It’s that time of year again. Bungie has released yet another package of DLC, this time to crown some major innovative changes to the game. However, if you were expecting Destiny 2’s latest expansion to be as bold and encompassing as its previous installment, Forsaken, you may be in for a little disappointment. While New Light and Shadowkeep combine to bring a brand new experience for first-timers, it offers somewhat less for veterans of the franchise. Warning, this is a review-in-progress, and there are light-ish spoilers below.
Most of the biggest changes to the franchise come in what Bungie is referring to as New Light. As of its release, Destiny is now free to play. This includes all of the DLC before and most content from Forsaken, including Season of the Drifter and Season of Opulence. But there are some things for which you’ll actually have to purchase Forsaken to do, like the raid or earning certain exotics. Making their free to play angle even better, players automatically drop in at power level 750, ready to take on Shadowkeep content. No more grinding from the very beginning to catch up and play with your friends. You can log in and get to it from day one, in almost any activity.
The other big mention is the brand new cross-save feature. Now, players can take their Guardians with them anywhere. I took advantage of this feature myself and recently converted from console (PS4) to PC. It’s been a wild ride, and I can honestly say that I’m one step closer to never purchasing another game for console in my life. The impact that cross-save has had on the community can’t be understated. Now, playing with your friends is as simple as logging onto another console. As someone who had friends playing on PC, Xbox One, and PS4, it’s definitely made my life a lot easier being able to link up and play with people I’ve known for years.
There are a lot more in-game changes that came with New Light. They’ve completely overhauled the armor and mods system, making it more reminiscent of a traditional MMO. I like the direction they’re going with this, but I have some small issues with the execution. Mostly, it doesn’t serve much purpose while you’re leveling outside of sucking up your resources. As far as I can tell, there’s no dramatic or direct impact on the gameplay as you progress through the story and make your way to the final activities. Outside one or two mods that make life easier in Vex Offensive or Nightfall, they don’t really seem to have a significant role at the moment. I’ve played the entire game thus far without modding a single piece of gear, without any kind of problem. They’ve made it easier to obtain power levels, added finishers (which are incredible), and sprinkled in a new exotic or two. The list goes on. You can find the official patch notes here.
But enough about that. Let’s get into Shadowkeep.
The story of Shadowkeep brings back an old friend, Eris Morn, and takes us to yet another familiar location, the moon. The Hive are at it again (when aren’t they?), but this time there seems to be something more sinister at work. Shadowkeep brings back the haunted, eerie feel Destiny has been missing lately, but at the same time, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Bungie definitely upped the creep factor with the endless number of dead guardians floating around the moon, a few of which are Eris’ old fireteam. You know, the ones that Crota and company put down during their ill-fated assassination attempt in the Hellmouth. But there was more they could have done with that, instead of just having them hang there, or scream at us while serving as a patrol beacon. Why not show us glimpses of their death? Or glimpses from the battles that claimed their lives, at least? I just would have liked to have seen more from this particular theme.
The story appears to be following its direct predecessor’s steps in splitting the narrative, this time between the Hive and the Vex. These tie into the DLC’s first season, Season of the Undying. Eris and the Scarlet Keep are the poster children for Shadowkeep, and yet the story doesn’t favor them much. The missions require grinding public events and specific kills for unique pieces of gear, which you then use to enter the final mission. Once you complete that, it’s on to the “end game.”
There’s new lore to be found and mysteries discovered, but not a lot of that is active. You get them from lore cards by finding ghost shells or killing certain enemies. It’s kind of a downer. There’s a decent foundation built here with the releasing of a long-hidden dark pyramid (mysterious figures that have been seen multiple times through the Destiny franchise), but that’s about it.
As for the moon activities, my biggest disappointment is in the Nightmare Hunts. This mission-style activity sets you and two other guardians to hunt down nightmares, malicious shades of previous enemies we have killed. These nightmares include Crota, The Fanatic, and Omnigul. They’re quick, relatively easy, and another way for you to get powerful gear. This again feels like a missed opportunity. Why not make it similar to the escalation protocols, which were ridiculously fun? A big event where all the players currently on the moon can participate, with stronger nightmares yielding better loot? I think that would have added a lot of much-needed value to this DLC.
To put it simply, the first half of the game and its story focused around the Hive is basically just a warning.
Bad guys: “Coming to get you.”
Us: “Good luck with that.”
The content after doesn’t do much to further that plot and if it wasn’t for the powerful gear moon-specific activities reward, I probably wouldn’t go back at this point.
Fortunately, the Vex-focused portion of the DLC has been pretty entertaining. They’ve released another horde-ish mode similar to the Reckoning called the Vex Offensive. You and five other players face off against wave after wave of Vex enemies while trying to complete certain objectives. Eventually, you fight a final boss, and if you manage to slay it the loot is yours. It isn’t too difficult and if you like horde gameplay, you’ll spend a few hours in there. It’s pretty much my favorite activity in the game right now, next to Gambit. The biggest issue is that there are no higher difficulties yet.
The new strike, The Scarlet Keep, is just one of the missions we played earlier in the game at a higher difficulty — super boring.
Shadowkeep also provides the game’s more hardcore players with a new raid to conquer, the Garden of Salvation. It’s certainly an interesting take and far different from any of the other raids I’ve experienced in Destiny, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
There are four encounters in total, but only two actual bosses. They’ve implemented mechanics from past raids and other game modes, like the eye-popping in the Riven encounter or depositing motes and protecting them in Gambit Prime. There’s a lot of running around and shot-calling, a lot of isolation because the arenas are so large, and in the end, it feels very gimmicky. Never mind the fact that the final boss of the raid is essentially Atheon 2.0.
The raid was beautiful to look at, but you get the exact same aesthetic in Vex Offensive. As far as I know, there was no lore to be found and the raid felt pretty detached from the immediate story. This is a stark contrast to previous raids like Leviathan, Last Wish, and Scourge of the Past, where the final bosses are the main antagonists of the story. I feel like the reason for this is to make the narrative content/experience more accessible to the player base, as opposed to locking it behind an activity only a relatively small portion of the community will ever be able to access.
If you’re determined to experience every aspect of the game, then I encourage you to find a group (good luck) and head into the Garden of Salvation to test your mettle. But if you consider yourself a casual player and have no interest in that level of difficulty, don’t sweat it. You really aren’t missing much and it isn’t going to hinder your experience with the rest game at all.
All in all, Shadowkeep feels like a system change/update as opposed to fully functioning DLC. There was a lot of quality of life changes, a lot of system updates, and that seems to be where Bungie’s focus was for this initial launch. I don’t blame them. There was a lot of good done there and I hope they keep improving. But, all of that could have been released with New Light alone, before Shadowkeep. It would have given them more time to craft a richer story and a more immersive environment for the Hive-controlled, Vex-invaded moon.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is now available for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.