Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores review: a soaring new high
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Featured Image Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Guerrilla Games have, once again, proven their industry-leading prowess. Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is a soaring new high for the franchise. Serving as the perfect set-up for an assumedly soon-to-be-announced Horizon 3, Burning Shores is yet another step up for the series, telling what is undeniably the most cohesive and personal story to date. Add in a stellar new sidekick, refreshed gameplay, and an expansive new world to explore, and Burning Shores is an unmissable highlight - both for the series and the PlayStation 5.
Burning Shores refers to the ruins of Los Angeles. Sent on a quest by Sylens who warns her of a dangerous and imminent new threat, Aloy must team up with Sekya - a member of a displaced portion of the Quen tribe. It turns out, one more member of the Far Zeniths, Walter Londra, is alive and is causing a variety of issues for those living on the Burning Shores. Aloy soon discovers that the threat Londra poses may tie in with her ongoing fight against Nemesis. It wouldn’t be Horizon if Aloy didn’t end up saving the world.
Take a look at the launch trailer for Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores below.
Londra is undoubtedly one of the series’ most interesting villains. In his heyday, before the fall of mankind, he was a famous tech entrepreneur, married to a high-profile actress. Bored with simply developing tech, Londra spread his efforts into the entertainment business, opening up a dinosaur themed holopark. You’ll visit this impressive locale and it’s interesting to watch Sekya and Aloy hold a mirror up to our own society, totally baffled by the concepts of celebrity and fear as entertainment. Particularly when it comes to Londra, these detrimental obsessions fuel a darker goal.
It’s clear that Londra’s celebrity status, prior to mankind’s fall, has fuelled the worst sides to him. He’s become egotistical and self obsessed. As a Zenith, an already superior being, these traits are pushed to even greater extremities and it’s not long before Londra’s actions pose cataclysmic consequences for Aloy and the Quen. It’s a gripping tale and one that, despite the fantastical proportions of this world, feels rooted in the cold, hard and ugly truths of our own.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Sekya may just be Aloy’s best sidekick to date. Back when Horizon Zero Dawn released, Aloy was a total lone wolf. Horizon Forbidden West taught her that actually, the help of a friend can make you stronger. Here, we see Aloy forge a relationship simply because it makes her happy. Sure, Aloy and Sekya may have been brought together by a need to save this small corner of the world but by the end of the story, it’s clear that there’s a much deeper bond beneath the convenient alliance - one that’ll draw Aloy and Sekya together long after the Burning Shores have been saved.
Ashly Burch once again shines as Aloy, adding a new emotional vulnerability that’s endearing to see in our battle-hardened warrior. Kylie Liya Page as Sekya is also phenomenal. It’s incredible how in the space of a relatively short and succinct story, you’re left feeling like these characters have known each other their whole lives. Sekya is a major asset to the franchise and I’m almost certain we’ll see her again. Both actresses' performances are enhanced by Guerrilla’s stellar Decima engine. Every furrowed brow, tweak of the mouth, and furtive glance can be seen, building a much-needed sense of familiarity and realism in a world that’s so different to our own.
Burning Shores’ graphics are hands down the best I’ve ever seen, equal parts impressive and beautiful. Thanks to the brand new Waterwing machine, every element of this stunning world is available for you to explore. One minute you’re gliding through the clouds, the next you’re nose diving into the ocean, revealing a totally new world below the water’s surface. Of course, every video game open-world has boundaries somewhere, but the magic is made when those are never encountered - when the world you're exploring feels limitless. Burning Shores achieved that.
It’s also an incredibly responsive world. Machines, like in Forbidden West, will alter and change the vegetation as they hurl towards you - palm trees taking the brunt of their rampage. At one stage, I found myself caught in a rather deadly open-world event thunderstorm that, unfortunately for Aloy, quickly saw me off. This all adds to the immersion though.
For an expansion, there’s a vast amount of things to do outside of the main story. Burning Shores includes several side quests, bandit camps (they’re not ‘bandits’ this time around but I won’t give too much away), a couple of relic ruins featuring new dino-themed collectables, and more. This map is stacked with content. My one gripe is that this isn’t immediately noticeable unless you really explore, seeing as there’s no Tallneck here to highlight these landmarks. In fact, it was only on referring to the trophy list that I discovered a bunch of things I’d missed so perhaps a Tallneck wouldn’t have gone amiss.
When it comes to gameplay, Burning Shores keeps the formula fresh. As a post-game expansion, you’ll have all of your pre-existing weapons but Burning Shores also introduces a couple of new options - and I really mean new. There’s nothing worse than when post-game content attempts to pass off a reskinned variation of a bow or gun off as new. Here though, Aloy will finally be able to play around with and utilise Specter technology for herself - a weapon I found very useful - plus you can now add elemental canisters to your spear, an ingenious idea that allows you to inflict frost, acid, burn, and purgewater damage during melee encounters.
I’ve always felt that Horizon is oftentimes let down by its final battles. Back in Zero Dawn, the grand finale felt too easy. Forbidden West’s ending was a major improvement, upping the stakes but it still left me craving that wow factor. I finally got that here. For spoiler’s sake, I can’t divulge exactly what you’ll face but it suddenly became clear to me why Burning Shores is a PlayStation 5 exclusive. The final boss battle was excellently paced, offering a build up to an epic showdown that just staggered me with its scale.
‘Staggered’ is perhaps an apt word because as impressive as they all were, Burning Shores’ boss fights did leave me, or should I say Aloy, staggering all over the place. On the whole, Burning Shores seems to have upped the difficulty, which is something I quite enjoyed, but there were instances in a couple of boss fights where I was getting flung all over the place like a ragdoll and there was very little I could do about it.
I did overcome each boss fight but it would have been nice to see more finely tuned mechanics - particularly as so many happen in enclosed spaces. If there is a window to dodge, and I’m thinking of that final boss fight, it could have been made clearer to cut down on the ragdoll effect. Thankfully, with the help of some trusty health potions and a pouch full of berries, I made it through. There’s also a human boss fight partway through the story that seemed totally unbalanced. That guy soaked up arrows, spears and blast bombs like a sponge.
All in all, Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is a must-play. This isn’t simply ‘more of the same’. It’s a true elevation of everything that made Forbidden West great, against a backdrop of the franchise’s best storytelling to date. If Horizon 3 is anything like Burning Shores, we’re in for a real treat - and yet we know that Guerrilla continue to step up their game with each new release. If Burning Shores has taken the franchise to soaring new heights, I cannot wait for the next instalment in Aloy’s journey to take us to the stars and beyond.
Pros: gripping storytelling with great character development, a stunning new environment to explore, new weapons and machines refresh gameplay
Cons: boss fights need fine tuning, isn’t easy or obvious to locate side content
For fans of: Horizon Forbidden West, God of War Ragnarök, Tomb Raider
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is out now on PlayStation 5 (version tested). A review code was provided by the publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment. Read a guide to our review scores here.