Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores: The Kotaku Australia Review

Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores: The Kotaku Australia Review

It’s often said that Los Angeles is a lonely city, and that no one has any friends in Hollywood. It’s somewhat ironic then that Aloy, who has always been a very self-isolated character in the Horizon franchise, manages to find a meaningful connection in the ruins of California. 

Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is the first piece of additional content for Guerrilla Games’ post-apocalyptic sequel. It takes place in the direct aftermath of Horizon Forbidden West, meaning you must finish the base game’s main campaign before any Burning Shores content will become available. It’s also a journey that’s exclusive to PS5 owners, despite Horizon Forbidden West being released on PS4 as well.

Burning Shores is everything you could want from a DLC chapter. It provides more of the Horizon world you know and love, but it is also more focused, visually breathtaking, and expands the story meaningfully.

horizon burning shores review
Image: Guerrilla/Kotaku Australia

The DLC takes place in the ruins of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, an extra portion of the map that features mountain, beach, water, cityscape and volcanic environments all in one. It’s the promise of such a breathtaking environment that makes Burning Shores enticing to pick up, even a year after putting Forbidden West down, and it delivers.

I’d go as far as to say that Horizon Forbidden West is the best-looking game on PS5 right now. From the way sunlight refracts through water or the fluffiness of a cloud in the distance, nothing has really come close to matching its visually stunning and intricately detailed environments.

I don’t know what they’re putting in the water (literally) over at Guerrilla, but somehow the game looks even better now than it did 12 months ago.

The “Is it a game, or is it real-life” challenge (Image: Guerrilla/Kotaku Australia)

Set amongst this beautiful world is an equally lovely story. It’s one of the Horizon franchise’s most compelling narrative arcs to date and holds some important character development for Aloy. While the twist may have quickly been spoiled online (even our U.S. comrades couldn’t help themselves), that doesn’t make this journey any less worth experiencing for yourself.

Following the ending of Horizon Forbidden West, Aloy is tasked with hunting down a stray Far Zenith survivor who is up to nefarious things in California. It wouldn’t truly be Hollywood without an egotistical billionaire and a secretive spiritual cult lurking somewhere, and that’s exactly what Walter Londra (played by Sam Witwer) brings to the table.

horizon burning shores review
Very Scientology vibes. (Image: Guerrilla/Kotaku Australia)

The ruins of L.A. also bring Aloy into contact with the Quen, a water-based tribe devoted to the Old Ones, and thus quite susceptible to Londra’s influence.

The most important member of this tribe is a new character named Seyka, an ambitious Quen warrior on a mission to find her missing sister. Seyka is a capable fighter, full of grit and determination. She’s a true match for Aloy, which is exactly what she needs at this point in her story.

Like Aloy, Seyka is something of an outsider within her tribe. Being an outcast has always been a reliable defence mechanism for Aloy, an excuse to keep people at arm’s length. But when Seyka employs the same methods on her, it serves as a wake-up call. In a city like Los Angeles, it pays to have a companion.

Horizon Forbidden West introduced a lot of new characters, but Seyka is one who really leaves an impression. Rather than just acting as a dialogue pawn, Seyka actually partners with Aloy on her quest, assisting in combat situations and providing enjoyable witty banter. Their relationship is brought to life with authentic and charming performances from Ashly Burch and Kylie Liya Page, which are enhanced by some truly incredible performance capture animation.

It’s worth mentioning that this DLC also showcases Lance Reddick’s last performance as Sylens, and while he’s not on screen for long, he still receives a meaningful arc.

Burning Shores is a lot more self-contained than the previous two games. The gameplay area is cordoned off from the main map, providing a space that is still rich enough to feel satisfying but not overwhelming.

It’s a landscape that is itching to be explored. Anyone who has visited Los Angeles will no doubt enjoy seeing how the city’s iconic landmarks have fared in this apocalypse (trying to catch a flight at LAX really hasn’t changed).

Horizon burning shores review
It’s what the Tom Bradley International Terminal deserves — David. Image: Guerrilla/Kotaku Australia

This is bolstered by new traversal options and the new machines of Burning Shores. There are two major additions to the roster. One is the huge frog-like Bilegut that spawns annoying flying drone offspring.

The other is the Waterwing, a mount that serves both air and water environments. While the Waterwing is basically a modified copy of the Sunwing, it’s hard to deny just how much fun it is to switch seamlessly from soaring through the sky to diving underwater.

Gameplay-wise you’ll find more of the same that was offered in Forbidden West. There’s a balanced mix of hunt-and-kill quests and platforming puzzles, that take place across open-world and closed environments. There are some more menial tasks like cracking door codes, and there are still long-winded conversations with NPCs, but they don’t do much to drag down the story.

The difficulty of the map does feel like it’s been ramped up for this chapter. High-level machines like Slaughterspines, Thunderjaws and Dreadwings appear more frequently, so if you’re feeling rusty on the gameplay after a year away, it’s worth taking time to refamiliarise yourself with the original map first.

horizon burning shores review
That’ll buff out. Image: Guerrilla/Kotaku Australia

It’s hard to find many faults with Burning Shores, but there are a few nitpicks. Quite often I would notice rendering glitches in the environment, particularly while flying. And at one point, I dropped into an inescapable hole in the map. To be fair, these are minor issues that can be patched out, and they didn’t impact my overall enjoyment.

As a piece of additional content, Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores really does tick all the boxes. It’s a blockbuster instalment in every sense of the word. It can easily be knocked out in eight hours or so, but as a story, it will stay with you much longer than that.

Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a Day One code provided by the publisher.

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