Review: Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores

A World Worth Saving

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At the end of Horizon Forbidden West, Aloy encounters a dilemma. She can either follow Tilda van der Meer the Far Zenith and escape from a planet that is facing near-certain doom from Nemesis the misanthropic AI. Alternatively, she can remain on Earth and attempt to put up a fight. It should come as a spoiler to nobody that Aloy doesn’t for a second think of abandoning her home planet and all its inhabitants.

Despite Aloy’s commitment to her planet, her time on it has been anything but utopian. She has watched loved ones like Varl and Rost perish, discovered the fatal selfishness of the Old Ones, and at times it seems impossible that the quarreling between tribes will ever cease. Naturally, this leaves one wondering whether Earth and its inhabitants deserve to be saved. What exactly is Aloy fighting for? In many ways, Horizon Forbidden West‘s latest DLC, Burning Shores feels like the answer to this lingering question.

Screenshot by Destructoid.

Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores (PS5)
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release: April 19, 2023
MSRP: $19.99

Beauty to Die For

Burning Shores has Aloy soaring to Los Angeles, though it looks nothing like its Old World counterpart. Through sheer persistence, nature has painted the urban landscape green, giving Aloy plenty of lush wilderness to explore. When she needs to cool off, she can head to the blindingly white shorelines that border the shimmering sea. It is nearly impossible to resist diving into the deep, and players who give in to their curiosity are generously rewarded, as the underwater environments are as vast as they are gorgeous.

In Horizon Zero Dawn’s DLC, Frozen Wilds, snow is the main environmental gimmick. Though it’s pretty fun to trudge through thick snow, it does result in The Cut looking somewhat monotonously white. Horizon Forbidden West’s DLC instead features lava as its environmental gimmick. Various parts of the landscape have large fissures that leak steaming magma. It’s a hazard that’s easy enough to avoid, but it was likely never included as a legitimate obstacle.

One sees the brilliance of the volcanic activity when soaring on the back of a Sunwing. The deep greens of the archipelagos contrast beautifully with the crisp, blue sea, and the occasional streaks of bright red that rip through the terrain are the artistic flair that ensures the Burning Shores are picturesque from every angle. The beauty is accentuated by the subtle soundtrack that blends futuristic synths with warm and occasionally tribal melodies.

Screenshot by Destructoid.

The DLC’s graphical upgrade is minor but highly impactful, at least enough to justify making it an exclusively current-gen title. At some points, Burning Shores is quite confident with its beauty, and it is not afraid to flaunt it. Scenes such as when Seyka and Aloy exit Heaven’s Rest and are met with a vibrant meadow of flowers feel like choreographed moments of sublimity. If players ever wonder why Earth is worth saving, a glance in almost any direction in Burning Shores reveals the answer. Beauty this divine deserves to be preserved.

The Human Side of Horizon

Aloy’s adventures have always been action-packed, and Burning Shores is no exception. The gameplay is improved but familiar, and with a playthrough length of roughly ten hours, it provides just enough content to ensure it ends on a high note. Players are met with expanded skill trees that introduce twelve new skills and six new valor surges. Some of these additions are very welcome, including the Machine Grapple Strike skill which lets Aloy do a cool attack with her grapple hook, and the Beserk Blast valor surge which causes all nearby enemy machines to enter the Berserk state.

There are plenty of opportunities to use these abilities because there are new machines to battle in Burning Shores. Waterwings, which are new mountable machines, are quite similar to Sunwings, except they can dive underwater. Aloy also encounters Bileguts, which appear quite cartoonish at first but prove to be formidable foes. They hop like frogs and lay metal eggs that hatch into Stingspawns, which are exceptionally annoying to deal with when they form swarms.

Although fantastic machine battles are still the order of the day, it very much feels as though the DLC was willing to dial down some of the grander plot elements of the franchise to focus on the basic human connections around Aloy. Not long into her adventure, she meets Seyka, who is a Quen warrior. The pair click almost instantly, and she remains at the Ginger Avenger’s side for most quests.

Screenshot by Destructoid.

More than anyone prior, Seyka illustrates the importance of having faithful companions around. She has no problem keeping with up Aloy, and this comes in handy when facing machines like Bileguts, as Seyka does a good job of keeping the Stingspawns busy. When facing large machines or flying machines, she’ll lend a hand by using her Ropecaster, saving Aloy a slot on her weapon wheel.

Through their relationship, Aloy gets to share a more intimate side of herself. This is well-needed, as she can be quite cold to her loved ones, as seen with her harsh treatment of Beta in Horizon Forbidden West. Her intentions aren’t malicious – when the fate of humanity is on the line, it’s often good to favor cool rationality over feelings. However, with Seyka, Aloy is afforded a chance, however brief, to share a connection with someone who shows her that it is possible to be both strong and affectionate at the same time.

Walter Londra – Horizon’s Best Villain Thus Far

Despite how unrecognizable Los Angeles is, the Hollywood sign remains conspicuously undisturbed. This backdrop is far from coincidental, as the DLC’s main enemy appears to embody and satirize all the excesses of celebrity worship culture. In the Old World, Londra was the head of a space-mining company, and he also achieved superstar status. Having stumbled upon the Quen tribe, he attempts to convert them into his adoring worshippers and has them do his bidding.

Screenshot by Destructoid.

Though Aloy has faced off against a few villains, Londra is perhaps the best match for her, as they represent two extremes. Aloy, who starts life off as an outcast, eventually goes on to earn the trust and adoration of the Nora tribe that once shunned her. Despite being very deserving of veneration, Aloy instead chooses to turn it down, as she loathes the idea of being idolized.

In contrast, Londra desperately craves devotion from those around him. He is disloyal, entirely self-serving, and willing to exploit everyone and everything around him for his own ends. It is no surprise that Londra is the Far Zenith that disgusts Aloy the most, as he represents everything she despises.

Screenshot by Destructoid.

The DLC is must-play content for any Horizon fan. Thanks to its short length, it provides a refined, focused experience without the typical bloat that accompanies open-world games. With its eye-meltingly gorgeous scenery and romantic subplot, Burning Shores feels like a dream at times, a brief moment of relative serenity before Aloy faces off against what is sure to be her greatest challenge thus far. Though Nemesis will likely push Aloy to her limits, the meaningful relationships she has forged and the beauty of the world around her give her more than enough reasons to keep fighting.

[This review is based on a retail build of the DLC purchased by the reviewer.]

8.5
Great
Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

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Smangaliso Simelane
Staff Writer - Smangaliso Simelane is a writer with a passion for all things related to video games. He has been writing about video games since 2020.