Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is a love story. It’s a tale about human connection, in all its many forms: the bond of sisters, the impact of ostracism, and the kindness of strangers. It’s also about taking down giant robot frogs and a megalomaniac immortal – but its wilder notes don’t dilute the flavour and heart of this spin-off adventure.
Burning Shores takes place in the immediate aftermath of Horizon Forbidden West, following the defeat of deluded Far Zenith warrior, Tilda. It’s largely a post-game add-on chapter, but teases the future of Horizon within its small-scale storyline, which introduces key players likely to return in a hypothetical third Horizon game.
As Burning Shores opens, it’s clear the threads left behind in Forbidden West have not been tied, as the threat of Far Zenith – a futuristic colony of immortal warriors looking to reclaim their home on Earth – continues to plague Aloy, this time in the form of a Zenith escapee, Walter Londra.
Londra is a former celebrity with a penchant for theatrics, and his ambition to rule Earth, empowered by a cult of lost people, forms the backbone of the Burning Shores story. Played to over-the-top perfection by voice acting veteran Sam Witwer – who is clearly having the time of his life balancing booming outbursts with a sinister, creeping omnipresence – Londra is a worthy foil for this expansion.
He’s immediately dislikable, and you want to see him fail. This motivation buoys Burning Shores from the outset, and pushes you along its many quests on a tight, 6-hour journey to restore peace in a new realm, and defy the death march of advancing future technologies.
That said, while Londra is a compelling villain with enough charisma to hold the threads of Burning Shores on his own, this chapter’s shining light is another newcomer: Seyka. She’s a confident Quen warrior with the same heartache as Aloy; even within her clan, she feels like an outsider. It’s why she’s so willing to prove herself when her sister, and half of her Quen tribe, vanish under mysterious circumstances.
Crash landing in the Burning Shores on a quest to hunt down Londra before he can corrupt the world, Aloy stumbles across Seyka, and joins her quest to save the Quen – who, as it turns out, have become embroiled with Londra in a cult of personality. His influence spreads throughout the Burning Shores, and its up to Aloy and Seyka to combine their might to fight back against the tide.
And what a marvellous pair they make.
While Aloy has traditionally wandered alone, the Burning Shores expansion mostly features paired quests, where Aloy and Seyka wield their skills in dual exploration and battle.
Walking through a crumbling cavern, they carve paths and footholds for each other, defending against a raft of machines in turns. Their synchronicity grows with each of the expansion’s chapters, evolving their relationship meaningfully even in such a fast-paced story. While Burning Shores packs a blockbuster-sized adventure into its short runtime, it leaves space for slower character moments, and a real sense of growth for Aloy.
This journey evolves to become so compelling that it inadvertently makes Burning Shores feel much smaller and intimate than it really is. With such a strong, linear story, the temptation is to follow each story beat on a hook, drawn along by the beat.
But if you do, you’ll miss yet another piece of the puzzle that makes Burning Shores such a brilliant and frequently eye-opening expansion: the beauty of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles.
The smaller isles on which this story chapter take place are breathtaking. From the realistic water lapping at the shores of sandy beaches to volcanic mountain peaks, by way of elevated dinosaur theme parks, Burning Shores is bursting with wide-open, wonderful sights.
Go off the beaten path, and you’ll find a world of creeping jungle vines, and tropical archipelagoes boasting radiant flora. The game’s story only touches on the depth of this new wilderness, with much of the action centring on Seyka’s town and its surrounding isles. It serves as a highlight reel, and boasts many of the game’s best sights – but there’s far more to discover beyond the expansion’s main storyline.
Take your time, and you’ll be rewarded. With clouds turning overhead, and secrets hiding beneath the waves, the closing of the game’s final chapter can wait.
Like its predecessor, Burning Shores tends towards more abstract sci-fi elements, particularly in its final stanza – which includes one of the largest and grandest scale fights in Horizon – but in focusing on character and human relationships, this unique expansion successfully charts tricky waters.
Where Horizon Forbidden West leant heavily into alienating futurism, Burning Shores successfully grounds its stranger elements within a story that remains defiantly human throughout. By its closing curtain, Burning Shores proves definitively that even despotic future warlords are no match for the strength of human bonds.
Five stars: ★★★★★
HORIZON FORBIDDEN WEST: BURNING SHORES
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: 19 April 2023
This review was originally published on 24 April 2023.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores for PS5 was provided and played for the purposes of this review.