Horizon Forbidden West goes heavier on the RPG elements than Zero Dawn does. The game gets bigger in scope, and there is a greater array of weapons, armour, upgrades, and oh so many menus to look through. There is a huge element of the RPG genre being missed out here though, and that's the romance. Aloy is now two games deep into a dry spell, and it doesn't seem like that will be over any time soon.
It's not like Aloy is short of options. Erend returns in the Forbidden West, and clearly still holds a candle for her. Talanah comes back here too, and would be an ideal girlfriend for Aloy. One of the few characters Aloy meets who does not instantly fawn over her ability or her heritage, and can hold her own in battle, Talanah is the prime candidate, even if Erend has been doing the Horizon-era equivalent of holding a boombox outside Aloy's bedroom window all this time.
Alva, a new character here, would also be an excellent partner for Aloy. She arrives later on in the game as a scholar of the Old Ones, and unlike the other brutish warriors you encounter, is far more inquisitive and intelligent than the rest of the cast. A handful of others offer potential romantic partners too, and with the fate of the world in Aloy's hands, you'd think the game would want to take the time to examine the humanity beneath the characters rather than just the very basic 'I need to save my tribe' desires most of them discuss.
On the rare occasion Horizon does explore its characters, it shines, but it's far too rare and shallow to matter. A love story might seem like a cheap way to offer more depth, but Horizon isn't putting in the yards on doing it the hard way so it has no excuse for not taking the easy option either.
In some ways, Aloy's lack of romance feels like a rarity to be protected. Many women in fiction are defined by their romance, and even those who push against it in the pursuit of righteous violence often end up in a love triangle that is the pinnacle of their narrative over the actual important plot points they move forward. Aloy is not too different from Katniss Everdeen, with both of them being fearless warriors armed mainly with a bow and arrow. While Aloy's story allows her to do her thing, Katniss is constantly pegged back by a dilemma to choose between two dull suitors in Peeta and Gale. Surveying her options, perhaps Katniss envies Aloy's ability to go it alone.
There's also the fact that Aloy could be asexual or aromantic. It's somewhat surprising that an attractive young woman, outcast and lonely her entire life, is suddenly thrown into a melting pot of other attractive young people, knowing the world could soon come to an end, with tremendous pressure on her shoulders and tremendous status as the one to change the world's fate, and never smooches a single soul to blow off some steam.
I hope aro-ace people can see some representation in Aloy, but if it's deliberate, I wish they'd commit and just say that. It's unlikely they would say the word 'asexual', just as they did not say the word 'transgender' with the first game's trans character. But any chance for Aloy to discuss or interrogate her lack of romantic intentions would be as interesting as having Aloy and Talanah kiss. But the game needs to choose one of them in the next game, or it risks the characters growing even staler.
You could pick out pretty much any character and I could write 'here's why they should be gay'. I already did it with Kate Bishop. If Aloy could kiss Talanah I'd do it in an instant, but I'd settle for the game explaining why Aloy wouldn't be into that. Instead, like a lot of the Forbidden West's barren wilderness, we just get nothing.
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