I was relieved when I first looked at the small map in Horizon Forbidden West’s new expansion, Burning Shores.
Sony’s Horizon series is renowned for its expansive open worlds that are littered with things to do. When you look at the huge maps in both Zero Dawn and Forbidden West, they’re covered with tiny icons pointing you to quests to help your fellow humans, battle with fearsome robot dinosaurs, and even just interesting places to see. You can easily spend dozens upon dozens of hours in each game and not see everything they have to offer.
But for me, both games just had too much. With each, I’ve tried to be open to exploring at my own pace and letting my curiosity lead the way, but I’d inevitably get tired of the busywork of trying to see and finish it all. Instead, I’d just push through the main story, ignoring the other sidequests and beautiful vistas along the way, and stop playing entirely after I reached the credits.
Burning Shores, on the other hand, shows what’s possible when developer Guerrilla Games builds a condensed and focused experience, and it’s easily the best part of Horizon Forbidden West.
The expansion takes place in a flooded and overgrown Los Angeles, which is now known as the Burning Shores thanks to the lava also flowing through the area. Tall buildings are partially submerged in water, and the Hollywood sign looms in the distance with a giant machine tangled around it. It all looks stunning — and that’s likely in part because Burning Shores is only available on PS5, meaning it’s been optimized for Sony’s more powerful console hardware.
The bulk of Burning Shores, which took me about seven hours to finish, is spent helping Seyka try to rescue her sister from a cult-y spaceship magnate / celebrity. (He’s Elon Musk-adjacent but more of a mustache-twirling supervillain.) Guerrilla teamed Aloy up with a buddy during much of Forbidden West, but Seyka quickly became my favorite of her companions. Seyka is just as capable in battle as Aloy is, which means she’s a great person to have in a fight. And over time, Seyka actually gets Aloy, who is usually quite stoic under the weight of her world-saving responsibilities, to show some vulnerability.
I also like that Burning Shores’ story is, for the most part, a more grounded quest about helping reunite loved ones. When the Horizon series focuses too much on sci-fi jargon and worldbuilding, my eyes tend to glaze over. The expansion occasionally strays into that territory, but I didn’t find it too overwhelming.
The actual moment-by-moment action in Burning Shores should feel familiar to anyone who has played Zero Dawn or Forbidden West. You battle a lot of giant robot animals, fight a lot of waves of angry human opponents, and climb up and down a lot of walls. There are exciting outdoor battles and slower lore-building moments in futuristic bunkers. But because Burning Shores takes place after the end of Forbidden West (you have to have beaten Forbidden West to access the Burning Shores quests), you’ll have access to a flying mount for the vast majority of the expansion, which makes getting from place to place much more fun than it is for most of Forbidden West. Yes, riding on my robot bird of choice (who I always named Simon) does mean I regularly breezed over potentially interesting points of interest or herds of robots, but who cares — Simon and I were soaring through the skies!
While exploration may have been fixed, many of the things I didn’t like about Forbidden West are still present in Burning Shores. The game has too many weapons, armor pieces, and collectibles, and I hardly ever switched things out because I didn’t want to dig through menus to figure out what might be most optimal. The main human settlement in Burning Shores is as dizzying to navigate as almost every other in Forbidden West. There are some boring puzzles, including one that had me poring through text logs to try and find the numbers for a door-unlocking code.
But those are small gripes. In Burning Shores I was much more invested in Aloy’s relationship with Seyka than I had been in any of the many other characters in the series. I hope Guerrilla creates similarly interesting relationships down the line. The expansion’s final battle is a thrilling spectacle that I’ve been reminiscing about for days, and I can’t wait to see what set pieces Guerrilla might be cooking up next.
Burning Shores, like other Sony expansions such as Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and The Last of Us: Left Behind, is all the better for being a tighter experience. It shows what’s possible when the production value of a blockbuster release is used to make something smaller and more intimate. Now, I’m much more excited for the future of Horizon than when I first finished Forbidden West. I’m even thinking about exploring the rest of the map.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is available now on PS5.