overrun by machines?

As Aloy continues on, she locates the remnants of a company called Faro Automated Solutions. It turns out the old world was destroyed nearly 1000 years ago after the world’s first trillionaire, Faro, lost control of his automated “peacekeeper” military robots.

These robots – which Faro stupidly gave the ability to self-replicate – consume biomass as fuel. Of course, there’s only a finite amount of resources in our planet, and thus the struggle between man and machine began.

With wars raging across the globe, the robots’ ability to sustain itself and self-replicate made the fight futile for humans, who were pushed back as machines overrun the planet. These machines stripped Earth of all life and through audio clippings dotted around the world, change the attitude and perception of soldiers from hopeful to hopelessly despairing. With everything seemingly lost, Dr Elisabeth Sobeck comes up with a solution.

What is Project Zero Dawn?

Project Zero Dawn is a top secret project, spearheaded by Sobeck herself which offers up a desperate hail mary to try and save humanity before it’s too late. She, along with a handful of other scientists, created an automated terraforming system designed to shut the robots down and restore life to Earth.

It’s around this time where Aloy is contacted by Sylens, a secretive figure interested in uncovering what happened to the “Old Ones”. With him chattering away in your Focus while you explore, Aloy eventually learns that Sobeck was sent to an Orbital Launch Base to complete Zero Dawn. This base happens to be located under the Citadel; the centre of Eclipse power.

Aloy heads for the base and inside finds out that Zero Dawn offers up a vast underground system of databases, factories, and cloning facilities controlled by a single artificial intelligence called GAIA. Once all life had been extinguished, GAIA developed a countermeasure to deactivate all of the Faro robots and build its own robots to restore the Earth’s biosphere.

Once the planet was habitable again, GAIA reseeded life on Earth based on stored DNA and taught the first human clones not to repeat their predecessors’ past mistakes.

Why did the Project fail? What went wrong?

APOLLO, the system designed to teach the new humans, ended up being sabotaged by Faros’ founder and CEO Theodore Faro. The consequences of which, reduced these Cradle-born humans to a tribal, subsistence society.

HADES is one of GAIA’s subsystems, designed to enact controlled extinction if the outcome of Zero Dawn is not favourable for human existence. Thanks to Faro, he essentially ends up becoming instrumental in the woes befalling the world.

Reaching Dr. Sobeck’s office, Aloy manages to gain a registry to grant her access to the door from which she was born – the same door she was found outside of as an infant by the Nora tribe.

Unfortunately, Aloy is captured by Helis and sentenced to death at the Citadel. With no weapons, Aloy uses her wits to outsmart Helis, knocking over a platform courtesy of enraged machines and thwarting the deranged machine threat.

With things looking bleak, Sylens rides in with overwritten machines, allowing Aloy to escape. With the Nora Tribe under attack though, Aloy’s escape is short-lived, as she’s plunged into the fight with the Nora Tribe, taking out numerous Eclipse guards. After a fight involving a monstrous deranged Behemoth, she eventually makes it to the door beneath Nora mountain.

Who is Aloy? Is she related to Dr. Sobeck?

With the system now recognizing Aloy’s identity, Aloy heads inside and learns more about the past. A recording left behind by GAIA, reveals that a signal of unknown origin caused HADES to activate and seize control of her functions. As a last resort, GAIA self-destructed in order to stop HADES.

Without GAIA to maintain the terraforming process, the entire system started to break down. As a contingency plan, GAIA created a clone of Dr. Sobeck in the form of Aloy, in the hope that she would find GAIA’s message, destroy HADES, and restore GAIA’s functions before it’s too late.

Dr. Sobeck actually sacrificed her life to ensure the Faro robot swarm would not find GAIA. It’s an incredibly risky move but one that does eventually pay off. Aloy manages to obtain the master override necessary to destroy HADES, just as Sylens reveals who he is.

Who is Sylens?

It turns out Sylens is actually the original founder of the Eclipse. He was tempted by HADES’ promise of knowledge regarding the Old Ones and decided to help the system out. With Sylens’ help, Aloy learns that HADES intends to send a signal to reactivate the Faro robots to once again extinguish all life on Earth – using a large radio beacon to project that signal across the entire world.

With the machines marching on Meridian, and tribesmen across the world watching in fear as robots rise up from the ground, it falls to Aloy to try and stop HADES before it’s too late.

Aloy kills Helis and helps fight off waves of corrupted machines, before stabbing HADES with Sylens’ lance and activating the master override, thus ending the war. It’s a moment of victory, but one that’s soured slightly by the sickly red light of HADES escaping and flying through the air to parts unknown.

What happens to HADES?

During the epilogue, Aloy journeys to Dr Sobeck’s old home and finds her corpse. This reflective moment serves as a poignant reminder of the journey and self sacrifice she’s taken to reach this point.

In a post-credit sequence however, we find out what becomes of HADES. That strange, red shadowy presence is trapped by Sylens in a lantern, who intends to interrogate the being and find out who sent the signal that activated it. It seems there’s a higher power out there but who could it be?

What will the story be for Forbidden West?

We haven’t recapped Frozen Wilds here (thee DLC to Horizon Zero Dawn) but within the final teaser at the end, one of GAIA’s subordinates, HEPHAESTUS, is building an army of new and highly dangerous machines that look set to take the world by storm.

This, combined with Sylens holding the captured HADES seems to indicate that Sylens could well turn to the dark side and team up with this new threat. Or, judging by his redemption with Aloy in Zero Dawn, could see him use HADES’ knowledge to take out this new threat.

Given the title of Forbidden West, it’s fair to say the action will be further afield and take place west of the current map we’ve come to expect in Zero dawn. The teaser for this upcoming title indicates there’s more aquatic creatures and sections, along with a lot more intriguing locales for us to discover. For now,we’ll have to wait and see but with the story up to scratch, we’ll have to wait for Forbidden West to release on 18th February to find out.

What did you think of Horizon Zero Dawn’s story? Have we missed any crucial details in this recap? Do let us know in the comments below!

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