April 19, 2023
Sony Interactive Entertainment
A bit over a year following the release of Horizon Forbidden West, Guerrilla Games has come out with its first premium expansion, Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores, exclusively on PS5. Introducing a new weapon type, some additional enemy types, a very compelling supporting cast and great big island chain to explore, the expansion is arguably more of the same on the gameplay front, but progresses the first game’s character arcs and setting in interesting ways.
Set following the events of the base game, Burning Shores sees protagonist Aloy sent to a submerged post-apocalyptic Los Angeles by Sylens (voiced once again by the late Lance Reddick) to confront an estranged member of the Far Zenith crew and learn more of the mysterious Nemesis threat. After a rocky landing, Aloy finds a stranded Quen outpost, and teams up with Seyka, a Quen mariner whom Aloy becomes close to and who joins Aloy on her quest.
In terms of the plot, Burning Shores doesn’t really push the envelope particularly far or feature any substantial reveals that substantially flesh out either the present day setting or the Old World backstory. The main antagonist in particularly is almost comically villainous, complete with moustache ready to twirl, and lacks much of the nuance of previous human foes in the series, despite an entertaining performance by Sam Witwer. However, its supporting strong supporting cast, and the focus on the Quen, one of the more fascinating and enigmatic of the Horizon series’ factions, gave me something to look forward when the core plot strayed into generic doomsday territory.
The Burning Shores themselves are a joy to behold, and introduce a very unique flavour to the base game’s landscape. Los Angeles has been submerged, turning the once-recognisable location into a vast volcanic archipelago. Aloy gains a boat to navigate between the islands early on, however it is both less exciting than flying and less convenient than fast travel; the lack of naval battles with swimming machines feels like a particularly missed opportunity, even if restricting Aloy to boat travel for the opening hours does at least allow the Burning Shores a sense of tangible bigness rather than letting the player fly across it from the start.
Other new gameplay elements provide the player cool new options, in both gameplay and traversal. Unstable firegleam clusters, which explode after being dealt damage, operate as both hazards, and fun opportunities, if you can lure your opponent at the right time. Geysers propel Aloy into the air with her Shieldwing, allowing her to gain height and pull off deadly aerial manoeuvres. A few sections feature ballistae which can be used to attack enemies and create footholds on cliffs, which I wish was featured more prominently.
New Valor Skills and arrow types, such as Berserk Arrows which can cause machines to turn on their allies, are also quite enjoyable, and give players who have been grinding the post-game something to spend their skill points on. A unique resource called Brimshine can be exchanged along with Metal Shards for unique Legendary equipment, if you go out of your way to search for it.
The new Machine types, such the frog-like acid-spewing Bilegut, are incredibly fast and aggressive, and will take all of the player’s skills and resources to take down. The speed of these foes seems designed to encourage the player to use the new weapon type the expansion provides, but they aren’t so unmanageable that a variety of strategies are invalid.
If there is an area in which Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores really explores new ground, it is regarding Aloy herself. Following her arc in the base game, in which she became more comfortable relying on others and opening up to her companions, Burning Shores explores new facets of this through her rivalry and growing friendship (or potentially more, depending on player actions) with Seyka.
Seyka in particular is the real star of the expansion, from Kylie Liya Page’s performance to the character’s complicated relationship with her tribe, creating a point of connection between herself and Aloy. Considering the Horizon games have generally been quite solitary affairs, with Aloy rarely teaming up with someone for more than a quest or two at a time, having Seyka accompany Aloy for nearly the entire expansion and giving Aloy someone to interact with helped to explore new sides of the main character.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores ends on kind of a mixed note, finalising in a suitably over-the-top climactic battle that nonetheless drags on a bit too long. Hopefully Guerrilla Games takes note of the strengths of the expansion in future Horizon games and continues to explore this new side of Aloy and further develop her relationship with Seyka.
- New combat features and Valor Skills make combat even more fun
- An expansive and gorgeous archipelago to explore
- Relationship between Aloy and Seyka is touching
- Boat travel is quite slow and unexciting
- Final boss drags on quite a bit
- Main antagonist isn't very deep or interesting compared to previous Horizon foes
Fundamentally, Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores repeats a lot of the same beats as the main game, and doesn’t explore much new territory in terms of world-building or gameplay. However, the minor gameplay additions are certainly fun and welcome, and if you enjoyed the base game, this expansion is certainly still an enjoyable time, prolonged final boss fight aside. As an epilogue with some fun diversions, which also expands upon Aloy’s character arc from the base game and introduces a great new supporting character, Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is definitely worth checking out for anyone wanting a good excuse to return to the game.