Destiny 2: Shadowkeep and the free-to-play New Light have been out for less than a couple of days. Despite some network connection hiccups during launch, hundreds of thousands of veteran players and new Guardians have made their way to the moon to help Eris Morn. Is the Year 3 expansion just as good as Forsaken from the previous year? Or is it as disappointing as a bag of raisins from Eris? Let’s find out in our official review.
Note: For additional info about Destiny 2: Shadowkeep‘s graphics, performance, and other options, you can check out our technical review. For all other matters, you can also have a look at our guides and features hub.
Update: Destiny 2: Shadowkeep still has a lot of content that will be added down the line. We’ve held off on giving an official score until today (10/5) after trying out the Garden of Salvation raid and the Vex Offensive activity. At the very least, it’s quite clear how the endgame loop will be like.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep – The Story So Far
Eris Morn has sent out a distress call. While you were busy this past year determining the Drifter’s loyalties and enjoying Emperor Calus’ hospitality, the moon has become ravaged once more by the Hive and Fallen. But, there is something that’s infinitely darker and more sinister that awaits.
Eris has realized that the Hive have built a gigantic, blood-red tower — the Scarlet Keep — and that a terrifying new foe has emerged. Known as “Nightmares,” these creatures of the Darkness are manifestations of your greatest fears — long-dead allies and bosses that once hounded you.
You start off Destiny 2: Shadowkeep‘s campaign by taking part in an offensive on the Lunar Battleground area of the moon. You’ll come in, guns blazing, surrounded by other Guardians that have been matchmade into the same area. The shipwright, Amanda Holliday, blasts hundreds of oncoming hostiles while Vanguard soldiers defend the perimeter. Then, you climb inside a tank to run down the Hive’s minions.
When the dust has settled, you reach a cave overlooking a vast expanse. Beyond is a foreboding vessel, a “Pyramid Ship.” These were previously seen in Destiny 2‘s ending cinematic and in concept art for Destiny 1. These harbingers of doom present you with your first challenge — a Nightmare of Crota (who was killed in Destiny 1: The Dark Below), along with two more Nightmares in the form of Ghaul and the Fanatic (bosses that were taken out in Destiny 2 and Destiny 2: Forsaken respectively).
The entire mission is magnificent, action-packed, and tense, with Bungie’s soaring musical score that’ll definitely amaze. Ideally, it should set the tone for what you can expect as you continue progressing through Destiny 2: Shadowkeep.
Of Mice and Moons… and Monsters
The problem is that Destiny 2: Shadowkeep‘s campaign becomes mired in incohesive and downright unnecessary jaunts. The next mission has you killing Nightmare-style Hive ogres and their minions to collect some odd thingamajig. After that, you’re asked to head to the Scarlet Keep to battle one of Crota’s daughters. Rather than being a deftly crafted mission — and although the location’s design is marvelous indeed — the ominous Scarlet Keep is no more than a regular strike that you’d be able to replay later.
Think of it as akin to Warmind‘s introduction of Xol, the Worm God. You thought the world was ending? No, it’s just a short and easy strike. It’s a letdown considering how prominently the Scarlet Keep was displayed in promotional materials. Will there be more activities or secrets related to it? Nobody knows.
Anyway, Eris then has you collecting various armor pieces and weapons which would be necessary to enter the Pyramid Ship. These quests will have a lot of similarities:
- Do activities like public events and patrols.
- Find a quest item hidden in some nook and cranny on the moon.
- Kill a number of Nightmare-themed enemies.
Things only come to a head once you’ve collected a full armor set and you can finally make your way inside the Pyramid Ship. Therein, you’ll face off against Nightmare Crota, Fanatic, and Ghaul in brilliant throwbacks to when you last fought them. That was one of the few times that Destiny 2: Shadowkeep managed to reach the heights set by its first mission and that, quite frankly, is disappointing.
The only other times it retains that same level would be during scenes where Eris is surrounded by the shattered souls of her lost fireteam. Each mission step you complete will have a long-dead squad member come back to haunt her (a nice touch given Destiny 2: Shadowkeep‘s theme).
Oddly enough, even progressing through the campaign on your alts (which should’ve been a major hook for fans) feels disjointed. For instance, did you know that all Shadowkeep missions don’t reward powerful gear when you’re past the 900 power level soft cap? Except for the finale, all mission drops are at a set power level when you acquire them. It actually makes redoing the campaign on your alts next to pointless.
Originality and what inspires creativity have to be discussed. The moon is not a new location. It was one of the destinations you can explore back in Destiny 1. Returning to its blasted landscape and seeing it once more in its glory in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep were absolute treats. Facing off against older foes such as Omnigul, Taniks, Skolas, and Phogoth were also nice surprises.
The downside is that, even if the content was recycled to create a new but familiar experience, most of it becomes bogged down in that unnecessary grind. The missions you undertake that’d reveal the ghosts of Eris’ past? Well, they’re part of that aforementioned grocery list of “things to do/items to find” while patrolling. Some requirements even ask you to head to lost sectors in other planets, making it feel less like a new branch of Destiny 2: Shadowkeep and more like the bland faction rallies from the game’s first year.
Even then, the Nightmare opponents aren’t even what you can consider as “proper” bosses or a new enemy race. They’re merely reskins of existing enemies (with maybe some random spikes, chains, or red auras surrounding them). It’s like they just started wearing cosmetic ornaments from the Darkness’ version of Eververse!
A Nightmare Hive ogre is still the same annoying Hive ogre, just as a Nightmare Vex goblin is still the same chump you’ve seen in the past. Also, yes, you’ll need more bullets to bring them down. Apparently, the idea for Destiny 2: Shadowkeep was to simply turn old regular enemies into bullet sponges and consider them “new.”
As such, if you expected something akin to the Taken introduced in Destiny 1: The Taken King or the Scorn introduced in Destiny 2: Forsaken, prepare to be miffed. The Nightmare foes, despite being touted as a manifestation of your fears and as heralds of the Darkness, are more like the SIVA Fallen from Rise of Iron or the “Ice” Hive in Warmind. They’re the same old folks you’ve been fighting, except they look shinier.
In terms of the activities you’ll have in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep specifically, let’s just say that you’ve been acquainted with them already. For instance, the moon has four different public events — Warsat Down, Witches Ritual, Ether Servitor, and Fallen Arsenal/Fallen Walker. You’ve seen these before and, because there are a lot of “blueberries” given that Destiny 2: New Light is free-to-play, you’ll probably notice that a lot of people don’t know how to turn some of these public events heroic.
There’s also a new activity that has matchmaking enabled for up to three players: Nightmare Hunts. Sounds ominous, right? That’s until you realize that you’re simply going back to various locations on the moon, places you’ve been to before, in very short romps. You kill all enemies so the next area opens, then you fight the boss. If the boss goes immune, kill the Nightmare mobs then shoot the boss. Lather, rinse, repeat for every type of boss around.
In fact, lathering, rinsing, and repeating are what you’ll be doing often in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep. Vanguard strike playlists will, mostly, put you in the same old strikes. The Nightfall (where you now need to do five strikes to get a powerful drop unless you do the more difficult modes) will also have the same strikes as before.
The saving grace of progression content is that you can now keep buying bounties in exchange for glimmer. This will allow you to focus on a particular activity that you like while earning experience points, Season Ranks, and Artifact boosts for it.
Min-maxing with Armor 2.0, Artifacts, and Season rewards
Speaking of big changes in progression, the major revamps in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep are balancing tweaks that’ll change how you approach min-maxing as you continue with the grind. Armor 2.0 now has six different stats that you need to consider along with the types of mods that you can add. Gone are the Forsaken days when armor had random rolls for perks. Now, armor has random rolls for the stats and the types of perks that you can add. You win some, you lose some.
It does feel quite restrictive as I mentioned in a previous article. That’s because you also need the armor to roll a certain “elemental type” just so you could equip specific mods. Even exotics, strangely enough, also have that restriction in place.
If in case you might need a certain armor piece, then you can go ahead and check the aforementioned Season Rank tab. This shows your progress in terms of experience points. Again, gone are the vanilla and Forsaken days when leveling up past the cap nets you a free bright engram with random rewards. Now, the rewards are set and can be obtained per level that you earn. For instance, if one of your armor pieces is lagging behind, you can pick up that type of armor (if you’ve already unlocked it) to get a small boost. The Season tab also includes other items such as cosmetic ornaments and planetary materials, as well as the Gate Lord’s Eye Artifact obtained at Season Rank 7.
The Artifact system is one of the main hooks in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep. This unique relic does a couple of notable things:
- When it reaches a certain exp threshold, you gain one point of power. Technically, even though there’s a 960 power level cap, you can have as much as possible if you continue with the agonizing exp grind.
- The Artifact also adds some benefits via additional unlockable mods. Certain mods will provide additional damage or debuff capabilities against certain types of mobs you’ll encounter in higher difficulties of the Nightfall. Others will add bonuses to your use of finishers, making them more tactical.
Artifact progression resets at the start of each new season. So, you’ll have a few months this Season of the Undying to make the most out of what you have.
Speaking of finishers, these are actions that are made available early on in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep. If you get an enemy’s health low enough, a small yellow pip will appear over their head. This denotes that you can strike them with a finisher. There are a number of these from simple flourishes to pro-wrestling-styled dropkicks.
As mentioned, the finisher mods you obtain from Artifacts will change finishers from a dazzling display of skill which you can use often to having a more tactical usage. There are mods that regenerate your grenade or replenish your ammo, but these come at the cost of a bit of super energy.
Not quite Forsaken
Make no mistake, Destiny 2: Shadowkeep will have a lot to offer in terms of additional content throughout the Season of the Undying. We’ve yet to see what the new raid, the Garden of Salvation, provides. That releases this Saturday. We’ve also yet to face off against the Vex Invasions which will be added on the same day.
Next week, there will be additional Nightmare Hunt difficulties made available, although I wonder if these higher difficulties will change a lot of things or if they’re just the same old modifiers (Extinguish, Match Game, Blackout versus Nightmare Crota, for instance). There are even more content drops such as the exotic quests for the Xenophage and the Leviathan’s Breath. So far, we’ve already found the Deathbringer exotic rocket launcher. Additionally, you’ve got seasonal events like the Festival of the Lost during Halloween.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep has a lot of content that you’d still look forward to and it still has a story that’s yet to fully develop. In terms of comparison, Forsaken had something similar. The difference is how well everything was presented.
In Forsaken, you had a dark and compelling story. Shadowkeep promised the same, but it failed to deliver outside of a handful of moments. Forsaken had a couple of entirely new locations: the Tangled Shore and the Dreaming City. The latter, I would say, was the pinnacle of Bungie’s creative design for environment layouts, art style, and consistently evolving campaign.
In many ways, Forsaken already feels like the high point of Destiny 2. That’s because you were already satisfied within the first couple of days after it released. The story and missions were cohesive and the mechanics were refreshing. This is the gist if you compare both expansions when they had just released:
- In Forsaken, you looked forward to what the future could bring because you can’t wait for more.
- In Shadowkeep, however, you’re still looking forward to additional content. But, that’s because the initial experience feels sorely lacking.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep – The Final Verdict (updated)
I’m currently at 947 power level after having done most of the available activities that provide powerful drops in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep. We have a way to go until we reach the hard cap of 960 power even with the endgame available. Now that the Garden of Salvation raid and the Vex Offensive activities are live, it’s time to see just how well Destiny 2: Shadowkeep stacks up.
The short answer is: it’s quite underwhelming. First off, the Vex Offensive activity, while initially expected to be as grand and mysterious as the Menagerie from the Season of Opulence, is nothing more than a by-the-numbers and going-through-the-motions routine where you redo the same mechanics in every encounter. It just doesn’t compare. Let’s not forget that it also had a poorly implemented introductory quest that left a lot of Destiny 2: Shadowkeep players confused and wandering around the moon.
As for the Garden of Salvation raid, you can expect it to be challenging, requiring perfect coordination among group members with heavy focus on mechanics. That’s to be noted given how this has been the theme of past Destiny 2 raids. The Garden of Salvation’s art direction is sublime, true. The Vex redesign, complete with grass and leaves denoting their slumber in the Black Garden, was also a decent touch — Vegan Vex or Vexgetarians, anyone?
Still, these aesthetic changes, boss fight mechanics, and endgame challenges don’t make up for how we got to this point. I even scratched my head because, once again, Destiny‘s raid had nothing to do with the campaign.
Don’t get me wrong, Destiny 2‘s art direction and musical score are still amazing. Becoming free-to-play (Destiny 2: New Light) means an influx of new Guardians who’ll experience the gunplay that’s still as tight and as responsive as ever, and one of the best in this genre of shooters.
The game, in general, is a wonder to behold on PCs as mentioned in our technical review. I am thoroughly enjoying Gambit and Crucible now more than ever thanks to the consistent 60+ FPS, exceptional controls, and purchasable bounties, though that might also be due to the number of “blueberries” and “potatoes” that are so easy to defeat. (Thanks, kinderguardians.)
Sadly, if Forsaken breathed new life into a game which had been flagging during its first year, then Shadowkeep feels like a step down from that. Yes, we can say that this is just Destiny 2‘s third year and more will come later on as we get additional content for Shadowkeep. The issue is that this is also the sixth year for the entire Destiny franchise. You could at least expect some major changes to progression and presentation other than:
- kill random things and do random events
- missions that aren’t missions and are more akin to extended patrols
- a weirdly disconnected and disjointed story
- campaigns that end abruptly with the expectation that you’d wait several weeks or up to three months for the next installment
- questionable mechanics and features
These are staples of the Destiny franchise that have become too common to ignore. As for Shadowkeep, it’s a nostalgia trip, one that’s beautifully-crafted and a treat for veterans of the franchise. Nostalgia, sadly, also wears thin the more you continue to play.
In closing, Destiny 2: Shadowkeep‘s meme-ish tagline — “Moon’s haunted” — becomes quite fitting. Unfortunately, the only nightmares haunting it are oft-repeated mistakes, a barebones campaign with a weak narrative, and the looming shadow of a prior expansion that it can never reach in size, scope, scale, and the sense of awe it gave players that wanted more.
Destiny 2‘s free-to-play version, New Light, can be downloaded via Steam. You can also purchase the Shadowkeep expansion. Just check out the game’s Steam store page. Of course, for all your needs, don’t forget to check out our Destiny 2: Shadowkeep guides and features hub.