Visiting the Hollywood sign in Burning Shores

Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores – Review: A sweet, sweet interlude

Aloy returns in the new story expansion for Horizon Forbidden West, where she travels to the islands of Burning Shores, an area that was known as Los Angeles in the Old World, to take on a new threat. For those who loved Horizon Forbidden West, the Burning Shores DLC comes to add some more story, extend the time you get to spend with Aloy, and make sure you don’t forget the events of the story until the third (and most probably, final) installment of the Horizon trilogy comes out.

As much as I love story-driven expansions, I’m disappointed by the fact that there are only a handful of studios (and by extension, publishers) willing to devote time and resources to developing this kind of post-release content. The Frozen Wilds expansion (from Horizon Zero Dawn) and Burning Shores are among the few remaining examples, along with the upcoming Elden Ring expansion. In the last three years, where the industry has almost entirely switched to the games-as-a-service model, new content that doesn’t fall under a “season” or “battle pass” paywall is either extremely hard to find or frustratingly low quality (see Outriders Worldslayer).

However, once again, the timing of the release is rather puzzling. Burning Shores finds itself sandwiched between major releases like Dead Island 2 and Jedi: Survivor. Not gonna lie, even I did fall into the “come on, it’s just a DLC” trap. Sony continues to throw this franchise under the bus, just like they did with Horizon Zero Dawn which launched at the same time as Breath of the Wild, and Forbidden West which came out just before Elden Ring. Of course, an easy explanation is the fact that Burning Shores is the only PS5 exclusive release for the first half of 2023, outside of the PSVR2 titles. Even so, the release window remains… unfair.

TL;DR

Burning Shores is a light-hearted interlude, after Forbidden West’s ending. It adds a charming area to explore, a pleasant story, and unfolds new aspects of Aloy’s character without ever taking itself too seriously.

All images in this article are screenshots from the PlayStation 5 version of the game, captured either using photo mode or during cinematics.

Burning Shores: Story

Warning: Spoilers for Horizon Forbidden West ahead!

The story of Burning Shores takes place immediately after the end of the main game’s plot. As soon as you return to your base after the final battle, you’ll receive a call from Sylens (RIP Lance Reddick), who summons you to Tilda’s house to assign Aloy a new mission. Apparently, Tilda wasn’t the last of the Zeniths, as one of the remaining members of the Odyssey expedition managed to slip away during the final battle. Having settled in the Burning Shores, he continues to pose a threat as the advanced technology at his disposal easily becomes dangerous in the wrong hands and with the threat of Nemesis closing in, Sylens is not willing to take any chances leaving one last Zenith alive. So for this particular quest, Aloy’s sights are aimed at Walter Londra.

As soon as Aloy arrives in the Burning Shores aboard the Sunwing we acquired towards the end of Forbidden West, Aloy is attacked by a mysterious drone and is forced to abandon her Sunwing. That’s where she runs into one of the new characters: Seyka, a Quen equipped with a Focus. Seyka leads her to her crew’s camp, Fleet’s End, which is aptly named… because that’s where the Quen fleet met its end. The Quen are one of the tribes that only make an appearance at the end of the plot of Forbidden West, with the members of the tribe presented as Marines. Precisely because they were introduced towards the end of the main story, the Quen had very limited screen time, so having them at the center of the expansion helps with world-building.

Seyka is investigating the disappearance of some of her crew members who were tasked with exploring the inland of the island their vessel struck to find food and map the area. Aloy decides to help her in her investigation in order to gather clues about Londra, being certain that he has settled in Burning Shores and is up to something.

Light-hearted, but with weighty character development

The story in the Burning Shores DLC might not be as “serious” as the main game’s, but it follows the same pattern of unexpected twists that the franchise is used to. Just like in the main story of Forbidden West, here too, after about the halfway mark, there are some developments that can catch you somewhat off guard. However, the twists are more of a comedic nature, which will significantly help those who tackle the expansion immediately after finishing the main game.

At the same time, the story and side quests provide important character development, especially for Aloy. Most people’s biggest complaint about the Horizon series lies in the fact that it is very difficult to identify with the protagonist. Sure, Aloy is an extremely strong female character, yet she doesn’t leave much room for the players to connect with her as a lead character, just because she usually says something along the lines of “I have to leave because I need to save the world”, as soon as any character tries to approach her. This is especially evident at the beginning of Forbidden West, where her friends are literally chasing after her. And while this is somewhat explained within the confines of the story, after her existential crisis in Zero Dawn, fans will always have a hard time connecting with an apathetic protagonist.

In Burning Shores we see a more “human” side of Aloy. Aloy is conflicted, embarrassed and expresses her emotions more strongly than ever before. And that is perhaps the greatest strength of this story. This might be a “filler episode” in the eyes of many, but it’s definitely very high-quality filler, that is not worth skipping. The new characters, especially Seyka, are extremely interesting, as they manage to interact with Aloy in ways that the main game cast never did. As much as some may not like this, I see this as an important step in the manifestation of Aloy’s character.

Burning Shores: Gameplay

The gameplay of Burning Shores is on the same wavelength as Forbidden West, so if you want a more detailed description of what to expect, you can read the respective sections in our Horizon Forbidden West review. However, Burning Shores adds a whole new area to explore, new weapons, new enemies, and plenty of open-world activities to complete, as well as new approaches to the classic quest formula. Guerilla adds just enough stuff to keep you intrigued, without getting tedious.

Ever fallen in love with a digital landscape?

If there’s one thing Guerilla knows how to get right, it’s creating beautiful worlds and they’ve proven it time and time again. Spectacular settings are now a Horizon trademark, and like Forbidden West, Burning Shores never misses a chance to get your jaw to drop. At the same time, the basic principle of Guerilla’s open worlds is maintained here as well: if you see it, you can probably interact with it. I’ll keep typing this until my fingers can no longer take it: the open worlds of the Horizon series (and Ghost of Tsushima, if we’re being honest) feel real, they’re a real example to follow for the rest of the industry.

The new area consists of tropical islands where, apart from the beaches and the wonderful sunsets, you can feast your eyes on active volcanoes with lava pouring out of cracks in the ground. Taking inspiration from real Hollywood, the second half of the story takes us to a theme park filled with all sorts of holograms, dummies, and remnants of the Old World. Fighting giant machines in rooms filled with dinosaur sculptures is definitely a way to make fights memorable. The variety of landscapes in which Burning Shores places Aloy is truly commendable, just like the battles that take place there.

At the same time, the Fleet’s End camp feels as alive as the other villages and bases you encounter in Forbidden West. In no way can I say that Burning Shores is a low-effort addition to the franchise. In fact, some of the moments in the expansion’s story are more memorable than the main game’s plot, not only because the dialogue feels more emotionally charged, but precisely because the plot is simpler and you anyone can follow with ease.

  • Fleet's End

Tropical challenges

Most main story quests in Burning Shores include some kind of puzzle that you have to solve. It’s either an alternate path forward you need to discover or a series of audio/video logs you need to shift through in order to find the code to a locked door. These offer a pleasant change from the quest approach in Forbidden West, however, they can easily become tedious. Thankfully, the approach you’re asked to take is different each time, so there’s no room to fall asleep if you’re not fond of puzzles.

Of course, there’s plenty of action in Burning Shores as well. There are some very memorable set pieces in the main quests. There are also new weapons, most notably a (sort of) rocket launcher with guided plasma missiles, which makes fights extremely easy, though there’s still a reason for that. You see, the new machines added in the expansion are more annoying than anything else. Aside from the already annoying Specters, the Bileguts are a kind of giant machine that bombard you with acid from vast distances with extreme precision. Oh, and they also lays “eggs” everywhere that spawn swarms of flying machines that bump into you one after another. If reading the above section made you as outraged as I was just writing it, imagine that it takes about 10 minutes of your life to shoot down a Bilegut if you’re not over Level 43.

Of course, there are some new machines which are a lot of fun. Waterwings are an alternate version of the Sunwing you tame at the end of Forbidden West, which is (probably) endemic to Burning Shores. With their light blue wings, Waterwings can not only fly but also dive underwater – with you on their backs – and perform spectacular maneuvers. At the same time, there are new resources available to collect scattered around the world and new cosmetics to unlock, adding a few extra objectives.

  • Story quest in Burning Shores

Burning Shores: Verdict

The Burning Shores expansion adds around 8-12 hours of fresh, enjoyable content to Forbidden West, a year after its initial release. The light-hearted plot is more often than not, more enjoyable than the main game due to its simpler nature, and Aloy’s character is developed more than ever before. Guerilla’s excellent world-building skill returns, this time with no significant plot holes, as the story is largely self-contained. Visually, the Burning Shores DLC manages to maintain the high bar set by the previous releases in the franchise.

With this expansion, Guerilla hopes to keep its audience busy until the release of its next Horizon title. In my experience, it’s more than successful at doing that, because, unlike Forbidden West’s story, this one doesn’t overstay its welcome.

For 19.99€, 8-12 hours of casual fun seems like a fair trade to me, though the timing of the release makes it hard to invest your money in an expansion, when you could get a full game for some extra Euros.

We would like to thank PlayStation Greece for providing the review copy we used.

George Makridis

Posts published: 145

Editor in Chief. Studying Communication & Media. Listening to Hip-Hop. Watching advanced humor sitcoms and dumb superhero flicks. Has way too many games in his library and not that much time to actually play them.