DLC Review – Destiny 2: Shadowkeep & Undying
To say that Destiny has been an inconsistent run is a bit of an understatement, for everything that Destiny does right it does something wrong. May that be in its storytelling, respecting the players time, and everything else in between. But I’ve always stuck to it for its top tier universe building, gunplay, and most importantly, fun co-operative play. Forsaken was a huge leap for Destiny 2, providing the best content the series has ever seen with a new darker story. Things were looking up for Destiny, and with Bungie going fully independent it was only going to get better, but Shadowkeep is arguably the games darkest moment.
It’s been almost three months since Shadowkeep has launched and I wanted to wait until everything in the roadmap was out to give it a fair shot. Whilst some things remain solid, the overall experience is lacklustre.
Into the Scarlet Keep
Shadowkeep sees the return of the moon and my personal favourite character in the Destiny universe: Eris Morn. Something has awakened and the vanguard sends us to locate Eris Morn and stop whatever hive ritual is going on. A new Hive structure has appeared and red phantom have been spotted hovering in the sky.
Things start strong, with an epic introductory level that stands as one of the best in the Destiny franchise. When you are dropped into a huge battle with other guardians already fighting, there’s a sense that this truly is a shared world. You fight side by side with other guardians dynamically. Then the atmosphere creeps in as the nightmares (floating red phantoms) are introduced just hovering around, giving Destiny a slight horror vibe. But this was sadly the high point of the expansion, when the next few missions take you through your standard Destiny expansion loop of doing self-contained missions. It’s not bad, it’s just more of the same.
The main campaign is brief, taking only six hours to complete, with plenty of side content and distractions added. Just when things ramp up and a after a huge revelation, the screen cuts to black and we are sent back to the moon like nothing has happened. Whilst I understand that the story will be continuing throughout the season, it still leaves it in an unsatisfying position. To make matters worse, we don’t know when this story will continue. This has become a recurring problem in Destiny 2 with storylines just left open for months or even years. To make matters worse, NPC reactions to this are expressed with very little impact. For something so huge I would have expected a change in tone.
Sadly, most of Shadowkeep‘s content is recycled from Destiny‘s past. Taking things from base Destiny all the way up to the Forsaken expansion. The Moon returns as the new Patrol zone with some changes. With the rise of the Mordor inspired Scarlet Keep, the surface has been ruptured and old areas have a giant crack going through them. For the most part though, this is the same map and it feels the same. With only one new dedicated patrol area in the map that feels vastly underused. Perhaps the biggest and most welcome change are the four new lost sectors that take us into new areas we haven’t seen before. They are bigger than any in the game before and feel much more like mini-strikes.
Then we got the boss fights who for the most part are just recycled from the previous game, and even Destiny 2‘s base game. Now known as Nightmares, these new versions of the bosses are more powerful versions of past triumphs. One of the biggest examples of this is Crota, the son of Oryx who we killed in Destiny‘s first expansion. The new Nightmare fights are almost identical as before with a slight addition, every now and then a boss will go into an invulnerability state and spawn Nightmare versions of smaller enemies. Kill these and then you can start damaging the boss again. This mechanic is stretched out into every single piece of content available and gets boring after the first dozen times you encounter them.
Perhaps the most damning thing about Shadowkeep though is within the loot (or lack of) and the abandonment of older content. The New Moon armour you get from simply playing the campaign, as well as almost everything else, is just given to you through normal play. Eriana’s Vow, the new exotic hand cannon, is given away almost immediately after starting through the season pass. Meanwhile, the other new exotics that have been introduced are just mediocre and outclassed by previous exotics anyway.
Within the first week we had a couple of new additions to the game, which started off strong. A new raid that takes us back into the heart of the Black Garden (something we haven’t seen since the end of the first Destiny) is one of the most visually striking areas we have seen in the franchise. Like all the other raids, these are ultra difficult six-man activities that require communication and organisation to survive. This one is no exception, with the tether mechanic making positioning and communication vital to passing each encounter. Unfortunately for the raid, it has no story significance and comes off as rather uneventful.
Finally we have the release of Shadowkeep‘s best piece of content, the second dungeon in the Destiny franchise. Pit of Heresy takes us deep into the heart of the Scarlet Keep in a brilliantly designed level designed for Fireteams of three. With some puzzle like mechanics, a maze, jumping puzzles, and an epic final boss, it stands as bright spot within this DLC.
Season of the Undying
Bungie has taken a new approach to post-launch content with Shadowkeep, in the form of seasons. When you buy Shadowkeep you gain access to the current season of content. At the time of launch that would be Season of the Undying. A Vex focused season that feels disconnected from the main storyline of Shadowkeep. The idea is to give the players a steady stream of content over the course of three months. Then once the season is over, content will disappear and loot will be locked off. It’s an attempt to create a fear of missing out, which would work if you were actually missing out on something worthwhile.
The main “attraction” is within the new matchmade activity, Vex Offensive. As the name suggests the Vex have started their assault and you must stop them. Split into two key components that will have you battle through a section of the Black Garden or stop them on the Moon. Whilst initially a fun new mode on both sides, it didn’t evolve like it was promised. Getting the new gear in just a few short runs meant there was no real incentive to keep playing it and I largely abandoned it.
That was until the Vex Offensive Final Assault started on the back end of the season. A chance to mend the wrongs and pull together content that is not only worth playing, but also fun. Instead, the Final Assault was the exact same event with one very minor change: the final boss looks different. The mechanics and strategies are exactly the same and having no new loot was the biggest middle finger to a really long wait for. It’s unnecessary time gating of content that serves no great purpose. This might have been forgiven if we got some more loot, but nothing of the sorts was added. It’s the same shallow loot pool. When the Vex Offensive disappears, nobody will miss it.
Finally we have the weakest aspect to this season of content, the new battle pass simply titled “Seasons”. An underwhelming way to reward continuous gameplay with dull uninspired rewards which should have been scattered through the main content. An option was disabled that would allow people to pay 100 silver ($1) to go up one season pass rank. With the option seemingly coming back towards the end of the season.
New Light, New Eververse, Same Destiny
With Destiny 2 now being free to play in its third year of content, there has been some key changes to how the game works. Namely in progression and cosmetic items.
First up, let’s start with the core experience of Destiny. It remains largely unchanged with the same addictive core gameplay and combat intact. Shooting feels as good as it did years ago and that’s a good thing. It’s still a total blast to play with friends and that will likely never change. However, the new armour 2.0 system allows a deeper control over your character stats. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but armour 2.0 is taking the game in the right direction.
One of the biggest changes is to the massive overhaul of the new player experience. It’s designed to streamline things and make it easier to get into. Starting with the introductory mission that is remastered from Destiny, was a huge nostalgic blast. Fighting through the Cosmodrome was a highlight back then and it was nice to go back. The main story campaigns are now completely optional and not needed to get into the Shadowkeep content. Whilst this may seem like a good idea, it convolutes and confuses new players. As the early stages of the Red War campaign act as a tutorial to the Destiny universe, giving context to what is happening.
Eververse, the storefront that has gained a lot of negative attention over the years, has been revamped to cater for this new free to play structure. Sadly though, as a paid player it has only gotten worse. A lot of the things you would expect to be hidden away through quests and earned by accomplishing certain tasks aren’t present anymore. They have just been dumped into the Eververse store. For example, the latest Sparrow would have been a great reward for doing a flawless dungeon run. Picking it up from Eververse for Bright Dust simply isn’t rewarding.
It gets even worse with the pricing of in-game items and other microtransactions that have been pushed in over the weeks since Shadowkeep‘s launch. The ability to pay to have your character pushed to Light Level 900 has been introduced. It’s a baffling addition that only gives you the option when you already have one character above 900 Light. Plus Eververse prices are just absurd. Yes, you can earn a secondary currency called Bright Dust, but the earning rate is poor and with items on rotation you might not get what you want for a long time, if ever.
Shadowkeep was an opportunity to get out of Activisions shadow; a way to right the wrongs done to the franchise over the past year. Instead Bungie doubled down on everything wrong with the franchise and delivered a subpar experience that should have been so much better.
Final Verdict: 5.0
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is available now on PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4.