Destiny 2 Shadowkeep is the latest offering in Bungie’s shared world loot-shooter. It’s the first release from the Bellevue-based studio that’s independent of its much-maligned agreement with publishing juggernaut Activision. It’s come with a new story campaign, two new strikes, remastered PvP maps and a smattering of new exotics and vendor-specific loot to boot.
After a summer of hype, trailers, and live streams, much was made of this expansion and its content. A three-part directors cut, released by game director Luke Smith, paved the way for Shadowkeep and Bungie’s overarching vision. Now, several weeks after launch, much of what Smith alluded to in his monumental monologue has been realised – but other parts have fallen flat.
A Desperately Short Story, That’s Short On Answers
Destiny 2 Forsaken, was arguably one of the highest points for the franchise. Certainly, in my review last year, I paid tribute to the wealth of secrets players could uncover playing throughout the game. It also came with a gripping, self-contained campaign that shook up the established order of things within the Destiny series and took the franchise in a much darker direction.
This dark theme has continued with Destiny 2 Shadowkeep, and it carries momentum earned in the previous expansion and annual pass content during the first mission of its campaign. However, this is all immediately stifled with filler fetch quests, designed to pad out the story content, to build to an exhilarating, yet fundamentally frustrating final mission.
Without spoiling the plot, the main gripe with the final mission centres around the momentum built in the previous three hours of the campaign, which builds to a crescendo in the final 30 seconds of the last mission, to then be abruptly pulled back into the game world without explanation. It was somewhat jarring and left me after three and a half hours thinking to myself, ‘is that it?’
Of course, it’s always good to leave your audience wanting more, that’s, of course, the secret behind any successful story, but Destiny 2 Shadowkeep – at least in its campaign – doesn’t dole out enough story titbits to satisfy even the most ardent of supporters. It’s almost as if the campaign is the opening chapter to the Shadowkeep novel, and you’ve got no idea when the next parts of the book are going to arrive.
Another key issue here is that the writers at Bungie are spinning a lot of plates story-wise right now. We’ve had the ongoing situation with the Dreaming City for the last 12-months, with no satisfying conclusion in sight. The Drifter, introduced in Destiny 2 Forsaken, hasn’t really had anything to say about the spooky happenings on Luna.
I can’t shake the feeling that everything story-wise is on hold until Bungie can get Destiny 3 released. And I don’t think that’s a good way to handle a story, which to be fair to the writers at Bungie, is a fantastic, lore-rich world; with lots of fascinating characters.
Destiny 2 Changes Its Approach to Armour
Destiny 2 is a solid shooter. It’s always felt great to put on a pulse rifle and unload a torrent of fire at an unsuspecting Fallen foot soldier or to dump on a Taken boss with Lord of Wolves. However, its RPG elements have always been second place to its shooting mechanics. This changed when Destiny 2 Shadowkeep launched as Bungie finally launched it’s much talked about Armour 2.0; a top-down rework of the armour and modification system.
There’s a lot to unpack regarding Armour 2.0, so I’ll stick to the cliff notes. Effectively, they’ve brought back two attributes from the original game, giving you more options to customise your characters to suit your style.
You’ll also earn and unlock mods during gameplay; which you’ll slot into your armour, giving you attributes to improve characteristics of your character. When earning armour, it’s tuned to certain elemental affinities, allowing you to slot in mods of that element.
Armour 2.0 also has a rudimentary transmog system, allowing you to use ‘Universal Ornaments’ to change the appearance of your armour. It’s worth noting that you can only use ornaments from the Eververse Store to change the look of your character’s clobber.
Overall, Armour 2.0 has opened lots of potential for character customisation and builds. I’m enjoying tinkering with my characters and observing their impact on my gameplay.
However, while I’ve enjoyed the new system, I have problems with how using it is explained to players. There’s plenty of tooltips, but Destiny 2 Shadowkeep doesn’t really hold your hand or teach you how to customise your armour and leverage mods. Instead, you’re thrust into the Tower and left to your own devices and expected to decipher the complexities of the new gear system.
New Light, New Guardians
The base version of Destiny 2, along with expansions Curse of Osiris, Warmind and the Y2 Annual Pass went free to play when Shadowkeep launched. Destiny 2 New Light, as it has been billed, also includes all PvP maps; ensuring Crucible player counts continue to remain healthy.
Bungie also implemented Cross save; allowing players to move characters between platforms so long as they have a copy of Destiny 2 installed on their chosen device.
New players have a glut of content to work their way through, but it is marred by overwhelming complexity and nebulous systems, with no real explanation. For instance, Destiny 2 New Light players play through the opening mission from the first game, effectively serving as the birthing scene for their guardian
In addition, The Red War campaign, the centrepiece of the vanilla Destiny 2 experience, has been gutted. Entire cutscenes and missions are missing, which interrupts the narrative flow of what was a high point for the franchise.
So, while on the one hand, it’s fantastic to see new players flood into the Destiny series and great to see patrol spaces and PvP full of players, I am concerned that new players might be put off by impenetrable jargon and a disjointed story.
Shaking Up The Endgame
The endgame of Destiny 2 Shadowkeep is where this title really shines, with a slew of improvements to existing content. Nightfall strikes have regained their challenging status, with four tiers introducing new mechanics, burns, and challenges for your fireteam to tackle.
Of note is the new champion system, where souped-up versions of adds require teamwork, coordination, and specific builds to stop them in their tracks. The new Scarlett Keep strike becomes a haunted spire of horrors at nightfall tier, with unstoppable ogres constantly bearing down on you with their void beams of death. The solution? An unstoppable mod, of course! Simply load it into your hand cannon and open fire. Other champions include barrier tier enemies, as well as overload champions.
Each requires a different strategy for your team to combat and demand your immediate attention, or else you’ll quickly be overrun, killed, and forced to re-do the whole section.
Bungie has balanced this difficulty with reward. Now, Nightfall’s give you the opportunity to harvest rare materials such as ascendant shards; which are integral with masterworking armour. Of course, the more difficult the nightfall, the better your rewards, thereby rewarding players who tackle challenging content.
The new raid, Garden of Salvation picks up immediately where the story left off and sees you combatting the Vex in the Black Garden. It’s a challenging piece of content, which encourages your team to hone in their understanding of very specific mechanics to be successful. I’d recommend trying it without watching or reading any guides to maximise your enjoyment.
In the last week, Bungie released their new dungeon – The Pit of Heresy. I took it on with my two clanmates and we had a total blast. It’s an amalgamation of Kings Fall from Destiny: The Taken King and Destiny 2: Forsaken’s Shattered Throne. It’s challenging, while still being a lot of fun.
PvP experience has been improved
The Crucible has received a much-needed sandbox update when Destiny 2 Shadowkeep launched at the start of October. The full breakdown of the changes Bungie made is available on their site, but the most important tweaks involve roaming supers getting their wings clipped.
It’s no longer possible for bottom-tree strikers to float across the entire map, deleting an entire enemy team before running out of their super. In addition, hand cannons picked up a significant nerf as well as scout rifles getting a buff.
Overall, PvP feels more balanced, refined, and open; allowing for a wider range of weapon variety and builds. Finally, competitive PvP found itself at the centre of a significant change, with the introduction of a solo queue and losing fewer points after a loss.
Overall, a mixed bag
Destiny 2 Shadowkeep has brought about exhilarating changes to its endgame. It’s now set up to provide players with challenging content with tangible rewards. But questions remain about how Bungie is going to tie disparate storylines together – with the main campaign being desperately short.
If you enjoyed Destiny 2 Forsaken, you‘d probably enjoy this game, but I’d recommend tempering your expectations. The content on offer just isn’t as expansive.
Final verdict 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) PS4, Xbox One; Publisher: Bungie Developer: Bungie; Players: 1; Released: October 1, 2019; MSRP: £29.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Destiny 2: Shadowkeep