Horizon Zero Dawn ending - what does it mean for the sequel?

Horizon Zero Dawn ending

OBVIOUS HORIZON ZERO DAWN ENDING SPOILER WARNING HERE: As you might expect, explaining the ending means spoilers. So if you've not finished the game yet, come back later.

In the Horizon Zero Dawn ending we get to see Aloy finally defeat Hades, the AI subsystem that's been doing its best to eradicate life on the planet... or does she? Once Hades is apparently killed off, a follow up cutscene reveals that a red energy of some kinds emerges from the damaged AI core then flies away. After meeting Sylens, he captures this energy in what looks like a lamp, while he greets it like it's an old friend. So, Hades has escaped being destroyed, and now Sylens' position as Aloy's mysterious mentor has changed somewhat.

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horizon zero dawn ending

(Image credit: Sony)

Obviously this was a set up to a sequel, which at the time didn't exist. Now we have Horizon Forbidden West. While the announcement trailer does little more than tease, it does seem to continue some themes from Zero Dawn's final moments. 

For starters Sylens is back, apparently overseeing the corruption of machines with a group other people - the red eyes and mechanical tendrils from the process are unmistakable. It suggests that Hades, originally behind the process, is back in play somehow after Horizon: Zero Dawn, but to what degree isn't clear. Was that red glowing energy all of Hades or only a part? The ending of the game muddies his motivations somewhat - while he was pivotal in bringing Hades down, he says right at the end that he has much more to 'discuss' with the AI, as well as questioning after its 'masters'. 

Horizon Zero Dawn ending - Many masters

Technically Hades' masters would have been the original human race (us) before their autonomous machines glitched and started to consume all the biomatter on the planet (also us, along with every plant and animal on the planet). Hades was originally one of nine subsystems within Gaia, who was designed as part of the Zero Dawn project to restore life post-apocalypse. While most subsystems were focused on detoxifying the planet and repopulating flora and fauna (as well as one solely designed to hack into and deactivate the rogue machines), Hades' job was to reverse everything and scour the planet clear for a do-over if things weren't working. 

Horizon Zero Dawn technically starts when a signal of unknown origin split Gaia's subsystems into separate, self contained entities. Hephaestus, the system responsible for making machines, started making them again, and Hades followed its core, only, function - wipe life from the planet. That initial event is what triggers Aloy's birth as a clone of one of the original scientists involved in Zero Dawn and, as a result, genetically compatible with a range of security protocols involved in stopping another robo-apocalypse. 

The ending, and hints from the sequel teaser, pose a lot of questions. For example, is the weed like red blight we see killing plants and animals anything to do with Hades' programming to wipe out all life? Or is it anything to do with any of the other AIs loose in the world? Sylens' activities in the first game suggests he's pro on the idea of Hades not destroying the world, so is he after any of the other AIs, or the knowledge they might have? The original plan of the Zero Dawn project that spawned Gaia, was to reinstate man at the technical level it was destroyed at, but a decision was made to erase all that data. Without it mankind wouldn't be able to repeat the mistakes of the past but would be sentenced to a primitive life.

The title of the sequel, Forbidden West, isn't touched on in the ending of the first game but it is mentioned. It's an mysterious area that few people return from. Most of the mentions in-game suggest a dangerous location full of new machines and tribes but, with so few people ever returning, little is really known. However, some descriptions of the area could suggest it was attacked with nuclear weapons. That might mean it was important during Operation: Enduring Victory. This was a largely pointless counter attack against the robots that served a duel function in buying time to complete the Zero Dawn project to repopulate the Earth post extinction, while giving the general population a fruitless hope it would be avoided. 

If the Forbidden West was important enough to be nuked during Operation: Enduring Victory, and Sylens and Hades are there now, it suggests it could all be to do with the old ones, Gaia, and more Zero Dawn stuff. Hopefully a new trailer will fill in some gaps and the conspiracies can begin. 

Leon Hurley
Managing editor for guides

I'm GamesRadar's Managing Editor for guides, which means I run GamesRadar's guides and tips content. I also write reviews, previews and features, largely about horror, action adventure, FPS and open world games. I previously worked on Kotaku, and the Official PlayStation Magazine and website.