Ever since splitting from Activision, Bungie has been talking a big game. The launch of Destiny 2: Shadowkeep represents the moment where the developer fully embraces the MMO concept, clearly defines its core pillars, and lays the groundwork for a better looter shooter experience. It’s a series of promises that transforms the base game into a free-to-play option while veteran players get a taste of the team’s latest and greatest ideas. Destiny 2 will continue to evolve over the next 12 months, but does Shadowkeep symbolize the next big step forward for the franchise? Perhaps, but this initial wave of content has an all too familiar feeling about it.
Despite its significance, this expansion is not quite as sizeable as last year’s Forsaken DLC. Bringing with it a returning location in the Moon, a handful of new armour sets and weapons, and a somewhat short campaign, Shadowkeep probably won’t leave as much of a lasting impression as you’d like. It’s fun while it lasts, helped along by a smattering of other activities, but memorable moments are few and far between.
In fact, so much of Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is about returning locations, enemies, and mechanics that it gets to the point where it actually embraces it. The four-hour campaign brings back the original Destiny’s Eris Morn, who has learned of a Hive discovery that is breathing new life into enemies of the past. It’s basically an excuse for you to fight previous raid bosses all over again - including The Dark Below’s Crota and various relatives of The Taken King’s Oryx.
Some may see this as a bit of a rehash, and we’re inclined to agree in the case of the foreboding foes you encounter, but at least the Moon itself has had a makeover. You’ll recognise one or two areas as you traverse its surface, but things are a whole lot scarier this time around. Patrol beacons have been replaced with nightmarish silhouettes that cry out for help, Hive combatants that are completely immune to your ammunition for much of the campaign roam the battlefield, and its underground tunnels that burrow into Lost Sectors are even spookier thanks to dark and moody lighting. It’s a genuinely eerie and frightening place to visit, complete with unexpected audio cues and a phenomenal, chilling soundtrack that keep you on edge at all times. Meanwhile, powerful Nightmares manifest close to the Hive’s base and Vex invasions keep you on your toes as you go about your business.
It’s a shame then that the sequence of story-based missions that take place there aren’t quite as inspired. Aside from one or two impressive revelations, this is very much the same Destiny experience you’ve come to expect. An incredible opening quest eventually gives way to menial tasks and humdrum levels that aren’t in the least bit interesting. Nostalgia does take over at points as encounters of old are revived, however. It won’t mean much to players who didn’t have the chance to experience it at the time, but we couldn’t help but crack a smile when we were given the chance to take down Crota once again.
On the one hand, it feels like an expansion designed for the fans, but on the other, there’s a lot of upheaval and change to certain core systems. Coined Armour 2.0, Bungie has gone full-blown RPG. With a brand new system in place, Guardians can now make changes to their build by taking advantage of various mods that better suit their playstyle. If you prefer a certain weapon archetype over another, you can now fully customise your character to accommodate that. Alongside those perks are the individual statistics attached to each armour piece. These govern the likes of your super, melee, and grenade recharge timers, so if you want to craft a Titan that likes to deal damage with their firsts or a Warlock who prefers spamming magic more than anything else, you can do that. These systems allow for a freeing amount of experimentation that simply wasn’t possible before.
Complementing that is a new slot on the inventory screen which houses an Artifact. Upgraded via XP, it’s this that contains the armour and weapon mods you’ll use to enhance your next piece of legendary equipment. It’s a fairly minor inclusion when you take the game’s overall loop into account, but it’s yet one more addition you’ll be looking to master as you add each and every modification it has to offer to your arsenal.
Shadowkeep also introduces the franchise’s first season-based Battle Pass. In a very similar vein to Fortnite, you’ll earn rewards from rank ups across both a free tier and a paid one if you own the season pass. It’s another for the list of mechanics that hand out items, currency, and consumables for simply playing the game at your own leisure. As harmless as it may be, though, it’s the actual microtransaction-based store of Eververse that’s closer than ever. Now built into the game’s main menu, it’s accessible within a few button presses rather than having to wait through a lengthy load screen as you head back to the Tower. It’s tough to criticise an improvement to the game’s quality of life, but it’s an interesting observation nonetheless.
It’s clear that Bungie has worked tirelessly to improve the systems that make up every engagement and slice of action, and while that goes a long way in designing a better playing game, what you’re actually doing remains very much the same. Although it’s better in every single way, the Moon continues to be a location we had our fair share of in 2014 while the Nightmares that inhabit it don’t amount to much more than repurposed boss fights. The studio clearly has a vision of what a refined, better Destiny looks like a couple of years down the line, but for now, the only thing it has to show for that is an overhaul of its armour system.
While its campaign is enjoyable in the moment, Destiny 2: Shadowkeep never manages to truly shake the fact that we already went to the Moon five years ago. For better or worse, this is just more Destiny, and that’s a positive for those enamoured with the franchise, but anyone who was hoping for a more dramatic overhaul of its core systems and mechanics will be left wanting. Bungie has huge plans for the future of Destiny 2, but Shadowkeep only delivers a small piece of that vision.