The gaming equivalent of the military maxim “No plan survives contact with the enemy” would surely be “No pre-release MMO survives contact with the player base”. Systems that seem fine to game creators pre-release are soon exposed when millions get their hands on the game world: why doesn’t this work? Why does this obvious feature not exist? What am I supposed to do now?
Just ask the original Destiny; sexy but largely empty on its release before a major course correction with The Taken King expansion, and it would appear history is repeating when it comes to Destiny 2. While a lot of players - myself included - found plenty to enjoy in the basic game, the more hardcore were seriously disgruntled: why no random weapon rolls? Why do you have to pay to get some of the cool-looking gear? Where is the non-raid endgame content? For the love of the Traveller, why can I only delete one shader at a time?
Bungie has thus found themselves in the same situation all over again, having to fix things with its first major expansion, Forsaken. The good news I can relate after sinking many hours into it so far is: they’ve largely nailed it. You could be forgiven for once again asking “Why wasn’t the game like this on release?”, "didn't they learn their lesson with the first Destiny?" But if you let go of your forum venom for a minute, you may not bother – you’ll be too busy putting an arrow into the eye of a Scorn Chieftain from 60 metres.
First up – because they’re worth mentioning – “quality of life” improvements are abundant. While they’re not why you spend your (considerable amount of) money for this game, they do show that Forsaken is a response by Bungie to what players want. Bright Dust, the currency used to buy cosmetic items from the Eververse store, can now be earned directly through gameplay.
A new Triumphs system keeps track of your game achievements and encourages you towards new milestones with every firefight and activity. Background lore text is finally accessible directly in game. Best of all, you can finally delete more than one shader at a time – although at just 5 per deletion, it’s still gonna take you a wee while to get through that huge stack of Atlantis Wash. They’re small but significant improvements that smooth things out as you embark on your quest for revenge.
It's that quest for revenge that really sets the stakes for this expansion, because here’s how serious Bungie were about saving Destiny 2: they made the one-time-only play of killing off the game’s best character, Cayde-6. Winningly voiced in the past by Nathan Fillion, and almost as winningly by Nolan North in Forsaken, everyone's favourite Exo Hunter is dead, and it’s up to you to avenge him on an only semi-approved revenge quest. This takes you to the new zone of the Tangled Shore, an extended area of the asteroid-filled Reef that has only been glimpsed at previously in Destiny’s Prison of Elders expansion.
The desolate landing spot on the Tangled Shore is not a promising spot, but it’s soon revealed that Bungie’s undoubted talent for art direction is still firmly in place. The area is pieced together as a scrappy collection of floating rocks, secret caves, crashed Hive ships, and most memorably, a Fallen nightclub. You’ll strike wary deals with a memorable mafioso-like NPC, The Spider (a vessel for more great Destiny voice acting), who is really the first introduction to Forsaken’s new emphasis on bounties. Almost every NPC offers bounties now, some activity-specific and some general. With both daily and weekly types on offer, it means you always have tasks to complete - many tasks to complete - while on the go.
On the Tangled Shore, you’ll also get your hands on the expansion’s major new weapon type, the combat bow. These are so fun to use you’ll wonder how you ever fought without them. They’re part of a major weapon system reshuffle that sees several old “power” weapons move into the new “kinetic” and “energy” slots, giving you more ready access to heavy-hitters like sniper rifles and shotguns. It allows for a lot more combinations and lets you find a loadout suitable for your play-style. Want to run with two shotguns and a rocket launcher? You can now. The weapon system's huge overhaul continues with a much more varied mod system, implementing a 10-tier(!) upgrade system and – crucially for the hardcore – random weapon rolls, meaning there’s incentive to run activities again and again to get that very specific combination of weapon perks that you’re after.
Players have plenty of chances to experiment with their weapon combos as they hunt down Cayde’s killers, the Scorned Barons and Prince Uldren of the Awoken. Rather than taking the form of a linear campaign, missions to take them down are spread around the Tangled Shore, leaving it up to you to decide which order you want to tackle them. Every mission has a different personality and distinct end battle, each of which takes you into some of the Shore’s funkiest areas and arena. Forsaken’s new enemy type, the Scorned, don't offer any wild new variations, but have enough minor changes to make fighting them feel different to taking on previously established enemies like the Fallen or Cabal.
In between baron assassinations, players can complete many of the familiar activities of Destiny 2, with patrols, new public event modes, and new lost sectors on offer –some of which are among the most memorable in the game. There's also three new strikes, one of which taps straight into the nostalgia gland of Destiny veterans.
Then, the feather in the cap. With the mission of revenge over, the story shifts and players are able to access Forsaken’s dedicated end-game area, the Dreaming City. This sort of Space-Rivendell has an aesthetic that’s like walking into one of those mall stores from the early 2000s that sold incense, amethyst crystals and pewter statues of dragons. There’s an ongoing story to experience while delving into an area that’s huge and cryptic, full of nooks and crannies to be explored, and secrets waiting to be discovered (or looked up on Reddit).
Within the Dreaming City you’ll find the raid (which I'm yet to experience), a public wave-mode activity (similar to Taken King’s Court of Oryx) called the Blind Well, more missions and bounties, and your arse handed to you – at least to begin with, anyway. The enemies here are tough, and you’ll arrive well under-powered to take on many of them, providing plenty of challenges and a real sense of progression as your power level rises.
What's truly exciting – and a Destiny first – is that the Dreaming City also changes with each weekly reset, offering a new story mission, a new vendor location and new enemy spawns. This is expected to settle into a three-week cycle, but at this stage of the game’s life it’s genuinely exciting to look ahead to the next week, and logging on to see what’s new and different. It's great to see that Bungie has (apparently) put the infrastructure in place to make rolling changes to the game world on a regular basis. There’s a genuine feeling of exploration and discovery afoot.
That’s not all though, folks – Forsaken also comes with Gambit, a new competitive PvE mode that’s a new challenge all in itself, and comes complete with its own NPC, lore, bounties, and rewards. Gambit sees two competing teams of four players battling waves of randomly selected enemies from the game's five hostile races. Defeated enemies drop motes of light, which can be placed in a central bank. After banking 75 motes your team will summon the Primeval, a Taken boss. The first team to kill their Primeval wins.
Of course it's not that simple... if your team banks motes in clumps of 5, 10 or 15, you’ll send a progressively stronger Taken mob to shut down the other team’s bank until they can kill it. If 25 motes are banked by your team, you’ll open a portal to the other team’s arena, sending one player from your side across to invade with 30 seconds on the clock to kill as many opposing players as possible. A death to either mobs or enemy invader means you lose all the motes you are carrying - which can sometimes be a game-changing loss.
The tactics at play in this system are surprisingly in-depth and often result in some seriously close matches. It makes for a fist-pumping, shout-out-loud blast to play, and probably one of the best features Bungie has come up with.
Are there downsides in Destiny 2: Forsaken? One or two. Triumph and sometimes bounty tracking can be a little sketchy - sometimes you won’t get credit for something you’ve definitely done, or will get credit for something you haven’t.
Weapon upgrades are now very expensive in terms of in-game currency. While this is obviously by design, it does mean that all your favourite gear effectively ends up falling by the wayside since the outlay to bring it up to a current power level is more trouble than it’s worth – especially when you then have your power level increase again.
Another issue is the Blind Well endgame activity which, like the Court of Oryx, is designed for high-end players to run again and again. Its current form is too repetitive, and while enemy types seem to change weekly, there’s none of random variation we saw in Court of Oryx, making for a boring experience when you're playing it several times in a row.
These however are minor quibbles amid what is a seriously strong package. Forsaken even finds ways to make old haunts interesting again, dropping new bounty missions into foundation planets and rewarding you for heading to Lost Sectors and story missions you may not have bothered with for literally a year. There’s so much to do all of a sudden that you may be undecided as to what to do next - a feeling I haven't experience in Destiny for quite a while.
If you’ve enjoyed the franchise at all throughout its time, it’s well worth checking out. It’s taken a good long time, but it feels like the franchise is finally really hitting its stride (no, honestly this time).
Now, Bungie... can we please not backslide from here again?
Editors Note: We're keeping this as a "review in progress" until Ben has tackled the raid. Until then, please consider Gameplanet's score of 9/10 as reflective of the offerings the game has for everything but the Last Wish raid.