Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores review - A brief, yet bold new chapter
Horizon Forbidden West was one of my personal favorite games of 2022, despite having played through the entire story on the most inferior hardware possible, the base PlayStation 4. To be honest, I wasn't initially on-board with Horizon Zero Dawn getting a sequel, since I always thought the very first title in the series had a perfect, satisfying conclusion.
However, after having played the sequel, experiencing Aloy's story, and seeing her grow not only as a Nora warrior, but also as an individual, I was proven wrong. I was genuinely impressed by the work, love, and passion the Guerrilla Games put into the game's story and how it continued Aloy's story, without making it feel forced or inorganic.
With Burning Shores, Guerrilla Games once again proves its storytelling and game-design prowess. It provides an immaculately crafted narrative expansion that not only acts as a continuation of the base game, but also a glimpse at what awaits for Aloy (and players alike) in the next installment of the series.
I spent nearly 40 hours playing the Burning Shores DLC on the PlayStation 5, completing basically everything that the expansion has to offer, from the main story quests to the plethora of side content.
In that time, I never had a single dull moment. From the jaw-dropping "next-gen" visuals to the bold narrative, I absolutely adored the way Guerrilla Games crafted this brief, yet impactful DLC.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is the beginning of a new chapter in Aloy's journey
Visuals and graphical fidelity
Having played Horizon Forbidden West for more than 200 hours on the PlayStation 4, I was anxiously waiting for Guerrilla Games to drop any information regarding the next installment. I was also praying to get a DLC announcement, so that I could get a reason to jump back into the game.
You can only imagine my excitement when PlayStation announced Burning Shores, the story DLC for Horizon Forbidden West.
However, my excitement was immediately shattered by the fact that Burning Shores was releasing exclusively for the PlayStation 5, which, at the time, was like a myth to me.
I was genuinely heartbroken, and was kind of confused as to why Guerrilla Games chose to make a PS5-exclusive DLC for a cross-gen title. However, having played Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores on my newly acquired console, I can totally understand the decision.
Burning Shores being built exclusively for the PlayStation 5 gave Guerrilla the necessary leg-room to stretch its creative muscles. It did so without getting bottlenecked by the limitations presented by the almost-decade-old PS4 hardware, and it really shows in the end product. The DLC is a major improvement over the base game in terms of both scope and raw visual fidelity.
Horizon Forbidden West already looks stunning on the PlayStation 5 (and also on PlayStation 4, albeit with some noticeable cutbacks). However, Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores takes the game's visuals to a whole new level. It makes the DLC a perfect showcase of PS5's graphical prowess, right alongside titles like Demon's Souls, Returnal, and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
The higher resolution textures, immaculate use of volumetrics, and the massively improved global illumination are some of the things that I immediately noticed as soon as I booted up the DLC.
Most of my playthrough was on the Favor Performance mode, which targets a 1440p resolution and 60fps. However, I did try out the Favor Quality mode that targets native 4K resolution, and the game looked absolutely stunning.
Burning Shores' super impressive visuals also contributed to reigniting my love for photomode in video games, especially those created by PlayStation's first-party studios.
Out of the 40 hours that I spent playing the DLC, 40% of my time was spent capturing the perfect screenshot to use as a wallpaper for my desktop, which is something I rarely do in video games. The last title that enamored me with its visuals and photomode was God of War Ragnarok, and now it's Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores.
A similar gameplay loop as the base game, but with some innovative ideas thrown in
In terms of moment-to-moment gameplay, Guerrilla Games has mostly approached Burning Shores just like an expansion of the base game, with basically the same quest and gameplay loop.
You will undertake main story quests and side missions, go up against robo-dinosaurs, and scavenge the open world for loot that you can use to craft new and more powerful weapons.
However, there are a few key changes made to the combat and traversal system, which massively enhances the moment-to-moment gameplay in Horizon Forbidden West: Bunrning Shores.
First things first, there are 18 new skills for players to unlock (two in each skill tree). Further, there are six new Valor Surges. These add some really cool and powerful abilities for Aloy to use when going up against the mechanical threats in the title.
Although the skills present in the base game were a great expansion of Aloy's combat abilities, I was never compelled to use them, even after I played the entire run on Hard difficulty. However, with Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores, it was a bit different. The skills, most of which were active abilities instead of passive options like in the base game, gave me a greater incentive to use them.
The Machine Grapple Strike is one of my favorite skills in the DLC. It is one of the newly added options in the Hunter skill tree and allows you to latch onto a machine after it's stunned and follow-up with a quick-time event (QTE) to deal massive damage. Contrary to how I played the base game, I found myself using the skill quite often, and it also made me switch up my playstyle a bit.
Guerrilla Games also expanded Aloy's traversal skillset by adding a new geyser gliding mechanic, which adds a lot of verticality to the game's traversal and also the combat system.
All-in-all, there are some really cool new additions that players, especially those who have been playing on-and-off since launch, would really appreciate.
Apart from the new skills and traversal abilities, Burning Shores also includes a brand new weapon for players to use, the Specter Gauntlet. Not only is it one of the most coolest-looking weapons in the game, but it's also the most powerful. You unlock it automatically while going through the main story questline. However, in order to maximize the weapon's combat potential, you will want to upgrade it.
Upgrading the Specter Gauntlet is not as straightforward as gaining access to the weapon since it requires a special resource. You will gain access to it only if you are thorough in your exploration and also engage in the DLC's many intriguing side quests.
Exploring the open world is a joy
Talking about the side quests, I feel Guerrilla Games has finally struck a balance with Burning Shores so as to not make the open world feel empty or bloated.
While I adore the previous Horizon titles, including the base game of Horizon Forbidden West, i was never a fan of the open world itself. It always felt like a chore to explore the vast and desolate landscape, with very few things to make exploration feel organic.
However, with Burning Shores, Guerrilla Games has finally addressed this issue by making the open-world exploration segments feel like a part of the narrative and not a tacked-on element that makes the game feel bloated. Exploring the open world in Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is an integral part of the experience, and one that is quite rewarding as well.
More often than not, you will come across a really fascinating side quest or a relic ruin with unique rewards or even a really challenging boss fight against Apex machines. All of this will happen while organically exploring the open world.
I remember a quest that I accidentally triggered by chasing a Stormbird that attacked me while I was trying to get closer to the thunderstorm looming over a tower.
The quest not only delivered an intriguing narrative, but also rewarded me with rare upgrade resources and a legendary weapon. What's more intriguing is the fact that it is entirely optional, and from what I can gather, most players will not even find it if they don't go near the thundering clouds. This thing reminds me of those obscure questlines in Elden Ring that you will only stumble upon if you are thorough in your exploration.
There are very few open-world games that stick the landing when it comes to exploration (Elden Ring, Skyrim and The Witcher 3, comes to mind), and the Burning Shores DLC is one of them.
A masterfully told story, with a bold, yet satisfying conclusion
As a fan of story-driven single-player games, I was really impressed by what Guerrilla Games presented with the very first Horizon entry. The premise of a primitive civilization living in harmony with mechanical beasts was something that I found to be really intriguing.
When I got to play Horizon Zero Dawn for myself, untangling the mystery behind the robo-dinosaurs and the tribal communities, it got me really invested into the series.
However, with the revelations made in the first title's conclusion, I did not think Guerrilla Games would be able to deliver something similar, if not better, in terms of narrative. While the studio managed to craft a rather fascinating storyline involving the Far Zeniths, and the impending doom that the earth still faces, courtesy of rogue AIs, including Nemesis, for the sequel, it wasn't as impactful as the first game.
However, Guerrilla seems to have made some really necessary changes with Burning Shores. They have made the entire narrative experience a more cohesive and enjoyable experience than the base Horizon Forbidden West. The plot is basically the same as the base game on the surface, with a Far Zenith as an antagonist and a massive underlying threat that only Aloy is aware of.
Despite the superficial similarities, Burning Shores' plot, despite being only 6-7 hours long, is much more enjoyable. Dare I say, it is more cohesive than any of the previous Horizon stories, including the base Horizon Forbidden West. What makes the DLC's storyline different is the fact that it's focused more on Aloy and her inner struggles than the larger world itself.
I always liked Aloy’s character, especially due to the phenomenal voice work of Ashley Burch, but she never stood out to me as a protagonist. This was largely due to the way Guerrilla wrote the story in its games, which rarely focused on Aloy herself, instead mostly capitalizing on the grander narrative of the world itself.
Stories focused on the game's world, instead of the protagonists themselves, aren't inherently bad (the best examples being FromSoftware's Dark Souls games).
However, such stories should be relegated to titles where the protagonist is not a pre-defined character, instead a custom avatar that players can use as a vessel to communicate with the world and its inhabitants.
The Horizon series has a pre-defined character whom we get to see grow from an outcast to a Nora warrior, to ultimately the savior of the Meridian. Thus, it always felt a little jarring and confusing to me as to why Guerrilla never focused on Aloy and her inner struggles in these games.
Apart from Sylens, played by Lance Reddick, Aloy did not seem to have any form of chemistry with any of the other characters in the story.
Fortunately, the developers finally gave Aloy the attention she needed with Burning Shores. They fleshed out her character, gave her human emotions, and above all, a companion whom she can relate to. Without going too deep into spoilers, I really liked the dynamic between Aloy and her newfound Quen ally, Seyka.
There is no doubt that the way the game ends is going to leave a sour taste in some players' mouths; it might even deter them from seeing Aloy's journey continue with the next installment in the series. However, I commend Guerrilla Games for sticking to its guns and delivering a story that is as well crafted as the game's open world itself.
The only complaint I have with the story is the overreliance on expository dialog, which can be jarring for players looking forward to enjoying a straightforward narrative.
Burning Shores is a fantastic follow-up to the base Horizon Forbidden West, and one that organically continues the story of Aloy and the world of Horizon as a whole. Built exclusively for the PlayStation 5, Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is an excellent showcase for Sony's current-gen console hardware.
It features essentially the same overarching plot as the base game. However, it excels at delivering a rather personal story of Aloy, something that developer Guerrilla Games rarely delved into in the series' previous titles.
Combine that with some really cool new skills that expand Aloy's existing combat and traversal abilities, Burning Shores DLC is a definitive Horizon experience, and one that also gives fans a glimpse at what's to come in the series' future.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5 (Review copy provided by PlayStation)
Platform(s): PlayStation 5
Developer(s): Guerrilla Games
Publisher(s): Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release date: April 19, 2023