Horizon: Zero Dawn Spoiler Section

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Join Shawn and Julian as they spoil the heck out of Horizon: Zero Dawn and fall down a rabbit hole of Christian allegory.

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The traditional hunter garb for Carja nobles that Aloy bought and wore is called the Blazon armor.

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Regarding HADES:

It is actually revealed in audio logs and notes that the AI tasked to revitalize the world is GAIA. GAIA is Elizabet Sobeck's lifework. GAIA isn't a single entity. She has subordinate functions. One of those functions is HADES. Travis Tate worked on HADES and HADES is important because HADES resets the biosphere through mass extinction whenever GAIA's other subordinate functions misfire or make a mistake.

So the immediate problem is that HADES is trying to end all life, but it's actually just doing what it was coded to do. The more fundamental problem is that GAIA's subordinate functions were corrupted and fractured. That's why HEPHAESTUS started making human-hunting machines. It determined, independently, that humans were destroying its creations and were negatively impacting the rest of the biosphere, so it decided that humans needed to be hunted down to the point where they would no longer be a threat.

Goodness only knows what the rest of GAIA's functions are up to.

So the "bad guy" could be Sylens in that he helped HADES. But he was only trying to recreate knowledge that had been lost and the moment he realized that HADES was actually going to be a threat, he started working on a way to defeat HADES. It is notable that the end-credit scene is different depending on how much of the lore backstory you read. HADES is a function and it was only doing as it was coded to do. Sylens didn't recapture HADES to get more knowledge. He knows he can't trust or deal with it anymore. He recaptured HADES so he could get to the source of the signal that corrupted GAIA in the first place.

And here's where it gets interesting. HADES isn't a person. It's an AI. It didn't attend college and it doesn't need a general education. It's an AI with a specific function. It doesn't need to know what calculus or physics are, and it can't learn those things itself without a source or a way to experiment. So how is it that HADES can teach Sylens about those things, on demand? Why can HADES function like APOLLO even though that would have been superfluous in its mandate? It's possible that not all of APOLLO was purged and for some reason, it or its controllers saw fit to dismantle GAIA to reset the biosphere.

So basically, the bad guy in the game is actually Ted Faro, but the ultimate bad guy causing all the mess has yet to be revealed. The climax of the game isn't the boss fight, which probably could have been done away with. The climax of the game was when you encountered Elizabet's memorial and found out that she sacrificed herself so that GAIA could survive.

Regarding the length of time:

The recording in the FAS facility suggests that from the time Elisabet met with Ted Faro to discuss solutions to the Faro Plague up to the time that Aloy comes in, was a length of about 960+ years. General Herres suggests that MINERVA would require 500+ years to come up with an code-breaker to allow GAIA to disable the Faro robots. So the world would have been nearly 0% biomass for about 500 years, and then GAIA has been in operation for about 500 more years. Humans came out of ELEUTHERIA creche facilities long enough to have independently developed about 0 BC levels of sociology, politics, and tech, so it's probable that the current milieu is a first attempt and HADES was never brought into operation prior, or GAIA only had short failures before the current world became viable.

Horizon has been one of the best games I've played in a long time. As a guy who rarely finishes games, I saw this one through to the end. I felt that the length was perfect, and it ended just as it was beginning to wear out its welcome. I could have done without the boss fights and other situations in which my otherwise fragile, stealthy Aloy was forced into direct combat. The final sequence, which was both a boss fight AND had a timer nearly had me howling, since those are without doubt the two of the three things I hate most in gaming (limited lives being the last offender).

The dialogue was believable in context, especially the irritation that Aloy displayed in a number of situations. I especially liked that Sylens called Aloy out for continuing to focus on her mother issues when the fate of humanity hung in the balance. It was a nice nod in the direction of acknowledging the general issue we see in gaming where world-shaking concerns are often ignored for relatively trivial concerns (although in this case, it turned out to be salient to the task at hand). The voice acting was superb in many situations, with inflection and timing providing lovely nuance to the prose.

Overall, though, it was the sheer unnecessary artistry that really won me over. The visual details in geography, architecture, and clothing were a delight and went far beyond what was strictly necessary. I loved that the major collectibles offered not just stories, but also poetry! Each metal flower was a delightful poem, and in three major styles! Collecting a flower was not just a journey and a checkbox, but also a moment of reflection and satisfaction. Wonderful!

I'll be buying the next Horizon game (because there will certainly be one) sight-unseen. Even if it's more of the same, with a continued main quest, it will be worth the price of admission.

I found the game's treatment of clones to be interesting. Back when it was "weird and new" to have IVF or "test tube babies," clones were up there with weird doppelgänger strangeness that portrayed clones as evil spirits. We still get that with Mass Effect. Now, technically, the resurrected Shepard IS a clone of the original, but we don't think of her that way. We think that the other Shepard in Citadel is the clone, and even other species go on about how weird that is.

In HZD, culture and tech have moved forward. Clones are not treated as the same people any more than twins are considered the same people. You can be a perfect genetic copy of another person, but you're not the same person, and people don't treat either of you as if you were. Instead, the game treats Aloy as her own person and treats Elisabet as her mother. That's techincally true. She's only 99.47% compatible with Elisabet. Depending on what that means, she could be no more similar to Elisabet than an actual offspring.

The audio and text logs make this even more clear. There are apparently accords and rules on the conduct of artificial gestation. You can't "improve" future humans by altering genetics. You have to leave it as it is, or at least probably only screen out the worst problems that no one wants to deal with. The Lightkeeper Protocol apparently involves actual cloned generations looking after GAIA, but the education and rearing of future clones are left to their originals, so they don't magically grow to be exactly like the originals without any nurturing involved. Hence Elisabet's dread at having to experience Travis raising another Travis to be his own idealized version of himself (as parents often do).

So rather than clones being a photocopy of the original, brought online in a matter of hours and days, clones are gestated like normal people, and have normal durations of childhoods, which is a lot more prosaic and boring than the old horror tales. Even if Aloy were genetically identical to Elisabet, she was actually raised by Rost, so she's most certainly a completely different person. In fact, we see that clearly in Aloy's personal struggle with duty and responsibility - something all young adults wrestle with. Whereas Elisabet sacrificed her own life to make other people's lives possible, Aloy is mainly trying to stop HADES out of a sense of self-preservation. She talks a big game about the world being worth saving, but her own will and determination are untested, and she reacts badly to having to do things because they're necessary. Ultimately, she grows up and accepts her duty, but she doesn't do so wholeheartedly. It'll take some time for that to really happen. She is, after all, barely out of her childhood.

I really need to play more of this--if for no other reason than to participate in this section.

So. The Frozen Wilds.

I found it interesting is that they devoted a significant part of the story of the DLC to set players straight on a couple things that many, many players apparently don't realize. To be fair to most people, Guerrilla did pull a gotcha and turned the plot into something else after hinting for so long that this was going to be a Big Bad Villain scenario, and that HADES was that villain. This is absolutely not the case. That's not what's happening, and the DLC explains that a little more explicitly, for those people who did not explore the Cauldrons. Specifically, these data points were emphasized:

HADES, APOLLO, HEPAHESTUS, MINERVA, and all the other functions were NOT AI until very recently. Prior to recent events, they were all subroutines of GAIA. A recent signal accepted by GAIA contained malicious code that converted the subroutines into independent AIs, each governed by their own mandates.

HADES is not the cause of the Derangement. It is not making the machines hostile to people, other than the ones it's Corrupted. It is not making war machines for killing people, as that is not one of its abilities. HEPHAESTUS is the one doing that.

Even HEPHAESTUS was not initially hostile to humans. It simply determined that humans have been destroying the machines it's been making and that it would be in its best interests to discourage humans from doing so. With guns.

Sylens is not Banuk. He probably isn't from Ban-Ur at all. Since he also isn't Carja, Nora, nor Oseram, it stands to reason that he comes from a faraway tribe, possibly from the West.

Not all the unshackled AIs are currently hostile to humans. DEMETER has been making metal flowers and seems to generally be staying out of the way of humans. Specifically, it made a triangle of flowers around the grave of Elizabet Sobeck, though it is uncertain whether this was at the direction of GAIA or under its own direction.

Sylens did not recapture HADES to extract more learning as he now knows that it cannot be trusted. Instead, he wants to know if HADES knows about the signal that unshackled all the subroutine AIs. Since he is heading towards the Metal Devil that presumably housed HADES before he got his hands on it, he may have some idea on how to identify who sent the signal or where it came from. At the moment, he is the only human who is actively searching for the saboteur.

HEPHAESTUS doesn't directly control the Cauldrons. There are separate manager AIs for each of them and some of them are more powerful AI than others. CYAN was apparently in charge of Epsilon and she didn't like that HEPHAESTUS was making her churn out Frostclaws and Fireclaws.