Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’d decided to pick up the latest Destiny 2 expansion – Shadowkeep. I waited to see what the chatter in my clan was doing before I pulled the trigger, and on a wave of positive energy I installed it and rolled into the campaign with a buddy to see what it was about. This post isn’t going to be a review – if it’s a review you’re after there are plenty on Youtube, some of them even make sense and are delivered in normal voices. I’m not going to walk through every mechanic and every area, instead I’m going to fly through it at a higher level than that.
First up, I should probably say that I really enjoyed Shadowkeep – but that enjoyment was tempered a bit as a hardcore Destiny 1 player. More on that later, for now let’s say that the campaign held my attention and was pretty much what I expect from a Destiny campaign. There was a reveal, some exposition, some cutscenes. At one point it got a bit grindy – some might argue needlessly so, but my thoughts on it are more that if the campaign’s preparing you for what the endgame contains, a bit of a mid-game grind helps set some expectations. The final area of it was set inside yet another insanely huge interior environment of the type that Bungie do so well. The Moon environment was always my favourite in Destiny 1, and it’s lost none of its sense of wonder in the years since my Guardian last patrolled there. If you knew the area well, you’ll recognise most of what you’re going to see. It’s a bit more torn up and dilapidated than it was (for Reasons), and the new Shadowkeep itself looms on the horizon like the tower of Barad-dur in Mordor. It’s all suitably foreboding.
If you’ve not seen any of this before, you’ll rightfully be blown away. As a returning player though, I could see some of the cracks. While the Shadowkeep itself looked great, it bore more than a passing resemblance to the inside of the Dreadnaught. The layout of the moon being little changed is all well and good, but it seems there is a lot of re-used assets in here. If you think about it in the context of Bungie’s current situation, it makes perfect sense. Curse of Osiris, Warmind, and Forsaken were all developed while Bungie was in partnership with Activision who had put some additional resource behind the game in the shape of High Moon Studios and Vicarious Visions. With the partnership with Activision now lost in the dust behind them, it’s worth remembering that the assistance these studios were offering is likely also lost in the dust. Shadowkeep, or chunks of it at any rate, are what Bungie look like when they go it alone – and the results are mixed. The campaign took place, for the most part, in a re-used area. The ending of it included re-used gameplay. It absolutely made narrative sense for all of this to happen, in the context of the wider game. Seeing the cracks doesn't mean it wasn't enjoyable - but it'll be interesting to see where the game goes next from a purely location/enemy perspective. I'm hoping for somewhere entirely new, but I guess we'll see.
What Shadowkeep does best, for my money, are all the other bits and pieces that it introduces outside of the new storyline - and it's when you start listing these out you can begin to understand how that asset re-use was probably more out of simple necessity rather than choice. Because Shadowkeep is absolutely MASSIVE. In addition to the campaign, we have new and returning PvP maps. There is a new strike. A new raid. A new activity involving Vex invading the Moon, and another involving us heading back into the Black Garden for fun, violence, and loot. There's a new armour system that adds a level of depth the game's never known before. There's a new Season Pass that gives you rewards for playing regardless of which activity you engage in. If you owned Forsaken but didn't pick up last year's pass, you've got Forges to repair and weapons to build. There's Gambit Prime. There's Reckoning. And there's cross-save to allow you take your characters to whichever platform you choose. Finally, it introduces New Light - free-to-play Destiny 2. When you put aside the campaign for a moment and concentrate on the sheer amount of content it brings and the changes it makes to the game... it's like a new game. Seriously.
It's the sandbox and economy changes that have probably made the most difference to me, though. Destiny 2 had developed an annoying habit of effectively punishing you for only engaging in the content you enjoyed (or, only rewarding you for suffering content you didn't, if you prefer). For a game that's all about loot and numbers, this was unforgivable - and it feels like they've actually fixed it. Of course, I've felt this way before only to come up against a brick wall so I'm reserving judgment a bit here. The initial run from 750 light to the 900 light soft cap was quick and easy enough - literally every drop was useful. Hitting 900 has slowed things down, but even with that in mind there are enough things to do that I've been able to play quite a bit and still have things on my Director page that will earn me good rewards without having to go off and do things I don't want to. Which is good - because I'm not prepared to do that anymore.
My Titan's sitting pretty at 922 light currently, and I don't feel like I've hit the "grind" yet - insofar as I'm still enjoying everything I'm doing. The other thing that's making this continued engagement possible are the sandbox changes. Auto rifles suddenly aren't completely hopeless. Heading into the Crucible, my scout rifle seems to be more effective at range than a pulse rifle or a hand cannon - which hasn't been the case for... well, ever. In Destiny 2, anyway. The introduction of armour ornaments means that you can dress your Guardian up as prettily as you want regardless of the armour set you're wearing - meaning the game's real metagame can truly be mastered for the first time. (It's an irrefutable truth - the game involves shooting things and getting loot, but really it's about making your Guardian look as cool as is humanly possible... anyone who tells you differently just hasn't figured this truth out yet.)
What's really happening is that it feels as though Bungie are finally making the game they want to. There's a certain joyfulness kicking around at the moment, and you can almost feel it emanating from the game itself. Destiny has always felt as though it's striving to be something that was just out of reach - and for the first time, it maybe isn't anymore. Is it finished? Is it as good as it will ever be? I don't think so. There are still things that could be improved - but for the moment it's in a spot where it feels like it can accommodate all the disparate things its player base wants from it.
Am I back for the long haul? I don't know. I guess I'm back for as long as I'm having fun, and as long as I can make progress while not surrendering my life. It's exactly where I thought I would be going in... and it feels good. This universe, for better or worse, has become like a warm comforting sweater for me. I lost it for a while, but now it's back and I'm going to enjoy it. I can't put it any better than that.
Eyes up, Guardian. See you starside.