Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores Review: Aloy’s Hollywood Finale

In the latest expansion of Horizon Forbidden West, titled Burning Shores, Los Angeles has transformed into a desolate collection of islands, isolated from the rest of post-apocalyptic California. This once vibrant city now harbors individuals grappling with their own social isolation. Among them, a woman fears being ostracized by her family, an explorer searches desperately for a lost friend, and vulnerable island dwellers find themselves entangled in a cult offering a sense of belonging. It is within this perfect setting that Aloy, an outcast herself, confronts her suppressed anxieties head-on.

If this sounds a bit somber, fear not. The DLC provides a heartwarming conclusion to Aloy’s emotional journey while she continues to battle colossal robot dinosaurs and wealthy elites in a summer blockbuster-style adventure. Aloy seizes the opportunity to introspect and imagine what a settled life would look like for a lone wolf always on the move. Although the portrayal of Los Angeles may feel somewhat sparse, and the short story doesn’t fully explore its interconnected themes, Burning Shores ties up Horizon Forbidden West with a satisfying Hollywood ending. This breezy spectacle seamlessly balances tender character moments with the series’ most exhilarating action set piece to date, allowing Aloy to ride off into the sunset until her next full-fledged adventure.

A Picturesque Getaway

If you’re not already enamored with the Horizon formula, Burning Shores may not win you over. This DLC serves as a condensed version of Forbidden West with only a few unique elements. Its main allure lies in the introduction of a meticulously crafted chain of tropical islands, approximately 20% the size of the base game’s expansive map. Every step reveals stunning, sun-soaked vistas that showcase the evolution of Horizon’s distinct art style. The stark contrast between vibrant natural landscapes and crumbling architecture is fully realized in this expansion and its recent sibling, Horizon Call of the Mountain. Despite some minor graphical glitches, exploring the islands and marveling at the scenery is an enjoyable experience in itself.

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However, the use of Los Angeles as a setting is less awe-inspiring. While certain landmarks make unexpected appearances, the city’s ruins often fail to evoke a sense of exploration. In many ways, it feels reminiscent of the beach aesthetic seen in the main campaign’s version of San Francisco, creating a detachment from its real-world inspiration. There are occasional glimpses of creativity, such as when Aloy stumbles upon a Universal Studios-like theme park, but much of the city’s character remains buried under debris.

The Burning Shores introduce a handful of new open-world activities to discover, including a challenging flying course that uncovers additional lore. However, the islands themselves are not densely populated with interactive content. Large portions of the map are reserved for side quests, leaving little room for exploration once the main story concludes. While there are ruins to solve and camps to conquer along the way, the DLC ultimately feels more like a sightseeing trip.

Overall, Burning Shores offers modest additions, but they are sufficient to validate the DLC. Although it introduces only a small selection of new machine adversaries, each one leaves a lasting impression. Notably, the waterwings allow Aloy to dive underwater mid-flight, creating an exhilarating sequence where she must evade incoming attacks from a tower’s defensive system. Personally, I found the toad-like machine particularly delightful, as its combat mechanics pose an enjoyable puzzle of sniping at its belly while it leaps into the air. Some of the content in this expansion serves as a tantalizing preview of what players can expect from future mainline Horizon games. One standout addition is a new weapon—a wholly alien, modern piece of technology that differs greatly from Aloy’s familiar bows and javelins. It left me yearning for a sequel that delves further into this concept, exploring how Aloy adapts to a world of advanced weaponry. Burning Shores may not provide an abundance of fresh content, but its ideas could potentially shape the future of the series.

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Cultivating Personality

One of the remarkable aspects of last year’s Horizon Forbidden West was its politically charged narrative. The story revolved around a group of ultra-rich elites, known as Zeniths, who had fled Earth after its destruction, only to return and attempt to reclaim it at the expense of its surviving inhabitants. This searing critique closely paralleled real-world figures like Jeff Bezos, challenging their indifference toward the world beyond their own orbit. Burning Shores continues this theme, albeit briefly, failing to fully capitalize on its rich premise.

Aloy’s mission in the Burning Shores is to investigate Walter Londra, a rogue Zenith who had been something of a tabloid sensation before the apocalypse. Now, he has assumed the role of a deluded deity within a charismatic cult on Earth. This exploration of modern celebrity examines the unsettling dynamics of power and the manipulation of parasocial relationships. It serves as a compelling extension to Forbidden West’s overarching narrative, offering a sci-fi tale that delves into the vulnerabilities of those susceptible to social brainwashing.

Concurrently, Burning Shores weaves a more intimate story involving a new character named Seyka. A tribe member who fears rejection by her family, Seyka enlists Aloy’s help in locating her missing sister. As they embark on their journey, the two develop a close bond, providing ample opportunities to explore the broader themes of the DLC. It is through Seyka’s unwavering commitment to her loved ones that Aloy begins to reflect on her own relationships. She contemplates the concept of home, navigating a life perpetually on the move. The weight of this question is further amplified during a poignant moment with Sylens, voiced by the late Lance Reddick, serving as a sobering reminder to treasure loved ones in their presence or risk an immeasurable void upon their absence.

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Although these ideas fail to fully blossom within the constraints of a short questline, the DLC truly shines during its blockbuster final mission. The threads of the story coalesce into an astonishing boss fight, setting a new benchmark for the series in terms of scale and spectacle. This climactic encounter is followed by a significant moment of character development for Aloy—guaranteed to spark conversations among players. It is the kind of crowd-pleasing finale to be expected from a tightly wrapped summer action film, further establishing Sony’s first-party cinematic formula as a potential rival to Hollywood itself.

Despite its status as a content-light side story, Burning Shores proves itself to be a consequential addition to Aloy’s journey, as she unlearns her isolated perspective on heroism. She must set aside her ego and allow herself to be vulnerable among the people she cherishes most, lest she end up a solitary figure, lost amidst the waterlogged ruins of Los Angeles.

Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores was reviewed on a PlayStation 5.

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