Horizon Forbidden West was a huge game, bigger than its predecessor in almost every way, and yet even when I had completed all the game had to offer I still wanted more. It wasn’t a perfect game, but Aloy has a presence that few game protagonists are able to match – a mixture of heart and courage, coupled with an understanding of what it means to be an outcast that fuels her to fight on behalf of others. In Burning Shores, all aspects of what makes Aloy who she is are at the forefront, even as she tackles what may be her biggest threat yet. The stakes are high – personally and on a global scale – but high stakes are what Aloy is good at.
The Burning Shores questline can only begin once the main game has been completed, with a call from Sylens indicating that a new threat – a wily member of the Zenith known as Walter Londra – has presented himself. Londra is distinctly more unlikeable than his counterparts, even before he physically appears on screen, which makes chasing him down and working towards his demise into a thoroughly satisfying endeavour. He’s arrogant, egotistical, and the name of his company ‘Heaven¢’ (Heaven-cent) includes a wanky symbol in it instead of a word – the ingredients for a classic villain are all there.
Aloy quickly learns that Londra has set up base in the remains of what was once Los Angeles, so she jumps on her Sunwing and heads over to the new region – one plagued with fires, floods, and obviously, one egomaniacal has-been. The new area is quite expansive, and while following the main story will take you across much of it, there’s still a lot left to explore. As the name suggests it’s largely coastal, and parts of Aloy’s quest will take her (and her new companion) underwater, where things can get a little tense. Luckily, the expansion adds a thalassophobia mode that takes the edge of for those who are uncomfortable delving into the deep water, which increases underwater ambiance and allows Aloy to breathe underwater indefinitely – a nice accessibility feature that may make this section of the game more comfortable (or playable at all) for some players.
From the moment she steps foot on the Burning Shores, Aloy’s goals become intertwined with those of a headstrong warrior, Seyka, who like our outcast protagonist feels misunderstood by her own tribe, as well as those closest to her. Seyka is looking for her sister, Kina, who was taken by Londra along with other members of the tribe, and is frustrated that the leaders of their settlement seem to want to do very little to find her. Aloy, of course, is rarely concerned about being told not to do something, which makes her the perfect ally for Seyka, so the two join forces to follow Londra’s trail.
The gameplay, unsurprisingly, remains similar to the base game. Though Aloy obtains a new weapon and a new mount (and has more reasons to fly around on both her trusty Sunwing and new Waterwing looking like a badass), and there are several new machines to fight, it’s mostly more of the same. The biggest addition (for a number of reasons) is Seyka herself, who proves to be the rare kind of AI companion who can hold her own in a fight. She’s tactical, swift, and she can do some serious damage – she was a very welcome surprise. She is in many ways Aloy’s equal on and off the battlefield, and it doesn’t take long for the two to form a strong connection – one that sees them through the Burning Shores DLC, and hopefully beyond.
However you choose to read this connection is entirely up to you, but for me it was a clear case of Aloy meeting someone who understood her in a way others hadn’t before, and her journey towards understanding what that could mean for the two of them. I understand the criticism of the way this connection is being explored in DLC rather than in the main campaign, and as something that the player can choose not to pursue, but for me it felt right. In this moment, this person is coming into Aloy’s life, and she is opening herself up to the possibility of something new. I think it shows growth in Aloy’s character, and unless it’s ignored in future Horizon games, I’m not worried that it took place in a DLC campaign. For me, it was the heart of that DLC campaign, and I’ll take that over a minor part in the main story any day.
Aloy’s journey to Burning Shores includes everything a good DLC should – a bold new companion, a compelling task, clear ties to the main story, and a deeply punchable antagonist – all while delivering more of the gameplay that fans of Horizon Forbidden West have been eagerly awaiting. It won’t be for everyone, but for me this was the perfect next installment of Aloy’s journey, and I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.
Player 2 reviewed Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores with a code kindly provided by the publisher.