Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores DLC Review
Horizon: Burning Shores surprised me. Having spent over seventy hours exploring the already massive world of Forbidden West, the game’s empty ending left me wanting. As much love as I have for the series and its world, I was skeptical that Aloy’s journey to LA would be less of a blockbuster and more of a second-class side story featuring a tear-up in tinsel town. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Set in the immediate aftermath of Horizon: Forbidden West, Burning Shores sees Aloy travel further down the robot ravaged American West Coast in pursuit of a new lead from Sylens (voiced once again by the late Lance Reddick) that could stave off Earth’s second extinction and the impending threat of Nemesis that looms large over the climax of the 2022 game. After crash landing in a new seaside settlement fashioned by the Quen, the data-driven seafarers players first encountered during the Forbidden West campaign, Aloy is quickly drawn into helping new ally Seyka. The immediate affinity of the two headstrong warriors forms the crux of Burning Shores’ story.
With Forbidden West so focused on the bigger picture, I felt it often failed to tell the smaller, inbetween, stories that Zero Dawn did so well, especially where Aloy was concerned. Burning Shores feels like developer Guerilla Games correcting that course, giving Aloy room to breathe in a story that connects to her as much as it does the wider world. Our superheroic Nora Champion is allowed to be charming, funny, confident, even anxious at times — a three-dimensional character. When the overarching story is as loud as possible, with set pieces that Michael Bay would say were too much, there are subtle character-building moments playing out underneath. This quality was sorely lacking in large parts of the Forbidden West campaign, but it shows through here and lifts every other aspect of the game.
Naturally, this being an expansion, not much has changed fundamentally: The gameplay remains as fun as it always has been, with four new enemies entering the fray to mix things up. Encountering the massive Bilegut, a giant robot frog, for the first time makes for quite the reintroduction to combat. Especially if, like me, you’ve not picked Forbidden West up since the credits rolled. Not only is the Bilegut huge, but it’s surprisingly agile, has the ability to grapple with its tongue, and generates Stingspawn; another new machine. I often found myself distracted, fending off these flying nasties whilst the larger enemy waited to pounce. Stealth is the recommended option here, it would transpire. Another new addition is the Waterwing; a combined air and water machine that Aloy will get to know very well whilst the final, and most fearsome, foe Aloy will face won’t be revealed here to not ruin anything.
I’m going to be equally vague when it comes to new weaponry too, but there is a swathe of legendary weapons and armor to unlock; all with their own nuances. Ten new skills have also been added across Aloy’s skill trees, all of which were easily incorporated into my arsenal and even had me experimenting with new gameplay techniques as I approached the one hundred hours mark. Aiming the new mystery weapon whilst gliding leaves a little to be desired, but I’m particularly fond of the healing smoke bombs which, well, do exactly what they say on the tin. Although my favourite new move might be Machine Grapple, an ability which allows Aloy to latch on to downed enemies before delivering a critical blow. As is always the case with Horizon, players will be able to tune Aloy’s skillset to their liking and the new abilities make enemy encounters increasingly more dynamic.
Enhanced by these new options, moment-to-moment gameplay is as fun as ever. Yet, Guerilla’s tendency to mishandle boss fights rears its ugly head once again at the end of the game. The main quest’s closing sequence begins as the kind of spectacular Shadow of the Colossus scale finale that I wish Horizon did more of. However, it’s not all that fun to actually play and, much like fighting the all-powerful Zeniths in the main game, Burning Shores’ Walter Londra kind of just goes through the motions. To give him credit though, unlike the other Zeniths, he’s is a far more memorable bad guy.
Londra is the expansion's enigmatic villain who draws in wide-eyed members of the shipwrecked Quen. A consciously Hollywood caricature befitting a final stand in the hills, his is a story with a somewhat predictable outcome. However, the journey to get there is deserving of red carpet treatment. Sam Witwer does a brilliant job at bringing Londra to life as a messianic, fantasist grifter even whilst his louder and more outrageous sci-fi story plays second fiddle to a narrative about family and belonging that blossoms subtly underneath. There’s a wonderful drive to the storytelling that makes it feel like there is rarely time to waste. As such, I didn’t often deviate from the game’s golden path for the eight (or so) hours I spent with the main quest. The growing bond between Aloy and Seyka — herself portrayed masterfully by Kylie Liya Page — combined with unravelling the game’s core mystery gave the expansion some much needed directon, another element that was severely lacking throughout Forbidden West.
As a result, much of my exploring happened after credits had rolled. The Burning Shores are the most varied of Horizon’s many biomes, combining urban exploration with sailing the waters that surround the new area’s islands. Aloy’s new alliance with Seyka grants access to a skiff, and this small boat allows for easy travel between islands in the early going. Side note: I’m not surprised this is a PS5 xxxx exclusive given the sheer amount of water-based exploration. However, it wasn’t long until I regained access to my trusty flying mount. Unfortunately, this sort of renders Aloy’s new toy a bit useless, and turned using the skiff into a choice that I rarely made. The islands themselves see the concrete jungle meet the actual jungle. Remnants of skyscrapers and narrow, overgrown streets form much of the densely packed landscape, with notable LA landmarks like the Capitol Records Building and Griffith Observatory standing out above the rest of the ruins.
This is the most urban Horizon has ever felt, and yet I feel like this was rarely highlighted or capitalised on. Optional collectables and relic ruins do allow Aloy to go full ‘urban explorer’, but I’d have liked to see more of the side quests explore what makes this area so different. To be honest, I’d have liked more side quests in general; there are only three in the whole expansion. This fractured and smouldering version of Sothern California is explored during the main quests, but these sections are naturally more focused. Burning Shores does take Aloy to plenty of unfamiliar territory, and the underlying comedy and intrigue that comes with seeing everyday areas through the Horizon lens is amplified with Sekya by her side. I was so glad she was there to ask all the questions. That stands out because, by the end of Forbidden West, I was almost past caring about answers.
As much as I enjoyed having new areas to explore, new machines to battle, and new ways to experiment with the game’s excellent combat — not to mention this game is gorgeous to look at — Burning Shores has rekindled my love for the world of Horizon and brought focus (excuse the pun) to the story and some much-neeed personality to Aloy as a character. Ultimately, it’s about balance. It turns out it’s easy for me to immerse myself in a loud and over the top sci-fi world filled with gargantuan animalistic robots. Just give me something (or someone) to latch on to and invest in. It may be a side story, and an optional piece of content, but Burning Shores is a breath of fresh air and a vital part of the Horizon canon.
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