Horizon Zero Dawn: Frozen Wilds built upon what made that first outing so special by expanding the story, setting up what was coming next, and adding just enough new gameplay aspects to liven up the core mechanics. Guerrilla Games showed that it knew how to make worthy DLC once and has proved it yet again with Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores. This expansion is comparatively even better than Frozen Wilds with a new setting, villain, and gameplay adjustments that are even more thorough and make for an excellent way to cap off the studio’s best game.
Horizon Zero Dawn not only proved that Guerrilla Games could make an open-world action role-playing game but also showed it…
Burning Shores, its fancy name for Los Angeles, is filled with the same stunning greenery from the main game and appropriately has some new lava-ridden areas, but is more noteworthy because of who is in it. The Quen tribe that was introduced in Forbidden West has splintered off in this area and is the only group in this area of the world. This focus gives them room to shine in a way the base game simply didn’t make the time for. Their oppressive hierarchical structure and susceptibility to worshiping false prophets are studied here in both the main campaign and a few of the side missions and adds in a good amount of narrative context; none of it is filler.
A lot of this is channeled through Seyka, the Quen warrior companion Aloy spends most of the journey with. She’s resourceful and fierce, yet also empathetic, imperfect, and held back by the political structures and arbitrary traditions she’s chained to, all of which mirror Aloy. Their ambitions and drive are similar and those are both great qualities for a character, but they’re still different enough to avoid feeling like copies of one another. Seyka is more personable and expressive and a bit more well-rounded because of it.
Some of this seems to have rubbed off onto Aloy, as Guerrilla has taken steps to add more personality to the red-headed archer. While Aloy has always been a determined underdog, she’s also come off as slightly robotic in the past. It makes sense for an outcast to be awkward and the world-ending stakes leave little room for personal reflection, but she didn’t take much time for her own needs. Without radically changing Aloy, Guerrilla has smartly started focusing more on Aloy’s humanity and used Seyka to do so, making her an even greater character and an outstanding addition to the cast that deserves to be in the inevitable sequel.
There are still world-ending stakes, though, and Burning Shores manages to tell a story that builds upon Forbidden West’s dire ending that also works as its own stand-alone tale. The new threat is a self-obsessed narcissist that fits in with the other Far Zenith lunatics that he broke apart from and is thoroughly evil enough to always be entertaining, especially in the mission that’s dedicated to his wildly inflated ego. Uncovering his plan and discovering his nefarious motivations makes for a solid and well-paced mystery that’s only bolstered by Seyka’s relation to it. Its tight structure is even more impressive considering how deftly it links to the end of Forbidden West, tells its own story, and hints at what’s to come, making it a story that succeeds on multiple fronts.
The final boss is a culmination of these many beats and is Horizon’s most spectacular set piece due to its overwhelming scale. Contending with such a large machine as it stomps around is simply a sight to behold and makes quite an argument for Burning Shores’ PlayStation 5 exclusivity. This exhausting multi-stage battle also borrows the mechanics from the main game, so it acts as a true test for the skills players have spent time honing and isn’t something that prioritizes scope above all else. Plastering the fight all over the store page and every piece of key art and trailer takes the surprise out of the reveal, but it’s still a breathtaking encounter that has raised the bar for bosses within the series.
Horizon’s many massive mechanical monstrosities mean that climactic encounters aren’t rare, and there are still plenty of thrilling fights with the traditional lineup of beasts from the main game. Burning Shores does add a few more to the mix in the form of the frog-like Bilegut and fly-adjacent Stingspawn. Bileguts are tough to take down and hop around in a way that differentiates them from the other high-tier threats and makes carefully shooting off parts that much more tense. Stingspawn, on the other hand, can be shot down with a single arrow, which is a bottom-tier class of machine that Horizon hasn’t had yet. And since Bileguts can lay Stingspawn eggs, the two are cleverly interconnected and bring something different to Horizon both individually and together.
Burning Shores’ other gameplay additions are similarly superb. The new Waterwing mount that can fly and swim makes underwater movement easier and is at the heart of one of Burning Shores’ other riveting set pieces. The added branches on each skill tree are also useful and add more depth to combat, particularly the ability to grapple off flying mounts for added mobility and quickly tie down again machines just after they’ve recovered from being tied down. Aloy’s new Mega Man-like arm cannon not only looks fancy, but is a powerful weapon that takes skill to use properly and isn’t just the thoughtless blaster it could have been. There’s even a swath of new weapons, gear, and harder coliseum tier, and all of these additions make Burning Shores and Forbidden West one connected experience where the strengths of this DLC aren’t just locked to the confines of its smoldering map.
Burning Shores’ overall connectivity is a big part of why it is a fantastic expansion since it bolsters what Forbidden West set up, carries over most of its gameplay additions, and also hints at what’s next. But it does so in a finely tuned adventure that also has its own individual strengths, as Seyka is a charismatic addition to the cast and the finale is the most climactic send-off in the series. These make Burning Shores strong as a singular unit but one that excels because of this multifaceted approach that hypes up what’s waiting on the horizon.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 9 equates to “Excellent.” Entertainment that reaches this level is at the top of its type. The gold standard that every creator aims to reach.
Disclosure: The publisher provided a PlayStation 5 copy for our Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores review. Reviewed on version 1.022.000.