Of all the games I played last year, Horizon Forbidden West was my absolute favorite. I love the lore, the lead character and supporting cast, the storytelling, and the combination of action combat and adventure-like exploration and exposition. It should come as no surprise that I was very excited about the Burning Shores DLC when it was announced last year.
With that being said, expansions are usually not my thing. Most spin their own standalone tale within the framework of the main game but do not extend it or move it forward. Unless the gameplay is outstanding and the sole driver of the experience, DLCs face an uphill battle trying to convince me. And even in those gameplay-is-king cases, like Control, the expansions failed to entertain. I want more lead protagonist, more main story. Random side content that may or may not have ties to the main events rarely tickles my fancy. The issue comes down to the importance and meaningfulness of the new adventure. What could be significant enough to jump back into a game when the main objective is completed and the big bad boss is defeated?
(Rhymin’ and stealin’)
Horizon Zero Dawn’s expansion, The Frozen Wilds, was a new adventure, yet it also laid some groundwork for what would come in Horizon Forbidden West. Together with the fact that I just really enjoyed Zero Dawn, I happily played it. Forbidden West was an even better game, and I expected something similar from its DLC. In fact, it was my most anticipated “game” in 2023.
Burning Shores did not disappoint and delivered more of what made the base game an extraordinary experience: gorgeous visuals, entertaining combat, a couple of new machines, new skills, another Zenith threat, and a new side to Aloy’s character.
I immensely enjoyed my time in the destroyed and flooded future Los Angeles, and I want more Horizon because of that.
(Tomorrow, if possible. Kthxbye)
I think I can keep this review relatively short since the game’s core is still the same. We’ll see how it went when I write my famous last words 😉.
The Nerdy Bits
If you read my review of Forbidden West, you know I played the base game on the PlayStation 4 Pro. If you have not… well… now you know. And also: shame on you. The Burning Shores DLC is actually the reason why I finally bought a PS5. It is not available on the previous generation, and after hearing other opinions and having time to process my experience, I understand why.
Before the Burning Shores, I played maybe sixty to seventy percent of Forbidden West on the PS5, so I already witnessed the visual qualities myself. While Burning Shores does not change the graphical underpinnings significantly, it leverages modern hardware to render an enormous amount of detail that would have probably choked the geriatric PS4 CPU.
Los Angeles is a sight to behold, as ruined as it is. Swallowed by the ocean, only several islands remain of what today is the home of millions and millions of people. Crumbled skyscrapers line the islands’ coasts, overtaken by Horizon’s familiar flora and fauna. Vestiges of an earlier civilization are everywhere, and the amount of geometric detail representing crumbled edifices is mind-boggling. Prepare yourself for some fantastic vistas, whether on foot, on a boat…
… or in the air.
Islands come in different varieties. The smaller ones are relatively flat, while the larger ones are usually highly jointed. There is a lot of verticality here. Los Angeles was erected on top of the San Andreas Fault, and in Horizon’s future, earthquakes and seismic activity have opened the earth to reveal volcanic streams burning the land and ending on the shores – given the area its name. Completing the picture of destruction and inhospitality is the carcass of a Horus war machine hugging the Hollywood sign.
It is not just the environments that are incredibly detailed. Fleet’s End, the central hub of the expansion, is full of odds and ends everywhere, making it appear dense and lively.
The talk of the town is how Guerilla Games overhauled the cloud rendering. Although the result is truly spectacular, clouds are the last thing I notice in most games. My focus is usually somewhere that is not the sky, even when I am flying a Sunwing or one of its friends. However, Guerilla designed one encounter especially to show off the new tech that lets you fly directly into a storm cloud. This was the only actual instance where the higher quality noticeably improved the experience. I found the rain enshrouding the island of said encounter a lot more impressive. Look how the raindrops affect the water close to the camera and further away. This visual feature greatly enhanced the immersion more than the prettier clouds.
Lastly, Horizon Burning Shores supports spectacular physics-adjacent destruction of stone structures. Although I mention it last, the game introduces this immediately once you land on the Burning Shores. It is not random physics-based mayhem as displayed recently in The Finals or the old Red Faction games. The structures you can destroy are tied to a new gameplay element, the unstable Firegleam. Shoot it with your bow, and shortly after, it blows up and damages whatever is near it and destroys the structure it was attached to.
Performance was a non-issue during my time on the Burning Shores. I played in the game’s Performance mode, and aside from a few traversal stutters here and there, the framerate was rock-solid. I was somewhat surprised by the loading times, though. My PS4 Pro with an SSD did not feel that much slower. Maybe this is because Horizon Forbidden West is still a cross-gen game at its core, or I am simply misremembering it. Loading was generally quick, don’t get me wrong. My perception may also be skewed by Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart, which I played before.
The Burning Shores DLC does not reinvent the wheel and only adds a few new elements. I already mentioned the unstable Firegleam you can use as explosives. Traversing the remains of Los Angeles is tailored toward using a flying machine, evidenced by several hidden stashes on rooftops that are covered by trap doors only a Sunwing or one of his airborne buddies can remove. The designers also added trap doors for which the Pullcaster does not work. Instead, Aloy pulls herself to it and uses her spear to clear the way. I assume this was only added for variety, as it serves no particular purpose. A more interesting addition is the Aerial Capture, which replaces the Vantage Points of Zero Dawn or the Vista Points of Forbidden West. You find a radio signal source, and once discovered, Aloy’s Focus reconstructs a flight path you must follow. At checkpoints during your flight, you hear recordings of past events, and at the last checkpoint, an image grants a glimpse into the past, just like the Vantage & Vista Points of yore.
The rest is standard Horizon Forbidden West fare. You get a few new outposts and a new Cauldron –guarded by a level 60 Apex Fireclaw, of all things.
(💩’s on fire, so fair enough.)
The only main element missing is a Tallneck. I presume there is not enough continuous space to let one walk around.
Characters & Story
After defeating the Zeniths in Forbidden West, Aloy and her friends desperately need a miracle to help defeat the looming threat of Nemesis. The Burning Shores expansion hooks onto that idea and introduces a Far Zenith member who escaped the attack on the Zenith base at the end of Forbidden West. The dude turns out to be a real douchebag who uses the Quen washed up on the shores of LA for his nefarious getaway plan. Aloy intends to stop him from causing any trouble and hopefully learn about ways that help against Nemesis.
When Aloy “lands” on the Burning Shores, she meets Seyka, a Quen marine searching for missing people from her tribe. As the story progresses, Aloy learns that her and Seyka’s missions are connected. The expansion consists of five main and three side missions. Seyka joins Aloy on the main quests, and they become friends during their adventures.
The exciting piece about their relationship is that Aloy has finally met her equal. Seyka is an equally driven, emotional, and strong personality as Aloy, even more so than Zo, I would argue. Because of this, she connects differently with Seyka compared to her other friends, and it shows an as-of-yet-unseen character trait: admiration. Guerilla decided to use this opportunity to let Aloy develop an affection for a person, something that was absent so far – which I found to be the right decision. And it also makes sense, given how during the events of Forbidden West, she learned that she does not have to do it all alone and that building friendships is a good thing.
Both converse a lot on their journeys about their experiences and situations and what both are currently up against. Aloy struggles with herself about exposing Seyka to the truth of the imminent threat of Nemesis while Seyka is dealing with her own problems. It is a dilemma that causes some conflict and has Aloy concerned about their friendship.
The Burning Shores expansion is as much about preparing for the inevitable Horizon 3 as it is about further developing Aloy’s character. I appreciate that. It was the main driving factor that made me want to play more. The great gameplay is just the cherry on top of the icing on the cake.
Forbidden West already contained several main missions with companions, and Burning Shores ups this by always having a companion at Aloy’s side. I wonder if this could become a staple of a successor and, as such, an opportunity for coop gameplay.
Famous Last Words
I had a ton of fun, and the end credits left me wanting for more. Next to the final boss fight, the relationship between Aloy and Seyka is the highlight of this expansion.
Besides that, there is a very well-hidden and cryptic scavenger hunt to discover what happened to a group of Oseram delvers. This is not an official quest, so you will not get waypoint markers. It is up to you to either look under every rock or decipher the riddle describing the directions. I discovered the locations in the wrong order, which messed things up. The same is true for Aerial Captures. There is a quest-breaking bug that stops you dead if you do not find the “north” location first. It is supposed to be patched in v1.023 of the game, but it was not for me.
You’ll also find an ancient ruin that turns into one of the three side quests. While exploring the ruin, you meet a very old friend in a déjà-vu situation and help him yet again. This expansion contains more exploration of ancient ruins, bunkers, and platforming elements that I immensely enjoyed in Horizon Zero Dawn relative to Forbidden West. I even called the Ancient ruins in Forbidden West a “secret highlight”, which made me very happy to find one.
The DLC sports plenty of challenging action missions. However, Burning Shores strikes a better balance between the combat and adventure gameplay elements. I like the dark and creepy bunkers where I can find notes and audio logs that create a bigger picture. I enjoyed it when Aloy and Seyka were talking to each other, finding things together. It has a bit of an Uncharted vibe – without all the destruction.
One bad segue later, I can tell you what does cause destruction: the boss battle. If Guerilla Games had not shown it in trailers, I would not mention it either. But since they basically spoiled it themselves, I can provide some incredible impressions of fighting a Horus. It was a much better boss fight than smacking Tilda’s specter-butt in Forbidden West.
The battle has several stages, and I will leave it at that. It was fun and exciting. The Horus is the most giant machine Aloy had to fight so far, and the scale was simply breathtaking. So, I am extremely curious about what Nemesis will be like. It can’t be smaller now.
My investment of 20€ netted me around 17 hours of quality playtime. I wish there were more exciting stuff to find in the many ruins of LA. As beautiful as the scenery is, it is also very empty. If it were real, it would make sense, of course. Nothing of import would survive for that long. But it is not reality, and looking around was a waste of time for the most part. The most fun item I picked up was a toy bow that Aloy could even equip. There was no achievement for destroying a machine with, sadly. I wasted quite some time on that.
If you liked Horizon Zero Dawn and Forbidden West, you would also like the Burning Shores. It is more of the same, as dull as it sounds. But it is a good thing because Forbidden West is already brilliant.
I cannot wait until the next entry in this franchise arrives.
I hope you enjoyed this little review that barely cracked the 2200 words mark. It’s like a Haiku by my standards.
Thank you for reading.