So after reading the thread a bit, yes: it can be daunting with how much stuff FH5 shows you that you can do. The good news is that most of it is optional: nothing is really "locked" behind anything other than your rank. You can pretty much do anything and rank up (speed zones, barn finds, races, events, etc.), and as you rank up, you can then keep unlocking more Horizon tiers which then unlock more stuff to do. For reference, I did barely any story races, and instead focused on the endgame races (aptly named things like Goliath, Colossus, Marathon, etc.) because it's always been the endgame races that are intense, long races that take you across massive sections of the map. For reference the Goliath is a 13 minute race
In fact, I didn't even do story races until after I had already completed all the showcases and endgame races. The way the game is, it's sort of like BotW: as long as you're doing something, you'll progress. As you progress, you have more to do. You actually have all the cars you need to do literally everything right from the get-go. How you do it is up to you: you basically have options. And yes, most user-generated races kinda suck, but it's nice to have the option to create races and send them to your friends.
That also goes along with your statement about "wtf happened to gaming", though: options. Put a dress on a man? Sure, if you want to. I see some people get bent out of shape over these things, but the modern era is all about options and open-endedness. If someone WANTS to cross-dress, then the option is there for them. It doesn't hurt me, it doesn't make my car slower, it doesn't make my food taste worse. People get so caught up in mixing their political/sociological beliefs together that it's like they forget that they're not the only people on the planet. I don't take you to be that type, actually, but yea, it's all about options. The option is there for a trans to have a male character with a female name/voice wearing a dress. It doesn't hurt me, and until the day it does, I see nothing wrong with it.
I have no issue with cross-dressing etc. I have an issue with all the bloat filling up my HDD with garments, emotes and other nonsense you don't see while racing.
If it's all about options, why only one body size and shape, no wheelchairs etc. Adding dresses and a third pronoun just makes the absence of the rest stand out. And why no option not to download the bloat :) My wtf happened to gaming is about the store of dresses in a racing game. But maybe I have pegged the game wrong, and it's not really a racing game. More a place to hang out with friends. I just miss PGR and Burnout Takedown!
Looking forward to the longer races.
Bruh, by that token, literally any part of the game you didn't play is "bloat" lol... Come on, man, just let people have their options
But also, now you're asking them to have a full character creation suite when they are already doing more than literally any other racing game does for your driver. And actualyyyy, you missed out on FH4 if you wanted "hang out" stuff: FH4 had actual car meets. I barely used it, but it was actually quite a neat idea to be able to see each other's car in a (small) parking lot hahaha
Hmm since I turned online off or one of the other things, there is no traffic at all on the roads. Just empty, nothing. I'm the only driving car in Mexico lol.
It's not a setting, seems there just aren't many npc cars at all
I spotted a stopped ghosted car on the way to the next race, rest all empty, weird.
Does this mean anything? Just popped up and started counting down
Maybe it's the part of the map, I did see a bit more traffic on the way to the Colossus race. Still very empty, less than 10 NPC cars on a 5 minute drive.
The Colossus race was a decent 16 minutes (still shorter than 2 laps on the Nurburgring). Nice to race around the map, yet the AI is rather weird. It wanted me to up the challenge a notch since I was winning easily, fine no problem. Yet while I was still easily faster through corners, on the straights they accelerate faster and have much higher top speed. They just zoom by and disappear ahead, slipstream not working (or not part of the arcade version) From easily winning to finishing 7th while driving a near flawless race staying on the road at top speed. The competition simply disappeared ahead in small groups, reverse rubber banding.
Time for a different car I guess. I was still using the Corvette Stingray it gave me at the start. I auto upgraded it to S1  yet top speed is far far behind the competition which also accelerates 3x faster. I guess you're supposed to use one of the cars it recommends for the event as it doesn't seem to scale to what you use. Anyway great to have a longer race, was getting tired of the 2:30 victories, then 1 minute loading the next one. Now to unlock the other long ones!
I'm pretty sure the density is based off graphics settings, but then again I've been maxing games out for so long or just playing them on consoles that I'm not entirely sure why you're having low traffic offline. I'd say check your graphics settings or settings in general, there might be a traffic density setting.
As for the AI, it DOES have questionable power levels, BUT I'll also say that this goes into custom modding the car versus auto upgrading. If you auto upgrade and say, it adds better brakes and a spoiler, that obviously makes you better at slowing down and taking corners. Auto-upgrade is a general sweep, and I've always custom modded for things I knew would give me an advantage. For sprint races with minimal sharp corners, I'd upgrade mostly power and my Drivatars are on Highly Skilled and Expert (depending on the race, I find dirt races on Expert to be too sweaty) and would pull them on straightaways while they would take the corners better but not quite make up the difference. This is that subtle "car enthusiast" stuff I enjoy so much lol
I'm glad you're giving it a fair shakedown, though! I never fault people for properly trying a game out even if they end up not enjoying it after all. Sometimes, well like a video I'm about to post: sometimes you don't know what you're in for in a game until you simply put the time in.