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Cracked clifftops dripping molten lava, the Hollywood sign draped with the tentacles of some dormant machine, cumulonimbus clouds with storms strobing at their center, and a hundred thousand stars dotting the night sky, clustered into constellations – you’ve never seen Los Angeles look like this before. The Horizon games have always been gorgeous, but Burning Shores is a real spectacle.

LA has been wracked by volcanic activity and tectonic shifts for hundreds of years by the time you reach its shores. Most of downtown is flooded over, but the evening sky still bursts with orange in that quintessential LA way. The observatory and the Hollywood sign still stare down at the ruined buildings and lapping waves. Even when you dive down and swim beneath the surface – among the shoals of fish, concrete husks, great shipwrecks, and mechanical lizards hunting for blood – every inch of your screen feels alive.

burning shores hollywood

It’s worth playing Burning Shores just for the world design. And if you enjoyed smashing up robot dinosaurs in Horizon Forbidden West, there’s plenty more of that here, as well as new dinos to obliterate and new weapons to obliterate them with. We also get to see the late and great Lance Reddick reprise his role as Sylens, alongside Sam Witwer, who plays the main antagonist of this expansion with shitmunching glee. You can’t help but want to kick his ass – he’s great.

But then there’s all the other baggage that comes with a Horizon game, such as poor platforming sections, some strange mission design, uneven dialogue, and the fact that Ashly Burch’s Aloy – as excellent as Burch is as an actor – never stops talking. Seriously.

There’s a new way to travel in Burning Shores when you get access to the skiff. It feels great to sail around a flooded LA, but do I really need to hear Aloy say “Not the worst way to get around” every time I embark? She doesn’t stop. At one point, I was swimming underwater and she was still chatting away to herself as if she was listing off her grocery shopping, even though she had a rebreather stuffed in her mouth. Not even Poseidon or a lungful of water can stop her.

Burning Shores is better than Killzone: Shadow Fall

Before Horizon, Guerrilla Games worked on the Killzone series, which was pegged as Sony’s Halo killer. It’s a series that peaked with the second game and acted more as a technical showcase of Sony hardware than an entertaining FPS game. No one would have guessed that the Horizon games would come from the same studio, and it feels like Guerrilla has a lot more to offer in the future.

Burning Shores is worse than Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds

You can see what Guerrilla was going for here – fire and ice. The first Horizon’s DLC took players to a frozen landscape to uncover the mysteries behind the nomadic Banuk tribe, who were the focus of one of the main game’s most memorable sidequests. Burning Wilds doesn’t have quite the same level of intrigue, but it’s definitely prettier.

Some of the boss battles in Burning Shores are also extremely tedious, which is a shame in a game where the ordinary enemies are so intricately designed. The expansion almost makes up for this when it comes to the final boss battle, but it falls at the final hurdle by adding in platforming sections where you’re jumping between moving objects. It feels almost random whether or not Aloy will grab onto a handhold when you fling her in its general direction.

burning shores romance

The way the expansion ends also made me raise my eyebrows so high that I now have hair on my previously bald head. The first Horizon game was closer to an RPG, filled with dialogue choices and branching paths. The sequel almost killed this off entirely, bar a couple of major choices. It’s the same for the expansion, which only presents you with the choice of either embracing or erasing Aloy’s sexuality. Not great. Especially when the rest of the expansion makes it pretty clear which choice should be canon.

It feels a bit like the developers wanted this to be Horizon’s Left Behind (The Last of Us Part 1’s brilliant DLC), but they bottled it at the last minute, worried about upsetting a portion of the fanbase. It’s a shame because it soured my opinion of the rest of the experience, which is otherwise a solid slice of Horizon action.

Burning Shores doesn’t add a great deal to the story and character development is seemingly optional, but if you want more beasts to bash, more ways to bash them, and gorgeous scenery to ogle at, you won’t be disappointed.

Score: 7/10

  • Story and narrative: 5/10
  • Technical performance: 8/10
  • Art: 10/10
  • Audio and music: 9/10
  • Mechanics and systems: 7/10

Burning Shores technical breakdown

It’s impressive how solid the frame rate is in Burning Shores because there’s always so much happening on-screen. Hulking machines spitting fire and acid, backed by distant storms, surrounded by lush foliage blowing in the wind. For the most part, it’s a technical marvel. 

However, you’ll still notice some odd things if you look carefully, such as distant textures rendering in from a mesh, or characters popping into existence in the background of some cutscenes. In one section, the controller speaker is used to warn of incoming missiles, and it just never stopped warning me, even after the section was finished, forcing me to save and reload to stop my controller from screaming at me and scaring my cat.

Version tested: PS5