What Do We Know
There hasn’t been any official confirmation that Guerilla Games is working on Horizon Zero Dawn 2. However, they posted a job listing for a “Technical Vegetation Artist,” whose main responsibilities would be helping with the creation of game world vegetation assets and optimizing the game’s memory usage and performance. While this alone may not confirm a new game is in the works, last year’s leak from Horizon Zero Dawn voice actress Janina Gavankar (where she told a fan she knew some secrets about the sequel) implied a follow-up is coming.
There was also a position for “Principal Animator for Living World,” which seems to have been filled or taken down, as the page now has a 404 error. According to a GamesRadar article from November 2019, the listing asked for “someone who can push the envelope for free moving crowd animations”, suggesting the studio wants to optimize the PS5’s more powerful hardware. This doesn’t come as a surprise considering the new consoles are being released this year and Horizon Zero Dawn 2 has the potential to be a hit launch title or 2021 at the latest.
The Tech To Expect
In a perfect world, Horizon Zero Dawn 2 hits shelves alongside the Playstation 5 in a launch bundle, utilizing the console’s new ray tracing features, increased memory speed (SSD), higher frame rates, and better image quality to deliver a breathtaking experience. It’s exciting to think about how the developers are using the new hardware and improving the game experience. Sony is also releasing a PC version of the original Horizon Zero Dawn this year, meaning the chances of a port for the sequel are good.
As a launch title (or a game releasing shortly after), Horizon Zero Dawn 2 can be expected to showcase as many of the new console’s features as possible while making the most of its power. In a Wired interview with Mark Cerny—PS4/PS5 lead system architect—he confirms the PS5 will have a Zen 2 CPU and Navi GPU, including hardware support for real-time ray tracing effects; these are AMD hardware rivaling NVIDIA’s most recent RTX cards. With this much power, this game needs to run on at least 60 frames per second and at higher resolutions.
The ray tracing itself has potential if well-executed. Otherwise, it may just become a processing power hog and cause the game to run at lower than 60 frames per second. Ray tracing has evolved, however, and will be easier to optimize with the new hardware. This will affect lighting and shadows by casting rays pixel-per-pixel and tracking where they would realistically collide and reflect with every object, even those not visible on-screen. Ray tracing can also be used for sound by bouncing sound waves across a scene and off objects, emulating real life sounds.
The first game has only been experienced on the PS4 harddrive; with the new PS5 SSD supposedly having “raw bandwidth higher than any SSD available for PCs,” according to Mark Cerny, an absence of load times is the minimum expected from its sequel. The hardworking devs over at Guerilla Games are sure to be using the new memory tech to their advantage in ways fans have yet to see. Raw memory bandwidth can serve to improve many aspects of the title, including the size of the actual game world and the density of objects within.
The PS5 controller’s adaptive triggers will become more resistant as the player presses down, simulating actions like drawing a bow and pulling the string. The controller also uses haptic feedback (a more advanced tech than regular rumble), allowing the user to sense a broader and more precise range of feedback. Imagine stalking a ravager in snowy terrain, the controller’s haptic rumble creating a sensation of crunching snow; only to jump out, pulling back hard on the increasingly tense trigger and letting an arrow loose as the machine predator lunges closer, the haptic feedback intensifying with every step it takes.
These technical advancements will improve the game’s quality and enrich the player experience; the controller improvements alone are fantastic. However, good performance and graphics aren’t enough to make a worthwhile sequel. The first game was beloved for its mix of slow stealth and fast-paced action, a toolkit consisting of traps, bows, explosive slingshots, and intelligent AI design that provided a challenge. It’s safe to assume the devs will take the original formula and improve it—no need to fix what’s not broken.
A New Dawn
Horizon Zero Dawn provided a solid ending to Aloy’s story. Then a post-credits scene revealed it was only the end of chapter one. Players who’ve beaten the game know where the story is heading, but the same can’t be said for the game’s world. The first title takes place in a recovering post-apocalyptic Colorado and Utah, with parts of northern Arizona and Montana.
The devs have a lot of choices when it comes to choosing the setting for the sequel; the first was composed of snowy mountain ranges, thick forests, arid deserts, and dense jungles. Hopefully, the sequel will remain as diverse while incorporating fresh elements.
It will be great to use the new PS5 controller and experiment with a wide range of terrains, environments, and the enemies that inhabit them. The first game isn’t diverse only in locales, but in enemy roster as well, with 24 different machine enemies ranging from non-menacing Broadheads to the ground-rattling Thunderjaw. Each enemy will not only look different, but feel different, as the haptic feedback adjusts to fit the encounter. Most exciting will be the improvements made to the enemy AI.
The first game’s AI design was ahead of its time—each species of robot had unique behaviors, mechanics, and abilities. Many moved in herds, others hunted in packs, and some apex machines stood alone; each enemy had its own design and abilities to master. It’s unlikely there’ll be a full roster replacement for the sequel, but players should expect to find various new foes while exploring the sequel’s world. If the first game’s robot beasts are anything to go by, Horizon Zero Dawn 2’s new enemies will be amazing!
Spice of Life
Variety is where Horizon Zero Dawn 2 will have to shine to impress fans, meaning new environments to traverse, enemies to fight, weapons to acquire, and strategies to employ. Its predecessor is known for its fast-paced gameplay that requires fast reflexes and smart enemy management. The player could choose to approach stealthily, setting traps, waiting for the right moment, or jump in bows blazing (or lobbing explosives from their slingshot). As long as careful attention was paid to individual adversaries’ weaknesses, they could be overcome after applying skills learned throughout the course of the game.
More of the same sounds good; add new and interesting content, bring in new environments, and keep making that great enemy AI. It’ll be good to see Aloy return and to experience the next chapter in her story. Guerilla Games has proven itself and are sure to deliver that story and more.