The team at Guerrilla tell all about creating a world filled with adventure, culture, and opportunity.
The Forbidden West is vast and deadly, filled with ancient ruins, awe-inspiring machines, and hidden threats. Surrounded by danger, its human inhabitants need places to train, rest, and improve their gear. The game’s settlements form these sanctuaries, and they are just as vital to Aloy as they are to the tribes that live in them.
The living world in these settlements is a complex character of its own. Every detail establishes credibility, creating an authentic environment through visual storytelling. For example, the Nora live in relative solitude in the isolated valley of the Sacred Land, making it difficult for them to communicate with the outside world. As a result, they are less technologically advanced than other tribes, and more wary of outsiders. Their settlements are made of wood and rope, featuring minimal furnishings other than what is needed for daily life. Food and resources are obtained through hunting and gathering, so there’ll be pelts, baskets, or sheaths full of arrows lying around. All the objects and people within such a settlement feel like they belong, and more so: like they’ve always been there.
Spoiler Alert: Please note this article may contain some spoilers for Horizon Zero Dawn and its storyline.
With hours and hours of exploration in the Forbidden West, how do you create a lush and thriving world filled with activities, but without overwhelming people, or detracting from the overarching story? Espen Sogn, Lead Living World Designer at Guerrilla, explains how his team is central to this very question.
“When you walk through the Forbidden West, everything should feel like it belongs there. The Living World team at Guerrilla works on aspects of the game that make the world feel authentic and alive: the tribes, the settlements, and the people within them. There’s an intention behind everything we place within the world.”
Clarity on those intentions comes from collaboration with the narrative team. “At the start of a project, we put a lot of thought into every tribe we’re going to encounter,” says Annie Kitain, Senior Writer at Guerrilla. “What their conflicts are, how they fit into the story, and how they interact with the world around them. Take the Tenakth, for instance. Many of their beliefs are influenced by the ancient ruins of the Forbidden West, and unlike other tribes, they’re comprised of three distinct clans. Their shared history, convictions, disputes – all of that is important to developing the characters that Aloy will meet on her journey.”
“Our main challenge is translating this narrative framework into visuals that are integral to the world itself,” says Espen. “For example, the Tenakth are known to be competitive and combat-focused, but so are other tribes. So how do we distinguish them, and how do we communicate that visually?”
‘It then becomes all about the details, the animations, and the behaviors. Within their settlements, you’ll see the Tenakth working out, readying themselves for battle. They’re often younger because they need to be capable warriors. Their base is an ancient ruin, from which they’ve picked up certain Old World gestures that they may not fully understand – like using a military salute to say hello.’
‘Ultimately, our goal is to make sure NPCs feel connected to where they live, and we work closely with other internal teams, such as Narrative, Quest, and Environment, to make sure that every location feels authentic.”
“The Living World team does a fantastic job, and it’s so great to see it all come together,” says Annie. “Each tribe starts as a bunch of ideas, then is translated into these amazing settlements. Like the Utaru, who were imagined as an agrarian society that’s deeply connected to the land around them. Once the tribe is in-game and the Living World team has done their magic, you’re walking around the Utaru’s fields, interacting with them, and you think, ‘whoa, they nailed it.’ Now this tribe feels real.”
With a world as vast as the Forbidden West, it was important for the team to maintain the level of authenticity that was achieved in Horizon Zero Dawn. “Every non-combat NPC in Horizon Forbidden West is part of a crowd system,” says Espen. “Within that system, you can create rules such as reactions, walking paths, and other animations. We then also have the attitude system, which determines a personality. This means we can create unique people who behave like individuals within the world.’
‘We are constantly adding layers of authenticity within the world through animations and behaviors. When members of a tribe are in their settlement, their safe spaces, they can act like themselves. The Oseram are a social and historically patriarchal tribe, so their animations are more about shoulder punches and high fives. The Utaru, on the other hand, are laid back, so they will often sit down together and be a bit more touchy-feely. As the player moves around, these are potential subconscious hints that will help you visualize where in the world you are.’
‘All of this happens within the game’s narrative framework. You should be able to identify from a distance which tribe you’re looking at. The way that different tribes hold or transport water: the strong Tenakth will carry it on their shoulders; the peaceful Utaru will hug it closely; and the crafty Oseram will carry it with their hands.”
One of the first places Aloy will visit as she travels west is Chainscrape, an Oseram outpost settlement on the border. It offers abundant natural resources and opportunities for adventure and risk. Its tenants have come here for many reasons: to flee problems back home in the Claim, to make a few quick shards, to embrace a dream, or for the thrill of exploration. It’s a busy hub, featuring a town bar where Aloy can meet some interesting new characters.
Espen continues: “With so much activity, so many visual cues, Chainscrape was a place where we could demonstrate many new systems and animations that make the world and its people feel much more alive. In Horizon Zero Dawn, there were a lot of assets and things in the background. In Horizon Forbidden West, they’re not just textures: they’ve been elevated into actual objects that are being used by people in-game.’
‘Where you previously saw a person standing in front of a forge, they will now actively engage with what’s around them: moving materials, leaning on walls, drinking from cups, talking to friends, and just living their daily lives. They move and exist with purpose.”
Of course, the world isn’t just visually detailed – it’s a constant threat. Aloy relies on settlements and NPCs to sustain and equip her. Progression, skills, upgrades, health, and tools are all part of a larger ecosystem that structures the huge and intricate open world of the Forbidden West.
“When designing the core features that form the progression systems of a game, these features always have to be built in dialog with the rest of the game’s design!” says Steven Lumpkin, Senior Designer at Guerrilla. “Beyond the narrative of Horizon, it’s imperative that all our systems work together in harmony to give our players a fantastic experience from the first time they pick up their controller.’
‘Balancing progression is a leading focus for us, making sure that every player is readily able to acquire a set of gear that feels great to them in combat, while remaining powerful enough to tackle all of the challenges over the course of the game. We’ve built an ecosystem that rewards the player for engaging deeply with the whole world of Horizon Forbidden West, while remaining friendly for those who want to stay focused on the core narrative.”
At the heart of that are the settlements in Horizon Forbidden West: bustling hubs where you can find weapons, outfits, and all the upgrades you need to continue your journey. “We wanted the towns and villages across the Forbidden West to feel lived in, vibrant, and useful,’ continues Steven. ‘In each settlement across the world, you’ll find opportunities for adventure. They are filled with merchants and vendors: Stitchers, who can sell Aloy powerful (and beautiful!) new outfits in exchange for shards and machine parts; Hunters, who offer an array of tactical new weaponry; Herbalists, who sell potent potions that Aloy is definitely strong enough to handle; and Cooks, who prepare invigorating meals that Aloy can carry with her for a boost.”
For the Narrative team, it was also important that the merchants fit into the context of their respective tribes. “A Hunter from the Oseram tribe might act more like a blacksmith, forging weapons for hunters to use in the wilds,” says Annie. “Whereas a Tenakth Hunter functions more like a quartermaster, ensuring that their clan’s warriors are armed for battle.”
“You’ll see this reflected in the individual characters, as well. There’s an Oseram Cook you meet in one of the early settlements who has a buoyant personality and puts a lot of emphasis into how food tastes. Later, you meet a stern Tenakth Cook who mainly focuses on how a well-fed warrior is better prepared for a battle. These differences make them feel like they’re a part of a unique culture.”
“Weapons and outfits are even more potent and stylish than before,” says Steven. “Weapons now have extra perks to make them even more specialized – you can read more on that in one of our previous blogs. Also, Aloy can now carry up to six weapons at the same time, along with her trusty spear.’
‘Outfits do not only provide resistance to the many damage types Aloy will face in the Forbidden West, but also stack bonuses on top of Aloy’s skills on the Skill Tree. With the right outfit boosting the right skills, the sky’s the limit. Plus, you can swap weapons and outfits on the fly, so you can change your approach at any time.’
‘The narrative of Horizon and the vibrant cultures that inhabit its world were a huge source of inspiration for Aloy’s outfits. Clothing reflects a unique style, as well as the materials a tribe has access to and knows how to use. Hunters from the Nora tend to favor ranged combat and stealthy hunting. Carja excel at the use of traps and tripwires. The boisterous Oseram love fighting up close and personal with a hammer. The Tenakth and Utaru have their own preferences as well — and the outfits Aloy can acquire from each culture tend to reflect and support these unique approaches to combat.”
In the Horizon Forbidden West gameplay trailer, we mentioned a new feature called Workbenches, which can be found all over the world. Steven explains: “Aloy can forge the machine parts she’s harvested into her weapons and outfits, upgrading them to be even stronger. As you travel the Forbidden West, take note of machines that have visible horns, claws, tusks, or tails. While early upgrades may just need a bit of braided wire or sturdy hardplate, if you want extra mod slots, the strongest perks, or the biggest resistances… you’ll want to make sure you shoot off the Tremortusk’s parts before you take it down.”
Whether from downed machines, animals Aloy has hunted in her travels, plants she’s harvested, or even rare crystalline growths called Greenshine that can be discovered around the world — every resource she comes across will be valuable in some capacity.
“More advanced upgrades will require resources from specific machines, and Aloy’s Focus can help her scan the machine, identify key resources, and tag them for easy tracking,’ Steven says. ‘If you’re ever short on supply, merchants will happily take valuables to sell off your hands. And if you need even more, external machine parts can be harvested and sold for a fair price. A consummate crafter, Aloy can use animal skins and bones to sew new Pouch and Quiver upgrades, letting her carry more ammunition or resources with her in the field. All of these systems reward Aloy for exploring the world even as she travels deeper into the Forbidden West.”
It’s not easy to create an immersive open world, filled with adventure, culture, and opportunity, and sustained by detailed and well balanced systems of progression and commerce. It took a true team effort from start to finish.
“When you’re out in the Forbidden West, our hope is that the story is reflected in every detail of the world,” says Annie. “And we strive to make that happen through collaboration with the many talented teams at Guerrilla. Aloy’s journey will take her through some really gorgeous settlements, allowing her to meet many interesting characters, trade for cool new gear, and prepare herself for the challenges ahead.”
“We’re very proud of what we have achieved together,” says Espen. “We hope the player will encounter a world that feels more alive and more real than ever. We have put so much detail into the daily lives of our people: from groups of people gossiping on a street corner to rowdy customers in the bar who burst into spontaneous song. From children playing tag outside to play fighting with the town guard. We hope players will take a moment to watch what is going on around them and come away with their own favorite moments.”
Steven adds: “To work with so many teams to make sure that everything sings just right all together has been such a highlight. Our goal was to make sure that Aloy feels embodied in and engaged with the world around her, whether she’s relaxing in our settlements or hunting in the wilds. We’re proud of the results: from outfits and the boosts they give to player skills, to Workbench upgrading and hunting for machine parts — there are so many cool new systems that draw you into the world, and we hope you will love the game from start to finish.” For more information on Horizon Forbidden West, please visit here.
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Genuinely cannot wait for this. I managed to get a PS5 at the end of July, and this game is the primary reason.
The best visuals I have seen running on console. Should be a masterpiece considering the original game was GGs first open world experience. Sony set to dominate 2022. Forbidden West, Sifu, Gran Turismo 7, Forspoken, God of War, Stray, FFXVI, and more. Crazy.
Can you please Boost the Framerate for Yakuza 6 and Kiwam 2 on PS5 please 🙏🙏
Please bring this beautiful game to PC sooner rather than later!
PC = UGE (Ultimate Gamer’s Edition).
I just want to hear news about what is included with the $50 PC version.
They should be putting games on PC first, though.
Yea sure, in 4-5 years
You obvious trolls are sad. Enjoy waiting years for the PC edition. I’ll be on this in February. I will have played GT7, God of War Ragnarok, Forspoken, and FFXVI by the time this hits PC. Maybe even Spiderman 2? Beggars.
Haha. Sure, junior.
This beautiful game and elden ring I cannot wait super excited to have these and more on ps5 thank you sony and guerilla games can’t wait.
I cannot wait to waste half of 2022 on this game like I did in 2017 for HZD. This is gonna be an experience to share with my girl!
This game is gonna be so beautiful and fluid to play WHEN it goes to PC.
It’s already beautiful and fluid on PS5. You’ll probably have to wait till 2024-2025 to play on PC at slightly higher settings.
Yeah, like the original game that came out 3 and a half years later and nobody could still play it with “fluid” lol.
Luckily (for PC users, not PlayStation users that wanted an actual NEXT GEN Horizon game) this is a PS4 game too, so PCs should be able to handle it fine by 2025 lol.
Yea, sure 🤡 in 4-5 years
PS players have to wait till ps6 to get the PC version.
Not so far guys. Only 6 month.
You have added almost everything i was asking for, from 60fps ps5 performance boost, bigger weapon wheel, outfit change on the fly, more customization, so i’m preety happy. Can’t wait… Let’s see if you added an arena or co op missions separate maybe from the main game as an extra mode or daily challenges after some time after release…
yeah but co-op would destroy that helpless feeling you have while playing the game
Co op expansion is a must for this game
Hey Bo de Vries, please send back to the team to add gyro aiming support for Horizon Forbidden West.
hate to break it to you but this is just Tatooine with water. Still really cool tho can’t wait to play it
Just give PC a release date already, Jim Ryan.
Everybody knows you are a blessing to PlayStation & gaming community in general.
Be awesome on steam deck.
Yea, Jim Ryan personally told me, they are thrilled to bring Horizon Forbidden West on PC on 18th Feb 2026
I can’t wait to play this! I loved the world in the first game, and I’m excited to explore every nook & cranny of Horizon Forbidden West.
Pc ver rumor : September
I really can’t wait for this and god of war Ragnarok so glad that i hava a PS5 February is going to be insane
With both HFW & GOW: Ragnarok coming out next year, the PS5 is going to be *chef’s kiss
Is the PS5 price going to be lowered to the same price as the PS4 version? It was announced if you buy the PS4 version you can also play the PS5 version.
Yup, all PS4 copies owners will get free PS5 upgrade for free
Lol Jim Ryan destroy the hype of ps5 exclusive with pc release.
I’m still hyped. PC ver will probably come 2-3 years later.
More hyped for PC. I could use more steam achievements and trading cards.
PC releases of old PS4 games nobody buys on PS4 or cares anymore? 🤡
Another revenue stream months or years after release does not destroy hype for anything, if you want to play and enjoy it first you need a PS5… We all knew that most games would land on PC eventually.
Really looking forward to diving into this in Feb, a great blog post, looking forward to more info and reveals.
Great to finally see more locations. Was starting to look like Halo Infinite’s year marketing with the exact same looking exterior area over and over and over again lol. But if its anything like the first game then we already knew it would have massively different areas and biomes all within the one map.
Halo’s marketing is a 100000xbetter then this. And then Jim Ryan is gonna complain that only 10 million people buy this, well market the game better then, get youtube involved, ifn, gameinformer, influencers, this is ridiculous
Great work guerilla keep up the good work can’t wait to experience this game
Amazing cant wait, I was lucky to get a ps5 and it was worth it for the amazing exclusives
I guess I will have to wait 3 to 4 years for this game to be released for the PC.
Aight, I’ll just wait for it to be on PS NOW or 20 bucks so I dont feel like I’m getting scammed when PC users pirate the game lmao.
I just want to say, you guys are amazing and Zero Dawn is sensational. I love what I am seeing with Forbidden West! So excited for this.
Dear Sony/guerilla, Hermen hulst. As a fellow dutchie and even living also in Amsterdam. Im highly concerned about this approach and lack of communication Sony has embarked into thanks to your Excec Jim Ryan. In this modern day and age, is this NOT the way to cumminicate to us gamers. Nobody is gonna read this. Look at the hype Halo has gotten this past week. If you are so focussed on doing things old school, with a write up, then let journalist of game-informer or ign or whoever play the game and make videos about this. I cannot for the life of me understand why everything playstation is so hidden nowadays. I get that you want information in your own “ecosystem” but this is just not the way we communicate anymore. Twitter, youtube are there for a reason now, just use where most gamers are! This is so disappointing this past 2 years that I have completely checked out of anything PlayStation, I simply dont care, because you dont make me care. I dont care about a blog, I wanna see either devs or journalist talk about these features. Yet you guys did a very weak state of play, for games that nobody wanted or cares about. You guys really need to get it together. Om on the verge of rather buying a series x for this holiday then a ps5 and not only because I can simply play this and god of war on my PS4….. Please get it together Sony. Hire a proper somebody to handle communications/events and also a co-engineer for mark cerny because xbox upstaged you guys twice already , once with the one x and then with the series X. Cmon you guys!
Sales are already 2 to 1 in favour of Playstation kid, calm down! We will get more coverage next to the launch which is still 3 month away. Nobody’s gonna care about a car game and Halo when Sony starts dropping Forbidden West, Forspoken, Ragnarok and other games in spring. And the best way to experience a game for the first time is NOT to get spoiled by seeing all of the levels , set pieces etc all over youtube .
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The team at Guerrilla tell all about creating a world filled with adventure, culture, and opportunity.