Let me be absolutely clear from the jump: This is not a review. It’s impossible to review Destiny 2: Shadowkeep only 48 hours after it launched, and there’s still a bunch of stuff in the pipe to come throughout the season. That’s the nature of a living game. (Of course, that begs the question of when exactly do you issue a final review for it, but that’s a topic for another time.) Right now, after a solid two afternoons and evenings (and nights well into the wee hours of the morning) of playing Shadowkeep, I have thoughts rattling around that I need to get out—most good, some critical, but all in expectation that this is an ever evolving experience with more to come.
Lunar Campaign (No Spoilers)
I want to talk more about the campaign in all its glorious spoilery detail in a separate post (perhaps after the Raid launches and Vex Offensive begins), but for the sake of those who have yet to partake and have as yet remained spoiler free, I’ll keep this broad. Shadowkeep keeps its promises of telling a story about something Eris Morn uncovered on the moon, creating the nightmares that now infest the lunar surface and tunnels that run beneath it. It is excessively simple and concludes rather rapidly, though Bungie is now approaching telling the story in a different way that will span the next four Seasons. As long as they can deliver on that, Shadowkeep acts as an excellent intro into what’s to come.
The main campaign missions also branch out and directly lead into what will become ritual activities over time, giving players a good solid reason for doing what they are doing. We get to know Eris a little better, and a huge mystery is uncovered that will have rippling implications for the entire future of Destiny. It’s a bit short and abrupt, but that story has been confirmed to carry into the Raid, which will lead into Season of the Undying, which will catapult us into Season of the Dawn in December, and so on.
Destiny expansions no longer exist in little bubbles. The seeds were first planted with the Annual Pass, but this year takes that idea ten steps further. It’s a tough transition to make, because it makes Shadowkeep look like it’s thin on story and content right off the bat. It’s going to come though. There’s still the Raid. There’s still Season of the Undying. There’s still the Dungeon and multiple other events both charted and uncharted to come over the next two months. We can think of these early days of Shadowkeep like the pilot of a season of television. It’s big, has some major “wow” moments, and an enormous cliffhanger sets the stage with the promise of more.
“The world’s changing, Guardian. You must prepare and adapt.”
Littered throughout Shadowkeep’s content are a bunch of other great moments too, telling smaller sides stories that perhaps lack the grandiosity of the main attraction. For some people, these will just be excuses to run through cool looking environments, shooting deadly weapons at a bunch of creepy aliens. For many, this lore is an interactive and fundamental piece of connecting with Destiny’s universe and giving us purpose for the things that we do.
Dead Ghost collectibles return, but this time they are given a bit more weight and depth as missions from Eris Morn. Once you find them you’ll listen to a final recording of a Guardian’s Ghost before its Light was snuffed out. It’s far more powerful than simply grabbing a collectible and unlocking a lore card that people may or may not read. (There are also plenty of lore books in the game, but the Dead Ghost audio serves as a great gateway to engage players and get them curious to learn more.) While the main line of campaign missions may feel relatively hurried, the underlying world building that exists in Shadowkeep is some of the best yet.
Recycled Content or Nostalgia?
I’ve seen this point brought up over and over again, but it hasn’t ever struck me as a negative. Destiny is already a game with a wide variety of enemy combatants and some epic and breathtaking locales. Shoving new enemy factions or new locations in just for the sake of adding more isn’t interesting to me. It worked well for the Dreaming City. It added to the game and to the story. It worked for the Taken back in Destiny 1. That was a fundamental part of the evolution of the narrative. But here, on the moon? We’re not yet ready to visit new places or fight new foes. Nightmares are literally supposed to be our past come back to haunt us; our, erm, darkness, made manifest. A story that’s about reflecting back shouldn’t venture into an all new location filled with new enemies. It would have done it a disservice.
All said, I’m happy to further explore familiar locations. So much of the moon is familiar and the same, yet so much has changed. There are myriad nooks and crannies that make me ask “wait, was this here before?” It’s all so brilliantly implemented so as to make a location we’re used to seem foreign again. Time has clearly passed, like returning to an old house after years away. Nostalgia awaits, as does the wonder at the changes that have been made. Trying to navigate the deep caverns beneath the moon based strictly on memories from years ago has been both thrilling and altogether confusing.
In fact, I’d love to see even more deep exploration of existing content. Bring back classic Destiny 1 locations and show how time has impacted them. Dive into areas that seem to go unloved in Destiny 2, such as Titan’s Arcology or parts of the EDZ that have been sitting stagnant since the Red War. If you’ve ever taken the time to explore this environments, there are so many bits and pieces that are ripe for more Destiny content, more storytelling, and more exploration.
As for enemy races and combatants, Destiny 2 already has more enemies to fight than a vast majority of other games do. Giving certain enemies a “Nightmare” status makes traditionally trivial threats like Thrall quite difficult to face, an unexpected and pleasant surprise that really adds depth and variety to encounters. At this point in the game, it just wouldn’t make sense to add new combatants out of the blue. Something is coming eventually, that much is clear, but Shadowkeep doesn’t feel any less for not providing any fresh foes to fight against.
More for the sake of more isn’t always a good thing. Until the narrative deems it necessary to explore a whole new region and take on a new enemy race, I think Destiny 2 is in a great place evolving and exploring the existing areas and enemy combatants in the way that Bungie has already been doing.
Aside from the new content, which I am still persistently exploring, there’s a lot going on under the hood that changed a lot about how Destiny 2 is played. A renewed grind has players chasing a new 960 Power cap. Powerful reward sources have switched to be relevant to Season 8 and Year 3. Armor 2.0 feeds into a whole new way to customize your Guardian. The Artifact gives unique but temporary mods for you to play with. With such a short time to focus on the overwhelming newness of it all, I haven’t really had time to engage with any one specific part of these changes quite yet, at least not to where I can render a verdict. There is one part of the chase I am already significantly enjoying, however.
The new Seasonal Ranking model, providing a pathway for players to earn experience, level up, and collect rewards, has given a whole new meaning to the ongoing grind and ability to simply play anything within the game. It’s active when I’m chasing my own rewards. It’s there when I’m helping friends. It’s also continued progress when I’m just randomly running around and shooting aliens, which feels really good in a game where I felt like I always had to come into it with a purpose. Don’t get me wrong, there was always lots to do and chase, but Season Ranks add a whole new engaging layer to Destiny 2 that I’ve been thrilled with since I unlocked my first rank up package. Meaningful rewards and increased Power, as opposed to the previous level-up incentive for random cosmetic items (and now the whole cosmetics system/store has changed anyway).
One thing that didn’t change, however, was a refresh of existing vendor armor and weapons. If you’ve been playing Destiny 2 for a while, you’ll be earning the same old armor from Zavala, Shaxx, and the Drifter. You won’t get anything new from patrol locations. The new drops come specifically from the new content, but I’m hard pressed to head back into something like Gambit after getting both the Dredgen and Reckoner Seals within the last year. (My own fault for playing so much, I know.)
That said, I know bandwidth is a contributor. If that was the cost of some of the exciting other things we have coming up this season, I’m happy to dismantle another Season’s worth of Vigil of Heroes armor for the time being. Bungie does need to be aware that players want more from the permanent ritual activities though. Ritual weapons aside, we’d love new reasons to revisit Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit each Season. That was always one of my favorite parts early in the life of the game, seeing what new themes each ritual set of armor would take on.
My other minor gripes so far relate to how quality of life changes in the UI have caused some bizarre inconsistencies. The Pursuits menu—now labeled the “Quests” tab—finally divided up quests and bounties, but it didn’t adjust the maximum capacity of 63 total between the two (from the previous iteration’s three pages of 21 slots each). This means while it may look like you have free slots available to pick up a new bounty or quest, you actually might not if the grand total of both comes to 63. I’d love to see maximum capacities of each of these separated and set to fit into the multiplicity of the grids they are on, so that you can quickly tell at a glance if you have space.
Changes to how armor and weapon mods work also highlight glaring issues in how Shaders are applied. Mods are now permanent unlocks that you can play around with ad infinitum, for the small price of glimmer to apply. Maintaining an inventory of Shaders is cumbersome. Getting more of the awful base planetary Shaders is just a waste of inventory space that I have to spend time deleting. And no thank you Escalation Protocol, I already have plenty Genotype Null Zero shaders. I don’t need any more. And what about Shaders you no longer have stock of? Sure, the amount of materials required to pull Shaders from collections is trivial, but that’s yet another step in the long process to making your Guardian look good. It’s overly complicated, and I’d love to see Shaders made into permanent unlocks rather than a complex game of inventory management.
So far, Destiny 2: Shadowkeep has its hooks in me; unsurprising given my infatuation with the game, but this time the expansion feels so much different than the ones before. Now it feels like there is something always waiting around the corner. It feels like I can live in this world and constantly come back to something new and exciting. It was tough even setting the game down long enough to write up these impressions. Like I said earlier, Season of the Undying hasn’t even really kicked off yet, the Raid is yet to come, and there’s lots more to explore in the endgame as the game moves forward.
A Note About New Light
Having been a Destiny player since the first game’s alpha, it’s hard for me to have an impartial view of Destiny 2: New Light, the new free-to-play base version of the game that acts as a massive gateway for new players to join the game. I take for granted that I already know a lot of things about how the game works, so the latest update acts as an evolution of knowledge, rather than taking in something entirely new. However, New Light does seem like it’s a little bit overcomplicated for players fresh off the
I understand that Bungie’s goal was to basically open everything up to players as quickly as possible so that there are no barriers to play with your friends, but that seems to have come at the expense of onboarding for players, leaving them to rely on external systems and support to catch up. Having all of the old campaign content hidden away at Amanda Holiday feels like it’s hiding a huge part of the game from players. As a lore nerd, I get that the in-game world is in a different place, but it wouldn’t hurt to give new players an indicator leading to her.
Have her introduce the campaigns as if she’s telling stories from the last two years. “Hey Guardian! Welcome to the Tower. We weren’t always stationed here, but I was there when our last Tower fell… Let me tell you about the hero of the Red War.” Sure, these might not be the ritual activities or the endgame loop that people will play on repeat, but they are a very important part of the experience and there needs to be more fanfare that they are included and playable.
I think as long as Bungie continues to refine the process for new players, testing with people who have never played the game before, it will get to a place that can act as a great ramp into the Destiny 2 that I personally know and love.
That’s all for now, but I’m far from done. I’ll be prepping for the Raid, getting ready for Vex Offensive, and leveling up my Season Rank. I’m not sure when exactly I’ll render a loose final verdict on Shadowkeep, but as the start of a brand new five-year vision for Destiny 2, I’m sure my experience will continue to evolve with it.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep review code provided by Bungie. Played on a PS4. For more information, please see our Review Policy.