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Anatomy of a Sidequest: Horizon Zero Dawn’s Redmaw

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Anatomy of a Sidequest: Horizon Zero Dawn’s Redmaw

Guerrilla details the creation of one of Horizon Zero Dawn's most memorable optional stories.


Spoiler warning: This post contains story details from throughout the Hunter’s Lodge sidequest in Horizon Zero Dawn.


Deep in Carja territory stalks a machine that strikes fear into the heart of every hunter. The legendary Redmaw. A mechanical beast of such strength and ferocity that it has killed everyone who has crossed its path. And you can bet you’ll be the one to finally bring it down.

Redmaw’s story threads throughout the Hunter’s Lodge quest line in Horizon Zero Dawn. Tales of its victims mark your entry into this old-fashioned club of big machine hunters, and tales of the glory its killer will receive accompany your ascent through its ranks. It’s a carefully planned setup that eventually sees you travelling deep into a remote region for an encounter that will have repercussions not only for lead character Aloy but also the Hunter’s Lodge itself.

But Redmaw has roots far away from its jungle home. In fact, you can trace them right back to a decision an artist made in the early days of the game’s development to put a posed Thunderjaw statue inside a building in the main city of Meridian.

Horizon Zero Dawn concept art

“I was immediately struck by how cool it looked,” says Lead Quest Designer David Ford. This dramatic figure immediately made him think that it could be the centrepiece of the headquarters of some kind of hunter’s guild, and he began to work with Lead Writer Ben McCaw to develop the idea. They imagined a hierarchy in which position is claimed through killing bigger and bigger game, and they found a place within it for Talanah, a character who was featured in one of the game’s early prototypes.

“We wanted to work our way up to this legendary Thunderjaw that people have been going after for years, and through luck and power it’s killed every one,” says Ford. Because Redmaw is a Thunderjaw, a huge, bipedal machine that roams Carja territory and looks like a Tyrannosaurus rex.

The Thunderjaw is all about offensive power. “As Aloy is so incredibly agile, the player most of the time tries to stay away from the machines while the machines try and get close,” says Machine Design Lead Dennis Zopfi. But Thunderjaws can dominate their prey at every range. They can bite and smash with their tails, shoot lasers and machine guns, and they have two disc launchers, which send a drone-like warhead up into the air which seeks Aloy before diving down on her.

By the time you find the Hunter’s Lodge you’ll have seen Thunderjaws. You may have given them a wide berth or have attempted to go up against one, but either way, you’ll have a sense of their power. So when you start hearing about the Lodge’s long campaign against Redmaw, you know it’s something to fear. But first, you’ll need to join them, and that’s when you meet Ahsis, its leader, and are reminded about how much of an outsider Aloy is in this city.

As a follower of the tyrannical old Sun-King, Ahsis can’t stand the idea of a Nora becoming part of his tradition-obsessed organisation. “He’s not evil but he’s prejudiced, very vain, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to maintain his status at the top of the organisation,” says Ford, explaining that the quest line gave Guerrilla a chance to explore the rift the new Sun-King has driven through rich Carja society.

“In the earliest planning stages for this quest line we wanted to have a jerk leader of this organisation and you’re working with somebody who wants to supplant him and install themselves as a more benevolent, more even-handed leader,” says Ford. Because on your side is Talanah, who sets you a task: to prove yourself by taking on hunting challenges so she will agree to sponsor your membership in spite of Ahsis’ discrimination.

The tension between the two characters drives the final chapter of the quest line, as they race to slay Redmaw first. But Ahsis plays dirty, hiring mercenaries to kill Talanah. Saving her is down to you, and then you help her face Redmaw itself. There’s a real sense of urgency in the sequence — a result of a number of design techniques. You have the running figure of Talanah to follow through the forest, and then, when she loses the trail, you must take the lead. “That’s another thing that motivates people to move quickly,” says Ford. “And there’s music, and then another thing we did was to create a literal path of destruction that Redmaw has created through the jungle, knocking down trees, trampling vegetation, destroying rocks.”

You arrive just in time to see Redmaw tail-swiping Ahsis into a rock, and then your own fight is on. Redmaw bears the marks from its many battles. Hunters’ spears protrude from its chest, it has holes in its armoured plating, and one of its disc launchers is missing. Having been warned for so long about just how tough this beast is, with tales of its tail killing hunters in a single swipe, it’s a formidable encounter, not least because of where it’s set, in a large, open area on the western edge of the map. Here, Redmaw can smash trees down so there’s no cover from its ranged attacks. And with only one disc launcher, it means that you’ll only get one chance to deal it major damage by dislodging and using its own weapons against it.

Talanah helps, of course, but Guerrilla are careful to ensure this fight is yours. “We reduce her damage as Redmaw’s health gets lower,” explains Ford. “So eventually Talanah won’t be doing any damage against it, so she isn’t doing all the work for you and stealing the fun.”

Redmaw has more health than a standard Thunderjaw, but its behaviour, capabilities and damage dealing are otherwise exactly the same. “It’s a placebo effect of everything leading up to the moment,” says Zopfi. “It’s all fed by dialogue and visuals.” The mix of urgency, the sweep of the storyline, Redmaw’s appearance, and the open setting: they make the fight intense and distinctive as you’re exposed to barrages of its laser fire and struggle to dive clear of its tail.

Even if you’ve taken down many Thunderjaws before Redmaw, finally defeating it is absolutely a moment worthy of diving into Photo Mode to remember. This machine is a prime example of Horizon Zero Dawn’s tight lacing together of story, environment design and combat; a battle with consequence and challenge that makes you feel like the finest machine hunter.

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29 Comments

  • Ghazi_Hamad

    Yeah l remember that quest he was tough foe, but the fun part is when he swipe his tail hitting Atash I guess his name is somehow close.

  • Great game, loved this side quest. Shows what the PS4 Pro can do, even at my lowly 1080p as I have no 4K TV yet.

  • Indeed i remember taking a ****load of photos after killing RedMaw.
    Good stuff Guerilla, Good stuff!

  • CommandingTiger

    Sony. We don’t need a PS5 to be released next year. You may come out with a new PS4 Elite stronger than the Pro, but logically it’s the only thing that makes sense.
    You already have a ton of game in production for the PS4. And Final Fantasy 7 remake hasn’t been released yet.
    When the PS5 does come out, it needs to be entirely compatible with the PS4 games library.
    This PS4 Elite needs to have a 4k UHD Blu-ray Drive for better movies and games storage with higher read speed than 2x, between 4x and 16x.
    It also needs 24Gb of GDDR5 Ram. More than 10 Teraflops of computing Power.
    A better Vega/Nevi AMD GPU.
    I would highly recommend to purchase a company that manufactures Ram parts to save on it’s overall cost. Also you’ll need to tweet the CPU like what the Xbox Scorpio did with theirs to make it more adaptable to playing your games and your engine. Have your engineers and your developers work together along with third party developers to enhance the CPU to your liking with better overall performances.
    This console can be 500$ or 550$. It’s possible when you purchase a factory that manufactures RAM. It can be Chinese, whatever is cheapest to produce.

    • This is debatable honestly. I’d rather have a PS5 than a PS4 Elite. Honestly all you’re suggesting is making the XB1 Scorpio seem like its relevant instead of riding out this generation. Plus a lot can change in a year. All of those games could release between now and late 2018. A PS5 would make the Scorpio seem irrelevant. So yes we need a PS5. A system that can have games unique to it and play and enhance PS4 games. I’m not buying a PS4 Pro Part 2 especially after buying a PS4 PRo.

      Also this is a seriously off topic comment your making. It has nothing to do with Horizon.

    • CrusaderForever

      I don’t care if a PS5 is released as long as it can play all PS4 games like the Pro. I am also extremely fine with a PS4 Elite with better specs than the Scorpio. I am loving this no game left behind mentality. It needs to be the future of PlayStation going forward.

    • CommandingTiger

      Like I said. If Sony is to release a PS5, it need l’s 24Gb to 32Gb of Ram with Nevi GPU graphics card.
      It need to dwarf the Scorpio immensely while maintaining the price reasonable even at a cost initially.

      The only problem are the games promised for the PS4 that hasn’t been released yet.
      Like you said. A PS5 would need to play all PS4 games. That’s important. The same disc for PS4/PS5 until we absolutely need the PS5 then it becomes PS5 only and we drop the PS4 in 2020 2021 depending on the kind of games since some don’t need that high graphics like indies.

    • CommandingTiger

      Also, Microsoft could also release a new console if the PS5 is announced to try to stall the PS5 sales.
      IMO a PS5 could be revealed and announced at E3 2018 and released later that year.
      It would place Microsoft in disarray since they missed the E3 presentation and also it wouldn’t cannibalize the current PS4 and PS4 Pro sales for 2017 and early 2018.

      Remember when Sony announced the PS4 Pro and everyone waited for the Pro for 3 months? Imagine 18 months of “dry” month. We don’t want that. They announce the PS5 at E3 2018 and they reveal it around mid August with the specs.

      The PS5 also needs to be upgradable for Ram and GPU. No, it shouldn’t be a huge GPU and Ram bars like PC…
      Instead it should be something new using PCI-like read speed and think the N64 Ram Expansion pack, it needs to be that easy. The Ram should be as easy to change as SD cards.
      I know it doesn’t exist yet, but with Sony creating parts they need to invent it. It would rival the PC in terms of Power and Significantly More User Friendly.
      An option for overclocking could be good but don’t let it overclock as much as PC to prevent them from breaking.

  • Horizon was Open World Done right. Please continue with the strong emphasis on a strong core story. I loved the redmaw quest with one exception. There is no explanation for why Redmaw is what he is. As far as we can tell these things are rubber stamped from a factory. So how is Redmaw different other than being a legendary machine? It’s like Scar from Battlestar Galactica (2002). It was an AI that had died so many times that it had become especially aggressive. The pain of its death and the experience leading up to it made him a true threat to the Fleet. We know why. That’s what made him rise above the others. Would have been nice to have some kind of explanation for Redmaw after defeating it, perhaps leading to a prototype facility that experimented with a more unshackled Thunderjaw. After shutting this experiment down, Redmaw was faced with its survival over anything else.

    • CrusaderForever

      They did say, it was due to Redmaw’s many battles with hunters and surviving. Redmaw has gained so much experience and hate for man that it has become a truly scary and dangerous opponent. Even more dangerous than a normal Thunderjaw.

    • Johnny-Drama

      CrusaderForever – I don’t think he was speaking to its ferocity, but the size of Redmaw. If all these machines are pumped out like cookies from a factory, why is Redmaw so massive compared to other ThunderJaws. Sure, it’s angry and its hate towards man is obvious, but like Kaze, I too want to know why this one specific ThunderJaw is so much larger than all the others. Is it simply because of this size, because he was hunted or did he become more angry over time or was his temperament also increased to anger when he was created to be larger?

      Overall, why and how did he become larger? And, why are there no other ThunderJaw’s his size?

  • I was a little disappointed in this quest. I thought Redmaw would at least be Corrupted (hence his name) and that you would have to use different strategies than what you do against any normal Thunderjaw. Still a great game though even if this side quest was a bit of a letdown in the end.

    • CrusaderForever

      Yeah, I was disappointed that Redmaw wasn’t red with the blood of all the hunters he has killed. Oh well, still enjoyed it very much.

  • My favorite part of the quest is the look on Talanah’s face after Redmaw tail-swipes Ahsis. I’ve gone back and watched that many times.

    “Ahsis is holding his own.”

    “Was. Was holding his own.”

    • CrusaderForever

      I know! HAHA! That was amazing! The facial expressions in this game were very good. I look forward to the future of gaming and the facial features and expressions getting more and more realistic.

    • @CrusaderForever – Very good?…they are beyond great,especially for an open-world game.And it can’t get better than what ND does…just look at TLoU and UC4,it’s insanity.

  • whereymyconary

    Game was my biggest surprise this year hands down. Expected to enjoy but get bored of it like most sandboxes and found myself obsessed with the story and world. Very glad I ended up picking it up. No regrets what’s so ever with my purchase and looking forward to the expansion dlc.

  • So, when will we be able to create a character to join the Hunters Lodge? Offline/Online co op?

  • btw how do i get the platinum theme of HZD? i got plat sinds 21 march……

  • SureBigBuster

    Eff you dude!!!! That freaking thumbnail alone is a fracking spoiler!!!! Grrrrrr

    • Agree 100%,and a lot of spoiler…glad I got to Meridian before seeing this post.Wouldn’t be able to avoid the pic in the home page.

  • Nothing like knocking the disc launcher off of a redmaw, then hammering away at the big galoot with its own weapon :)

  • ERGOPROXY-DECAY

    Looks like the other 100 Trex robots I took down. Is he a lot stronger?

  • ERGOPROXY-DECAY

    Really hoping to see more robotic creatures. I’m surprised there isn’t a robotic looking Aloy….

  • CrusaderForever

    HZD just became my 34th Platinum. I really enjoyed the Redmaw mission. Loved how the a-hole Ahsis was hit with the Redmaw’s tale and went flying through the air! That was truly classic and won’t be forgotten. Fighting the Redmaw with Talanah was great. Finally bringing him down knowing I am minutes away from Platinum………..priceless! Thanks for a spectacular game and looking forward to Horizon Zero Dawn 2!

  • I scanned all of them I believe.

  • Ha what a coincidence,just finished the Redmaw quest yesterday…loved the story of the Hunters Lodge although I knew Talanah would become the Sunhawk it was great and she deserved.Was expecting more of Redmaw though.Doesn’t matter…Thunderjaws are damn amazing,always that feel of accomplishment when I take down one.

    Loved the Thunderjaw hanged on the Hunters Lodge…great job Guerrilla.Horizon is in a whole another department when it comes to games.Very few games can compete with it let alone this year…Horizon is already GOTY 2017,feel sorry for the other games.

  • Games GOAT of all time..gawddamn PERIOD.

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