‘Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores’ Delivers Everything The Series Needs To Grow
The Horizon series has had a rough go.
Despite being one of the best new PlayStation franchises of the last decade, garnering tons of awards nominations and selling very well, it hasn’t really hit the zeitgeist in the way many expected.
Part of that may be its perpetual bridesmaid status, seemingly cursed to release in the shadow of similar open world games with just that extra bit of juice (2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and 2022’s Elden Ring, respectively), but there’s something to be said about this pseudo-sleeper series given that it’s now one of Sony’s most vital franchises.
Following the recent PlayStation VR2 launch title Call of the Mountain, the PS5-exclusive DLC Burning Shores helps cement the series as essential, continuing to expand both its world and storytelling capacity in ways the franchise sorely needed.
Priced at $19.99 USD and released digitally as DLC, Burning Shores picks up directly following the events of the second entry, Forbidden West, so you’ll need to both own and have completed the base game to access this new content.
Set a thousand years in the future, the Horizon series follows Aloy, an outcast in a tribal society built on the remnants of a ruined world. Headstrong and equipped with ancient tech, she’s spent the last 2.5 games quelling just about every rebellion, war, and local scuffle she stumbles across as the people’s champion-cum-savior, hoping to unite as many factions as she can to face their latest predicament: a world-killing AI barreling toward a woefully underprepared Earth. Just another day.
Like the first game’s (2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn) DLC expansion The Frozen Wilds, Burning Shores adds a wholly separate area to explore separate from the main game’s sprawling map, with its own distinct biome, characters, and questlines. Whereas Forbidden West featured the overgrown remnants of Las Vegas and San Francisco, Burning Shores takes place in the magma-riddled rubble of Los Angeles, although like the main games the degree to which nature has taken back the earth mostly obscures the locales outside of some very obvious iconic imagery and landmarks.
This time around, Aloy is following a lead from mentor-slash-frenemy Sylens (the late Lance Reddick, in what may be among his final roles). She’s tasked with hunting down an immortal Elon Musk-type whose nefarious plans most definitely include both spaceships and explosions (and maybe even some gaslighting and social chaos to boot).
Mechanically, Burning Shores builds on Forbidden West’s foundational gameplay, upping the level cap by 10 and adding a handful of new abilities – some of which provide substantial improvements to mobility and melee that are almost surprising for not existing already. There’s nothing here that dramatically changes the overall loop but the quality-of-life improvements to endgame play and a handful of new enemy variants freshen up the experience enough to warrant a revisit to this world.
The story, too, sees some improvements. Although it built massively off its predecessor’s world and ratcheted up the stakes (arguably too much), Forbidden West did a disservice to its hero by saddling Aloy with a detached savior complex, generally inconvenienced and annoyed by her heroic role. While the game’s world building and lore remained top notch, it was mostly the supporting cast around Aloy who developed while she remained a cheeky, yet stagnant bad ass destined for greater narrative hooks in the eventual finale to the trilogy.
The good news is that the story of Burning Shores quickly puts this to bed, pairing Aloy with a new companion, Seyka, and building one of the best interpersonal dynamics in the series. Unlike the majority of Aloy’s allies (and even most foes), Seyka isn’t just another NPC playing second fiddle to the protagonist in naïveté to the real dangers ahead. She has agency and moxie, every bit Aloy’s equal in both bravado and skill.
This plays out not just in the narrative, but functionally in combat as Seyka frequently lands crucial assists during regular combat and set pieces in ways no previous support character prior has in these games.
Portrayed by actor Kylie Liya Page opposite Horizon mainstay Ashly Burch (Aloy), Seyka represents the first supporting character to feel truly vital to the series since the first game’s introduction of Sylens (Lance Reddick).
Totaling anywhere from five to fifteen hours depending on your devotion to completionism, Burning Shores marries the best parts of main game — unfettered exploration and slick combat – with a story that feels both more playfully sardonic and even romantic, both of which befit the Hollywood setting. It feels like the developers at Guerilla Games are letting their hair down a bit and they’ve got some things to say. Although not quite as monumental, it approaches a step forward for the franchise as vital as the Left Behind DLC was for The Last of Us (there’s more than a few similarities).
It’s hard to say whether The Burning Shores visually outclasses the main campaign, but it sure feels like it. The fidelity presented here, even in Performance Mode at sub-4K resolution, is jaw dropping. Character models are intricately detailed and move fluidly, even during dialogue tree sequences that have historically pushed the series into the uncanny valley. Often surpassing recent graphical showcases like God of War: Ragnarök or The Last of Us: Part I, Horizon Forbidden West and this expansion are criminally overlooked as potentially having the best looking visuals ever rendered on a home console.
There are issues. The game suffers from frequent bugs and clipping, with dips to black between gameplay and dialogue a common occurrence. There’s also problems with both friendly and enemy AI that lead to characters getting stuck in the environment (or disappearing altogether) that require a reload to fix.
The biggest misstep lies with the new enemy types and boss battles, both of which have the feeling of ideas rolled over from earlier cut content that didn’t quite end up fully baked. The DLC’s boss battles are greater in scope than any the franchise has seen, but ultimately rely on specialized mechanics that the game ultimately wasn’t built around, often leading to frenzy and confusion, even as the game (and characters) desperately try to spoon feed the objective to you.
There’s also a frequent reliance on platforming sections — mainly inside tight corridors — that the chunky tank-like controls simply cannot gel with. At times, simple jumps feel outright impossible to time to the point of infuriation to the degree that multiple section of the game simply teleport you to safety if you fail (a feature the game never had previously and doesn’t consistently use now).
The same goes for the new enemy types, of which there’s basically one: an extremely agile machine whose movement and attacks feel beyond anything that the player can keep up with or reasonably dodge. With the difficulty set to “hard,” there’s a special kind of frustration derived from utilizing every tool in the box, only to have to resort to exploits and questionable frame dodges to take down a robot toad on cocaine.
In the grand scheme, these issues are minor but it’s a shame to have the niggling feeling of jank in an otherwise polished game that’s the fourth major release of its series.
But as far as single-player DLC goes, The Burning Shores is among the best recently produced. Streamlining gameplay and providing a meaty (and meaningful) campaign and side quests with minimal bloat, it advances the Horizon series in numerous ways and continues to solidify the series as one of the crown jewels of the PlayStation brand. Play it now before the next Zelda arrives to steal the thunder once more.
Horizon Forbidden West: The Burning Shores is now available to download on PlayStation 5.