Horizon Forbidden West was a stellar sequel, and easily among my favourite games of 2022, so when I say that its expansion, Burning Shores, is in many ways more of the same, I mean that as very high praise. It boasts many of the strengths that made Forbidden West such a compelling experience, and that loop of traversal, exploration, combat, and questing remains as engaging as it was in the base game- maybe even more so, owing to a few small yet smart improvements and additions on the gameplay front.
But while “more of the same” is an appropriate way to describe Burning Shores where its gameplay offerings are concerned, when it comes to its story, that doesn’t quite do it justice. While most expansions tend to be largely skippable and inessential in the grand scheme of things, Burning Shores is quite the opposite. Not only does it serve as a better conclusion to Forbidden West’s story than the base game’s own ending did, it also sets up Horizon 3 in ways that series fans can’t afford to miss.
"Not only does it serve as a better conclusion to Forbidden West’s story than the base game’s own ending did, it also sets up Horizon 3 in ways that series fans can’t afford to miss."
The expansion is set after the events of Horizon Forbidden West, and kicks off when Sylens sends Aloy off on a mission to retrieve crucial information on some of the base game’s biggest ending revelations. Her quest sees her heading off to the ruins of Los Angeles, an area that’s now known simply as the Burning Shores. There isn’t much I can say about the story and how it plays out without spoiling some of the base game’s biggest twists and reveals, but suffice it to say, it ends up feeling much more essential to the series’ story and where it’s headed than some may have thought it would. It also boasts an incredible climax with a stellar final boss and astounding set piece sequence- but again, that’s something that’s best left unspoiled.
What I can talk about are the characters, who have a big role to play in why Burning Shores’ story is so compelling. The expansion delivers probably some of the best characters the Horizon series has had to date. The main antagonist, Walter Londra, is a great villain, and the game does an excellent job of building up his persona as a morally corrupt billionaire with the mother of all superiority complexes, whose ego is endlessly fed by blindly loyal followers. I do wish he had more of a presence than he does, and he does end up feeling a little underutilized, but he does make a strong impression nonetheless.
Then there’s Seyka, an even stronger character, and probably one of Burning Shores’ brightest spots. A member of the Quen tribe, she has a massive role in the expansion, and is essentially by Aloy’s side for most of the main story. She’s a strong personality, and holds up a mirror to Aloy in several ways, sharing her fierceness, intelligence, and capability, and seeing the two interact and seeing their dynamic grow and change elevates the narrative significantly. Incidentally, Seyka is yet more evidence of how surprisingly essential Burning Shores feels to the larger story, because the way she’s been built up here and the way the expansion has set up future events, it’s abundantly clear that Seyka is going to have a major role to play. Meanwhile, Aloy, too, comes across as a more human and nuanced character in Burning Shores than she has in the past. In a nutshell, then, the characters and character interactions in Burning Shores are probably the best we’ve ever seen from the Horizon series.
"The characters and character interactions in Burning Shores are probably the best we’ve ever seen from the Horizon series."
When it comes to the gameplay side of things, the expansion is a meaty offering, with a map that’s almost a third of the base game’s massive map’s size and remains fun and engaging to explore thanks to how well designed it is. The city of Los Angeles is more than half-sunken, and all that remains of it are pockets of small islands, volcanic areas, and a whole lot of water. There is, of course, also plenty of the dense and overgrown plantlife that you expect to see in Horizon, and all of that, combined with unique renditions of a number of LA landmarks, makes for a map with plenty of environmental variety. Beyond that, it also emphasizes flight mechanics much more than Forbidden West did – which makes sense, since you unlock flight towards the very end of the base game – and the verticality of locations and being able to seamlessly go from flying through the clouds to diving underwater does add to the exploration and traversal quite a bit.
The content filling out that map doesn’t deviate from Forbidden West’s framework too much, with a lot of familiar side activities returning in the expansion. The base game was an absolutely massive experience that had all of these in abundance, so personally, I wasn’t really onboard with the idea of diving into that loop of seeking out all that optional content again, but if you’re looking for a meaty new piece of Horizon content, you’re going to find it here. Burning Shores’ main story will take you about 6-7 hours to finish, but if you’re not just sticking to the critical path, you can easily get around 10-15 hours out of the expansion.
Burning Shores also brings with it plenty of additions that you’d expect to see in a new Horizon release, like new Valor Surges, skills to unlock, a weapon to use in combat, outfits, collectibles, and more. The Valor Surges in particular are worth highlighting thanks to the unique twists they add on top of combat to make it even more enjoyable- like being able to grapple to a knocked down enemy to deal critical damage. Meanwhile, it also goes without saying that there are a few new Machines to fight and/or tame as well. While I do wish the expansion had a larger roster of new Machines than it does, the ones it does introduce are solid additions. The massive frog-like Bilegut in particular stands out owing to its unique design and the kind of threat it poses in fights, while the Waterwing, which can both fly and dive underwater, improves the traversal loop by quite a margin.
"Horizon Forbidden West was already an astoundingly beautiful game, but its expansion somehow manages to look even better."
I’d also be remiss not to mention just how gorgeous Burning Shores looks. Horizon Forbidden West was already an astoundingly beautiful game, but its expansion somehow manages to look even better. From the level of detail in its environments to how good the character models and their faces look to the incredible level of nuance in the animations both in gameplay and in cutscenes, Burning Shores is an absolute visual and technical stunner. Forbidden West already ranked as one of the best-looking games ever to date, and its expansion only serves to solidify that.
In the end, Burning Shores is incredibly easy to recommend. If you enjoyed Forbidden West or if you’re invested in the Horizon series’ larger story and where it’s headed, the expansion feels unmissable almost to a surprising degree, thanks to its strong story, how well it sets up the future, and the introduction of a great new character in Seyka. All of that is backed up by more exciting combat, engaging open world exploration and traversal, and stellar graphics. The end result? An excellent package that almost feels like it’s too good to be DLC.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
A great story that sets up the series' future in some interesting ways; Seyka is an excellent character, as is her dynamic with Aloy; Well-designed map that's consistently compelling to explore; New Machine additions are well-designed; Looks ridiculously good.
Underutilized antagonist; Overly familiar side activities; Not enough new Machines.
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