The mighty Aloy returns this month in PlayStation exclusive Horizon Forbidden West, the sequel to the smash Horizon Zero Dawn. We chatted with the game’s senior writer, Annie Kitain, about what’s in store for Aloy this time out.

With Horizon Zero Dawn being a new IP at the time, there were no preconceived expectations. A sequel can bring more pressure, but the Guerrilla Games people were up to the task.

“We knew we had to double down on what players loved about the first game: lush, vibrant landscapes, fearsome machines, fascinating tribes, enticing mysteries, and a compelling, moving story,” enthuses Kitain. “At the same time, we looked at reviewer and player feedback, as well as feedback from within our own team, for ways to improve. On the gameplay side we have new traversal options, an overhauled skill tree, and more. On the story side, we wanted to stay true to Aloy and what fans love about her – someone who’s strong, compassionate, clever – but also find ways to challenge her and grow her as a character.”

Kitain teases that’s not all for new advancements.

“We’ve also improved our melee combat, and designed many new weapons and outfits. We also have ‘Weapon Techniques’ and ‘Valor Surges’ to provide even more unique options in combat, plus more surprises that we can’t wait for players to discover.”

“We knew we had to double down on what players loved about the first game…”

Horizon Forbidden West takes us back to Aloy’s world six months on from the events of Horizon Zero Dawn.

“In that time Aloy has observed a mysterious red blight that’s strangling life across the land,” Kitain explains. “Knowing that this blight is a symptom of the degrading biosphere, she’s been searching for a way to stop it. This mission leads her into the Forbidden West, where she’ll face a storm of new threats: Regalla’s rebels, deadly machines and human enemies, Sylens’ machinations, and more.”

Horizon Zero Dawn introduced us to futuristic looks at some classic US landmarks, and Horizon Forbidden West is no different, with new locations including San Francisco.

“Exploring a post-post-apocalyptic version of San Francisco, overgrown with beautiful nature and inhabited by deadly machines, just felt like a natural extension. Our version has a warm, almost tropical environment – seeing the crumbling ruins of skyscrapers amidst the waves and lush greenery really stirred our imaginations. From a storytelling perspective, it was really exciting to imagine what happened to the city in the cataclysm that’s part of Horizon’s backstory.”

Naturally, with new locations comes a new map to explore.

“We worked closely with our art, quest, and world teams to craft a beautiful open world that fits the story and offers players plenty to do and explore,” says Kitain. “In terms of size, the map is a little bigger than Zero Dawn’s.”

Horizon Forbidden West

Speaking of exploration, Horizon Forbidden West introduces the ability to head underwater.

“We placed an emphasis on verticality, from the tallest skyscraper to the deepest sunken secrets. When we crafted the underwater areas of the game, we wanted players to discover a world that’s as beautiful to explore as the land above. And with the new diving mask, players will be able to dive for as long as they want,” Kitain tells us. “That said, the depths have their own dangers… Deadly enemies like Snapmaws and the new Tideripper machine patrol the waters, but players can hide in kelp or use smoke bombs to avoid detection or quickly escape.”

With its extra oomph, naturally the PS5 version of Horizon Forbidden West will be pretty special, but according to Kitain the PS4 won’t miss out on much.

“It was really important to us that the game looks and runs great on both the PS4 and PS5. One thing that we’re really excited about is the improved facial capture and full mocap in all of our cinematics. The result is so much more lifelike, and players will see it on both the PS4 and PS5 versions. There’s also a cinematic lighting system for Aloy that gives her much more definition. On the PS4 this is only used during cinematics, but on the PS5 you’ll be able to see this in gameplay, too.”

It’s hard not to share Kitain’s enthusiasm for what’s in store for us in Horizon Forbidden West.

“We have a very exciting and emotional journey that Aloy goes through, filled with epic machine battles and deeply touching story moments. I really hope players fall in love with our characters (or love to hate some of them!) and find something in the story that resonates with them. It’s going to be quite a ride!”

Horizon Forbidden West launches February 18 on PS5 and PS4. Pre-order now at JB Hi-Fi.