As Horizon Forbidden West’s February launch draws closer, Guerrilla Games has been delivering new tidbits and information on various aspects of the game, much of which has come via new updates published on the PlayStation Blog. Another recently published blog dives deep into the combat, its nitty-gritties, and the various ways it improves on the first game.
Much of that boils down to the plain and simple fact that Aloy is a much more agile character this time around, according to the developers, represents her growth from all the experiences she has had in Horizon Zero Dawn and its expansion, The Frozen Wilds. Tools like the Shieldwing, Pullcaster, and Aloy’s ability to freely climb walls and surfaces make her much more nimble during combat, which also reflects in the improved animations in the game.
“Players who spend some time perfecting their combat skills will find some efficient and stylish ways to dispose of their enemies,” says combat designer Charles Perain. “We wanted to cater to a variety of playstyles and really focus on freedom of choice. Through new weapons and outfits, which can be upgraded at a workbench, players can adapt their tactics. Finally, we wanted to design challenging enemies that encourage players to use all their abilities and skills.”
“She gained a lot of experience and that needed to show in her animations,” says gameplay animation director Richard Oud. “Our aim was to show that Aloy is more comfortable traversing her environment – without losing sight of the fact that she’s human, of course, so things don’t always go perfectly for her. The grapple mechanic is a good example of this: she is more agile and resourceful, but at the same time we show the physical struggle when she’s being pulled up on bigger inclines.”
Further explaining improvements in animation, Oud says: “Each human class or machine is designed around a clear gameplay function, which the animation team communicates to the player through actions, posture, and motion. We rely on readable silhouettes and behaviors that the player can recognize, so you can anticipate or react to an enemy move. We play around with the timing of those movements to not only create windows of opportunities for the player to strike, block, or run, but also to show some personality traits in the animations themselves.”
These improvements bleed over into other aspects of the combat as well. For instance, stealth, which was on of the weaker elements of Horizon Zero Dawn, has been enhanced in various ways in its upcoming sequel. Lead AI programmer Arjen Beij says: “We try to show the state of enemies through acting, posture, and vocalizations. The grace period before you are detected is acted out by having the enemy approach you. Enemies will investigate disturbances such as an arrow landing nearby or spotting a machine that you took out silently.
“You can also escape from combat by breaking line of sight and sneaking away. When enemies discover that you are not where they expected you to be, they will start searching. Human enemies team up and search for you as a group, with the team leader giving orders and coordinating the work. Through animation and context-dependent speech, the player will have plenty of cues to figure out their next move.”
Enemy AI in general has been improved in other areas as well, with formidable enemy machines, for instance, being much more capable of traversing rugged terrains as they attack Aloy. In fact, some amphibious machines, of which there’s quite a few in the game, will also be able to dive underwater and chase Aloy players try that method to get out of a battle.
“We wanted enemies to feel more authentic by improving the fluidity and continuity of motion, like making enemies (and companions) more capable of traversing rugged terrain,” Beij explains. “The AI in Horizon Zero Dawn already supported some dynamic terrain changes, but we wanted to take this further by adding jumping and climbing as a systemic part of their behavior. As you are playing the game, the AI will be searching for opportunities to take shortcuts, where it previously was a cumbersome detour.’
“Another example is that more machines are now capable of swimming and have the ability to dive and chase Aloy underwater. Amphibious enemies can also use jumps to get in and out of the water, so if you are unlucky they will combine this with an attack.”
Overall, the developers say that player choice has been emphasized far more greatly in Horizon Forbidden West’s combat, which means players will be able to decide how they want to deal with a combat situation based on their preferred play style.
“There are many ways to efficiently tackle a combat situation in Forbidden West; how a player chooses to do so has a real impact on the duration of the fight, the risks involved and the cost in resources,” says Perain. “Some players prefer clearing enemies stealthily, while others will use the focus to analyze their opponents and find the best tactics to dispose of them efficiently. Or they might like to go head on with the spear and bow… at their own risk.”
Going hand-in-hand with animation improvements are upgrades made to audio and sound design, which is something else that contributes to the game’s combat experience, according to the developers. “Machines have unique audio cues that are designed to help the player distinguish between a melee or a specific ranged attack,” says senior sound designer Pinar Temiz. “Melee attacks are communicated by a distinct sound that builds up towards the impact moment, while ranged attacks are communicated through their weapon specific charge up sounds, or projectile sounds. Especially in encounters that involve multiple machines surrounding the player, these audio cues will help attract player attention towards the most imminent attacker or source of danger, allowing them to respond in time.”
Meanwhile, the developers also reiterate that Aloy will cross paths with many formidable machine enemies in Forbidden West, each with their own unique strengths and abilities.
“We hope players are just going to have a lot of fun fighting these enemies,” Beij says. “Initially outnumbered, but then to find their own solutions to the obstacles that the enemies provide. The machines can be formidable enemies, each with their own pacing and unique attacks, yet it should be possible for players to take control of the situation and win by using different tactics. Melee combat has gotten a significant upgrade and in combination with the resonator blast system allows you to string together some pretty impressive moves.”
Similarly, human enemies, too, are going to be a much bigger threat, with many different kinds of them coming up in combat scenarios.
“We would explore idle behavior for specific classes, as this would tell us a lot about the kind of choices we were making for the character,” Oud says. “For example, with the Champion class, it was key that the character came across as confident and experienced. So, the actor moved calmly, looking for gaps in the opponent’s defense and circling around while not losing eye contact and continuously closing in. It almost felt like a wolf stalking its prey.
“The Rebel Soldier enemy behaves a lot like a hyena, which resulted in a rowdy and versatile personality with a lot of uncontrolled and ungraceful motion. The posture is hunched over and from a behavior point of view we think of them as being aggressive in groups, but at the same time hesitant in small numbers. They don’t always exactly behave like this from a combat and AI perspective, but it gave the team a better understanding of the character and helped us define choices in poses, combat attacks and personality.”
A number of new gifs showcasing the game’s combat in action have also been shared. You can check them out below.
Recently, Guerrilla Games also published an update that dived deep into the open world of Horizon Forbidden West and some of its key locations. Read more on that through here.
Horizon Forbidden West launches on February 18, 2022 for PS5 and PS4.