Horizon Forbidden West, the much-awaited sequel to the acclaimed PlayStation 4 game Horizon Zero Dawn, is nearing its release date, with the game set to become available on February 18, 2022.

“The living world in these settlements is a complex character of its own, and every detail establishes credibility, creating an authentic environment through visual storytelling,” developer Guerilla Games’ Community Lead Bo de Vries said.

Horizon Zero Dawn follows young orphaned hunter Aloy as she seeks to uncover both her own origins, as well as the reasons that brought about this post-apocalyptic, robot-swarmed future for humanity.

In Horizon Forbidden West, an older and more experienced Aloy will explore mysteries in this version of America’s west, with the story taking place in California, Utah and Nevada.

This means that there will be new tribes to interact with, new villages and cities, new robots and animals, as well as new game mechanics.

While it is easy to become tempted by the sheer scope of the game and fill it with digital assets, game developers also account for narrative coherence, striving to make their world-building as believable and faithful to the game’s context as possible.

“When you walk through the Forbidden West, everything should feel like it belongs there,” Guerilla Games’ Lead Living World Designer Espen Sogn said in a PlayStation blog post.

“The Living World team at Guerrilla works on aspects of the game that make the world feel authentic and alive: the tribes, the settlements, and the people within them,” Sogn added, explaining that there’s an intention behind everything his team places within the world of the game.

One example provided by the team at Guerilla is the Tenakth tribe, whose design was shaped by a number of attributes, including their religious beliefs, what conflicts exist within the tribe, what purpose they serve in the story, how they choose to engage with their environment, as well as the individual clans that comprise them.

“Our main challenge is translating this narrative framework into visuals that are integral to the world itself,” Sogn explained, adding that it then becomes all about the details, including each tribe’s animations and behaviours.

Moreover, non-playable characters will have a level of detail and natural behaviour that far exceeds that of the previous game.

For example, where players previously observed a human character standing idly by some machinery, they will now see them engaging with the world around them in varied ways, such as leaning against walls, talking to other characters, drinking from cups, as well as moving things around.

“In Horizon Zero Dawn, there were a lot of assets and things in the background,” Sogn said.

“In Horizon Forbidden West, they’re not just textures: they’ve been elevated into actual objects that are being used by people in-game,” he added.