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April 2024

Horizon Forbidden West

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Release Date: Feb. 18, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Horizon: Forbidden West' Burning Shores DLC

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 28, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Horizon Forbidden West continues Aloy's story as she moves west to a far-future America to brave a majestic, but dangerous frontier where she’ll face awe-inspiring machines and mysterious new threats.

Buy Horizon: Forbidden West

The mouthful of a title, Horizon: Forbidden West – Burning Shores, returns players to the shoes of robo-dinosaur hunter Aloy. The DLC is set after the events of the main game, which the player must have completed to play the DLC. Upon a request from her now-ally Sylens (voiced by the late Lance Reddick), Aloy heads to the ruins of Los Angeles to hunt down the last remaining member of the evil Zenith organization. She's there for about five minutes before a tower shoots her out of the sky and she lands a few feet away from Seyka, a Quen soldier who, like Aloy herself, is an outcast from her tribe due to her willingness to break taboos and embrace science. The two team up to find Seyka's lost sister and take down the last Zenith for the final time.

I feel torn on Burning Shores' story. I absolutely get what they were going for: humanizing Aloy and giving her a chance to have an adventure with someone who is closer to her equal. The problem is that it doesn't really commit to it. Aside from the nature of such an adventure being DLC, it ends up feeling wishy-washy in its commitment to the events. It is no real surprise that the adventure is a romance story; it was bluntly obvious from even the trailers, but the emotional climax is a weird, rare occasion where you can choose an outcome that feels pointless. Either it means the path is going to be chosen for the sequel (it's obvious which one it would be) or the events will not be relevant or shuffled to the side (deeply unsatisfying).

It took me out of what was obviously supposed to be the emotional and romantic climax of the story when it felt geared to walk itself back. Perhaps it is because the story is inevitably going to have to walk back due to the tragic death of Reddick, as the DLC clearly was setting up Sylens to be a major player in Horizon 3. Short of recasting, that isn't going to happen. It adds a sad shroud to the DLC when at the end, I couldn't help but feel like nothing was promised to stick, both through developer choices and sad reality.

Aside from that, it's a pretty rollicking good Horizon adventure. Like the main game, Burning Shores largely revolves around Aloy finding and defeating a thinly veiled metaphor for the corrupt greed of billionaires. In this case, it's Walter Londra, the last surviving Zenith, who is basically Elon Musk shifted one degree to the right. He's a cartoonishly villain, but that is kind of true for all the Zeniths, and there is enough cartoonish silliness in the real world that the character is still realistic. I can't say it feels essential, as the bulk of the story exists to give Aloy and Seyka a chance to grow and interact, but it sticks close to Horizon's central thesis of "self-absorbed rich people are going to destroy the world."

As far as the gameplay goes, not a lot has changed. Aloy's core combat kit hasn't evolved overly much from what is present in the main game. There are a handful of new skills, but they are largely quality of life (QoL) improvements, such as the ability to instantly grapple a downed enemy, which makes combat flow a lot more smoothly. There are also a handful of weapons, including one brand-new weapon that's outside of Aloy's usual wheelhouse. I am torn on the last weapon, the Specter Gauntlet, as it is fun to use but doesn't fit the franchise's "techno-primitive hunter" weapon lineup. As a reward for endgame content, it's pretty nice.

There are a handful of new robot types, but only a couple stand out. The Waterwings are a new flying enemy that can also dive underwater, something Aloy can put to great use later in the DLC. They're a neat concept and make me hope that Horizon 3 finds a way to retain access to cool mounts with distinct abilities. My favorite of the new pure-enemy types is a gross, toad-like creature that spews toxic chemicals and can lay "eggs" that hatch into annoying little flying creatures. It's a challenging opponent and made more so by the fact it has multiple caches of valuable materials that you need to shoot off, or they're lost when it dies.

The visual design is amazing. It's clear that the development team went all out, and it's a breathtakingly beautiful game. It's even better than the original Forbidden West, perhaps because it is a PS5 exclusive instead of cross-gen. The amount of visual flair and use of lighting makes the game shine. If I had one complaint, it would be that the game doesn't often feel like L.A. While it sometimes shines (like a cool amusement park set piece), it's often indistinguishable from the ruins we saw in San Francisco.

I wish there were more to say, but Horizon: Forbidden West – Burning Shores is a short piece of DLC. It's like a quick episode of a TV show rather than a full-length movie. There's still quite a bit of content here, but the intent of the DLC is largely to set up plot threads for Horizon 3 and give Aloy a chance for some romance. If you're hankering for more Horizon, it fills that niche well, but it doesn't feel as essential as The Frozen Wilds did to Horizon: Zero Dawn.

Score: 8.0/10

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