Eight months after Horizon Zero Dawn’s release, Guerrilla Games surprised us with The Frozen Wilds, a DLC expansion that gave players a new area to explore, new machines to conquer, and a storyline centered around the lesser-known Banuk tribe. It was a great addition to the game that included some visual and gameplay improvements. When the sequel, Horizon Forbidden West, released in early 2022, expectations were high that it too would get a DLC expansion. And a little over a year later, we have Burning Shores, a roughly 10-hour adventure that sees protagonist Aloy travel to the ruins of Los Angeles in pursuit of a dangerous enemy.
Unlike The Frozen Wilds, which was a side story players could access midway through the first game, Burning Shores takes place after the events of Horizon Forbidden West, so you have to finish the main story before you can access the DLC. Once you do, Aloy learns that one of the Zeniths (Forbidden West’s primary antagonists) escaped the destruction of their base and fled south to the titular Burning Shores. Aloy follows him to this new region, but upon arriving, she quickly discovers things are more complicated than she anticipated. Enter Seyka, a Quen marine in search of her sister and other members of her tribe who went missing around the same time Aloy’s fugitive showed up. Realizing these events must be connected, the two team up and start combing the ruin-laden islands for clues.
Seyka herself is probably the best thing about Burning Shores’ story. She’s smart and capable, stubborn and driven, and she doesn’t care about breaking the social mores of her tribe if it means saving her sister. Seyka is a lot like Aloy in that respect, and the pair bond not only because of their shared circumstances but also their shared spirit. I won’t spoil what happens between them, but suffice it to say, their relationship is both incredibly sweet and definitively queer. As someone who has connected with Aloy in part because I’ve always interpreted her as queer, I loved seeing this confirmation. It’s a shame it remained relegated to DLC, but hopefully it’s a sign of what’s to come in the next game. At the very least, I hope to see more of Seyka.
The same is not true of Burning Shores’ main villain. Walter Londra is quite similar to the Zeniths Aloy deals with in the main game — haughty, selfish, and sociopathic — and he shares many of their weaknesses in terms of how the narrative presents him as an antagonist. For example, he’s absent for most of the story, meaning players learn more about him from other characters and log entries than direct interaction. And while you do get to know Londra better than most of the other Zeniths, it’s in a way that will likely make your skin crawl. Truly despicable bad guys can be effective, but here it feels more like an over-the-top rehash than anything new. It’s also worth pointing out that because this is DLC and a third game is still far off, Burning Shores is largely about taking down Londra and deals very little with the looming threat Nemesis, the extremely powerful AI making its way to Earth, poses. On the one hand, this isn’t much of a surprise, but those hoping for the overall plot to move forward should temper their expectations.
Similar to The Frozen Wilds, Burning Shores adds a few tweaks to gameplay, but nothing significantly altering the general experience. Being able to zip to downed machines for a powerful attack or use geysers and Aloy’s glider to shoot up into the air are useful tools, but I pretty much ignored the rest of the new skills added in this expansion. Main story missions and some of the side quests occasionally ask you to manipulate your environment in order to progress, and I enjoyed the handful of puzzles the game throws at you as you traverse various ruins.
And there are a lot of ruins. Burning Shores’ map is quite large and features a multitude of islands littered with the skeletal remains of downtown LA, including several easily recognizable landmarks. Despite the size of the area, there isn’t much to do outside of the main story. There are only three side quests, for example, and a few side activities, most of which are similar to those from the main game. The total amount of content in Burning Shores is actually quite comparable to The Frozen Wilds, and while this does make sense — they’re both DLC expansions, after all — I was still a little surprised. Horizon Forbidden West is a much longer and denser game than its predecessor, and I was expecting its DLC to follow suit.
This scarcity also applies to the enemies you encounter in Burning Shores. There are only two new machines in this DLC, and one is more like a variation on an existing machine than an entirely new foe. The vast majority of enemies you contend with are the exact machines you fight in the main game, and there are no new versions — like the daemonic machines in The Frozen Wilds — to mix things up. On the plus side, just about every machine from the main game exists in the Burning Shores, so you won’t want for target practice and upgrade materials. There’s also a certain Old World machine that players have been dying to fight ever since the first game. Burning Shores finally makes that dream a reality, and the resulting battle is an incredible set-piece experience that does not disappoint.
Speaking of set pieces, the visuals in Burning Shores are fantastic, as one would expect given the stunning vistas in the main game. Guerrilla’s Decima engine continues to impress, and while it’s unfortunate that PS4 players are left behind, making the DLC exclusive to PS5 allows for some noticeable improvements. For example, there’s the new cloud rendering tech, which makes the fluffy white masses far more realistic than in the base game. Not only that, but you can now fly through and even above the clouds, and it’s a magical experience, especially around sunset. Character models and animation are equally impressive, particularly facial expressions, which often look incredibly realistic. The one ding against the graphics is an odd asset loading issue which seems to affect small portions of distant geometry, creating noticeable “holes” in the world until you get closer and they finally load in. It’s occasionally a little distracting but not terribly surprising given that the base game also had problems loading assets from time to time.
Audio has always been one of the Horizon series’ strengths, and Burning Shores is no exception. There’s some lovely new music accompanying the action, though you’ll also hear a fair amount of music from the base game when you’re not working on a main story quest. One new piece in particular worked its way to being my favorite track in the game, so I hope the DLC gets its own soundtrack release like The Frozen Wilds did.
Voice acting in Burning Shores is also excellent, especially Kylie Liya Page, who makes her video game debut as Seyka. Her chemistry with the always amazing Ashly Burch is spot on, further supporting the relationship the two characters develop over the course of the main story. There’s a bittersweet aspect to one of the performances, though. Sylens, Aloy’s enigmatic would-be ally played by the late Lance Reddick, makes a few appearances in the DLC. Seeing (and hearing) Sylens is a sad reminder that we lost a great actor far too soon, and it calls into question what is in store for his character in the next game. Let’s just say I don’t envy the difficult decision Guerrilla Games is going to contend with as they work on a sequel.
Said sequel is, of course, several years off, and Burning Shores is likely to be the only DLC we get for Horizon Forbidden West in the interim. On its own, it is a nice little adventure in a new area that begs to be explored. It improves Forbidden West’s already outstanding visuals and introduces a great new character who is more than a match for Aloy, something the series has arguably been missing. However, the overall plot and primary antagonist feel like a retread of the main game, there are only a few noteworthy gameplay additions, and there’s less to do than you might expect. Despite these issues, I still had a good time exploring the ruins of Los Angeles, and the hints dropped at the end of the DLC definitely lead to some interesting speculation about the direction of the next game. So ultimately, I would say the pros outweigh the cons. Burning Shores might not tide over everyone, but I think most fans will enjoy it.