Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores review: Aloy gets a Hollywood ending
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores
“Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is a light, but crowd-pleasing DLC chapter that sets the stage for Aloy’s next adventure.”
- Drop-dead gorgeous location
- Memorable machines
- Exciting new tools
- Weighty narrative
- Underutilized LA setting
- World feels a bit empty
- Main quest is brief
In Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores, Los Angeles is a lonely town. Reduced to a series of desolate islands disconnected from the rest of postapocalyptic California, the once bustling city has become a haven for people battling their own social isolation. A woman fears she’ll be kicked out of her family, a familiar explorer desperately searches for a lost friend, and some vulnerable island dwellers find themselves caught up in a cult that promises them a sense of family. It’s a perfect place for an outcast like Aloy to grapple with her own repressed dread.
If that all sounds like a bit of a drag, don’t worry. The open-world sequel’s reasonably sized DLC tells a sweet (if not a little hokey) story that caps off an important emotional journey for its heroine. While she’s once again fighting massive robot dinosaurs and rich elites in a high-stakes summer blockbuster, Aloy gets to do some much-needed soul searching in LA. It’s a reflective island getaway where she finally gets to picture what settling down looks like for a lone wolf who’s always on the move.
Though its take on LA feels a bit bare and its short story is too rushed to fully pay off its crisscrossing thematic threads, Burning Shores gives Horizon Forbidden West a neat Hollywood ending. It’s a breezy spectacle that balances tender character moments with the series’ most exciting action set piece to date, letting Aloy ride off into the sunset until her next full adventure.
If you aren’t already sold on the Horizon formula, Burning Shores isn’t likely to win you over. The DLC is a bite-sized version of Forbidden West with only a few new tricks of its own. The main attraction here is its new location, a densely detailed chain of tropical islands that’s about 20% the size of the base game’s sprawling map. You can’t go two steps without walking into a gorgeous, sun-soaked vista. It really feels like Horizon’s art style has fully come into its own between this and Horizon Call of the Mountain this year, doubling down on the contrast between colorful natural landscapes and decaying architecture. Even with some lingering pop-in, flying around and soaking it all in is a pleasurable experience in itself.
What’s a bit less awe-inspiring is its use of Los Angeles as a setting. While some of the city’s landmarks pop up in surprising ways, it rarely feels like I’m exploring its ruins. It’s not too distinct from the main campaign’s version of San Francisco, reusing its beach aesthetic in a way that feels disconnected from its real-world inspiration at times. There are flashes of creativity, like when Aloy stumbles into a Universal Studios-like theme park, but the city’s personality feels a bit too buried under all that debris.
There are a few new open-world activities to discover around the islands, like a flying challenge that unlocks new lore. The Burning Shores aren’t too densely populated with things to do, though. Sizable chunks of its map are more reserved for sidequests, leaving little to explore afterwards. I found myself a little disappointed anytime I’d trek out to a far-off island only to discover I couldn’t do much there until I started a questline. There’s a puzzle-like ruin or a camp to wipe out along the way, but the DLC feels more like a sightseeing trip.
Some of the best content included here can feel like a tantalizing teaser for the next mainline Horizon game.
Burning Shores is a touch light on new features overall, though there’s enough to justify the DLC. It only adds a small handful of new machines, but each is memorable in its own way. Waterwings, for instance, are a new flying mount that can dive underwater midflight. That makes for a thrilling story sequence where Aloy needs to dodge incoming fire from a tower’s defense mechanism by diving underwater to avoid projectiles. A new toad-like machine is my personal favorite, as there’s a satisfying combat puzzle that comes from trying to snipe at its belly as it leaps into the air.
Some of the best content included here can feel like a tantalizing teaser for the next mainline Horizon game. In particular, Aloy gets one new weapon — a more modern piece of tech that’s entirely alien from her bows and javelins — midway through the campaign that quickly became my go-to machine slayer. It left me dreaming of a sequel that follows that thread further, working more advanced weaponry into Aloy’s world and examining how she adapts to it. Burning Shores may not be rich with new content, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of its ideas become series-defining hooks going forward.
What especially stands out about last year’s Horizon Forbidden West is its politically fierce narrative. That story revolved around a group of ultrarich elites (Zeniths) who fled the Earth after destroying it and looked to reclaim it at the expense of its survivors. It was a searing and not so subtle teardown of real-world figures like Jeff Bezos, questioning their cavalier attitudes toward the real world outside of their own orbit. Burning Shores continues that thread, though its story is too brief to get the most out of a loaded premise.
t’s the kind of crowd-pleasing ending I expect from a neatly wrapped summer action flick …
Aloy gets sent to the Burning Shores to investigate Walter Londra, a rogue Zenith who was a tabloid sensation pre-apocalypse. Now he’s a deluded jerk who returned to Earth to position himself as a God at the center of a charismatic cult. It’s a logical critical extension of Forbidden West’s story, this time exploring the uncomfortable power dynamics present in modern celebrity. It’s a sci-fi tale about the way dangerous people weaponize parasocial relationships and the kinds of people who are susceptible to social brainwashing.
Balancing that out, Burning Shores also tells a more intimate story around its new character, Seyka. A tribe member who fears being cast out by her family, Seyka asks for Aloy’s assistance in tracking down her lost sister. The two become travel companions for most of the main quest, giving them plenty of opportunities to bounce some of the DLC’s big picture themes off one another. It’s through Seyka’s commitment to her loved ones that Aloy begins to reflect on her own relationships. What does home look like for someone who’s always on the move? Which people does she want to hold close to her? That last question brings some extra emotional weight, as a final moment with Sylens (voiced by the late Lance Reddick) serves as a somber reminder to value your loved ones while they’re still here or be left with a deep absence when they’re gone.
Those ideas don’t get space to fully bloom in a short series of quests, but the DLC really delivers in its blockbuster final mission. Its story threads come to a head in a jaw-dropping final boss fight that sets a new standard for the series in terms of scale and spectacle. That’s followed up by a significant moment of character development for Aloy that’s sure to stir up some conversations. It’s the kind of crowd-pleasing ending I expect from a neatly wrapped summer action flick, further establishing that Sony’s first-party cinematic formula may have surpassed Hollywood’s.
Despite being a content-light side story, Burning Shores isn’t an inconsequential DLC chapter. It’s an important step in Aloy’s journey as she unlearns her isolated views on heroism. She has to toss her ego to the side and let her defenses down around the people she loves, lest she end up another lonely soul paddling around the waterlogged ruins of Los Angeles.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores was reviewed on a PlayStation 5.