Horizon: Forbidden West – Burning Shores Review

The latter end of last year was chock full of big, time consuming, games. Titles that we could still easily jump into and continue playing, because there’s simply such a wealth of content left, even after completing their main campaigns thoroughly. Of course, the most publicized title of this ilk would be Elden Ring, but the best of the bunch was arguably Horizon: Forbidden West from the folks at Guerilla Games. Yes, that was this writer’s Game of the Year with ease, as it was one of the only titles that truly brought childhood passion back and allowed me to forget about things like depression. Hell, it might’ve been the only one to truly succeed at making me forget about other things, while causing me to constantly want to pick up a controller and play more.

Fast forward several months and even more has been added to what was already a massive game filled with a deep and lengthy storyline, immersive and tough to beat side quests, collectibles, secondary locations to explore and tons of robotic beasts to down for both experience points and parts. This continuation comes via a brand new expansion called Horizon: Forbidden West – Burning Shores, which furthers the main campaign in a bite sized way.

Burning Shores refers to a different part of California; that being Los Angeles, Hollywood and the area around the massive sign, which has seen much better days. The region has flooded, and has also been host to volcanic eruptions; evidence of which is quite clear. Thus, the best way to get around is by boat or by air, so it’s a good thing that both are made available to the player. In fact, Aloy becomes able to use something like a motorized skiff (boat) after meeting a new friend. Said skiff can be very helpful, and is forced upon you at times instead of airborne travel. Don’t be too disappointed at that, though, because the skiff is relatively quick and it fits the narrative well. In a way it’s kind of reminiscent of God of War and God of War: Ragnarok, albeit on a smaller scale.

Things pick up after the core game’s cliffhanger ending, and sees Sylens call upon Aloy. Although actor Lance Reddick unfortunately passed away in-between the game’s release and now, he was able to record his lines before doing so and this add-on provides a way for his skill, voice and professionalism to live on. It was nice to hear him again, and I’m glad that they didn’t have to re-cast that role because he was perfect for it. Rest in peace, sir.

Anyways, Sylens tells Aloy that — despite the battle against the Zeniths — one of them is still alive and unaccounted for, having holed up in a different region called the Burning Shores. That is, playboy industrialist and tech mogul, Walter Londra, who isn’t above using slave labour to reach his goals of staying with the living. In fact, Londra has thought ahead and has fortified areas important to him with towers that shoot energy at things that come close, be they boats or airborne mechanical beasts. Thus, one of Aloy’s main goals is to disable these towers so that she can navigate into previously unavailable territory in order to find the asshat and attempt to stop him. After all, as is usually the case, the bad guy’s plans put many at risk.

The very beginning of this seven to ten hour-long expansion shows Aloy flying into the Burning Shores region atop one of the flying mounts she unlocked at the end of the main campaign. She doesn’t make it terribly far, and ends up crashing close to where a Quen marine named Seyka is doing battle with machines. After helping her, the two become quick friends and allies, and form a pretty lethal pair, although Seyka’s tribe mates are less than happy to see an outsider at their improvised camp. Thus begins a quest-line where the red-haired heroine must prove her worth to a new group of pessimists, who are fearful of the outside world after having been marooned in an unfamiliar area. Having lost some of their peers and family members to unknown ends, it’s kind of understandable.

The first thing I did after getting to camp was tackle a pretty in-depth and challenging side mission, which involved trying to rescue another Quen search party. After dying a number of times, I completed that objective, learned quite a bit and looked forward to doing a number of other side quests. However, there only seem to be about three of them within Burning Shores, which I must admit is kind of disappointing for someone who tried to do as many side quests as he could (within reason) during the main campaign. Then again, the side quests featured within are pretty lengthy and of quality, and this is more of a bite-sized add-on than a massive sequel.

I’d also be lying if I didn’t state that I was surprised by the brevity of it all. There are several main story quests with different parts to them, sometimes involving searching for parts in order to be able to hack a new type of beast that can kind of skip across water. After playing for several hours, I decided to take a break and looked up how far I was, hoping I was maybe about halfway and could look forward to finishing the expansion this coming weekend. However, after looking at the list of missions I noticed that I was on the second to last one, which kind of surprised me. Then again, I should’ve taken the completion time estimates more literally, and also missed The Frozen Wilds. I got a code for it, but was so busy with other games at the time that it went on the back burner, just to kind of be overlooked. I hope to go back and play through it, but am worried that my save is lost, meaning I may have to completely restart Zero Dawn. As great as it was, that’s not something I look forward to doing right now.

Although Burning Shores feels short and limited, what it presents is of quality. There’s no unnecessary fluff, and the experience is streamlined, but it’s good from start to finish. The quests are involved, there’s quite a bit of depth to Aloy and Seyka’s relationship, and the overarching plot also has quite a bit of depth, too. There are new weapons to unlock, new ways to upgrade both clothing and weapons, and also some new machines to do battle against, including one that acts like a frog. These challenging beasts shoot acid at you, and can also lay eggs that emit flying drones. Then you have to deal with both the big bad and his annoying little friends, who can thankfully be downed after two or three well placed arrows.

You’ll also discover some giant, old, bows, which allow you to shoot bolts at enemies or fire them into rocks. This allows for new climbing spots to be created, or access to tough to reach ladders. It’s here where Aloy and Seyka work best together, as they try to help each other get from point A to point B within a cave. Hell, there are even some underwater, which can be used to one shot the massive alligators.

That said, it would have been nice if there was a bit of an easing into Burning Shores. Having to jump right into a battle against high leveled machines, after not playing the game for a number of months, definitely provided a quick challenge and led to some deaths. I had to get used to the game again, and struggled at first before getting better. The first mission and side quest definitely weren’t easy because of this, especially given the size of the machines you do battle against. In fact, nothing about this add-on was particularly easy, except for one of the boss fights that I didn’t have much trouble with at all. There are a couple of those, and they’re pretty good overall, but it’s possible to find the perfect weapon for one and do a lot of damage quickly.

Of course, this is an expansion and not an entirely new game. However, there’s a reason it’s PlayStation 5 only whereas the actual game was released for both it and PlayStation 4. New technology has been used to make what was an incredible looking game look even better, and it’s shockingly beautiful on our new TV. A lot has been said about the cloud technology that was implemented herein, and it truly shows. There are some remarkable clouds in the skies, which look almost realistic, and it’s hard not to stop and stare at a storm brewing in part of one. Meanwhile, that same tool has allowed for some great looking fog in interior location(s). Needless to say it’s a step up from something that hardly seemed like it had room for improvement. Somehow an incredible looking game has become even more beautiful, but we’re all for it.

This means that Aloy has all of her tools at her advantage, and that the presentation — outside of the new clouds and other impressive enhancements — is mostly the same. To say that the game looks great would be an understatement, and the same can be said about the sound. The music is well above average, the sound effects are phenomenal and the voice acting continues to be great. Seyka is very well voiced, and both looks and feels like a living character. You can even see a small scar between her eyebrows. In fact, looking at both Aloy and Seyka in cutscenes blew me away with the amount of detail, not to mention the great lighting, on display.

Londra isn’t the most unique or interesting villain ever seen in gaming, but he does the job here. His desires are familiar, as is his disregard for human life, but it all works within the confines of this narrative. The story benefits from his addition, and the overarching plot does as well, setting things up nicely for what’s to come next.

In conclusion, I must admit that I was kind of let down by the brevity of Horizon: Forbidden West‘s Burning Shores expansion. I knew, going in, that it wasn’t exceptionally long, but I thought there’d be a number of side quests to lengthen it out. In the end, it turned out to be kind of bite sized, or at least felt that way even though it’s around the same length of some games’ main campaigns. Regardless, I’m just happy to have more Horizon: Forbidden West to play!

This expansion is a welcomed addition to an already great game, and its new area is both interesting and thought provoking. Seeing recognizable parts of Los Angeles and Hollywood underwater, falling into disrepair or mostly destroyed was quite interesting, as was seeing the lava move down its flows. I enjoyed my time jumping back into Aloy’s digital skin, and if you were a fan of the core game you will too. It also makes me excited for what’s to come.

This review is based on the PlayStation 5 exclusive, which we were provided with.

Horizon: Forbidden West's Burning Shores expansion is short, but presents more of the game's great gameplay. We'll never say no to more of last year's best.
Reader Rating0 Votes
The Good Stuff
Lots of detail in the new environments
Seyka is a really good character and addition to the narrative
More of the best game of 2022
The Not-So-Good Stuff
Feels shorter than it maybe is
Not many side quests
Doesn't ease you in, so prepare for a challenge