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  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Ted Faro's motivation for deleting APOLLO. Did he really believe he was doing the best thing for the reborn human race by erasing every trace of humanity's accumulated knowledge and that such information is what laid the groundwork for humanity's self-destruction, or was he a self-absorbed Dirty Coward who was merely using a convenient excuse to remove any chance of being remembered as the man responsible for ending all organic life on the planet? Was he suffering from a case of Never My Fault and had convinced himself that it wasn't his fault that the world was ending, but rather the knowledge that allowed him to do it in the first place, or did he truly hit the Despair Event Horizon and broke down from the weight of the guilt he felt for being responsible for the mess that destroyed civilization and doomed his species? Or even a mixture of all of these?
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    • Whether Sylens' cynical worldview is justifiable or not. He believes that humanity is a feeble thing, as proven repeatedly in and out of main quests, and only through mutual gain and the chase of absolute truth do we better ourselves. While his actions helped shed light on the misunderstandings the new generation has regarding the Old Ones, Sylens' history with HADES, what he did to the Banuk and Aloy's opinion of him seem to suggest that he isn't as good as he thinks he is.
    • Elisabet Sobeck's Heroic Sacrifice — did she refuse to re-enter the bunker purely out of a desire to protect her friends from harm, or was she so disgusted by the atrocities she committed in the name of the Zero Dawn project that she decided she had no right to live? Remember, the project involved abductions, forced euthanasia, a form of enslavement (with benefits, mind you, but still), and using all of humanity as a shield to protect the project, while lying to them about its true purpose. In spite of — perhaps, because of — her level of love for her fellow humans, Elisabet believed that her actions were too terrible to redeem herself from, necessary or not.
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    • Given the context of the overall Operation: Enduring Victory, exactly how heroic were the staff of the Zero Dawn project? While their work was undeniably important in continuing the human race, the Alpha's themselves were the people chosen to ride out the apocalypse in heavily defended bunkers while the rest of humanity were sent as cannon fodder into disturbingly literal meat grinders. And that's before considering that some Alphas had a personal stake in that project, such as Samina Ebadji calling her work on APOLLO a "lifelong dream." In particular, Elisabet's Heroic Sacrifice comes off as less heroic when you consider that she was only doing what most of humanity had already done, give her life for Zero Dawn. Instead, the Alphas who weren't willing to pay the same price as everyone else seem cowardly.
      • There is a lot of Moral Ambiguity in the whole premise of the plan. Is it more or less cruel to lie to everyone left alive on Earth that Zero Dawn is a superweapon that will solve everything? You can explain to the staff that you're creating a new human race that won't have to deal with any of this but how is that a comfort to the scientists and workers who are going to lose everything? The prevailing argument appears to be "ignorance is bliss"
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    • How good is Avad exactly as Sun King, and what exactly are we to make of the Carja Sundom and Aloy's uncritical support of it? At the end of the day her actions as "Seeker" end up cementing, reinforcing, and strengthening the hegemony of the Carja Empire, and while it does seem more positive as a force compared to the Carja-in-Shadow, the Oseram, and more accepting of outsiders than the Nora, as well as open to collaboration and cooperation (Meridan was built with the Oseram's help), it's still an Empire and an imperial force, and Avad for all his humble Modest Royalty affect, does seek to ensure their dominion. Whether the tribes have enough grasp of political theory to even conceptualize something like a hegemony or imperialism is also an open question.
  • Anti-Climax Boss: While the Final Boss isn't easy per se, it is a bit of a drag that it's another Deathbringer, no different from the ones you fought before outside its higher health pool and more guns.
    • Similarly, despite all the hype about how especially powerful and dangerous it is, Redmaw is no stronger than any other Thunderjaw you fight elsewhere in the game. In fact, it's a bit weaker since it's already missing quite a bit of its armor and one of its disc launchers.
  • Author's Saving Throw: To a certain extent. The Frozen Wilds DLC moves the level cap to 60 and introduces a bunch of new skills that are less about making Aloy more powerful and more about fixing some gripes the fanbase had with the game engine: Increasing the number of resources you can pick up, allowing you to search dead enemies and gather resources while mounted, disassemble stuff you don't need for Shards and repair Machines you've hacked, plus increasing your chances of picking up the rare (and valuable) skins and bones from dead animals. They additionally heeded the criticism that dialogue (particularly facial) were subdued and wooden in the base game and stepped it up in that regard.
  • Awesome Music: Many songs on the OST count, but these, in particular, stand out.
  • Demonic Spider: Many of the machine enemies are forces to be reckoned with, but the Frostclaws and Fireclaws from the Frozen Wilds DLC are just ridiculous. They're immune to any effects other than fire and freeze respectively (and even then said effects take several minutes to inflict and cause barely any additional damage), can swipe at Aloy to cause massive physical damage up to a half-dozen times in a row (which might just kill her outright, given the game lacks Mercy Invincibility), and have more health than any non-boss enemy in the game. Oh, and for good measure, the Ropecaster and Tearblaster, the two most effective ways of quickly bringing down larger machines in previous missions, are basically useless. Add all this to the fact that the DLC loves throwing three or four of them at you at once at the end of long missions where you're likely to be low on supplies, and you might well find yourself in the position of either having to reduce the game to minimum difficulty in order to proceed, or trying again from an earlier save.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Erend, Petra, Sylens, Nil, Vanasha and Travis Tate have been particularly popular with the fans.
    • Gildun in The Frozen Wilds thanks to being goofy crackpot who's involved in a pretty in-depth side quest.
  • Fanfic Fuel:
    • Until any sequels or other DLCs come out, many speculate just what became of GAIA's other subroutines (MINERVA, AETHER, POSEIDON, DEMETER, ARTEMIS, ELEUTHIA, APOLLO if it still exists to some capacity) after she severed her connection to them. If something as harmless as a manufacturing A.I. like HEPHAESTUS could turn into a Crapshoot A.I. that could be a potentially bigger threat than HADES - an A.I. literally designed to be an Omnicidal Maniac - just imagine what the rest are like!
    • The humans (who were never really allowed to grow up or learn due to APOLLO's mysterious absence) went from living in a closed environment and raised by low-grade AI to being thrust into a harsh world of machine lifeforms, treacherous terrains and the ruins of their ancestors like zoo animals sent out to fend for themselves in the wild. Lots of stories can be written to just how they learned to survive and just what everything looked like through their limited view of the world.
    • The game is set primarily in the general Mid-West of the US territories. What is it like in Europe or Asia or Africa? Is GAIA's influence operational there or it all just lifeless rock? What are the humans like? What forms do the machines take?
    • With the imagination that comes from the introduction of the likes of GAIA being All-Mother, HADES being "the Buried Shadow" and CYAN being a spirit (and the ways that the A.I. can evolve and influence the world in its current state), it is very likely that this can apply to the spiritual beliefs of all of the tribes. Could the Carja's worship of the sun be the worship of the allegedly-destroyed APOLLO? CYAN is just a spirit to the Banuk, so what is their idea of "the Blue-Sky" that they worship? Is that an A.I. too?
  • Game-Breaker:
    • The Ropecaster, particularly with a couple of handling mods. Using it trivializes larger machines like Thunderjaws, drags Stormbirds to the ground where they're not nearly as deadly, and robs Stalkers of their famed mobility. It's such a useful tool that, in response, the bear-like machines in the DLC can specifically stop and brush off tie ropes if not bound to immobility very quickly, making Ropecaster use that much harder.
    • The Tearblaster is a pretty handy way of quickly removing the main threat from the larger non-boss machines. A couple of blasts, and you can knock off just about any external weapons they have (along with a good chunk of their health), leaving them with just physical attacks. Equip some armor with strong melee defence and dodge effectively, and you can turn theoretically difficult fights into a cakewalk.
    • The Frozen Wilds DLC adds Banuk versions of the Bow, Sharpshot Bow and War Bow. While these boast neither new ammo types nor additional upgrade slots, they allow you to keep drawing the bowstring to "charge" your shots. And boy, does that make those shots more powerful, even the elemental ones. This charge mechanic even manages to change the ability to nock additional arrows from Awesome, but Impractical into simple Game-Breaker as three fully charged Hardpoint Arrows make a VERY convincing last word.
    • The Shield Weaver, the best armor in the game. It requires a lengthy side quest that spans practically the entire main quest to get, but it is by far the best and it doesn't even have weave slots. In fact, the Shield Weaver is so good that the Frozen Wilds DLC adds an entire gameplay mechanic around shutting it down in certain areas.
  • Genius Bonus:
    • Or Basic Genetics Knowledge Bonus. One can guess Aloy's secret when you realize that having DNA nearly 100% the same as another person is too much to be their biological child.
    • HEPHAESTUS being referred to as a Daemon comes from CYAN casually referring to it as a "malware Daemon". In programming, a "daemon" (always spelled with an "ae") is a constantly running program which is not under the direct control of a user.
  • Goddamned Bats: The Glinthawks. They fly, they move erratically, they have a large detection range, they can easily spot Aloy when she's hidden by flying over her, they shoot frost blasts at you that not only cause damage but knock Aloy around which causes you to drop out of aim view, and they always come in packs of at least three. While they're not too difficult to kill and are exceptionally vulnerable to fire, prepare to waste some healing items and your valuable arrows trying to hit them before the pack is dead.
    • Not to mention: whenever a village is under attack by machines and you are asked to help, it's usually at least a dozen Glinthawks. Oh joy...
  • He's Just Hiding!: A natural side effect of Never Found the Body.
    • A significant part of the fandom hopes that Rost is still alive somehow, as his body is never shown (it's stated there was not much left), and he promised that he'd go somewhere that Aloy couldn't find him.
    • In more the fashion of a Sequel Hook, Ted Faro. The man who was directly responsible for the end of civilization with his self-replicating, biomass-consuming and unhackable killer robot soldiers and whose deletion of the information within APOLLO forced the reborn humans to start over from scratch had his own bunker (with the oh-so-megalomaniacal name of "Thebes") and wasn't seen dead in the final record of GAIA Prime, and Sylens mentions the possibility of cryogenics when questioned if any of the Old Ones might still be alive (right after seeing Ted's image for the first time no less, setting up some possible foreshadowing). A significant percentage of the fandom insists that he must be alive, if only so Aloy can do to him what she did to Helis, or, to a much smaller subset, find redemption.
    • Similar to the above, there is a sizable portion of fans who believe the Far Zenith/Odyssey crew is still alive and actually may be behind the glitch that caused the Faro Plague and/or the signal that awakened HADES.
    • When it is revealed what became of the Alpha Team, Ted Faro claims he deleted APOLLO to destroy all of the knowledge he was tasked with preserving. Earlier however, GAIA's dying video message that Aloy finds shows a visual representation of her connection to all of the A.I. programs, including the symbol for APOLLO. It is established that Aloy was created right as HADES became independent and the Derangement started, meaning that APOLLO (while maybe not necessarily intact) still exists to some capacity, meaning that all of the knowledge he held (and GAIA's potential revival be requiring him) can be recovered. Indeed: the actual encoded information to be taught by APOLLO is cryo-stored fossilized DNA what may have been deleted was basically the code reader and interface.
  • It's the Same, So It Sucks: On the surface the game was criticised for hewing close to the open-world formula made infamous by Ubisoft: a wide-open map littered with bandit camps, vantage-points, side-missions, and collectibles as well as having stealth-action gameplay mixed with item-crafting. However in a case of Tropes Are Tools it was judged this game put its own spin on the formula and vastly improved upon it in places. There's only a handful of each kind of open-world activity so they never fall prey to repetition. There's only sixty collectibles needed for 100% Completion, not six-hundred. Finally the game's setting and story are considered its strongest assets whereas the main campaign in most Ubisoft sandboxes are deemed afterthoughts that often get in the way of the gameplay.
  • Launcher of a Thousand Ships: Aloy is shipped with Teb, Vala, Varl, Erend, Talanah, Vanasha, Petra, Nil, Avad, Sylens, with Ikrie from the DLC... so on and so forth. It's helped along by the sheer number of people that flirt with her, be it subtly or not, during her journey.
  • Magnificent Bastard: The brilliant, manipulative Sylens discovered the rogue AI HADES, repairing it and assisting it in exchange for HADES' knowledge on the Old World, even helping to form the Cult of the Eclipse. Growing wary of the increasingly vicious HADES, Sylens revealed he had not been foolish enough to ever trust the AI and managed to escape. Upon later making contact with the young scavenger Aloy, Sylens feeds her information while leading into her fighting Eclipse and HADES, leading to her eliminating Sylens' enemies for him, eventually even saving Aloy before she can be executed by the ruthless Eclipse leader Helis. Guiding Aloy to HADES' defeat, Sylens ends the game by trapping HADES' essence, intending on taking all of HADES' secrets for himself.
  • Memetic Mutation: "Fuck Ted Faro" is the default response of everyone once they learn just how badly he screwed over the old world with his machines and then destroyed APOLLO, depriving the new generation of humans of all their forebearers' knowledge.
  • Moral Event Horizon: The initial rise of Faro's world-eating robot plague was brought about by collective carelessness and stupidity rather than malice, and from what we see of human culture at the time, if he hadn't built them, someone else may well have. However, his decision to erase all human culture by purging APOLLO and murder the GAIA Alphas to protect his own skin is entirely his own.
    • While the death of Dervahl's family is tragic and his hatred for the Carja for the Red Raids committed under the Mad Sun King is understandable, the gleeful way he embraces being a murderous, genocidal lunatic who is willing to torture Ersa to death just for rejecting his advances puts him well past the point of no return. The real kicker is that the reason he does all this is because Avad and Ersa were the ones who killed the Mad Sun-King and he didn't. Talk about petty.
  • Most Wonderful Sound:
    • The tubular spark-fizzle sound when hitting a vulnerable spot.
    • The electrical squeal of a damaged power cell on a machine right before it explodes when you peg it with a shock arrow.
    • The glorious swashbuckling swoosh when Aloy rappels down a ledge like a boss.
  • Narm: This scene has been hailed as hilariously So Bad, It's Good for Brom's voice actor's astonishingly stilted and bizarre performance, which has been compared to that of Goldman's "Loyfe cycle" or Johnny's "I did not hit her" scenes.
    • HADES' reaction to the fact that Aloy remained alive expressed such an overkill amount of rage, that for some it was rather funny than scary.
    • Aloy speaking at Rost's gravesite. The writing and voice acting are good. The problem is the camera. For some reason the entire scene of Aloy talking by herself for several minutes is only shown from behind her. On top of that, the camera keeps cutting to slightly different angles and levels of zoom of the exact same scene, which completely ruins the mood of the scene.
  • Narm Charm: The opening cinematic where Rost stands at a cliff to lift baby Aloy into the sky and declare her name can result in some chuckles with its The Lion King (1994)-vibe.
  • Player Punch:
    • The player might be anticipating it but the death of Rost is still a gut punch after seeing how heartwarming the relationship between him and Aloy is.
    • What almost no player will expect is the extent of the robot apocalypse: total. Class 6 Apocalypse. Every living thing Aloy sees is the result of a desperate project to re-terraform the Earth after the world was reduced to a lifeless, toxic rock.
    • On a related note, while we knew from the beginning that the Old Ones' technology and culture have been lost, in the way you might expect of a Future Primitive After the End setting, learning that it wasn't just lost to time, it was deliberately erased by one man, despite many people having worked impossibly hard to preserve that culture so future humans could rebuild. And he may have done it just to cover up the fact that he was largely responsible for the plague that destroyed the Earth.
  • Robo Ship: Going by fanfic and Tumblr blogs, Elisabet/GAIA is one of the most popular pairings in the fandom.
  • Scrappy Mechanic: Inventory upgrades. Taking a page from Far Cry you must hunt wildlife for their furs to upgrade the carry-weight of your satchels. One problem is that the rarer materials are Random Drops and can't be bought elsewhere. Another problem is that there are over fifteen satchels to upgrade, each with multiple tiers. This leads to lot of redundancy like each bow type having their own separate quiver, and being able to carry nearly three-dozen outfits when there is only half that amount in the game.
  • She Really Can Act: Ashly Burch was already an brilliant voice actress, but her performance of Aloy, from her mature, natural voice and great range of emotions playing as her, it's nothing short of amazing. No wonder she won a Best Gaming Performance for her performance.
  • Special Effect Failure: The ash plume coming from Thunder's Drum doesn't look convincing at all. It keeps curling back in on itself, and doesn't fade as it rises.
  • Spiritual Adaptation:
    • Being built on a premise about tribal people fighting off biomechanical creatures controlled/corrupted/created by a swirling mass of red and black in a setting taking place After the End, it's commonplace for people to declare this the best BIONICLE game ever. Special mention goes to their precursor civilization being responsible for the destruction of their world, a Big Good benevolent AI who was in a way put to sleep by the Big Bad, people dormant in canisters and a guy named Thok.
    • Comparison has been made between this game and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, especially the manga version, which both of them revolved around an adventurous young girl in a world littered with ruins made by predecessors. Also including elements from the manga was a malevolent AI inside a bunker complex, the world ended by out-of-control combat robots, and the current humanity by the game's time themselves are artificially created to thrive after the apocalypse.
    • Some like to think the backstory of Horizon Zero Dawn makes it a sequel to 9; a Robot War where Mechanical Monsters unexpectedly Turned Against Their Masters and not only led humanity to extinction, but rendered the planet incapable of supporting life, only for the ending to imply that life will eventually return. Even the Big Bad of the film - an insane AI that mindlessly builds killer robots because people are destroying its precious creations - sounds an awful lot like the Big Bad of The Frozen Wilds DLC HEPHAESTUS.
  • That One Sidequest:
    • The level 32 corruption zone that requires you to fight two Corrupted Rockbreakers. At the same time. On the plus side, the two of them are practically guaranteed to drop you some obscenely good coils and weaves.
    • Just google "Sleight Of Crate Trial" and enjoy the rage about how awful this Hunting Ground challenge is, especially after it was patched to be even more difficult than before. To summarize: it's ostensibly a stealth challenge that's virtually impossible to beat stealthily if you're aiming for a Blazing Sun medal. The only way to get it done is a mad dash through a gauntlet of powerful machines, all the while hoping to survive long enough to loot three Shell-Walker crates in a very tight time limit. It's even worse than the Leverage Trials at the Sun Furrows Hunting Ground, which are close behind in terms of unpopularity.
    • The Frozen Wild DLC pits you against Daemonic machines, which are much stronger than the basic versions... so of course The Claws Beneath quest pits you against a Daemonic Rockbreaker. As if that's not enough, it's supported by a Control Tower, a type of machine that periodically heals and buffs other machines in the vicinity, and - if you're using the Shield-Weaver armor, completely drains your forcefield when it does.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Ersa is played up to be hyper-competent and highly charismatic like Aloy is, and the player will hear no shortage of praise about her offscreen deeds. However, she's hardly seen in the game and she dies moments after Aloy finally meets her.
  • Ugly Cute:
    • Some of the smaller machines, like the Watcher, Grazer, and Strider, are more adorable than anything thanks to looking like animals and even having some animal-like mannerisms. It helps that they tend to be some of the more timid machines, prone to running away rather than fighting.
    • Frostclaws, one of The Frozen Wilds' resident Demonic Spiders, go from "ursine nightmare" to "D'awwww!" in an instant when they perform their flying tackle wrestling move, miss you, land on their back and take a moment to get back on their feet. It just looks so cuddly that it can make you forget how lethal they are, at least for a few seconds before they continue trying to rip you to shreds.
  • Uncanny Valley: The characters look utterly well done, but their facial animations in cutscenes can seem too rigid. The faces on the child versions of Aloy and her peers have also been called out for looking like adult faces on children's bodies, but these scenes are very brief and limited to the very start of the game. Many players Hand Wave this as a result of every human alive being descended from artificially gestated babies raised by holograms with no facial expressions.
  • Underused Game Mechanic: Overriding machines is a cool idea. It turns machines over to your side and gets you a speedy mount to explore the world with. Unfortunately, despite having a whole skill tree and a number of dungeons devoted to it, it can feel tacked on compared to most everything else you can do. You don't actually have any real control over the machines you hack and you can't make them follow you. You can only ride a handful of machines, which all play exactly the same. Taking control of the most powerful machines like the Thunderjaw and Stormbird is Awesome, but Impractical. In various quests which require you to fight machines in order to get to the next quest point, overriding one just means you'll have to start firing arrows at it again until it snaps back into hostility. You can't hack corrupted or daemonic machines, which are the things you'll be fighting for the majority of the main quest. Finally, getting the Call Mount skill renders overriding mounts obsolete since it means you'll literally always have a ride at your beck and call.
  • The Un-Twist: Yeah, you likely figured out Aloy was a clone of her mother, Elisabet Sobeck, the moment you saw how close of a genetic match they both were. The truth behind Aloy's birth, however, is a lot more complex.
  • The Woobie:
    • Aloy herself. Seriously, her entire life is one massive Tear Jerker. She quite literally had no father (and her "mothers" were both long gone by the time she was born), her entire childhood was spent as an outcast, then the moment she gained acceptance into the Nora, they were butchered in front of her (culminating in the death of her only mentor), then she was sent on a long quest into unknown lands, whereupon she was beset by unknown dangers at every turn, then she learned that all life on the planet had been destroyed, and her genetic mother had died in order to preserve what little remained, then when she returned to the Nora homeland, it was under siege. She really needs a hug. Or 600.
    • Ourea in The Frozen Wilds. Develops a friendship with CYAN, then is captured during a Red Raid and enslaved for several years by the Carja, where she was forced to maintain the machines that were used in the Sun Ring sacrifices. When she finally makes it back home she finds CYAN taken over by HEPHAESTUS and is helpless to aid her. She has to trick and humiliate her brother to try and get help for CYAN, and then finally dies freeing CYAN from HEPHAESTUS.
    • Ikrie in The Frozen Wilds. She sticks with the one friend she has from childhood, Mailen, even when Mailen makes it clear she wants to join a werak with the most stringent possible test for entrance: survive for four days without any help up in a barren, icy mountain range. So Ikrie goes along with Mailen because she feels like she has to support her friend, only to be rejected when Mailen falls ill and won't accept help. Aloy comes along, and being a Nora, Mailen grudgingly agrees to accept the barest of help to patch her up so she can last out the test and make it back to Keener's Rock. But because Ikrie is fed up with conforming to Banuk customs, while Mailen is determined to adhere to them even more strongly, this event separates the two permanently. Ikrie asks Aloy to claim she died so that she can finally be free to do what she wants - but she is also truly alone for the first time.
  • Woobie Species: The entire human race became this — twice!
    • Billions upon billions of people were condemned to certain extinction, fighting a Hopeless War against an unstoppable army of robots that consumed all life on the planet. Even the select few who were selected to hide in bunkers weren't very well off; if they weren't wracked with Survivor's Guilt, they were betrayed by the very one who got them in trouble in the first place.
    • And when humanity was resurrected by ELEUTHIA, they became one again because Faro deleted APOLLO; They had to learn how to survive in a world with no education beyond kindergarten. Only GAIA knows how many "blameless men and women" died of starvation and cold before they re-discovered flintknapping and firestarting.

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