Nostalgia is a funny old thing. I’m sure I was sick and tired of heading to the Moon back in the original Destiny, grinding out public events and chasing after the dim flicker of Helium Filaments. I’m absolutely certain that I was a bit fed up of the Hive being the baddies all the time, even if they were twitchy, negative-filtered Taken. Still, I kept on playing and playing and playing the game. After a while, those negative thoughts fade away. I’m left with my more prominent memories of descending into the Hellmouth during the beta, of mastering the cheeses to race through the Crota’s End raid, and all the other good things.
That’s what comes to mind as I head back to the Moon in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep. As the opening story mission lands you down on the dusty grey surface, the first thought is “Oh! This is that moon map from when you had vehicles! Cool!” I don’t think of the lopsided battles that saw Combined Arms consigned to the game mode scrapheap after a year. It helps that it’s been repurposed into a grand public space for Guardians to battle against a veritable army of Hive, rolling through to complete massed objectives as you fight to discover just what it is that Eris Morn has dug up this time.
The nostalgia trip continues when you get to visit the open world destination for the first time. Shadowkeep isn’t just taking us to the Moon, it’s taking us back to the exact same part of the Moon.You have the distinctive Archer’s Line just the side of the new default spawn location, you have familiar enemy spawn points, with the Fallen trundling out from caves tucked into the mountainous scenery, you have Helium Filaments to pick up, even good old Warsat public events dropping into some rather familiar spots.
But there’s also a lot that has changed since the original rendition of this area. The buildings are more battered than they were before, the terrain has been transformed in areas, there’s a Fallen Ketch hanging over one part of the map, a new path to follow that leads too the ominous Red Keep, and just this general feeling that the Moon has fallen even further into the clutches of the Darkness.
Of course, the gameplay is in a very different place now to where it was almost half a decade ago. For one thing, Bungie have learnt not to be quite so stingy. Chests and materials are more plentiful and easier to find, but they’re also not at the heart of the game’s grind anymore. Public events are still prevalent, but since Destiny 2, they’ve been marked on the world map well in advance and their Heroic variants make them more engaging to battle through.
The main thrust of the story sees new nightmarish versions of the Hive popping up, not to mention the return of some classic big baddies from the first game and Bungie taking another step into their volumes of teased lore. It is, of course, a bit disappointing that the Nightmares are another iteration of the Hive, but it is in service of leading toward the meaningful introduction of a new foe that has long been teased within the game. The game will feel like it’s evolving more from this point, with the expansion’s Raid set to unlock later this month and things like the Vex Offensive teased on the map of the Moon.
Once the story campaign is done and dusted, you’ll be descending into the familiar grind of hunting after evermore powerful gear and armour. You start the expansion at 750 Power/Light, with everything you own bumped up to this point, and start chasing after the new max level of 960. A light slap in the face for those who have sunk hundreds of hours into the game over the past two years? It depends on your point of view, but evening the playing field right away is great for someone like me that hasn’t played Destiny 2 in a serious way since last October.
At that level, just battling through the main story feels challenging, but you’re also picking up new armour and guns regularly as you try to race up in the Power standings. It’s here that we find the new Armor 2.0 system. Instead of just three stats – Mobility, Resilience and Recovery – there’s also the nostalgia-laden return of Intellect, Discipline and Strength, and yes, they reduce the cooldown of your Super, grenade and melee just as they did in the first game. It’s a change that I love right off the bat, but there’s also depth here for the endgame, with Armor mods that let you tweak the buffs that they give to reload times and needing to level up the armour to be able to accommodate more mods at once. It feels like Bungie are taking the best of both games and merging them together.
There’s also the Season Pass and Artifact to consider, with Bungie fully embracing the seasonal approach of games like Fortnite. The Season Pass is a straight reward track, with rewards for players both with a season pass and without, and you simply unlock levels by playing the game. The Seasonal Artifact – the Gate Lord’s Eye for this season – is another way to unlock armour mods and boost your power level further, and this is to be an unending source of progression through the season, before it’s reset for the start of the next. It’s something that I’ll be delving into more for our full review.
Another element that I’m currently a bit torn on are the new finishing moves. They appear constantly with a little highlight popping up over the heads of weakened enemies, and a click of the right stick to pull off a fancy cinematic melee finisher. You can also start to use them to give benefits for you and your team for doing this, like dropping extra ammo, and so it’s bound to be another tactical element for high-end players to make use of.
Personally, I find it a bit much, constantly reminding you that there’s a finisher available, and when there’s so many emotes and bits of flair and trinkets, having yet another cosmetic bit of fluff that doesn’t really interest me anymore. But mainly, it’s another game mechanic that’s cluttering up the gamepad. Destiny 2 introduced the class-specific abilities, triggered with a long press of the circle button on PS4, and that has always felt a bit unwieldy to me. Now there’s finishers as well? I guess you’ve got to keep punchy Titans happy one way or another, right?
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep flies players back to the Moon, letting us play among the stars once more. It’s a huge nostalgia trip for fans of the original game, but it also feels like another fresh starting point, both for the game and for Bungie as they enter a new era as an independent company.