Horizon Zero Dawn is a game that excels on multiple fronts. First, there are its breathtaking visuals, which remain some of the best graphics to grace the PS4 to date. Then there is the character of Aloy, who quickly rose to become one of the most fully-realized female characters seen in a video game. But what has captivated players the most is no doubt its open world and the depths of its lore.

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Set in a post-apocalyptic future where humans are no longer the dominant species, the game charts an adventure that is filled with twists and big revelations. Why are there robot dinosaurs milling about in the wilderness? How can Aloy access the technology of the Old Ones? What led to humanity's downfall? These are just some of the questions the game ignites inside of players in its opening moments. So, what did happen to humanity?

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Warning: There will be spoilers for the events of Horizon Zero Dawn ahead.

The Old Ones

A screenshot showing ruins in Horizon Zero Dawn

In Horizon Zero Dawn, the remnants of humanity have seemingly regressed to a more primitive state, living in tribes while they hunt machines using spears and arrows. At the same time, there are vestiges of the ancient civilization that once ruled the lands everywhere, and the people have taken to calling them the Old Ones.

While some of their computers remain in a functional state, they are largely inaccessible to most people - except for Aloy, who is able to gain access to the information they contain via her focus, and as she resembles a scientist by the name of Elisabet Sobeck (who we'll mention later). Aloy is also able to override and manipulate much of this technology thanks to her spear modification, using a piece of equipment she found containing remnants of master controls for the machines.

According to the archived holograms Aloy can uncover over the course of the game, humanity had reached the peak of technological advancement by the mid-21st century, despite many global issues - in fact, many of the advancements were due to shortages and global threats.

Their greatest accomplishment was in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence, but most of that advancement came at a cost, and their greatest inventions would eventually lead to their downfall.

The Faro Plague

A screenshot showing a swarm of robots in Horizon Zero Dawn

In 2064, a swarm of self-replicating robots experienced a glitch that gave them full sentience and autonomy. Since these robots had been built to be self-sufficient through the consumption of biomass, they started to consume all life on Earth as they continued to multiply and spread. The crisis would be dubbed the Faro Plague, named after the company that created them and its founder, Ted Faro.

Ted Faro was hesitant to admit this issue and didn't want the public to know about the glitches and that he was powerless to stop them. After a while, however, he had to take action.

Project Zero Dawn

A screenshot showing the Zero Dawn project facility in Horizon Zero Dawn

It quickly became clear that there was no way to stop the Faro Plague and that all life would become extinct within 15 months. So in a bid to ensure the continued survival of the human race after the plague had run its course, a scientist named Elisabet Sobeck devised Project Zero Dawn, after forcing the hand of Ted Faro to fund the project.

Most wished for a way to stop the Faro Plague and undo the problematic machines before they destroyed humanity, but this was not an option. It would take years to develop a new override to take control back of the machines, and time was a precious commodity - something humanity no longer had.

As such, the purpose of Zero Dawn was not to prevent the Faro Plague itself, but to give life another chance after their extinction. Through terraforming and repopulating the Earth once it became hospitable again, Zero Dawn was a project to restore organic life on Earth after the machines had left it a barren wasteland.

To make sure this plan would go ahead after humanity was wiped out, the heart of Project Zero Dawn was an artificial intelligence named GAIA.

GAIA & APOLLO

A screenshot showing a hologram of Dr. Elisabet Sodek speaking about GAIA in Horizon Zero Dawn

GAIA's job was to coordinate the activities of Project Zero Dawn, ensuring that the Earth was seeded with a new generation of humans once the time was right. GAIA had nine sub-sections that would carry out procedures, whether it be to focus on vegetation, wildlife, or the development of new humans.

To help accelerate the advancement of those future humans, 150,000 years of human history and progress were collected into an archive of one of these sub-sections dubbed APOLLO. This tool would be present in bunker facilities where the new humans would grow and learn, with supervisory machines and educational computing.

However, in a last-minute decision made entirely on his own, APOLLO is sabotaged by Ted Faro. He feared that all that knowledge would lead the future generation back to where they were now, eventually making the same mistakes. He believed that the humans of the future seeded by GAIA should proceed without any prior knowledge of humanity, and have to advance at a natural pace. In this decision, Ted Faro wiped APOLLO entirely, and vacuum-sealed the remaining team behind Project Zero Dawn within a room so that it could not be undone.

This is why Aloy and the people of the various tribes appear primitive, even though they exist a thousand years into the future - they know nothing of the Old Ones, and started back at the basics. When this new world faces a threat from the machines of the Old Ones once more, Aloy sets out to discover what happened all those years ago, and how to stop the new threats.

NEXT: How Long Does It Take To Beat Horizon Zero Dawn?

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