We've seen Los Angeles plenty of times before in video games, but never quite like this. In fact, if it wasn't for the few remaining monuments of LA iconography left standing (the Capital Records building stranded on a beach, a rust-ridden Hollywood Sign etc.), you could easily mistake the titular ‘Burning Shores’ of Horizon Forbidden West's new expansion as nothing more than a noticeably volcanic stretch of the Pacific coastline.
But, goodness, what a coastline it is. Unlike its base game companion, Burning Shores is exclusive to the PlayStation 5, and Guerrilla Games has taken full advantage of the hardware's horsepower to offer a glimpse into what the future of the Horizon series can look like when fully untethered from the limitations of PS4. The sheer level of detail on display, and the fidelity at which it runs, subsequently offers some of the most eye-watering scenery this generation thus far, especially when viewed from the skies (or beneath the ocean) atop the back of a Waterwing.
To see all this for yourself, however, you'll need to have completed the main campaign in Horizon Forbidden West – a telling indicator that Burning Shores is very much an expansion designed for the franchise faithful, particularly those with an appetite for more of the same. That's not to say there's nothing new in Burning Shores; Aloy gets a handful of fresh abilities to add to her progression tree (not least a handy grapple strike that allows you to close in on enemies with a satisfying downward slam), and the new region – roughly a third of the size of the main map – has its own ecosystem of unique machines, including the aforementioned Waterwing alongside the horrifyingly toad-like Bilegut. That said, these additions are simply embellishments to the existing template established by Forbidden West's original campaign, rather than any drastic subversions to that mold.
The spectacle is well worth the cost of admission.
Burning Shore's story does, at least, feel like an important chapter for Horizon's ongoing saga, not just in the way that it sets up future instalments for the franchise, but for Aloy's own character arc too. This unfolds primarily through her interactions with Seyka, a soldier of the Quen tribe, who Aloy encounters immediately after reaching the Burning Shores in pursuit of a newly emerged threat. The evolution of their relationship is painted with warmth and wit, culminating in an important moment for Aloy that will no doubt please longtime fans. Ashly Burch's consistently endearing performance is complemented well by Kylie Liya Page, too, who endows Seyka with effervescence and charm, but not at the expense of the more nuanced dimensions hiding beneath those outer layers, which gradually unfurl over the course of Burning Shore's core questline.
The expansion also progresses the larger machine war narrative that has been at play since 2017's Horizon Zero Dawn, although much of this storytelling is beset by the needlessly convoluted sci-fi exposition that the series is known for indulging. Even so, it's worth seeing through to the end, if only to appreciate a final, posthumous performance from Lance Reddick, who once again brings his enigmatic magnetism to antihero Sylens. The Horizon franchise will be poorer without him, no doubt, but his presence here is, at least, a bittersweet opportunity for players to say their goodbyes.
Beyond that, the campaign and its surrounding side activities are essentially eight more hours of Forbidden West's open-world sightseeing, environmental puzzles, and operatic combat; a familiar cocktail which many fans will happily drink down. The opportunity to enjoy an exclusively new-gen slice of Horizon content is perhaps the most exciting draw here, though, and with its jaw-dropping visuals complemented by a relatively affordable price tag, that spectacle is arguably well worth the cost of admission.
And while those hoping for a more experimental expansion may come away from Burning Shores feeling a little shortchanged, the more intimate story still offers some nice surprises for Aloy's development as a rising PlayStation icon. Guerrilla plays it safe, then, for an enjoyable, if ultimately inessential addendum to last year's Horizon sequel. But when that sequel is one of the best PlayStation games of the current generation thus far, it's not like we needed many excuses to jump back in anyway.