What is there to say about a game so blisteringly beautiful, it makes everything else look years behind? A game so carefully constructed that the environment design continues to surprise and delight? A game so heartfelt that even a side-quest to open a door can bring you to tears?
And it’s a DLC.
What’s not surprising is that Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is that good. Horizon Forbidden West was my top game of 2022, and the DLC delivers huge progression for both Aloy’s character and the future of Horizon’s gameplay.
There’s been a lot of talk online about Burning Shores, but I’m going to try to review it without spoiling the game. What I will say is this: if you have any interest in the Horizon world, Burning Shores is a must play. I haven’t played this significant of a DLC since Dragon Age Trespasser, which delivered huge plot twists for the series. And like Trespasser, it’s remarkable what Burning Shores does in the space of 10 hours.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores picks up after the events of Horizon Forbidden West, so if you haven’t finished the game, it’s high time you do so! You won’t be able to start the DLC until you’ve completed Singularity, the final story quest of Forbidden West. At the end of Forbidden West, Aloy defeated the Far Zeniths, a master race of humans who had returned to Earth bent on destruction. Yet a Zenith is still alive in Los Angeles, and Sylens summons Aloy to investigate. It doesn’t help that this Zenith, Walter Londra, is a manipulative, moustache twirling, egotist.
Where Forbidden West’s villains were more cut and dry bad guys, Londra presents a complex challenge. He’s using his persuasive skills to manipulate the Quen, leaving Aloy in a fraught position as she attempts to stop Londra. In doing this, she works alongside her new Quen friend Seyka. Seyka is similar to Aloy in many ways; she’s a warrior turned outsider through her dedication to the truth. Together, they must track down the Zenith and stop his nefarious plans.
Thematically, the game’s quests and side-quests address these grander aspects of manipulation. It’s clear that manipulating others is not the Aloy way; she prefers hard truths and hope, and calls out this behaviour, even when it’s well meaning. One way the Horizon series stands out is how it uses the side-quests to supplement the overarching themes of the game. The most heart-felt side-quest in Burning Shores is when you find an old friend trapped in a building while exploring the overgrown city. It starts as a relic quest and ends in an unexpected place of compassion.
As for the gameplay, Burning Shores ups the ante on many of the developments from Horizon Forbidden West. While the game’s dynamic style of play hasn’t changed, the final boss battle is the best in the series. I’d long thought that Horizon needed to draw from Shadow of the Colossus’ gameplay, where a lone warrior climbs enormous beasts in order to defeat them. Here they commit to it, and I’d love to see more of this kind of epic combat going forward.
While there are still some of your favourite machines to conquer (yep those metallic bastard kangaroos are back), Burning Shores brings several new machines to the table. Forget Frogger, the Bileguts know how to spam status attacks, and take a fair whack to get down. Not content to spray poison everywhere, they spawn Stingspawns, mosquito-like pests that go down in a hit, but can overcome Aloy in a swarm. Waterwings are essential to the storyline, a sea-bird much like Aloy’s Sunwing.
Burning Shores also provides a huge new area for players to explore, set in the ruins of Los Angeles. As a non-American, I recognised a couple of landmarks, such as the Griffith Observatory, Union Station, TLC Chinese Theatre, and of course, the Hollywood sign. Those more familiar with the city will evidently find more, with the city overgrown by vines and volcanic activity. Lava oozes from newly-risen volcanos, and thematically, the game riffs off going back to LA’s prehistoric roots.
And while the DLC is very good, there’s a few criticisms here too. I wished they would have pushed further into the ‘burning’ part of the burning shores. There’s aspects of Zelda’s fire temple present in the game, but I would have liked the design to embrace even more of this volcanic theme. MOAR lava, I say. Lava-machines, molten-armour, firey-facepaint. Go the full hog!
Added to this, at the time of playing, there were a number of glitches with the gameplay, such as losing the capacity to use Aloy’s spear in a vital battle. Or the aerial viewpoints not appearing in-game. I expect they’ll be fixed, but it was notable considering how bug-free Forbidden West appeared at release.
As for the future of the Horizon series, Guerilla have announced a third Horizon game (and I’m glad, because there’s A LOT we need to unpack from Burning Shores). Tragically, with the death of Lance Reddick, Horizon has lost one of its most important and intriguing characters, Sylens. The DLC is dedicated to his memory, and it’s a blazing tribute in what heralds an exciting future for the Horizon series.