Destiny 2 has entered into its third year of content, and first as an independent publisher, with the release of Shadowkeep. This expansion signifies major changes for the series and developer Bungie: leaving Activision to self-publish, leaving Battle.net for Steam, and relaunching Destiny 2 as Destiny 2: New Light, now a free-to-play game with paid expansions.
In an effort to cover this new era of Destiny for all players, both new and returning, we'll be posting three separate reviews: a Shadowkeep review (this one), a New Light review, and on Saturday, a Season of the Undying review that will dive deeper into what seasonal content will look like this year, the new activity Vex Offensive, and the new raid, Garden of Salvation.
Which brings us to Shadowkeep, the newest yearly expansion for Destiny in the tradition of Forsaken, Rise of Iron, and The Taken King. Shadowkeep overhauls many of the systems that were either underdeveloped or inefficient in Destiny 2, including the Quest menu and a complete re-work of the armor system. It also introduces a new zone (returning from the original Destiny), new gear, a new strike, and a revamped crucible. While Shadowkeep offers the most intriguing story setup to date and some much-needed quality of life improvements, the reduced scale of the expansion compared to Forsaken left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed, at least for now.
The Celestial Body Orbiting Earth Has Indeed Been Compromised By Phantoms
Shadowkeep takes place entirely on the Moon, a brand new patrol area for Destiny 2. Destiny players will recognize all of the landmarks and zones from the original game, now expanded into an area three times the size of the original.
Eris Morn returns to the series as the vendor for the Moon. She has been in hiding since the Red War began in Destiny 2 vanilla, but has awakened something ancient and evil on the Moon and needs the Vanguard's help to repel this new threat. Shadowkeep's storytelling is my favorite in the series so far. It's intriguing, slightly horrifying, and sets up events for "the next big thing" in a way I always wished Destiny 2 would, rather than the episodic storytelling we've gotten with each content update.
The campaign stretches just a handful of missions, and while there are some set pieces and cinematic moments that rival some of the best sequences in all of Destiny, the length of the campaign and the severe abruptness with which it ends definitely left me wanting more.
Which, admittedly, seems to be all part of the plan. In the Directors Cut, a blog series that proceeded Shadowkeep's release, director Luke Smith explains that the workload they were under during Forsaken took a massive toll on the team, and that they were in an "unsustainable development cycle" with the season pass. Shadowkeep isn't the massive campaign with tons of fresh content that Forsaken was. Rather, Shadowkeep is a new foundation for what's to come, both in terms of narrative and how new content will be drip-released over the next year.
What's New, What's Old, And What's New Again
Shadowkeep is being promoted as a new beginning for Destiny 2 and the start of a 5-year trajectory for the series, and for the team at Bungie, I think that's certainly true. For the player who has kept up with Destiny 2 from the beginning, Shadowkeep feels more like a continuation in the right direction set forth by Forsaken.
Forsaken fundamentally changed the game of Destiny 2 not un-like what The Taken King did for Destiny. The focus was narrowed dramatically in Forsaken to appeal to the core Destiny audience rather than soft-targeting the casual gamer which was a direction that left vanilla Destiny feeling purposeless. Shadowkeep is the next step on the journey to making Destiny 2 the shooter MMO that the core fan base expects it to be, but it's difficult to frame the expansion as a new beginning when there isn't all that much, well, new.
There are very few new guns and armor - only one new exotic armor piece for each class and only a small handful of exotic weapons. As you progress through the story to the new level 900 softcap, 70%-90% of the gear you find will be from Forsaken. The new enemy type are slightly re-skinned Hive, but nowhere near to the degree that the Scorn were in Forsaken. All of the bosses are "nightmares" of old bosses. There are no new weapon types, public events, or supers. Even the Moon itself is a zone from Destiny, albeit expanded quite a bit.
At a certain point, comparing the amount of content to what Forsaken offered becomes a useless metric. If you're the kind of person that believes value is tied to a number, whether that's hours of content or amount of guns to collect, Shadowkeep may disappoint you. If you want to know if it's a good time to get into Destiny, if it's moving in the right direction, and if it's fun, the answer is emphatically yes.
Goodbye Life, Hello Armor 2.0
Forsaken brought the grind back to Destiny 2 with random rolls on weapons and a never ending list of challenging pursuits that led to fantastic gear (until it eventually got nerfed, R.I.P. Whisper of the Worm). Shadowkeep takes players even deeper into that grind with armor 2.0: random rolls on armor, transmog effects, and a new mod system.
Until Shadowkeep, engaging with mods seemed like a waste until you hit max power level. Now that mods aren't consumed, tinkering with your armor is fun and interesting, even if you know you aren't going to use the same item for very long. The investment is low and the reward is high enough now that the system is worth engaging with even while leveling.
The artifact item doesn't offer a ton of variety. It simply lets you unlock new and powerful mods as you level, but the power level bonus means that you can always continue to progress even when there aren't any powerful engrams left to collect for the week. A common complaint from the very beginning of Destiny 2 that has now been remedied.
I'll have a lot more to say on Shadowkeep after Saturday when the full scope of what this year looks like is revealed. For now, I'll simply say that Shadowkeep continues to move Destiny 2 in the direction established by Forsaken and further repairs and enhances the lackluster systems in the game, refining it into the best version of Destiny we've ever seen.
A review copy of Shadowkeep was provided to TheGamer for this review. Shadowkeep and New Light are available on Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC, and soon, Stadia.
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