Horizon Zero Dawn is known for its stunning environments, and Horizon Forbidden West looks like it will more than live up to the precedent set by the first game. Despite being available on both PS4 and PS5, Horizon Forbidden West looks truly next-gen. Guerrilla Games has already shown how the highly anticipated sequel will improve upon combat and traversal mechanics, but the developer is also making huge improvements to the settlements and NPCs.
In Horizon Zero Dawn, there were only a couple of big settlements: Mother's Heart, Meridian, and Sunfall. All three are visually stunning and conveyed a unique environment, with each belonging to a different tribe. However, they weren't as interactive and alive as they could have been. When Aloy becomes a seeker after the Proving, the Nora settlements aren't essential anymore, and while Meridian was active, it didn't seem populated enough to be the central hub of the game. Forbidden West looks like it'll change all that.
Every Settlement Has A Distinct Culture
The major settlements in Horizon Zero Dawn were unique to the tribes that lived in them, however most of what made those locations special stopped with the environment. Despite all its brilliance, Zero Dawn was never known for great NPCs or detailed animations; the human animations were actually one of the elements criticized the most.
In Forbidden West, Guerrilla's Living World team is responsible for making each settlement feel alive in a unique way. An NPC from the Nora tribe will obviously look very different from a member of the Oseram tribe, but with the new programming, now they actually behave and interact with the environment differently in ways that are distinct from other tribes. Each tribe has their own way of life and values that are now shown through the behavior of the NPCs.
Espen Sogn, the Lead Designer of Guerrilla's Living World team, said that the goal is to make NPCs feel connected to where they live. The visual design of the locations is important to ensure authenticity, but the human behavior and interaction within the settlements are what make the world feel alive. To make each group of people feel like a fully-realized culture, how they interact with the environment and with each other is incredibly important.
How the NPCs Interact with Forbidden West's Environment
Sogn gave an example comparing the Oseram tribe, which fans of Erend are familiar with, to the new Utaru tribe. Because the Oseram value masculinity and community, they are seen giving each other high-fives and shoulder punches. In comparison, the Utaru tribe is very peaceful and believes in living in harmony with nature. They are more gentle with one another and have a more laid-back community.
The physical ways in which the different tribes interact with the world communicate exactly who they are and give insight into what they value. Even the ways they transport water are different. The Tenakth, a violent new tribe that values strength above all, carry it on their shoulders. The Utaru hold their vessels close to them, and the Oseram simply use their hands. A ton of detail has been put into both the NPCs' physical behavior and visual design, to the point that players should be able to tell which tribe they're about to encounter from a significant distance.
Every settlement in Horizon Forbidden West has distinct behaviors for the NPCs, but within that, the NPCs themselves can also be individuals. The non-combat NPCs are part of a complex AI crowd system. The crowd system determines things like paths and reactions, but there's also an attitude system that runs even deeper. With the attitude system, NPCs can have individual personalities.
Guerrilla is pushing the boundaries for how NPCs interact with their environments in an effort to make it feel more real and natural. NPCs will interact with everything around them, from objects on tables, to buildings, to other people. Horizon Zero Dawn was ambitious with its worldbuilding in other ways, but this increased focus on human interaction and settlements is exciting and adds another layer of depth to the already stunning world.
Forbidden West Settlements Are More Interactive and Useful
Horizon Zero Dawn's many settlements were gorgeous to look at, but they weren't very interactive overall. Of course there was always a merchant or two and NPCs to obtain side quests from, but other than that there wasn't anyone to interact with or fun activities to do. Meridian had several unique merchants specifically for the game's collectibles, but that was the only variety. In Horizon Forbidden West, the settlements are going to be more interesting to navigate in several ways.
When Aloy encounters merchants in Horizon Zero Dawn, they're basically a one-stop-shop. Aloy can buy outfits from them, weapons, potions, and whatever else she might need. In Forbidden West, however, this whole system has been diversified. Aloy will still need to check in with a merchant to obtain all the necessary tools for her adventure, but now the merchants are much more specialized.
To start, there are Stitchers for outfits, Hunters for weapons, Herbalists for potions, and Cooks who provide health benefits. When each merchant is specialized, they'll likely have a lot more to offer in their specific category than a general merchant. This means there will probably be a lot of interesting new tools for Aloy to take advantage of.
Adding to the diversity, the merchants are affected by the same NPC crowd systems that define the various tribes. While a Tenakth Cook might prioritize nutritional value to make sure the warriors are prepared for battle, an Oseram Cook might care more about how the food tastes. Not every Cook, or any other merchant for that matter, will be the same.
A lot of the central hubs for the tribes haven't been revealed yet, but fans have gotten their first glimpse at Chainscape, which provides a little more insight into how these major locations might function. Chainscape is an Oseram base that Aloy reaches early in the game. Because the Oseram are comfortable and familiar to Aloy, Chainscape might parallel Meridian on a smaller scale.
Specific details about Chainscape are few, but Espen Sogn did confirm that there will be a central bar where Aloy can meet new characters. Hopefully, locations to socialize will be available in many different settlements. Social hubs will probably also serve as locations for Aloy to relax and challenge NPCs to a friendly game of Strike, the in-game board game not unlike Witcher 3's Gwent.
Horizon Forbidden West releases for PS4 and PS5 on February 18, 2022.
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