Destiny 2: Shadowkeep review-in-progress: Fly me to the moon

Okay, so not everything went according to plan. October 1 was Bungie’s big moving day, finalizing last year’s Activision split by moving Destiny 2 from to Steam. It was essentially a relaunch of the entire game on PC, plus release day for the new Shadowkeep expansion. And like any major online launch, everything went sideways.

On the plus side, Bungie was essentially victim of its own success. Last I heard, Destiny 2 hit 200,000 concurrent players on Steam before the servers burst into flame. Bungie took most of the afternoon for “Emergency Maintenance,” and by evening we were back up and running, presumably with plenty of duct-tape and prayers on the back end.

Anyway, with Shadowkeep inaccessible for most of the day I haven’t managed to finish the new campaign yet. I do have some thoughts though, as Destiny 2 enters its third year.

Moonage daydream

Shadowkeep’s tagline is “Return to the Moon,” a bit of a misnomer if like me you skipped the original console-exclusive Destiny. My entire context for Moon-as-setting is Peter Dinklage’s tired “That wizard came from the moon!” line that was roundly mocked prior to the original game’s release.

Point being: I’m lost. It’s a feeling I’m pretty familiar with by now, the opening hours of Shadowkeep hearkening back to past events and characters that I’ve never met before. Eris Morn? Crota? Might I recommend a relevant lore primer?

You don’t really need to watch one, but the opening hours are more interesting if you do. Unlike the excellent Forsaken expansion, wherein the death of Cayde-6 was front-loaded and provided an immediate emotional hook even if you skipped the original Destiny, Shadowkeep takes its time getting going. There’s a lot of setup, and a lot of unknowns. Forsaken was a good ol’ fashioned revenge story. Shadowkeep is an end-of-the-world epic with a lot of threads.

I’m not disliking it per se, but I do think it’s a harder sell than Forsaken. The central mystery is eventually captivating, the mission structure does open up in a vaguely Forsaken way, and the Moon is a gorgeous setting with its Hive citadels and pallid ruins. But it lacks that immediate out-the-gate motivation that made Forsaken so refreshing. I’m still waiting for the moment where Shadowkeep’s story kicks into gear. Every time I think I’ve hit that point, Shadowkeep hits me with more busywork.

And really I’m just waiting for another patrol zone that impresses as much as Forsaken’s Dreaming City. That’s a tough act to follow, and I’m not sure we’ll get it. The Moon’s Barad Dur-esque Scarlet Keep inspires a certain looming dread, but I haven’t felt the same sense of wonder this time around—though there’s plenty more to see.

That said, Destiny as “A Game That You Play…Forever” has never been in a better spot, at least in the Destiny 2 era.

I won’t bother talking much about the free-to-play version, New Light, because it’s not really pertinent to what I’m playing. Suffice it to say, it’s a huge change and should usher in tons of new players on PC. The entire first year of Destiny 2 content is free, plus any and all Strikes, Crucible maps, and more. It’s incredibly generous, and no doubt part of the reason that Destiny 2 hit 200,000 players so quickly. I’ll be curious whether the high numbers continue after launch day. I hope so.

For longtime players there are plenty of improvements too though. The new Armor 2.0 system is the major gear change this time around, and while I’m still wrapping my head around all the intricacies it definitely seems like it’ll open up the potential for different builds.

Basically, the old armor system had three stats: Mobility, Resilience, and Recovery. In theory Mobility made you jump higher, Resilience let you take more damage, and Recovery made your health recover faster. In practice the first two stats were basically meaningless, and Recovery was the only one worth using.

Armor 2.0 expands both the selection of stats and the numbers tied to each. There are now six stats: The old Mobility, Resilience, and Recovery, plus Discipline, Intellect, and Strength. Discipline allows grenades to recharge faster, Intellect does the same for your Super, and Strength shortens your Melee cooldown.

It’s a lot of numbers up front, made even more complex by a whole interlocking series of armor upgrades and mod slots. Armor now has ten “Energy” upgrades you can purchase, which allow you to use more (or better) mods, before finally becoming a Masterwork.

There’s a lot to consider, and it will take a while for people to start settling into builds I think. But growing pains aside, it’s a better system long-term. For the first time since Destiny 2 released, you actually have to think about your armor apart from watching the numbers increase and hoping for Recovery-oriented drops.

I’m also enjoying the reworked rewards system. In keeping with the times, Bungie’s ditched most of its loot boxes for a battle pass, with 100 tiers to work through before Season 8 ends in around two months. It’s slow going. After six hours or so I’ve reached Level 6. You do the math, and…

Some will undoubtedly be annoyed that the faucet of cosmetics has been cranked down, and I think the battle pass could stand to be a bit more rewarding for Season Pass owners. There’s a lot of padding, in the form of crafting resources and doubled-up armor sets. But overall it feels more structured and slightly more satisfying than the old method.

Anyway, those are the major changes. The rest is a grab-bag. You can now pull off finishing moves on weakened enemies, though six hours in I’ve yet to remember this system exists and actually take advantage. Oops.

The Crucible’s also been tweaked. Instead of simply Quickplay and Competitive playlists, Bungie’s split a bunch of modes out into their own hoppers—including a solo queue. Heavy ammo will also be in greater supply in 6v6 matches, which sounds exciting and chaotic.

But Bungie’s learned its lesson over the past year, and the real key to Shadowkeep is that there’s much more to come. Any review of Destiny 2 is merely a snapshot of its state at that moment in time. This coming Friday for instance, Bungie debuts the new raid and the Vex Offensive activity. October 22, there’s a new exotic quest. October 29, another exotic quest and a new dungeon launch.

Shadowkeep feels a bit thin at the moment I think, but that’s because Bungie no longer treats expansions like one-and-done releases. Sure, there’s a new campaign, but really Shadowkeep is just the appetizer for another year of Destiny 2.

People wanted a hobby game. Bungie remade Destiny 2 in that image.

Bottom line

I’ve got some time left before I wrap Shadowkeep, and I’ll probably wait to see the new raid before rendering judgment. Does it really matter though? Entering its third year, you probably know if you like Destiny 2 or not.

And if you don’t? As I said, the entire base game and some of the later content is free now. I’ve heard it’s not great about onboarding new players, and you lose out on the grind that made vanilla Destiny 2 so addictive. It’s still a decent way to give it a shot though before deciding whether you want to buy Forsaken, a fantastic expansion, and/or Shadowkeep, which has plenty of room to grow.

Plus it’s on Steam now. That’s pretty cool.

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