It's been an interesting year for Destiny 2's developer. Starting with its split from Activision, Bungie then announced a free-to-play model for the base game of its shared-world shooter. The PC version migrated from the Activision-owned battle.net Launcher to Steam, and implemented a cross-save feature; meaning players can progress their characters across multiple platforms.
If that wasn't enough, Bungie announced Destiny 2 would be coming to the Google Stadia, and... oh yeah, launched the latest expansion for the game, Shadowkeep.
Many of us are looking at the latter with keen interest right now – eager to see what a post-Activison Bungie will produce. Thankfully, Shadowkeep represents a focused, more refined entry into the world of Destiny, and it feels like the best is yet to come.
For longtime fans of Destiny the narrative has always been a background spectacle that was vaguely explained. Key elements were teased then never mentioned again, the main story was often put on hold while an entire expansion explored some peril on the side, and dialogue like "I don't have time to explain why I don't have time to explain" seemed to mock those that wanted a richer story experience.
Straight out of the gate, Shadowkeep feels like it's back on the straight and narrow. Familiar allies like Eris Morn are back, we're heading back to a familiar area, and from the very first mission, Bungie brings back a nefarious force that was hinted at two years ago.
One of the most notable changes in Shadowkeep is the darker tone, shifting its action focus to something close to a space horror. From the first mission rank and file enemies are much harder to kill, while also having to confront horrors from our past. Sure, there's no gore or jump scares, but the overall aesthetic of the Moon is nothing short of bleak and haunting.
It's appropriate then that throughout the campaign, you and those around you are dealing with trauma. It's a refreshing take on a game that has previously ignored the fact that you're a hero that has died countless times – only to be brought back to life. Death is an intrinsic part of being a guardian within the game, and while you might soldier on unaffected, the same can't be said for those around you.
Taking the time throughout the campaign to delve into this through the character of Eris Morn hugely benefits the feeling of what's at stake, while also deepening a character that has previously been the foil to the jovial Cayde-6 (RIP.) It's easy to understand how someone can become so tortured when you literally watch the ghosts of her fireteam murdered in front of her.
Having to face foes you'd thought previously defeated is another nice touch by Bungie, although it's hard to stifle that voice in your head that accuses the developer of recycling assets. In this instance, it's appropriate for us to fight Crota, Dominus Ghaul, and The Fanatic again, since our real foe is resurrected our own nightmares against us. That being said, it would be nice to see the studio introduce a completely new faction in the future, rather than just re-skinned enemies from one of the existing races.
While it certainly feels like the developer is on the right track for Destiny's narrative, the line is unfortunately left feeling incomplete. An aenemic campaign ends so abruptly, it feels similar to missing a step on the stairs. That being said, this feels like the first couple of episodes in a TV's season, so it's hard to say where the story will conclude and whether the wait will have been worth it.
For the time being, the post-campaign content has a nice carousel of activities. Nightmare Hunts set guardians against resurrected bosses from previous campaigns, with increasing difficulties available as players increase their power and time trials for those seeking perfection in their efficiency. A rotating roster of activities is also ensuring that there's also something for guardians to set their sights on, with activities for Season Pass owners, and free-to-play guardians alike.
And while the level grind will only keep players busy for a couple of weeks at best, the return of additional gear stats from Destiny 1 will keep the number crunchers chasing the perfect min/max setup for countless hours.
One of the biggest features Bungie talked about in the lead up to Shadowkeep's release was Armor 2.0 – a new way to customise gear with mods, stats, and appearances that would give players more control over how they played and what they look like. Mods are now interchangeable and are not consumed upon use, offering greater freedom to experiment without an added resource cost. The feature is promising, but isn't really relevant until players get to max level. Throughout the levelling process, gear is still swapped out regularly, making the time spent customising it a waste, and for those that do commit to a piece of gear early on, they'll be burning through upgrade modules to keep the gear at a relevant level.
In one of Bungie's streams, they delved deep into the possibilities of Armor 2.0, showing off a litany of potential appearances for every slot. In reality, many players will have just a few ornaments to choose from for their appearance, so don't be too quick to dismantle old gear if you like their look.
For Bungie's first premium content release, the Season of the Undying, things feel a bit underwhelming. There's Vex invasions on the Moon, and we can confront those hordes in a new mode called the Vex Offensive. This mode is similar in style to the Season of Opulence's Menagerie activity, where players fight through waves of enemies, progressing through the map until they confront a boss at the end. It's simple enough, but there's enough bounties and rewards to keep it enticing for now.
The reasoning behind the Offensive is that you're going through the portal to confront the Vex armies invading the Moon, so it's nice to have that cohesion within the narrative – although the fact that upon defeating the Offensive's boss there's no slowdown in the number of invasions on the Moon makes one wonder if these efforts are making a difference. There's still a new dungeon expected to launch at the end of October, as well as exotic weapon quests and raid challenges in the works, but whether that's enough to bolster out the season remains to be seen.
Of course the prime activity releasing with the Season of the Undying is the first raid for Shadowkeep. Titled the Garden of Salvation, it takes players back to the Black Garden location seen at the end of the Destiny 1 campaign... yep, we're all about nostalgia in this expansion. Compared to the stark lighting and muted palette of the Moon, the Garden of Salvation is a welcome contrast in the other direction. Full of lush vegetation, flowing waterfalls, and architecture to marvel at – you'd be excused for wiping your raid if you stop to take in the sights.
Bungie hasn't just brought back a familiar location either – the developer has resurrected some of its best raid mechanics from previous raids to take a victory lap in Garden of Salvation. There's relay races, jumping puzzles, territory defence and more; it's like the Vault of Glass and King's Fall raids had a love child.
Unlike previous seasons, Season of the Undying will expire at the end of the year, which Bungie has explained as necessary for the story to move forward. Regardless of this, it's still disappointing for those that enjoy going back to experience old content – a pass time that was essential for players living through one of Destiny's old content droughts.
It would be easy to blame all of Destiny's problems in the past on Activision, and think that we'll finally get the game we always wanted now that Bungie is going it alone, but veterans of the game will tell any newcomer to develop a heavy amount of sceptical optimism when looking to the future. The first Season of Shadowkeep by its own could become repetitive quickly without the additional activities that Bungie are supplementing throughout, but you can forgive the developer from undercooking this one, since it's a freebie given out to any purchase of the expansion. Whether they can keep this up for the next year is the real question.
For what it's worth, this is one player that's rooting for them. The game's previous expansion, Forsaken delivered in spades, and with the main narrative of the Destiny taking centre stage, you've got to hope Bungie can keep its eye on the prize.
+ Eris Morn's story & performance.
+ Garden of Salvation raid is fantastic.
+ Lots of hidden secrets on the Moon for returning players
+ Additional gear stats offers new loadout possibilities
- Campaign feels cut short.
- Armor 2.0 appearances are limited so far
- Seasonal Content isn't sticking around