In context with the narrative, protagonist Aloy provides a strong character for the player to care about, and there's room for a lot of depth and personality that we hope is fully explored. She's a skilled hunter who thrives on independence and rebellion. We suspect that to be part of the reason why her and her father aren't welcome in their tribe. Forced to survive together, there's a plenty of focus placed on their relationship, something which should set up for some emotionally-driven moments as the story advances.
With multiple tribes to encounter, there'll hopefully be an interesting cast of characters to meet as the player ventures further out into the world. John Gonzalez did reveal more about one of them (heads up, it comes with a minor spoiler). He mentioned that Ted, a guy you save in a quest when sneaking past machines as young Aloy, is to show up periodically and play a bigger part in the story, this purely because of the strength of the response to him during testing. Gonzalez recalled that "people really liked him for some reason, so we gave him a big role throughout the rest of the game." Exactly what that'll be remains to be seen.
What's more appealing is how the wider narrative is shrouded in mystery. We have little idea about what happened to bring about the destruction of civilisation, or the transformation it made in becoming the tribal society we see now. Much about past events are left to the player's imagination, however Van Beek did explain more about humanity's redevelopment: "The notion they would start using robot armour in their clothing makes sense if you're thinking about how original cavemen starting using fur and leather in their clothing - it was simply a resource which was available." Applying the same logic to architecture, he continues: "...in the Nordic countries you see a lot of old buildings that are made out of wood. In eastern European countries you see more stone and mud building. It's the resources that are locally available that define a tribe."
With such an intriguing backstory in place, Horizon's biggest appeal is the enigma surrounding it, from Aloy and the other characters that we'll meet along the way, to the origins of the world in which they live. Van Beek wouldn't explain the meaning behind the game's ambiguous title, but assured us that the name does have substance and players will understand by the time the credits roll, stating: "I think it's also something that once you know what it means, it's going to feel like it has more resonance than you might expect," he told us.
At the same press event he also confirmed that the game will feature Easter Eggs and, without getting into specifics, stated that players will be pleasantly surprised by the world's size and scale. This makes us all the more eager to get stuck in, undertake quests, and piece together as much of the story as possible. Guerrilla has clearly had a lot of fun pulling its various strands together, indeed, the studio's managing director Hermen Hulst said as much to us, clearly relishing the chance to work on a "blank slate".
Provided the studio has managed to fill their blank slate with something that's as compelling to play through as it is interesting to analyse, and as long as they can get the pacing right and keep the world rich with content, the pay off should be satisfying. As it stands, Horizon: Zero Dawn looks to be one of the most promising titles of the year, and we'll be sure to deliver our final verdict as it releases exclusively on PlayStation 4 early next month.