Destiny 2: Shadowkeep Review – Free to Play, Free to Grow

Oct 16, 2019
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GAME INFO

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep

October 1st, 2019
Platform PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Google Stadia (soon)
Publisher Bungie
Developer Bungie

When Bungie announced their (not so) recent split with Activision, many were left wondering what the fate of their spacefaring multiplayer series would become. Without the backing of a major publisher, Bungie was cut loose to seek out the destiny they wanted for themselves, for lack of a better term. As the first major expansion to be released since going independent, Shadowkeep represents a look forward at what’s to come for the universe of Destiny 2 and beyond.

One thing that’s important to keep in mind with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is that this isn’t the major expansion that comes every couple of years after the release of a mainline Destiny title (that honor went to last year’s Forsaken release). Instead, Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is the medium-sized expansion that still brings in plenty of content for the average player. I first came back to Shadowkeep after a hiatus where the last major piece of content that I played was the Leviathan Raid (and I was a damn good ball-running Warlock). This meant no Curse of Osiris, no Warmind, no Year 2. All of that content was brand new to me, but I wanted to start off my newly-boosted-to-750 Warlock with a quick trip to the Moon.

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The attraction of choice in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is Earth’s Moon, a location that’s been sorely missed since the first Destiny (and still home to wizards a-plenty). This much is instantly recognizable as players begin their first story mission and explore the same weathered halls that housed the first story missions of the original Destiny title. From there, players are introduced to a mysterious new structure in the form of a massively imposing pyramid deep within the moon and a familiar face, the elusive hunter Eris Morn whose presence has been missed since the fall of the Last City. 

If many of these places and names sound foreign to you, you aren’t alone. Bungie’s spent the past half-decade building up lore and factions from across our entire solar system and Shadowkeep is but another piece of the puzzle that builds upon the framework of pieces laid out long ago. For those just starting out with Destiny 2: New Light (more on that later), nothing less than an external crash course on the lore and grimoire cards can prepare you for the terms and titles dropped casually within the dialogue between the player’s Ghost companion and established key players on their side. 

After this introductory mission on the Moon at the request of Eris Morn, she sends the player off for a few brief missions to delve into the Hellmouth and fight off the Hive in one region of the Moon, a Cabal offensive in another. Only after a couple of brief story missions, none of which compare to the large scale spectacle of the introduction mission, Eris Morn throws up the first artificial roadblock to the player’s progression. For deep within the Moon and the pyramid within, a new form of enemy known as Nightmares assaults the player, much like that of the Taken being a different interpretation of the races already existing within the world of Destiny. In order to defend against these nightmarish foes, Eris demands that the player gather up materials to craft armor specific to defending against these enemies. 

The major problem with Shadowkeep’s campaign progression is that in order to craft these pieces of armor, you’re going to have to stop your story progress, engage in some side activities, and grind out kills and bounties in order to craft it. Your ultimate reward for this nightmare armor? The opportunity to wear it for a mission or two before the campaign comes to a sudden halt once more. And no, this isn’t because of another progression block or necessity to grind. Destiny 2 Shadowkeep’s story comes to an immediate and screeching halt once you delve back into the Moon’s inner sanctums and come close to facing the mysterious pyramid once again. 

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After beginning the story of Shadowkeep with the Pyramid, Nightmares, spooky dead ghosts, and setting up the ambience of some new world-shattering mystery, to end it so abruptly can sour any casual hunter’s mood. This felt like the introduction of something far grander and who knows, Bungie could be planning to springboard off of this mission into the next when their next major content drops.

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’s biggest content change is in how it breaks up the season’s content into four smaller chunks rather than dropping it all on the player at once. These smaller seasons are slated to bring with them additional strikes and dungeon quests (which can hopefully mean more story content as well) with the first, Season of the Undying, running from Shadowkeep’s launch through December. Each season also takes note from the most famous games-as-a-service titles out on the market with a 100-tier “battle pass” that rewards players that level up to certain milestones with emotes, various cosmetics, and even legendary and exotic engrams. This is above and beyond the standard $35 Shadowkeep purchase, although the $60 deluxe variant will include all four season’s passes in the overall cost. Even casual players should easily be able to rank up and complete their battle pass if they keep playing even but a few times per week; I was well over a quarter finished with my pass by the time I started writing this review and clearing the first encounter in the Garden of Salvation raid.

The second major change for Shadowkeep comes with the Armor 2.0 system. Previously, guardians only had Mobility, Resilience and Recover stats to choose from. That number has doubled with the return of Strength, Discipline, and Intellect from the first Destiny (bringing with it cooldown reductions for your three abilities). The armor that drops in Year 3 has been augmented with a new mod system (exclusive to these new pieces of gear, while all old gear will be compatible with the old mods) that gives players more flexibility to their customization. Many of the new mods work synergistically with one another and it isn’t uncommon to don mods that build off one another if you really want to dedicate yourself towards one elemental type or any one weapon type. 

With the seasonal artifact (another enhancement for Shadowkeep and a side addition to the season’s battle pass), players can level it up through regular play, further increasing their light level and unlocking new armor mods in the process. Along with the seasonal artifact are three new weapon mods that can Stagger/Overload/Disrupt certain champions that would otherwise be unbeatable without these mods, something that pops up quite frequently in higher-level Nightfalls as well as the first raid of Shadowkeep. 

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep also heralds in the inclusion of New Light, a fancy way of calling the base Destiny 2 a free-to-play experience. Bungie outdid themselves with this, adding in much more than a basic ‘play to level 20’ experience that is common with most MMORPGs on the market. New Light opens with a new introduction mission and opens up to the three separate story campaigns that came as part of the base Destiny 2 experience and other expansions of Year 1. Most confusing of all, these campaigns aren’t found anywhere in the usual clutter of map icons that appear in every sector of the solar system. No, these campaigns are instead found in one of the least likely places: by talking to Amanda Holliday, an NPC in The Tower who last seemed relevant with sparrow racing so long ago. 

Any new player is already going to be overwhelmed with the sheer amount of side activities that pop up within each zone, so I can understand trying to hide the best part away from the rest of the clutter, but I’m surprised that I could even find out where these campaigns disappeared off to without stumbling upon them by accident. Not only is there no in-game tip to find out where to start these campaign missions, but you aren’t even rewarded with the free exotic rewards that they once offered!

When I look back at the last two weeks spent playing Shadowkeep, I can see the F2P hooks that exist to bring players back in week after week. The weekly reward resets, the battle pass that encourages constant progression, the occasional shouts from Tess to visit the Eververse cash shop whenever you return to The Tower. But this isn’t all bad, necessarily. As Destiny 2: Shadowkeep tries to draw players back in week after week, there should be a constant drip of new content to reward players that keep coming back. The first season of Shadowkeep has only just begun and there’s still more content to go for the year. While this first drip of content lacks in comparison to previous expansions, Shadowkeep has proven that it has cast away the shackles of the previous expansion drops and is free to grow in ways that may continue to surprise the player.

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro and PC (code provided by the publisher).

7.6

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep pulled me back in after two years away from my guardian with the promise of ever-evolving seasons and new content to play once more. The initial offering was very light on story and loot but I can only hope to see more content come in subsequent Shadowkeep seasons

Pros

  • Light levels shifted to start at 750 and work up to 960 and beyond with future content drops
  • Battle pass-esque leveling system encourages keeping up on daily and weekly bounties
  • New Light gives players a near-complete Destiny 2 experience for free (save for Forsaken and Shadowkeep content)
  • Much more granular armor customization with mods and Armor 2.0

Cons

  • Story being on a high note, peters off with forced roadblocks, then ends abruptly with no resolution
  • Vex completely forgotten about before the launch of the raid and Vex Offensive mode
  • New Light completely changes campaign structure and hides the story content behind one of the most forgotten NPCs in Destiny 2
  • Incredibly stingy on exotic loot (only one exotic armor and no exotic weapon before finishing the Shadowkeep campaign)
  • Armory of new weapons and armor feels smaller than previous expanions
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