Horizon Forbidden West is one of the best looking games of this generation – in fact, it won ‘Best Graphics’ at our awards last year. With abundant foliage, beautiful lighting and stunning environmental detail, Guerrilla Games’ open world sequel was seriously impressive – but the Burning Shores DLC is poised to be even more spectacular. A reworked cloud rendering system with PS5 exclusivity promises graphical enhancements above and beyond the base game experience. So how does Burning Shores raise the visual bar? And does the increased fidelity come at a performance cost?
It’s important to note that Burning Shores Horizon takes place after the main story in the Forbidden West, so you need an endgame save with a high-level character to complete it. Right after booting up the game with the expansion installed, you’ll be invited to a new area – which is about a third the size of the main game. It’s big and breathtaking, from the moment you reach the climax of the story hours later; The new content is totally a visual treat.
Before we talk about why Burning Shores looks so special, let’s get to know it. As with Forbidden Waste, Burning Shores is offered in ‘favor resolution’, ‘balanced’ and ‘sideshow’ modes. Resolution mode plays at 30fps but with a native 4K image, Balanced mode plays at checkerboarded 4K at 40fps (ideal for 120Hz displays); Performance mode runs at 60fps with Checkerboard 1800p.
All modes can employ dynamic resolution scaling to hit their frame-rate targets, but the effect on image quality is subtle and performance is rock-solid, save for single frames held at camera cuts that improve image reconstruction does. VRR is also supported, along with an unlocked version of Performance mode that hovers around 60 to 80fps. It’s not a huge boost over the regular display mode, but it’s somewhat better if you have a high-quality display that offers VRR without compromising panel settings. I personally gravitate towards the performance options here, although there really aren’t any bad options. Burning Shores is simply an outstanding artist.
It’s especially impressive how well the PS5-only DLC looks compared to the base game. A key factor driving its visual progress is new systems for cloud rendering, which render clouds with stunning 3D geometry that perfectly mimics the bulbous but sparse form of cloud structures in real life. The lighting is very pleasing, with water vapor slowly obscuring the direct sunlight and creating solid pockets of shadow and massive shadows.
During sunset conditions, the game’s sky looks particularly stunning, with light penetrating the edges of tattered clouds and beautifully highlighting their dense compositional details. You can even see clouds up close, scaling perfectly from far to near without breakup, while flying through them provides a good approximation of real-life white-out conditions. This is a very unique feat in video games – there are virtually no circumstances where clouds exhibit any anomalous properties. The only real exception is with the exposure mode, where clouds look slightly less detailed and there are more pronounced edge artifacts.
However, Horizon Forbidden West was already pushing very detailed cloud rendering of its own. The game used Guerrilla’s in-house Nubis cloud system to display highly detailed volumetric clouds with precise lighting, combined with a range of performance optimizations – including very heavy use of temporal upsampling – to produce a result that only costs a millisecond or two per frame. on console hardware. Burning Shores moves to a voxel-based system with a more physical simulation of how clouds look in 3D space, which isn’t possible on the PS4.
The only concession that may be a byproduct of this new cloud rendering system is that clouds occupy fixed positions and general structures within the game world. Over time, you can see that the large cumulus clouds don’t actually move at all, whereas in the base game the cloud layers scroll past. Clouds that are higher in the atmosphere continue to move, to be fair, and some clouds even have fixed positions in the base game. In addition, cloud surfaces deform and reshape in line with wind direction, so it is only noticeable in time-lapses.
Back on land, the major population center is called Fleets End and is a step up from the former Skyline Towns – a sprawling coastal village built around two dilapidated LA office towers. The level of geometric density here is seriously impressive, with Horizon’s signature high-poly meshes left about. It’s also very wide-open, so it’s easy to see all the near and far details within the frame. Guerrilla seems to have really pumped up the base game’s already impressive geometry to take advantage of the PS5. However, the more natural settings look largely the same.
It is clear that HFWBS is uniquely made to look great and work well from the air, with a more vertical landscape that features hills and buildings in the middle while the sides of the map slope into mountains, With the sea rolling in between the land features. The terrain is easier to read from a distance, unlike the flat terrain in the original game – a subtle difference, but a very important one.
The scale of the game also shines in the combat matches. Fights take place with lots of AI enemies, including tiny spawned enemies, and take up massive gameplay areas. There’s definitely a feeling that the ambition of these fights has expanded on the base game, which featured smaller combat bouts. There is one endgame engagement in particular that is the largest battle ever fought in any Horizon game, showing a kind of scale that is reminiscent of older God of War games.
The views from Burning Shores are then seriously impressive – you can almost smell the seawater, feel the heat of the volcano and feel the gentle mist of the clouds. There are also some issues, but minor issues that are carried over from the base game – Aloy’s animations are sometimes awkward over rough terrain, mounted travel can reveal pop-ins and the old interior spaces look weird, a monotone. With, an overly bump-mapped and specular-rich look that seems out of step with the rest of the game. But these issues barely detract from an overall stunning visual presentation.
I really enjoyed my time with Burning Shores, and it’s clearly a visual showcase for the PS5 hardware. With stunning cloud rendering and carefully sculpted terrain, the new world has been created to maximize in-flight beauty. The new town area is also a real treat because of its impressive density. At its best, it’s a clear step beyond the visuals of the base game.
Burning Shores also offers a healthy chunk of new playable content — I completed the main story addition in about 10 hours, with three new sidequests and the new Remnant Ruins taking an additional four to five hours. For the $20 asking price, it’s a great value, especially considering the quality of the new Core Quests, which are right up there with the base game’s story missions. The completionist or collectibles-obsessed should be able to at least spend a few more hours scavenging for hidden items, defeating enemy bases, and discovering a certain unique hidden encounter. Plus, the core gameplay has been expanded with new uses for the Shieldwing and a powerful new endgame weapon, along with several new enemy types.
Burning Shores is everything you could ask for from a game expansion. It is packed with content, offers a compelling story, features major new visuals and is driven by outstanding performances. It comes highly recommended.
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