Each and every time I play through Horizon: Zero Dawn, I’m struck by how absolutely incredible the worldbuilding is. Not only by scale, but by the details that bring the world to life.
During my most recent playthrough, I spent some time thinking about the building of the Nora tribe, it’s beliefs, and Aloy’s position within and outside of it.
Both the player point-of-view and Aloy’s true identity demand a level of distancing from the cultures and ingrained beliefs of the tribes native to this world. Aloy had to be curious — far more curious than the fearful Nora. And beyond curiosity, she had to be hungry for true knowledge — beyond that of Oseram scavengers.
As an outcast, Aloy was exposed to and taught about the Nora’s religious beliefs, culture, and laws, but is positioned against them out of resentment for being outcast as an infant. This allows her to shake off the fear of the Old One’s ruins and the technology they held. When she stumbled upon the Focus as a child, she used it to gather information without any reservations.
Due to being exposed to that technology so early in her life, and having found it helpful and not dangerous, she grew to see the Nora (and later the other tribes as well) as needlessly fearful and superstitions. A position that now lines up perfectly with the player POV.
At the start of the true game, Aloy is already positioned perfectly to be the curious adventurer needed to drive the story forward. She was raised on Nora lands, yes, but has no tether to them or the tribe, and no reason to return there in the long-run. Her early exposure to Old One’s tech opened her eyes to the many secrets hiding in the world around her and helped foster her curiosity. From there, the plot takes care of the rest.
Except for one last thing, the heart of this story: Rost’s final lesson.
The strength to stand alone, Aloy, is the strength to make a stand. To serve a purpose greater than yourself.Rost, Horizon: Zero Dawn
This is the final lesson Rost offers her, and what guides Aloy in finding her path forward through everything the world throws at her, toward the truth she so desperately seeks.
The lesson is also the perfect echo to the lesson Elisabet’s mother teaches her as a child.
Elisabet, being smart will count for nothing if you don’t make the world a better place. You have to use your smarts to count for something, to serve life, not death.Elisabet’s Mother, Horizon: Zero Dawn