Horizon Forbidden West’s Burning Shores Expansion is Mechanical Perfection

I always found it a bit difficult to review Downloadable Content (DLC) because it means that people need to have some ties to the core experience of a game before they care about what the DLC offers. I’m fully aware that I am not going to sell you on buying Horizon Forbidden West’s recently released Burning Shores based entirely on what I have to say about it, and chances are you were looking forward to this since it’s reveal. While this obvious remark is clear to you as the reader, I must come to an honest truth and revelation of my own intentions: I do not play DLC for most games I own. I find them to be rather short, undervalued, and never give me the feelings that the core experience delivers. Burning Shores is the antithesis; the purest example of how to deliver on a promise of more content without compromising anything else about the franchise.

Continuing from Forbidden West (you can find my full review here), Aloy must journey to a new land of California which feels like a mere hop, skip, and a jump away from the massive continent that feels like a contained version of the Midwest. There, she follows through on her unfinished journey that results in a deeper understanding of this world, of Nemesis, and of Aloy’s personal life. In the end, it is a huge improvement over the complaints I had with Forbidden West.

I’ll cut to the chase and just say that the story is great! I had a good time interacting with the new characters. Instead of sifting through what felt like pages upon pages of dialog, conversations were quick, interesting, and snappy with full context. There are many mysterious elements within the plot that pulled me in. As I say, the devil is in the details, and Burning Shores is absolutely filled to the brim with little bits of nuance where it counts.

From the indoctrinated people under the control of an egotistical tech billionaire to taking a wrong turn, the character reactions feel more visceral and authentic. Especially in one instance when I prematurely visited a location, left, and heard Aloy comment on returning to that location. It is these little touches that really made Burning Shores feel special compared to other open world titles.

Additionally, there is a moment within the game that feels so cathartic for those who were wondering about Aloy’s personal life and for that, I’m glad that we finally got to see her as a character open. Aloy has a tough rigid attitude, and she has been through so many awful moments within her life, it is nice to see her finally become vulnerable. Watching the evolution of Aloy puts her on Sony’s Mount Rushmore of meaningful characters alongside Kratos, Ellie, and Nathan Drake.

When it comes to building upon already established elements, Burning Shores doesn’t change much in the ways of what the content is and how it is presented, especially with rolled-back role-playing elements. Conversations with characters have gone from long and dragged-out to a more focused experience, something Horizon needed badly. I love the depth of characters, and seeing Aloy interact with the people of this world is a reminder of how wonderful the dialog could be, but by cutting out the fat it feels better, more natural, and less like it is trying to oversell me on this world I have already accepted.

This new world map is a bit small, but it doesn’t feel that way. Forbidden West’s world map is gigantic to a point where I have still yet to explore the whole thing. The fog of war is still ever present from last year’s review. While I wish to dive in and fully reveal the whole behemoth, Burning Shore’s map is more compact but also offers plenty of verticality where it doesn’t feel like a reduced experience. It is still ever so full of glistening waters and dense jungles.

Combat wise, nothing much has changed aside from the weapon rarity and some expansive skills for each respective talent tree. Burning Shores kept it safe and didn’t depart too far from the core tenants that make the Horizon series. You get just about enough of an improvement to make weapons and skills more useful and impactful in the heat of battle, but not too overpowering. This comes after my experience with one of Burning Shores’ newest addition to the monster catalog: the Bilegut.

Resembling a giant frog that leaps quicker than you can aim, this large mechanical beast is not to be trifled with; at least not while you’re unprepared. It has a ton of health and a lot of tricks that make every experience feel like you’re fighting a mini boss. It spews out poison, it jumps over great distances, has an attack that steals items from your inventory, and can summon adds at a moment’s notice. Not only is this a formidable foe, but it presents a solid challenge for those who are under leveled. Nothing that kicking the difficulty down won’t solve though. Even then, it isn’t exactly a cakewalk, even with the improvement of accessibility settings that are not exclusively tied to the DLC.

Options like auto-pick-up is great for when you are stuck in a bind and need to focus on movement and dodging alongside gathering up herbs. I also turned on the auto-heal option that saved my skin plenty of times, allowing me to use the health pout automatically when my health got low enough. Options like this are key to building a great experience and I hope that Guerrilla keeps on with these improvements and I hope they are implemented throughout the entire industry.

Burning Shores is filled with so many great moments, from the beginning till the end. To be rather blunt, I would be remise if I didn’t say that Guerrilla set a new bar in what it means to deliver interesting DLC that didn’t feel like a watered-down cash grab. It has about 10-hours of story content that is interesting and filled with lovely and action-packed moments. If you are a fan of the Horizon series, Burning Shores is a wonderful addition to the universe, especially with a $20 price tag.

By Steve Esposito

Steve Esposito is a dedicated content creator with a focus on his love for technology, video games, and the very industry that oversees it all. He also takes part in organizing the Long Island Retro and Tabletop Gaming Expo as well as a Dungeons and Dragons podcast: Copper Piece. You can find him on twitter @AgitatedStove

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