It’s no secret that I adored Horizon Forbidden West when it launched last year, awarding it a 10/10 for taking what worked about its mostly-good predecessor and cranking the dial up to an 11. So when Guerrilla announced that fans would be able to return to the game in a sizeable expansion, especially one that takes Aloy to a post-machine-apocalypse Los Angeles, I was more than ready.
Burning Shores is exciting for a few key reasons. Firstly, it’s a completely post-game expansion meaning what we’re getting is more than just a side story carefully slotted into the existing framework of the game – instead it’s easy to assume it functions as a bridge to whatever Guerrilla has planned next for the franchise. Second, it’s exclusive to the PlayStation 5 version of the game, a choice that manifests quite clearly in not just the visual splendour but the content itself in the Burning Shores. And of course, new locations, characters, machines, gear and everything else that comes along are all very exciting for those of us that’ve squeezed Forbidden West dry of every drop of content.
Now, with the main quest component of Burning Shores under my belt along with the bulk of the optional bits, I can say with confidence that the expansion delivers on all of the above quite nicely, but it’s not without a few unfortunate stumbles and just a touch of over-familiarity.
Spoilers For The Ending Of Horizon Forbidden West From This Point On!
Provided you’ve completed the main questline in Forbidden West, Burning Shores opens with Aloy receiving a call out of the blue from Sylens, voiced of course by the late Lance Reddick in bittersweet fashion, revealing that he’s uncovered evidence that one of the members of Far Zenith remains alive and at large. The Musk-esque Walter Londra, CEO of space mining corporation Heaven¢, has holed up somewhere at his pre-apocalypse HQ in the Burning Shores, formerly Los Angeles, and is up to something. And so, Aloy sets off to new territory to see what’s up.
Discovering an encampment of stranded Quen refugees almost immediately after arriving, Aloy befriends Seyka, and with a shared interest in scoping out Londra’s location to find a missing Quen scouting party Seyka joins Aloy for the bulk of this new adventure. It’s clear early on that Guerrilla wants to establish Seyka as a prominent character in the Horizon universe, and she comes as a welcome addition both for her personal journey and interactions with Aloy as well as her utility in gameplay.
Unlike some of the other characters who’ve joined up with Aloy along the way in the base game, Seyka is a near-match for her understanding of the world and prowess in combat, making her less of a tag-along and more a partner. It’s something that works incredibly well to make Burning Shores feel different in the moment-to-moment as the two tackle each situation in tandem.
This comes in incredibly handy with facing down some of Burning Shores’ new challenges, whether it’s environmental puzzles and set pieces requiring the pair to work together or fights against touch new machines like the Bilegut. This huge, frog-like machine is easily one of my favourites in the game with its disgusting, acid-spewing “pores” and long, metallic tongue combined with its “eggs” that birth swarms of small but aggressive fly-like machines.
There’s an off-putting, organic quality to everything the Bilegut does that makes it feel much more threatening than most, so having Seyka on-hand is a godsend. She’s capable of the same kinds of tactics that players would employ as Aloy like using elemental damage or casting ropes to tie machines down, which almost gives the game the Monster Hunter-esque feel that I’m sure plenty of fans have imagined for the series as the two of you cooperate to bring down huge and formidable foes.
Another one of the new machines, the Waterwing, is equally exciting for different reasons. The Burning Shores are a set of broken-up land masses with a heap of verticality from immense cliffs and decaying skycrapers to deep oceans and volcanic ruptures and that means you’ll spend a lot of your time in the air – whether catching volcanic updrafts with your Glider or riding on the back of a machine. Waterwings are the go-to here for their ability to not just soar through the air but also dive down and rocket along underwater. Flying for the first time in Forbidden West was an exhilarating moment but this overgrown and ruined LA feels more purposefully built for taking to the skies and the oceans.
It also feels purposefully built for the power of the PS5, pushing the already-gorgeous Forbidden West to a whole new level with easily the most impressive vistas I’ve seen in a video game that only become even more impressive as you explore them close-up. Dense environments packed with lush lighting and mind blowing effects aren’t new to Horizon but there’s a definite sense that the studio really pushed things as hard as they could here, and that fancy new cloud tech is just divine.
Unfortunately, the expansion has also been strangely lacking in polish during my playthrough. There were several points where I encountered bugs from voice-overs disappearing during cutscenes to Aloy clipping through the environment and even some fight sequences being soft-locked when certain things didn’t activate as intended. The game still struggles to maintain a sense of fluidity in indoor environments where Aloy’s movements become awkward and the camera is consistently obscured by the architecture.
Those missteps don’t do too much to sully the experience though, and it’s one that Horizon fans absolutely won’t want to miss out on. It feels like essential playing for anyone who finished Forbidden West, introducing some great new characters and giving existing ones new moments of personal development, all while setting up some enticing threads and paying off others in incredible fashion. Some of my favourite parts of the main game came from a sense of wonder and discovery in how Guerrilla presents remnants of the Old World and takes players on journeys of discovery and without saying too much that’s in full effect here.
That’s all without even going into the many new mechanical wrinkles from new types of weapons to new abilities for Aloy to unlock that are generally quite exciting and useful, the additional side quests that include a returning favourite or two, fun collectibles to find across the sizeable new map and scattering of new ideas. I’m impressed by how well-paced and fresh the golden path feels in Burning Shores just as much as I’m enamoured with all of the discoveries to be had off that path.
Positioning this as a post-game expansion was a great move, because what’s here doesn’t just feel like extra content bolted onto Forbidden West, it’s a genuine continuation of the world, story, characters and gameplay and a great little lead into an exciting future.
Burning Shores is a worthy expansion and follow-up to the incredible Horizon Forbidden West. It's packing a fantastic new location to explore, compelling new characters and fearsome new machines to fight while offering an exciting glimpse into the future of the franchise. It's a bit more rough around the edges than I'd like but it's essential playing for Horizon fans.
Looks absolutely stunning
Seyka and Londra are great new characters
New machines offer exciting fights and thrilling traversal