Forza Horizon 5 landed with a bang last November. It reached 20 million players thanks to is strong launch campaign, impressive reviews, and of course being on Xbox Game Pass from day one.
However, it didn't take long for player counts to drop. The game doesn't really hold your attention once you have explored the map and raced through the minimal storyline.
That's why players were so excited for the first expansion to arrive. They waited patiently for the DLC to drop that came included with Premium Edition purchases.
What they got was a Hot Wheels map that fails to deliver the one thing Horizon games usually do well with... Exploration.
Hot wheels, cold experience
The biggest joy of a new Horizon map is turning off the road and exploring. Be it in a beefy Ford Bronco or an adapted supercar, racing through fields, into valleys, and over cliffs has always been great fun in Forza games.
Sometimes you'll find a hidden location or an XP board, but you can always find your way back to the roads, events, and PR stunts.
With the Hot Wheels expansion, it's not so simple.
Because the tracks are up in the air and contain indestructible barriers, it's impossible to just go exploring.
You can only access the ground from certain places, and if you wander too far then good luck getting back to the actual track to continue your exploration somewhere else after you inevitably reach a dead end.
Sure, you can fast travel for free in the Hot Wheels world, meaning you can always get back to the road you need, but that defeats the whole point of exploration in the first place!
Forza Horizon worlds feel alive. With towns, locations, buildings, and biomes to explore there is always something interesting to look at or crash into. There are also NPC cars roaming around, helping the world to feel populated.
The Hot Wheels expansion has none of this.
There is nothing but an expanse of blue sky and empty orange track as you zoom around the map.
It's a gorgeous world. As ever, the Playground Games team has delivered a wonderful visual spectacle, but it feels like a facade over a hollow experience.
Should you buy the Hot Wheels expansion?
If you can't get enough of Forza Horizon 5 then this expansion is great for you, but if you were hoping for a more exploratory world that felt like a true expansion to the current map then you can skip this one.
There really is nothing to see and little to do in the Hot Wheels DLC. The races all feel similar as you are just on orange track with slight variations in design.
The progression system locks away your fastest cars so unless you are willing to put the time in you can't just grab your Jesko and see how fast you can go.
In the end it's a DLC pack aimed at a specific audience with very clear branding. There is nothing to distract from the Hot Wheels style, and while that works for Forza's partnership, it doesn't necessarily work for its players.