By Kimari Rennis
It all started with a call from Sylens on Aloy’s focus. After eradicating the Far Zeniths hell-bent on harvesting Earth for resources to prolong their escape from Nemesis, one of them slipped right from under our noses: Walter Londra. A celebrity and multi-billionaire from the 2060s, Walter Londra was adored by his wife, friends, associates, and the fans that lived vicariously through him. Adoration became an unruly obsession of his and as that veil of loyalty shattered when his wife cheated on him with his best friend, he sought out a way to guarantee that all people would have an unwavering dedication to him: his own method of brainwashing. With the 2060s hundreds of years in the past, and a homicidal AI after him made from the vile mindset of all the Zeniths, Londra is in dire need of new fans to rule over, and a way off of the planet. If there was anything we learned from Horizon Forbidden West’s story, it’s that all Zeniths tend to be selfish, manipulative, and yearn to leave Earth by any means necessary – even if it means claiming the lives of thousands. Lives mean nothing to them.
The Burning Shores DLC for Horizon Forbidden West sets Aloy on course to hunt Londra down in the volcanic, post-apocalyptic beaches of Los Angeles. LAX is now a peninsula with scattered palm trees and corroded airplanes. Flowing lava and deep ravines are reminiscent of gaping wounds in the land. The Hollywood sign is faded and cracked with an ominous, dormant Horus looming overhead.
However, in typical Kimari fashion, I refused to travel to the Burning Shores until I was properly immersed in the full game. It had been a year since I’d played Forbidden West so I didn’t have my bearings nor the quick reactions that allowed me to beat it on the hardest difficulty in the first place. So I went through the gauntlet of the Arena, challenging wave after wave of vicious machines. I dominated every Hunting Ground challenge the Forbidden West offered, racking up piles of medals I used to buy new weapons. I raced on machines with the Tenakth through the forest, beach, and what remained of Las Vegas as its grand holograms lit up the night sky. Finally, I conquered all the melee pits in Tenakth land, learning new combos and rightfully earned the right to face off against the Enduring, one of the strongest fighters around. After a grueling fight, and a hard-earned victory, I finally felt one with Aloy and was ready to tackle anything the Burning Shores threw at me.
Except for two things. The first thing I wasn’t prepared for was the Zenith defense tower that shot down Aloy and her Sunwing mount as soon as they reached Los Angeles. It was so surreal. In the midst of ruined skyscrapers, collapsed buildings, and a thicket of trees, was this high-tech, pristine white and gold sentry floating high in the air. Not only did it shoot down Aloy because she was after Walter Londra, the last Zenith, but it also shot down every flying machine and boat that dared to come in its range with a torrent of matter-distorting bullets. That’s what Sekya told us, a mariner and fighter of a stranded crew of the Quen when Aloy finally made it to solid ground. After a brief introduction, it’s made clear that Aloy and Seyka’s goals are aligned: Seyka is searching for half of the Quen fleet that vanished in the area followed by the appearance of the tower. All of this coincides with the fugitive Zenith which Aloy is looking for.
The second thing I wasn’t prepared for was the obvious romantic tension between Aloy and Seyka. I’m not terminally online, homophobic, or friendless unlike some of the gamers on the internet dumb enough to call Horizon a ‘woke’ game because two women happen to like each other. In fact, I don’t have a problem with it at all. What I will say is that it was jarring to see Seyka and Aloy flirt on missions and be visually nervous around each other at first.
Out of my combined 250+ hours playing the Horizon series, Aloy has never struck me as someone who was interested in romance, let alone people in general. She’s even uncomfortable with small talk. Aloy, someone born from a machine with the intended purpose of operating GAIA, literally has the burden of being the only person who can save the Earth from destruction, and she takes that responsibility very seriously. She’s made a few good friends along the way, and people adore her for everything she risks her neck for, doing unfathomable heroic acts many tribes dream of emulating.
But she’s not fond of the attention or parties in her honor. While she’s gotten better at allowing the people that care about her to help her on her mission to save the world from a space-faring AI hell-bent on destroying the planet, she’s always kept to herself. Does any of that mean Aloy isn’t allowed to find love? No, it doesn’t. The more I thought about this monumental character development for Aloy, and the sheer chemistry Aloy and Seyka have, the happier I became for her. That’s also when the nervousness and secondhand embarrassment kicked in because I could tell when they were about to talk about their feelings, and I hate being a third wheel to a cute couple, even virtually. It make sense if you know the lore; any real and non-homophobic fan of Horizon would know that Elisabet Sobeck, who Aloy is cloned from, was queer herself and they have the exact same personality.
Aside from the time I spent gushing over the romance, I was surprisingly breezing through the Burning Shores DLC – to my dismay. I’ve always been the kind of player to naturally prolong my journey in a game so I can get the most enjoyment out of it, but there wasn’t much to really do or hold my attention. Unlike The Frozen Wilds DLC in Horizon Zero Dawn, there weren’t many side quests to do in the Burning Shores. Any and all mysteries were either short-lived, uninteresting, or easy to figure out.
For a moment, I had come to the conclusion that Horizon Forbidden West Burning Shores lacked the grandeur that made everything about the series so special to me. Horizon was about doing the impossible, using primitive technology to dominate vicious robots and fixing the century-old mistakes of extinct billionaires. In The Frozen Wilds, we discover HEPHAESTUS, a rogue subsystem of GAIA printing Apex machine predators like paper and tearing apart any living thing just the same. But in Burning Shores, we’re just finding… some guy.
But then, something happened. Guerilla threw the most show-stopping, jaw-dropping, adrenaline-boosting, terrifying, and impressive boss fight I have ever seen in a game! I’m not sure any of the words in the English dictionary could capture the shock and awe, and raw emotions I felt when Walter Londra brought the Hollywood Horus, a ‘metal devil,’ back to life. Londra was no longer just ‘some guy’ on a hitlist, he was the deranged, manipulative, immortal narcissist he always was and he was controlling a damn Horus that needed to be put down!
It started out as this terrifying game of hide and seek. As Aloy and Seyka snuck from grass patch to underpass, the long metal tendrils of the Horus that Londa controlled loomed over them with its blue light scanning for anything that moved. On the loudspeaker of the waking machine, you could hear Walter taunting Aloy, asking if she was finally afraid after all this time. Who wouldn’t be frightened of a metal monster the size of a mountain hunting you down? It was so hair-raisingly tense when it finally stood up from its slumber behind the Hollywood sign and it made its way to the beach to put an end to the mere mortals in its vicinity.
If I’m being honest, the fight is better experienced than my attempts to describe it. Think of the picture above as one gracious frame of one of the most intense battles you’ve ever witnessed. A titan against an ant: Guerrilla Games is diligent in making you feel this in all the right ways as you take on the Hollywood Horus and Walter Londra.
After I brought down the Horus, leaving the dismantled machine in a pile of smoke and rust with a dead Zenith inside, I was reminded why Horizon has always been a series near and dear to me. Consuming the world’s lore and environment feels like feeding my life’s blood. Every single character, including Seyka and Londra, is fleshed out, unique, and mesmerizing, even if the other is a space-faring psychopath. While Burning Shores is strange, short, and romantic, tied together with a show-stopping boss fight, both its oddities and attention to detail make it memorable. I don’t hate it, nor do I love it, but it will be an experience I’ll be fondly thinking of as I await the next game in the Horizon Series. I can’t wait to see what comes of Nemesis and whether Seyka will return as a character vital to the story. Bring us more!
Senior Intern Kimari Rennis, who has been with the NYVGCC for many years, is a junior at NYU’s Game Center.