Why Guerrilla Games ignored LGBTQ haters to make Horizon heroine Aloy one for the ages

(Warning - Contains some spoilers for the Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores DLC)

There's a moment early on in our Zoom chat when Ben McCaw, the narrative director of Guerrilla Games, appears to get a little testy as he's probed about the ending of the latest DLC from the Horizon Forbidden West series.

The game franchise, which launched in 2017, features the flame-haired Aloy, an orphaned female protagonist who battles robot dinosaurs while undergoing a voyage of self-discovery. At the time, the game was a gamble as PlayStation hadn't launched a new IP in a while, but the first outing became a massive hit.

However, it also had its detractors with some angry that its female lead wasn't sexy enough and spent most of the game politely rebuffing the advances of other male characters.

It's a criticism that's once again been levelled at Burning Shores, the newest PlayStation 5 only DLC for Horizon Forbidden West, which relocates Aloy to Los Angeles and sees her companioning up with new character Seyka as she investigates a new mystery and negotiates a new set of challenges and monsters.

However, it's the ending of the game which has got certain corners of the internet outraged.

At the expansion's culmination, players have the choice to enact a romance between Aloy and Seyka - or leave them as friends. That has led to the expansion being review-bombed and Guerrilla Games being targeted as well.

But while McCaw visibly bristles when this is brought up, he's fairly forthright on what he makes of it all.

"We make games for people that love games; specifically, open-world games and more specifically the world of Horizon. That's what we put all of our energy and passion into. Nothing makes us happier than when fans respond to that," he begins before carefully choosing his words.

Horizon's heroine Aloy returns in the latest PS5-only expansion.
Horizon's heroine Aloy returns in the latest PS5-only expansion. Photo credit: PlayStation

"You know, it doesn't matter to us if they like aspects of the game or if there are aspects of the game that they don't like or want to see improvements on. We take that in and we're thrilled to get that feedback. When it comes to people that haven't played the game or really are just out to spread negativity, we just ignore it," he told Newshub.

McCaw also said he personally doesn't pay any attention to the negativity and rampant homophobia.

"I find it relatively easy to put it aside. I just don't read that stuff. I think there are people that are a little bit more immersed in social media than I am. I really can say it doesn't bother me. I just try to put it out of my mind because I don't feel like those people are really the audience for our game." 

It's a cross Guerrilla Games didn't expect to bear, but one they appear happy to wear given the 2017 game gave birth to Frozen Wilds - a successful expansion DLC for the original - before segueing into a brand new spinoff Horizon Forbidden West. That launched to critical acclaim in 2022 and continued Aloy's adventures, though McCaw laughed off the idea of a Horizon universe similar to Marvel's.

"We didn't really expect - or understand - how Horizon: Zero Dawn would resonate with fans, but we did already have ideas for a sequel," he said.

"While we were developing Zero Dawn, we were starting to have ideas about that DLC - the same thing happened on Forbidden West. We definitely had some ideas about what we wanted to do for DLC. So it wasn't like we were just kind of like starting from scratch on that.

Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores seemingly completes Aloy's character arc.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores seemingly completes Aloy's character arc. Photo credit: PlayStation

"But it is obviously difficult. DLC presents a difficult proposition where you're going to carve out a new area of content, you're going to add a lot of new things to it. You're going to need a compelling story for it."

McCaw revealed work began years ago on the DLC, mostly out of necessity.

"You have to get that sort of process started very early and you have to get a lot of the material written as early as possible. The way we really use the actors to inspire us has really more to do with the casting, because that's a moment where we meet, where we get them to speak some of the lines. We get a sense of who they are. And that then carries over into lots of other things, including how we write some of the scenes, but also how we go back and adjust or get pick ups or how sometimes we can affect other areas of development." 

McCaw was also effusive in his praise for his actors on the Horizon series, citing Burning Shores newcomer Kylie Liya Page, who plays Seyka, as inspirational.

"Kylie [Liya Page, who plays Seyka] did an amazing job for us. We love her performance. We were just absolutely thrilled. And Ash [Ashly Burch, who plays Aloy] is always an inspiration for us because we know after doing two games how to write to her voice and what she can do with the line," he said.

"I mean, one of the things I always love about Ash is Ash makes it possible for us to write lines that are just one word because we know she will deliver that word."

Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores' new character Seyka.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores' new character Seyka. Photo credit: PlayStation

As for the future of the Horizon video game series, the team is already looking ahead - even if one of their key players will sadly not be around for any further installments.

Lance Reddick was a major part of Horizon series as Sylens, Aloy's mysterious mentor and occasional antagonist. His appearance in Burning Shores will sadly be his last after he died suddenly in March.

But McCaw said they're more interested in celebrating his work on the Horizon series rather than lamenting any legacy or thinking about how to tackle his death in any future games.

"Right now we're just only focused on this tragedy. Losing Lance is a terrible blow - a terrible blow for us, a terrible blow for the industry and obviously, a terrible blow for his family. We really haven't given any thought to the future just because this is a moment to just kind of reflect and remember him and have our thoughts be with his family," McCaw said.

As our time wraps up, McCaw said he believes the success of the 2022 game and the 2023 expansion means it's a good time to pause the franchise - and he's coy about what could be next.

"I think this is actually a really good point for us to take a breath and to sort of look around and kind of assess the state of the franchise. We're going to have all kinds of stuff coming in the future," he said.

"But for now, I think we're just really happy with how this turned out. And, you know, we kind of just want to sort of take that moment and say, 'wow, we did it'. This really is the end of Forbidden West."

Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is out now exclusively on PS5.