Guerilla Games has done a fantastic job with Horizon: Forbidden West by taking a strong foundation of ideas and casting a wide net of new mechanics and refined polish for a sequel that completely dwarfs the original in terms of scope and visuals. Not only does the game manage to impress with its moment-to-moment gameplay, Horizon: Forbidden West also shines bright as a strong reminder of the PS5’s graphical grunt and a testament to the rendering prowess of the Decima Engine.
Even after a year since its release, Horizon: Forbidden West stands tall as one of the best looking open worlds on the market. Thanks to the newly released Burning Shores expansion, we are getting another chance to dive deep into this beautifully desolate world and see what’s under the hood with this PS5 exclusive expansion.
Horizon: Forbidden West Burning Shores – What’s New?
The Burning Shores expansion transports players into a post-apocalyptic rendition of Los Angeles where all kinds of hazards lie in wait for series protagonist Aloy. But unlike the base game which was a cross-gen release, the Burning Shores expansion is only available for the PS5 – which has allowed the developer to increase fidelity levels in certain areas without having to worry about how to scale back for weaker hardware.
This in turn results in a richer presentation for the world. While the rendering pipeline hasn’t changed all that much in terms of micro level detail, players will be able to observe the general uptick in draw distance and increase in visual complexity within the environments as they find their bearings in this new land. That said, the Burning Shores DLC would have been the perfect opportunity to introduce current-gen elements to the presentation like ray-traced indirect lighting – but that obviously didn’t make the cut this time around.
The Burning Shores DLC introduces a new element to the environment – the lava. It’s an important part of the expansion’s visual identity, so it stands to reason that the rendering for the same should be spot on. That is thankfully the case, and we get to see a detailed representation of lava with a dense mesh for the surface and appropriate shading to simulate the glaze and sheen for the lava texture. The lava reflects light out into the surrounding environments, which cover the surrounding terrain in a reddish tint. Pools of lava also radiate huge amounts of volumetric smoke out into the environments, which adds to the richness of it all. This is coupled with a healthy amount of alpha particles that simulate the ash emerging out of lava. Finally, we also get to see some photorealistic textures for the volcanic rocks – complete with all the geometric complexity that one would expect from Decima’s terrain rendering system.
The cloudscapes have also seen a considerable uptick in quality with the Burning Shores DLC. Guerilla Games’ Decima Engine is already a pioneer when it comes to rendering realistic clouds thanks to its new tech, but the DLC pushes those rendering techniques even further. Entire cloudscapes are 3D voxels that react accordingly to light and deform accordingly as the player skirts through the skies. You can also see clouds covering the skies far out into the distance, which really helps convey a sense of scale within these environments as well.
In a similar vein, you can also make out an increased level of detail away from the camera thanks to better draw distance this time around. Guerilla Games already utilizes a clever implementation for simulating the scale within the environments with height fog and distant shadows, and it works to great effect over here as well. That said, we did notice plenty of texture detail pop-ins during the opening shot of Burning Shores where Aloy arrives on to the scene while riding atop her flying mount.
Switching gears over to the water rendering, the base game features some really detailed meshes that simulate the movement of water in streams and oceans. Water physics also does a good job of aggregating ripples and flow pressure, and now that Burning Shores gets to use the entirety of PS5’s processing power without any limitations – these simulations can be more realistic than before. The skiff is a new vehicle that Aloy can use to cross water bodies quickly, and it produces proper gurgling around the motors as well. Mathias De Jong hinted at better simulations for physics in Burning Shores during an interview with PlayStation Blog, but these changes aren’t necessarily visible to the naked eye.
Apart from the aforementioned changes, there doesn’t seem to be much of a change when it comes to the asset quality of the textures that comprise the environment. You might be able to make out more complexity in terms of props and foliage density in certain scenes, but there’s nothing really new in terms of rendering techniques themselves.
Horizon: Forbidden West provided a huge leap over the original with characters that have highly detailed skin meshes and clothes composed of physically based materials. Characters would also express themselves in a better fashion through expressive facial animations and movement of limbs – which was a far cry from the original that was pretty bland.
The Burning Shores DLC doesn’t really seem to improve much upon the character rendering for the most part. The models have roughly the same polycounts as the base game, and there’s no additional detailing on the models to speak of. The same story continues over in the Machines department as well. Take for instance, the new Bilegut which is a fast enemy that spews venomous bile all across the arena while moving around in an aggressive fashion. You can see the many individual components that make up the machine, and different parts are composed of different materials that come together in an identical fashion to the base game.
Graphical Modes And Differences
The Burning Shores DLC gives players a total of three options when it comes to choosing graphics – a favor resolution mode and a favor performance mode. Much like the original, the Favour resolution mode presents the game at a resolution of 2160p with a pass of TAA and FXAA to further clean up the image, but the frame rate is limited to 30fps. The favor performance knocks down the image quality to 1800p upscaled via checkerboard rendering, and instead bumps the frame rate up to 60fps.
There’s also a new Balanced mode this time around, which bumps the frame-rate to 40fps while keeping the visual features of the Resolution mode. That said, this mode is only available on displays that have a refresh rate of 120 Hz. Burning Shores also brings with it full support for VRR and HRR which improves dynamic resolution scaling in the performance mode.
As for the changes between the three modes, the Favour Resolution and Balanced mode don’t seem to have any major differences in the visual presentation. Apart from a lower internal image, the Favour Performance mode also knocks back detail on faraway objects which will result in visible pop-in for objects far from the camera – especially in the peripheral vision cones. Everything else like the texture quality, the reflections and foliage density remain the same across the three modes.
Loading Times, Performance, And Conclusion
Horizon: Forbidden West makes good use of the PS5’s SSD capabilities to deliver a snappy experience when it comes load times. Burning Shores takes anywhere from 7 to 10 seconds to get you into the game, which is roughly the same amount of time it took with the base game. As for the performance, the game does a good job of holding its performance targets for the most part. There are a couple of hitches and slowdowns here and there, but that is to be expected from an open-world game like this one – so that isn’t a really big deal.
In conclusion, Horizon: Forbidden West Burning Shores is a great expansion that adds more content to a game that’s already brimming with oodles of things to do and vistas to witness. While there isn’t much of a bump in terms of fidelity with the transition to a PS5 exclusive, players will be able to notice the difference in more chaotic fights and complex settlements as they explore the far reaches of this new map.