Even though Horizon Forbidden West’s overarching mysteries are a little different from its predecessor’s often personal story beats, Dr. Elisabet Sobeck is still an active force who guides Aloy through some difficult scenarios. For the sequel, Guerrilla has taken the opportunity to flesh out her characterization and backstory a great deal.The end result of this is, for several reasons, the Elisabet that’s seen and referenced in Horizon Forbidden West feels like an actual fully-realized human being.
During Horizon Zero Dawn, Dr. Elisabet Sobeck posthumously pops up at several points along Aloy’s coming of age journey, providing context for how the world was overrun by murderous robots. Over the course of the game, the protagonist slowly learns that she was instrumental in creating the terraforming AI GAIA, which was used to resurrect the human race after the Faro Plague purged all organic life. Crucially, Aloy also discovers that she was created from the genetic memory of Elisabet to continue her work, which means she is essentially the Doctor’s living clone.
Thanks to how she’s presented as an enigmatic savior who was responsible for the world’s rebirth, in addition to Aloy’s own creation, the Nora hunter spends most of the game trying to emulate Elisabet’s example. As her living legacy, Aloy embraces the circumstances of her creation whilst placing the responsibility to fix the world solely on her own shoulders. Similarly to how Guerrilla suggests Elisabet did herself one thousand years ago, via strategically placed holograms and collectable datapads. When it comes to characterization, Elisabet is almost exclusively depicted as an intelligent, yet distant workaholic.
Due to how closely Aloy walks in Elisabet’s shadow for most of Horizon Zero Dawn, the character noticeably takes on some of the personality traits that she believes the latter embodied during her life. While Aloy interacts with a number of characters throughout the open-world RPG, there aren’t many that she would likely class as true friends at that point. Even following the eventual defeat of HADES at the end of the first game, it’s mentioned in the sequel and Horizon’s comic book tie-ins that she left unceremoniously afterwards.
For Horizon Forbidden West, Guerrilla has created more of what fans have come to love, whilst presenting a window into themes many likely wouldn’t have seen coming. In a lot of respects, Dr. Elisabet Sobeck’s role within the game mirrors this philosophy as well. Having been presented in Zero Dawn as some otherworldly inspirational figure, to the point that Aloy physically dreams of her surrogate mother during the opening moments of Forbidden West, players are given an insight into the actual human behind those portrayals throughout the sequel.
While Zero Dawn established that Elisabet spent her final days as a laser-focused recluse, determined to use her intelligence to save the world, Guerrilla has revealed that this wasn’t always typical of the character. Through dialogue with Carrie-Anne Moss’ Tilda in the Base, the player can learn about the complicated history between the two ancient-humans. Before the Faro Plague doomed humanity to extinction, Tilda and Elisabet were romantically involved with one another for a period of time. In terms of revelations, this news comes as a surprise to Aloy, due to how her hero has always previously been portrayed through the lens of her work.
Even though it’s never established why the pair broke up, from the regret that Tilda has lived with for over a thousand years, it can be assumed that their relationship was a genuine one filled with mutual love and respect. During the closing moments of Horizon Forbidden West, Tilda infers as much to Aloy and Beta, when she claims that the pair could never understand what they experienced together. The fact that Tilda is willing to effectively kidnap the clones, betraying her centuries old companions in the process, is even more indicative that Elisabet was a more well-rounded character than fans were initially led to believe.
This isn’t evidenced in Forbidden West solely through second-hand information either. One hologram that Aloy stumbles across earlier in the game, recorded after the pair had broken up, suggests that Elisabet was also troubled by the fact that she'd been separated from the woman she loved. Instead of being a selfless individual focused solely on saving the world from destruction, it turns out that the Doctor was a fully fleshed out human being as well. The fact that she felt the need to cut herself off from the rest of humanity to achieve that goal, ensures that she’s actually one of the more tragic parts of the Horizon universe.
Despite the fact that Elisabet has been dead for a while by the events of Forbidden West, her characterization is still physically fleshed out in the present. While holograms and tales of the past are a part of that process, Guerrilla has cleverly utilized her clone-daughters Aloy and Beta to explore their genetic ancestor’s own life. Through interactions with the Far Zenith colonists, it becomes obvious that both embody different aspects of Elisabet’s personality and history. While each is brought to life uniquely by Ashley Burch, the apples haven’t fallen far from the metaphorical tree.
Aloy carries with her the determination to see her crusade through to its conclusion, both metaphorically and literally in the shape of Elisabet’s necklace, often at the expense of her allies. Over the course of the sequel though, her protective shell slowly comes down to the point that she eventually assembles a Mass Effect-esque group of companions to share her burden. This deliberately mirrors the characterization of Elisabet in Forbidden West as well. Not only did she sacrifice herself to save the other Zero Dawn scientists, the game also explores how she formed a genuine bond of friendship beforehand with its members like Travis Tate.
When it comes to Beta, her time in isolation mirrors Elisabet’s self-imposed independence and fear of opening up to others. More obviously though, the younger clone more closely personifies her ancestor’s love for science, as evidenced by the fact that she understands how GAIA was created. Beta is also shown to have a firmer grasp on strategic planning than Aloy, which is a characteristic that Forbidden West establishes Elisabet was able to draw on during a crisis too. They might have their own personal identities, but Beta and Aloy help to make Elisabet a more human character whilst showcasing how the woman herself might have acted in the present.
Horizon Forbidden West is available now on PS4 and PS5.