Horizon Burning Shores review — PS5 power floats DLC in shallow waters

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,

Horizon Burning Shores is available on PS5 as a DLC expansion for Horizon Forbidden West. Aloy must voyage to new seas on a quest for old technology.

The new Burning Shores trophies for Guerrilla Games' big expansion bring another set of Horizon Forbidden West trophies to collect. While this PS5-only chapter of Aloy's journey brings a few vital story beats ahead of the inevitable Horizon 3, Burning Shores never escapes a sense of prevailing shallowness to reach the quality level that brought Forbidden West to the best PS5 games list.

Horizon Burning Shores reviewHorizon Burning Shores review

Big story beats, little good writing

Horizon Burning Shores has a surprising amount of essential detail for Aloy's no-doubt third full game, making Burning Shores a 'Horizon 2.5' of sorts. It takes place after the main quest line of Forbidden West as Aloy and Sylens (in Lance Reddick's superb final performance as the egomaniac) investigate the disappearance of an escaped Far Zenith named Londra after the battle at the end of the main game. It's also an opportunity to get a headstart on diverting the impending arrival of Nemesis on Earth (a rogue AI). So, Aloy mounts a flying robot and sets off to Los Angeles, a city which — having been devastated by natural disasters in the years since the fall of man — is now an island colony where a crashed ship of the Quen people is located.

Ultimately, that sets the stage for what is basically a "find man, kill man" series of missions. There are some interesting moments where you interact with a cult of poor Quen that Londra formed as a loyal guard, but Londra is, ultimately, just a bad aerospace magnate with little more to his narcissistic personality than a hint of Hollywood stardom. The overarching story here is fine but is perhaps more notable for the things it sets in motion for Horizon 3 than the actual concoction of armored robots and sci-fi terminology it throws at you during the course of the DLC. If you are a fan of the series, you'll want to keep up with what's happening here — even if the moment-to-moment narrative execution leaves something to be desired.

Aloy riding high ahead of Horizon Burning ShoresAloy riding high ahead of Horizon Burning Shores

The leading role alongside Aloy is actually taken on by Quen marine called Seyka whom Aloy meets as soon as she crash lands in the Burning Shores. This lass can fight nearly as well as Aloy and has a fiery personality. The relationship between the two is at the core of this story and has surprisingly intense consequences for not only the end of the DLC, but Horizon 3. However, like the overarching story, the impact of Aloy and Seyka's friendship on the future is perhaps more interesting than the moment-to-moment execution. The teenage drama-y dialogue becomes incredibly stilted and laughably melodramatic the further you get into the DLC, even if the relationship between the pair is ultimately a strong one.

Across the entirety of Burning Shores, there is a sense that there was originally something more complex than Guerrilla Games had planned out. One side mission involving a lonely Oseram Delver is seriously good and leaves a palpable, emotionally resonant impact. But generally, something here misses the mark narratively and leaves the DLC feeling like a dot-to-dot line drawing that someone didn't bother to colour in. Yes, you get from A to B and there is fun to be had, but sometimes it doesn't have the nutritional value it should.

Horizon Burning Shores introduces SekyaHorizon Burning Shores introduces Sekya

Combat and world-building still prove incredible Horizon touchstones

Horizon Burning Shores story aside, but the dilapidated LA is certainly colorful, gloriously detailed, and the star of the Hollywood-themed show. In our Horizon Forbidden West review, we praised how pretty the post-post-apocalyptic world was and the level of graphical fidelity that made it one of the most gorgeous games we'd ever played. And yet, somehow, Horizon Burning Shores steps up the level again. From the sun filtering through shallow waters to the verticality of skyscraper forests on small islands packed with creatures — LA is a great game world and inarguably looks nicer than real life in the post-apocalypse.

Indeed, exploration is broken up by combat, which still thrills even after more than 60 hours with the base game. The DLC introduces new animal-themed robots (toads and small flies), as well as one new weapon and a host of improved versions of the existing arsenal. There is nothing quite like the combat in Horizon and, while Burning Shores doesn't make any wild changes to the formula, the scenarios it throws at you remain inventive and entertaining. Plus, the final boss battle is a properly wicked kaiju-type deal.

Aloy looks confused at Horizon Burning ShoresAloy looks confused at Horizon Burning Shores

Horizon Burning Shores — Trophy Tactics

There are 18 trophies to collect in Burning Shores and it will take around 10 hours, all of which are part of a separate DLC pack from the base Horizon Forbidden West trophies. Nothing will cause you any trouble and nothing is missable. Two sets of collectibles, the Arial Captures and the Oseram Trinkets aren't ever given map locations for you to run around and collect. So, those two sets you'll need a guide or a keep a keen eye for, but otherwise you'll have no trouble. To unlock the new skills, you do need to level all of the Valour Skills to max, which might require a skill tree reset if you are poorly distributed points. Otherwise, just enjoy Burning Shores!
But, again, the DLC suffers from huge chunks of unused map space leaving it feeling a touch shallow. There are highly detailed sections in the Hollywood Hills that just don't get used which, while interesting visually, kind of makes this world feel empty when you move away from spaces with set tasks. That being said, areas like a Jurassic Park-esque theme park are a neon-tinted visual feast while exploring sandy shorelines for missing Oseram treasures makes you feel like a post-apocalyptic pirate (in the best way). It's full of invention when it does populate its space, but it just feels a little forlorn sometimes.

Aloy underwater looking for fallen flying beastsAloy underwater looking for fallen flying beasts

Aloy runs into performance issues despite tech proving wonderous

The Performance Mode is dodgy and early on I noticed swathes of textures pop in and out. It all ran fine and without frame rate drops, but this pop-in was a persistent issue. The Quality Mode remains a pretty experience, but 60fps has fundamentally broken my ability to play 30fps in Quality Mode, so I left that mostly untouched. However, if we want to talk about performance generally — I think it's the new Waterwing that might make this DLC an impossible job for the PS4.

The new flying metal bird is supposed to transition between sky and water seamlessly. However, I noticed my PS5 struggling to get that transition between overground and underwater easily, so on a PS4 without a superfast SSD it must cause carnage. Then you have the new cloud technology which does, indeed, look impressive, but it is only used practically in one mission with a faulty Stormbird where you have to soar through the mist blindly. Otherwise, it remains a characteristically little more than pretty set dressing.

Aloy needs to relieve some tension in Hrizon Burning ShoresAloy needs to relieve some tension in Horizon Burning Shores


Summary

Horizon Burning Shores is a totally adequate 10-hour expansion to Horizon Forbidden West. The PS5 livens up the already-impressive graphics with supercharged lighting and textures as the island world of LA and new combat encounters sing bawdily. Immature writing and a dearth of things to do rob this essential chunk of the narrative of the emotional impact it should have, however. That said, while 'Horizon 2.5' struggles through shallow waters, it still has an undeniably superb core that keeps Aloy's machine-hunting voyages above water.
7 / 10
* Kes wallowed in the LA seas of Horizon Burning Shores for 10 hours and collected all 18 trophies. A review code was provided by Sony.
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Editor Kes is our resident expert in PlayStation and Sony news. He writes about PS5 exclusives like Horizon, The Last of Us, God of War, and Death Stranding 2 using experience from years of playing PlayStation games. He also covers PS Plus and trophy news, as well as his favorite games — The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed, and some indie gems — before an evening swim.
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