Credits: Guerrilla Games/IGDB

‘Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores’ is a fun, if not revolutionary, addition to the series

Although its award cabinets might not show it, Horizon Forbidden West was undoubtedly a gaming highlight of 2022. The follow-up to 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn, the sequel leans further into its intersection between post-apocalyptic sci-fi and rural tribalism, while carefully refining and expanding its gameplay systems. So it was perhaps inevitable that developer Guerrilla was not quite ready to move onto their next game as of yet. The result? DLC featuring a trip to Los Angeles, which is now known as the eponymous “Burning Shores.” This is no holiday though, with another potentially-disastrous threat for series protagonist Aloy to avert.

Story spoilers for Horizon Forbidden West follow, as well as light spoilers for Burning Shores

First of all, the Burning Shores DLC does well to mitigate issues with Forbidden West’s pacing. The abrupt reveal of Horizon 3’s presumed antagonist — the malevolent AI matrix Nemesis — in the penultimate conversation of Forbidden West’s main questline, feels little more than tacked on. Burning Shores tackles the aftermath of Forbidden West, setting up an appropriate trajectory for the challenges Aloy (and company) will need to survive the times ahead. This exceeds the standard set by Zero Dawn’s Frozen Wilds expansion, which — albeit intentionally — does not add anything essential to the main narrative.

Already the best-looking game on the market from a graphical perspective, Burning Shores’ mid-cycle shift towards PS5 exclusivity has enabled Guerrilla to push the boundaries of fidelity even further. One improvement is Guerrilla’s innovation in cloud rendition, taking full advantage of both the PS5’s processing power — as well as the surprise addition of flying mounts midway through the third act of Forbidden West. By the time players were able to take to the skies aboard a Sunwing in the base game, this was primarily used to aid with clean-up rather than exploration. This is made up for in Burning Shores, with much of the DLC designed around flight. Whether it’s soaring around the landscape from above or taking a trip through the clouds, Guerrilla’s environmental achievements are extraordinary, and taking this in is an integral part of the experience.

Seyka operates as an effective foil for Aloy, and the two develop an enjoyable dynamic which is one of the highlights of the DLC’s storyline

Much of Aloy’s development throughout Forbidden West is about learning that she doesn’t have to go it alone as she (almost literally) bears the fate of the world on her shoulders. And while appearances from the base game’s cast are largely sporadic through Burning Shores, the DLC makes sure to continue this pathway. With the exception of the mysterious Sylens — portrayed, presumably for the final time, by the late Lance Reddick — Aloy has never met someone she can quite call a peer. This all changes with the introduction of Seyka, a Quen marine who accompanies Aloy throughout Burning Shores’ main questline as both characters seek answers in the ruins of LA. Seyka operates as an effective foil for Aloy, and the two develop an enjoyable dynamic which is one of the highlights of the DLC’s storyline.

As expected from any good piece of expansion content, Burning Shores provides some new toys to play with. There’s one new weapon type — the Specter Gauntlet, a piece of Zenith technology that serves as Aloy’s first departure from the tribal weapons she’s become used to. Extensions to the game’s skill trees offer new options, although largely speaking, these operate more as alternatives rather than augmentations to Aloy’s existing arsenal. It seems that Guerrilla is still holding something back for the eventual threequel. This is fine, but it becomes particularly apparent during some of the combat segments, especially when human enemies are involved — these remain bullet-spongy and lack the tactical intricacies of the machine combat the series has become famous for.

And of course, any new Horizon project is not complete without new machines to fight. While the Waterwing and Stingspawn are hardly worth accolades from a combat perspective (the Waterwing’s ability when mounted, to both take to the skies and dive underwater, is absolutely delightful though), the toad-like Bilegut adds to a range of well-designed mechanical foes. Leaping across the map to spit acid, it represents another satisfying challenge for the player.

Teased since the first game, Burning Shores offers the opportunity to take up arms against the series’ largest enemy yet — a gargantuan Horus which, waking from a long slumber, tears through the iconic Hollywood sign. While this fight’s mere implementation is a technical marvel that could be applauded in itself, it doesn’t quite deliver on the hype — feeling more like an upscaled version of Zero Dawn’s final boss. And while that does not specifically mark a failure, you can’t help but feel like there should be a bit more to offer.

Burning Shores is a worthy extension of Horizon Forbidden West. At about 6 hours for the main storyline, plus a similar amount of side content, it’s an enjoyable addition to the main game and well worth the purchase for anyone who wishes to keep up with the series. Ultimately though, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, opting to provide more of the same rather than any radical transformation. But I can respect that. Regardless, I’m looking forward to seeing where Guerrilla take Aloy and the world of Horizon next.



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