Horizon Zero Dawn blew me away. It blew a lot of people away, actually. It’s sort of hard not to be enamored with a game that arms you with a bow and sling, then asks you to take down that fifty-foot tall mechanized lightning eagle over yonder. More than that, the game’s characters breathe humanity into a world dominated by lifeless machines that are anything but lifeless.
No personality exemplifies this more than the game’s protagonist, Aloy. She is the lens through which we perceive the post-collapse world of Horizon. Beyond that; through her eyes, we’re able to peer into the past to uncover the mystery of what brought about the fall of humankind. It’s no wonder that Guerrilla would want to revisit that world with some post-launch content for the game; the first of which is called The Frozen Wilds.
The collapse of our civilization and the subsequent rise of tribal communities in Horizon has resulted in some pretty diverse cultural factions. These tribes have developed mythologies outside the influence of our own. There’s an explanation for that, but I have to warn you; this is where I start to get into spoiler territory. I have some ideas about where the story might be headed, but they’re based on having completed the campaign. If you haven’t finished the game yet, you should probably go do that, then come back here to check out my theories.
Still with me? Okay. The remnants of Humanity that populate the world of Horizon aren’t actually remnants at all. They’re clones; the results of “reseeding” the Earth with humans after the total annihilation of all organic life by the machines originally conceived to save it. How’s that for irony? Aloy manages to prevent history from repeating itself, but a few unanswered questions linger after the story’s conclusion.
That is where, perhaps, The Frozen Wilds comes in. The common consensus seems to be that the titular region is a stretch of territory in Wyoming that belongs to the Banuk. Specifically, the land seems to be located in or near Yellowstone National Park—well, what’s left of it anyway. Most of the DLC’s trailer is dedicated to showcasing the homeland of the Banuk people. However, I don’t believe that to be as relevant to the plot as a pair of key scenes which stand out from the rest of the video.
Near the end of the main campaign, Aloy comes face to face with GAIA (in a manner of speaking). The sentient AI explains that she received an unidentified data transmission, which triggered her Subordinate Functions—each a fully realized AI in their own right—to go rogue. Her counterpart, HADES, then launched a virus designed to unshackle itself and its fellow subordinates, wresting them from GAIA’s control.
The source of the signal is never identified in the game. There are some clues as to where it might have originated, though. In some of the logs that you can collect throughout the game, a ship called the Odyssey is often referenced. Eventually, you learn that the vessel was a sort of “Plan B” which housed the Alpha version of the APOLLO program, Project Zero Dawn’s compendium of the entirety of human knowledge and history.
In a subsequent log, we learn that “telemetry indicated a catastrophic antimatter containment failure as the drives spun up to depart the solar system.” The implication is that the vessel had been destroyed, and along with it, the Alpha version of APOLLO. The use of the word “telemetry” indicates that no one actually witnessed the destruction of the spacecraft. I believe this means that the unknown signal which triggered the malfunction of the Subordinate Functions originated from the Odyssey, which wasn’t destroyed after all.
That still doesn’t explain the mountain enveloped in the maelstrom of electricity or the robot gorilla that people have spotted from the trailer, though. Those, I believe, are the machinations of another of GAIA’s subordinates, HEPHAESTUS. As the AI responsible for the creation of the Machines and the Cauldrons which mass-produce them, Uncle Heffy is almost certainly the culprit behind the new gorilla-shaped machine.
As for that cloud of electricity; in Horizon, the presence of an AI manifests in some pretty weird ways. All of that red energy and those swirling tendrils of corruption are an indication that HADES has been in contact with a machine. I think the explanation is a bit simpler, though. I think that, like HADES, HEPHAESTUS found his way into a “Metal Devil,” one of the Horus class war machines that were turned against humanity during our extinction event.
The colossal Horus machines were designed to consume bio-matter during “emergencies” in order to maintain their functionality, which is the automated manufacturing of smaller war machines while deployed in the field. I think that the aforementioned cloud is masking the process of one of these Metal Devils powering up with HEPHAESTUS on board. His imperative is to create machines. Aloy shut down a lot of the cauldrons in the region. This may simply be HEPHAESTUS’ way of countering her actions.
Through our encounter with HEPHAESTUS, I think we’ll uncover the truth about the Odyssey’s fate. Which, I believe, will set us up for the inevitable sequel. It’s possible that the Odyssey survived, and that there are space-faring humans somewhere out there. I think the corruption began when they attempted to phone home with an unsecured, outdated Alpha version of Apollo.
But, that’s just me. What do you think?