Back into the Forbidden West, this time to the Burning Shores of what was once Los Angeles. The Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores DLC is an opportunity to dive back into the world of Aloy and the apocalyptic world dominated by giant robot dinosaurs and nefarious plots of the tribal peoples that inhabit this new world, as well as the ancients who have returned to reclaim it. Simply having an excuse to play more Horizon should be reason enough to try the DLC. I gave the original game a perfect 10, and still see no reason to deviate from my prediction it will "go down as one of the best (games) of this generation." Burning Shores does not deviate from that core gameplay and story, so that could pretty much be the end of the review - you want more Horizon? Here you go.
But Burning Shores does add some new wrinkles that play well with the environment it presents. This time, we're in LA, and the centuries of tectonic movements have made the landscape a mix of the ocean reclaiming what territory it could flood while the molten rock that bubbled underneath has crept to the surface to create new land - of the smoldering magma type. The key feature that seems to dominate is water. Much like how Avatar went the way of water in its sequel, Horizon takes to the seas in this DLC. A new mount makes traversing the water so much faster and easier, as well as introducing skiffs that can boat about on the waves freely. There is one noteworthy campaign mission that really takes advantage of those parts of the map dominated by blue, and although we never get to a place where we downright engage in combat under the surface, the whole of the ocean becomes much more accessible than in previous games.
There are also a few new weapons and armors introduced, including Legendary Coils and Weaves to augment those with various bonus for the first time. We get a nice new weapon archetype with some choice upgrades. I don't want to go too into details or to spoil any of the surprises, but all in all the entire campaign is only a handful of hours long. So it's not the chunkiest DLC you've ever played, but there is some new stuff that makes you feel that little bit more powerful. I was a bit nervous heading back in as it had been some many months since I last swung by spear or leveled my bow. I was afraid I'd have a lot of catching up to do to remember the combat loops, but it only took a few fights to get back into the swing of things. There are also some new moves, like acrobatically grapple striking a downed foe from a short distance that is both cool as heck and functional, and new Valor Surges to spend skill point on and take advantage of. I don't know if it was these new moves, change in environment, or just general confidence, but I found enemies in the base game that I always dreaded (looking at you Stalkers) much more manageable in the DLC. So picking the controller back up was a joy, and any fear about a re-learning curve unfounded.
Burning Shores is also a DLC that doesn't artificially force some sort of power de-escalation on you. You are as strong at the start of Burning Shores as you left the rest of the Forbidden West and are free to travel back and forth between the two. No cruddy tropes like "Oh no, you fall down a hole in the first mission and lose all your old stuff" to make you slog through the DLC like a novice. This DLC builds off the base game in every respect. As a matter of fact, you can't even begin the questline unless you're playing on a save that has already beaten the main campaign's final mission.
The gameplay is fantastic and pushes the borders that little bit with new tricks up its sleeve. The Arsenal is improved. The new area isn't massive but really neat to traverse, especially how in incorporates the water elements. The only real let down is the main DLC campaign story. It was... a bit forced, a bit lazy. It introduces a love interest for Aloy that seemed out of character. In the main game Aloy is pretty determined and goes so far as to say she doesn't have time for anything but, well, saving the daggum world. Pretty important that.
But in the DLC now she has time to get all googly eyed over a new character for... reasons? The writing tries to establish a bond but it's pretty flimsy and doesn't really hold under scrutiny. "We have so much in common!" Aloy summarizes just before the interest replies "Well, not really, because I'm only acting like this in a determined rebellious effort to save my sister. I'm actually a good marine who follows orders." Aloy swoons for no reason. Although I will give the character this: they are probably the most competent NPC in battle I've been paired with yet. So many times Aloy jumps into the fray with a partner and they are little more help than occasionally dropping some free ammo. But this character can actively draw enemy aggro and was a whiz with the ropecaster, making a real difference in some hairy set-pieces.
The villain is also a bit of a pantomime. He's going to kill everyone because... the writers just randomly decided that a side effect of the tech he is using even though there is no logical or even story-pertinent reason for it to be that way. All in all, the story is a let down but holds one saving grace for its final act, you do get a lone choice in how it ends. The last dialogue in the post-campaign wrap up gives you the option to determine Aloy's fate with the love interest and if, like me, you find that whole part of the narrative out of character you can choose to reject the affair or embrace it.
I also noticed some gaps in the seams on a technical level. One of the amazing feats of Horizon's world is the way you jump on the back of a Sunwing and soar across the landscape with the distant mountains on the horizon eventually zooming into a playground underneath your wings to hop off, glide into, and start slaying metal monsters. Problem with Burning Shores was that I was consistently being jolted out of this impressive immersion with noticeable pop-in of missing assets. A cliff face would have small holes in its side, missing polygons that revealed a blankness beyond that would finally pop into render when moving a bit closer. Wasn't a deal breaker, but also a bug that I don't expect from a game as polished and excellent as Horizon Forbidden West.
I love the new skills and weapons. I love the way we can dive into water with this DLC. While the length of the campaign is only a handful of hours, and the writing of that campaign is a let-down, playing through the story is a joy. It's a chance to play more Horizon Forbidden West, and remember just how much fun this world can be. It's not quite the perfect 10 the main game is, but it's class leading never the less; and any disappointments in the plot line on the journey are forgotten with an epic final act. Horizon 3 can't get here soon enough.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...