Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores serves fans a substantial dessert that brings the main course of the campaign to a satisfying close. A dangerous new sandbox and a compelling story await Aloy, offering a nice wrap-up that also provides some tantalizing glimpses into the future.
Unlike Zero Dawn’s Frozen Wilds DLC, which was a good but skippable side story, Burning Shores has enough relevant plot advancement to make it closer to required playing. Taking place immediately after the sequel’s conclusion, this abbreviated tale sees Aloy travel to the volcanically fractured remains of Los Angeles to confront perhaps the series’ most twisted villain yet. The adventure takes some exciting turns and provides what I wanted most: a potential narrative blueprint for the third game. Burning Shores’ conclusion lays a good foundation for how Aloy and friends will tackle the next threat, so it’s a bummer PlayStation 4 owners have to settle for watching it on YouTube. I also enjoyed getting to spend more time with the Quen, my favorite faction in Forbidden West, especially because they introduced us to Seyka, Aloy’s new companion and one of the primary highlights of Burning Shores.
This capable warrior serves as the catalyst of Burning Shores’ story and sticks to Aloy’s side throughout the expansion. Seyka is essentially a more charismatic version of Aloy herself: steadfast and sometimes bull-headed, but gentle and loving to those in need, and with an endearing sense of humor to boot. Though the blossoming of their bond feels a little rushed to fit within the DLC’s shorter runtime, the two huntresses have some amusing interactions, such as trading humorous observations while exploring a crumbling dinosaur theme park. I hope we see more of Seyka in the future because she quickly skyrocketed toward the upper echelon of the series’ best characters.
The islands that make up the former Tinseltown look unsurprisingly stunning; the volcanic lava rivers offer a great change of visual imagery. It’s a bummer that these molten hazards don’t factor more directly into gameplay, but LA sports a fun emphasis on verticality that takes more advantage of your flying mounts. Skyscrapers boast hidden entrances and secrets situated multiple stories above ground, letting me get more mileage out of my Sunwing or Waterwing, a new swimming variation that’s now my favorite mount. Aerial versions of the VR scenery puzzles further encourage going airborne, to the point that flying overshadows Aloy’s new motorized boat. Despite being the centerpiece mode of transportation for Burning Shores, the boat’s slower speed and its access being tethered to docks can’t overcome the thrill and convenience of flying anywhere at will (or fast travel, for that matter). As a result, I rarely used it outside of the required segments.
The handful of new machines that occupy the Burning Shores, such as a giant frog and oversized mechanical flies, aren’t as jaw-dropping as some of the existing machines, but they provide enjoyable new tests of your combat prowess. On top of dismantling these foes for new upgrade parts, I spent most of my time hunting a valuable new resource called Brimstone, glowing crystals used as the primary crafting material for Burning Shores’ new suite of powerful legendary weapons and armor. I appreciate that Brimstone is relatively abundant, letting me quickly acquire a fresh arsenal and wardrobe.
Still, outside of obtaining a powerful new firearm mid-way through the expansion, Burning Shores doesn’t introduce features that dramatically shake up combat encounters. However, Seyka’s near-constant presence adds a welcome helping hand in a fight. She’s genuinely useful, often picking apart foes on her own or tying them down with her ropecaster so I can go in for the kill. Early on, puzzle-solving takes on a neat cooperative edge, such as Aloy and Seyka working together to build climbing paths for one another using a siege weapon. These sequences can trick you into thinking you’re playing with another real person, though I wish these ladies had more obstacles to tackle together during the rest of the experience.
Burning Shores is an entertaining epilogue for Aloy’s sophomore outing. It’s more Forbidden West with a few cool wrinkles, meaning it’s a good reminder of the things that the game did right while retaining a few old headaches (like the hand-holding during puzzles). More than anything, Aloy’s trip to Hollywood justifies its existence by meaningfully building upon the base game’s story, paving a solid runway for the next title to take off.