The Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores expansion feels like the kind of DLC we got in the 90s. It takes everything you know about the base game and builds upon it, adding new mechanics, a story that is more impactful because of the shorter runtime, the biggest boss fight in the series to date, and an emotional beat for protagonist Aloy that’s relatable, joyful, and a little painful.
Related: Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores DLC Walkthrough – Quests, Collectibles, Challenges & Machines
Pushing the Forbidden West to a New Level
This DLC takes Aloy to a new region in the world of the Horizon series, the Burning Shores. The region is a post-post-apocalyptic version of Los Angeles, and time has not been kind to it. Energetic tectonic activity has created pockets of islands where once there was a solid landmass, and lava spills out into the ocean as if the Earth is still in its primordial state. Colors pop and the environment just suits the series far better than anything that’s come before. The machines of the Horizon games may as well be futuristic dinosaurs, and with the raw edges of the Burning Shores still being formed out of molten rock, everything just gels so much better.
The other part of what makes the world so easy to enjoy is the power of the PlayStation 5. Burning Shores is a step up from Horizon Forbidden West, partly because it’s a PS5 exclusive. The framerate is smoother, the world looks more vibrant, and the whole expansion plays like a movie. Guerrilla has gone above and beyond to make gorgeous cinematic experiences here with the most unbelievable cutscene-to-gameplay transitions I’ve ever seen. Of course, the shows on show help this, and the DLC is packed with them.
Spoilers ahead for Horizon Forbidden West.
The story revolves around finding a Far Zenith character, Walter Londra, who fled the Forbidden West before Aloy had the chance to fight him. Aloy and Sylens, the latter of whom is brilliantly portrayed by the late Lance Reddick, believe Londra may have knowledge that will help them beat Nemesis. When she arrives, Londra’s Far Zenith technology shoots her down and effectively traps her in the new region. I love the contextual reason for Aloy to stick around so long because she usually moves through the world so quickly after each major story beat.
Smaller Open World Sandbox, Much Bigger Impact
The only tribe in the Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores DLC is the Quen. The other half of Alva’s fleet was stranded here, and they’ve carved out a pretty decent life. It’s lovely to see Guerrilla expand upon the idea of a tribe building a life somewhere new and showing what that looks like in the context of Horizon’s world. Through little more than environmental storytelling, the tribe is fleshed out so much more, making for a truly believable world.
I won’t spoil the DLC’s story for you except to tell you that it’s brilliant and satisfying to play through. Every quest, main or side, is memorable and delivers some sort of update to the mechanics you grew bored of in the base game. For example, the Pullcaster can now be used to remove vent covers in the middle of a skyscraper’s wall and keep Aloy in the air through improved agility-based movements. This plays into the new skills you can get, allowing you to approach every fight in a new way, making this feel like a new game.
Most of the joy I felt while playing came from discovery. I learned more about the Quen, saw Aloy do new things as if she’d always done them, used machines in unexpected ways, and utilized every new weapon and outfit to have the best machine battles in the series. Burning Shores only adds a few, but they’re all my favorite to fight. The final boss fight against a legendary, almost mythological creature in the Horizon universe is the highlight of the series, and a machine you’ve been building up to fight for two games.
All of these improvements feel like they were pulled from my inner thoughts that I had while playing the base game. Guerrilla Games has clearly observed, listened, and iterated upon what worked in a way that delivers new things players didn’t know they wanted. It’s just enough on the side without making you sick of the main course, like a large order of cheesy chips with a bacon and brie panini. You can even see this in the design of the collectible quest expansions. A set of five dinosaurs is split up into five fairly large puzzles that would have each been a single Relic Ruin in the base game. Vista Points, too, have been updated to make you think outside the box, engage with Aloy’s surroundings, and just generally get more out of every square inch of the environment than you would in most other open worlds.
Nothing Feels Badly Designed, Poorly Implemented, or Negative in General
There are so many moments in this expansion that would make for the highlight of any other game that I can’t land on a single one to demonstrate why I couldn’t stop playing the Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores DLC. I could say that somehow the story establishes two brand new and incredibly memorable characters in Seyka, amazingly brought to life by Kylie Liya Page, Aloy’s companion in every main quest, and Walter Londra, another character crafted by the skill and screen presence of Sam Witwer , the main antagonist. Both actors behind these characters give outstanding performances, cementing them as much in my mind as any character I’ve played alongside through two full main-line Horizon games. I could tell you that every Bilegut machine fight is a memorable moment because the machine has so many layers to it that any battle with one is more like a 15-minute mission. This is all without pointing at the Horus fight, a colossal battle across several phases, as a landmark moment for games and the culmination of everything you see in Burning Shores that far outshines most of what you’ll watch on Netflix these days. But really, the highlight of this additional content to an already amazing game is Seyka and Aloy’s story.
From the moment Aloy meets Seyka, you can tell there’s something different about this relationship. Over the course of several hours, you see them connect as you would with anyone you like a little more than just as a friend. By the time the credits roll, the two kiss after confessing that they’re pretty much in love with how the other is a badass machine fighting, and incredibly capable woman who also wears her heart on her sleeve.
But there’s more that this love story has to give. Aloy has a long road ahead of her to defeat Nemesis, and Seyka needs to help her tribe recover from the losses it’s suffered under Londra. This climax has a tinge of pain because neither party can stay with the other; they both have to head off and do something incredibly important despite their longing desire to sit put and spend their lives together. It is beautiful and tangible, and speaks mountains without using many words. Anyone who has been in a long-distance relationship knows a fraction of the pain Seyka and Aloy are feeling, but to see their love portrayed so vulnerably at all is a feat in itself. I had always suspected Aloy was gay ever since Horizon Zero Dawn. To see my version of this character as the canon one on-screen at the conclusion of the latest part of this epic story felt validating and uplifting. I’m sure my feelings are far more subdued than those of someone who can identify with these characters even more.
The Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores DLC is phenomenal. No game has ever made me feel so good about sitting down to play every time I load it up. Most titles have lulls or pain points, but I didn’t see anything in Burning Shores that didn’t feel incredible. It’s so many things, the culmination of hundreds of hours spent in this universe across two games, the most touching moment for a beloved character alongside the introduction of another who is equally adored, and a meaningful addition to the series that expands upon the lore laid out at the end of the main title.
Only a few games get the balance of interesting gameplay elements, story, and side content right, and I think there are a lot of other developers that could learn from what Guerrilla Games has done here. I’m not only excited for the future of Horizon franchise, but I also want to go back and play the entire series again so I can experience once more a single iota of how good Burning Shores feels off the back of playing already phenomenal games. You might wish you could delete your memories of Avatar: The Last Airbender so you can rewatch all three Books for the first time, but I want to erase my memories of Aloy’s franchise so I can fall in love with her in the final moment of this DLC once more now I’ve finished its breathtaking story.
|+||Iterates on every mechanic from the base game in a meaningful way that benefits players. =|
|+||Excellent environmental storytelling that makes you feel more immersed.|
|+||Thoughtful advancements in machines, combat, and quest design that give players what they actually wanted, not more of the same.|