Horizon Zero Dawn: Story Recap and Ending Explained

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Horizon Zero Dawn. Aloy vs a Tallneck in Devil's Thirst.

Horizon Zero Dawn is the 2017 action role-playing game from Guerilla Games. You play as Aloy, a young woman in a world that looks very different from our own. In her quest to find out who she is, she meets new friends and new foes as well as stumbling across a dark plot that could destroy the world as she knows it. With the sequel on its way, we thought it would be a good time to do a story recap to refresh you on everything that happened in Zero Dawn.

Read More: Horizon Forbidden West: Everything We Know

Spoiler Warning: If you haven't played Horizon Zero Dawn yet and do not want to know any spoilers, we recommend not reading the rest of this article.

Table of Contents

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Horizon Zero Dawn: Story Recap

When Is Horizon Zero Dawn Set?

Zero Dawn is set in the far future, long after our version of humanity has perished. The world is filled with rusted remnants of our presence on the earth such as old buildings and decomposing cars half-submerged in the soil. At first, it is unclear what happened to us (also known in-game as the "old ones") and why the world has seemingly started again from scratch. However, the mystery soon unravels and the once picturesque world is covered in a dark secret.

Who is Aloy?

Aloy is the protagonist of the game and a young woman who spent most of her life as a Nora outcast with her adoptive father, Rost. She never knew her mother or why she was an outcast. This is important to remember as they are key points for her character as the story progresses. After a series of events that changes her life, Aloy sets out on a quest to find out who attacked her and why. Along the way, she uncovers a dark plot that threatens humanity once more and it's up to her to stop it.

Horizon Zero Dawn Aloy in The Embrace forest drawing her bow while using her focus.
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Aloy's skill in using a bow is enhanced by her Focus
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Story Breakdown

Young Aloy and the Proving Attack

As a newborn, Aloy was cast out by the Nora Matriarchs and Rost volunteered to take care of her. He raised her on the edge of the Nora territory, teaching her how to survive in the wilderness and how to hunt machines. Her curiousity leads her into a ruin where she finds her Focus, a piece of ancient technology that becomes pivotal in her life. When she is old enough, she enters a coming-of-age ceremony known as "the proving". Whoever wins the proving is granted a boon and Aloy tries to win this to find out who her mother was. However, as Aloy wins the proving things take a dark turn and the young Noras are all attacked. Aloy fights back against the attackers and though a few young Nora escape, many die that day.

After Rost sacrifices his life to save Aloy, she wakes up inside All Mother Mountain with a new resolve. To find out who attacked her at The Proving and why. She is made a Seeker (a Nora that can leave the territory and return without punishment). Soon after this, someone starts to speak to Aloy through her Focus and helps her through various tasks. They reveal themselves to be called Sylens and they stay as a voice for most of the story.

The Derangement

Aloy heads to Meridian, a large Carja city across the mountains from The Embrace (Nora Territory). Her goal is to track down a man called Olin who was at The Proving Ceremony. He acted strangely and was wearing a focus like the one Aloy owns. Before Olin, she had never seen someone else wearing one. As she heads there, she encounters many dangerous machines that are afflicted with a red glow and are incredibly vicious. These are known as the machines that are affected by "the derangement" as they were once peaceful machines. Any machines that have the red glow are twice as dangerous as their docile counterparts.

Erend, Meridian and Olin

When Aloy gets to Meridian she meets up with a man she saw at The Proving Ceremony called Erend. She embarks on a few quests before meeting The Sun King Avad (King of the Carja) and she learns about the Shadow Carja. A few quests later, Aloy learns that the Shadow Carja are digging up old and dangerous machines from the ground. What's more, she learns that they can somehow control them. Once she tracks down Olin, he reveals that Aloy was targeted because she looked very similar to a woman called Elisabet Sobeck. She learns that her attackers were the Shadow Carja and Cultists.

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A few quests later, Aloy finds Project Zero Dawn. Here, she learns about GAIA and that the cause of the derangement is an AI called HADES whose prime directive is to destroy life on earth again if Project Zero Dawn failed. However, she is soon captured by Helis - the man that killed Rost at The Proving, who controls the machines and is the game's main human enemy.

Horizon Zero Dawn. Helis and two Corruptor Machines under his command
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Sylens, Aloy and The Embrace Attack

When Aloy is thrown into an arena against a Behemoth and wins, Helis commands more machines to attack her. Just when it seems that Aloy is outnumbered, Sylens appears on a Strider. He escapes with Aloy and they speak briefly outside the arena before Sylens disappears again.

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Aloy heads back to The Embrace to find it half-destroyed and under attack from more of the machines that Helis controls. After defeating the machines, Aloy heads to the previously locked door inside All Mother Mountain and figures out how to enter it.

GAIA and the Derangement

Aloy later discovers that she is not the daughter of Elisabet but actually a creation of GAIA to replicate Sobeck. This is because a lot of the protocols that can be done to restore GAIA and to override the subsequent AI's are genetically locked to Sobeck's DNA. Therefore, when GAIA realised something was wrong she began to self-destruct and she created Aloy as a genetic replica that could restore GAIA. It is also revealed that the derangement started just before GAIA created Aloy.

The Final Fight at Meridian

After learning about who she is and why she exists, Aloy heads back to Meridian for the final battle. A fierce fight ensues between humanity and machines. Once Aloy has dealt with Helis, she teams up with the allies she has met on her journey to take down HADES. After defeating HADES, it can be seen floating away in the sky and it seems that Aloy is victorious.

What Was Project Zero Dawn?

Project Zero Dawn was the last resort to preserve the world after Ted Faro's machines overran it. The machines glitched and began to run on bio-mass instead of fuel. This means that they consumed organic and living things to re-fuel, which eventually turned into them attacking humanity. Also, they began to self-replicate at an extreme rate. Faro lost control of all of his machines and called in Dr. Elisabet Sobeck.

With no way to control the machines again, Sobeck came up with Project Zero Dawn. This was essentially a fail-safe for humanity to start over after the world was destroyed by the Faro machines. She created a system that was led by a highly advanced AI called GAIA. Within GAIA, there were several different AI's that focused on separate areas of re-building the world. When the time was right, GAIA activated and started the process of re-building which created the world that the game is set in. It is later revealed that Elisabet sacrificed her own life to stop a wave of machines from discovering GAIA.

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HADES, GAIA and HEPHAESTUS

HADES

HADES was one of the protocols inside the main GAIA system. The main purpose of HADES was to destroy the world again if the Zero Dawn plan did not work. However, at some point before Aloy was created, a signal awoke HADES and broke it away from the GAIA system. The signal caused HADES to go rogue and create the events you experience in Horizon Zero Dawn.

GAIA

GAIA was designed by Elisabet Sobeck to bring the world back to life after the machines created an inevitable self-made apocalypse. The AI was designed to use seeds to create vegetation again and create clones that start humanity again. Within GAIA there were several smaller protocols that each focused on specific areas of creating humanity again. HADES was one of the ones you see in Zero Dawn and the next important one is HEPHAESTUS.

HEPHAESTUS

You meet HEPHAESTUS in the Frozen Wilds DLC for Zero Dawn. They are revealed to be the protocol that was designed to create machines that would help with the restructuring and rebuilding of Earth. However, it seems that the signal that woke up HADES also caused HEPHAESTUS to start to create bigger and far more dangerous machines than it was meant to.

Horizon Zero Dawn. A Thunderjaw Machine in the Desert.
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A Thunderjaw is dangerous, but HEPHAESTUS's creations are deadly.

Where Did Hades Go?

At the end of the game, the red glow of HADES that escaped after its defeat at the Meridian Battle appears again. This time, it is captured in a small cage by Sylens. This leaves us questioning if we can truly trust this character and what his intentions are with HADES.

Important Side Characters

  • Sylens - Sylens is the voice that helps Aloy throughout most of the game. When you eventually meet him in person, you find that Sylens created The Eclipse Cultists that took orders from HADES and eventually attacked Aloy. He was the one that first interacted with the rogue form of HADES and in return, HADES gave him knowledge. Sylens is no longer associated with them but his experience with HADES explains his vast knowledge of it throughout the game.
  • Erend - Erend is an Oseram Warrior and Chief Vanguard in Merdian. Aloy meets him at The Proving Ceremony the night before the attack and he proves himself to be a good friend throughout the story.
  • Avad - He is the current Sun King in Meridian. After killing his own father, known as the Mad Sun King, peace was restored to Meridian and with many of the surrounding tribes. He proves to be a wise and brave leader.
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  • Helis - The main human enemy of the game. Helis is the current leader of The Eclipse Cult and the one taking orders from HADES. Although he believes he is in control, he is oblivious to the fact that HADES is the one controlling him.

That's everything you need to know about the story of Horizon Zero Dawn!

If you decide to play through Horizon Zero Dawn before the sequel is released, we have some guides to help you out. We have one guide on how to upgrade your spear and another on how to fast travel. Also, we have plenty of resource guides including one for the best locations to farm Goose Bone and Skin.