Just one week on from the launch of Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, and the game’s third year expansion already feels like it’s growing and evolving. For us, as we settle into the grind to level up enough to tackle the latest raid in the series, it marks a good point to pause and reflect on what we’ve played so far.
So let’s start with that grind. It’s one of the key areas that Bungie has iterated upon since the game’s launch, extending and deepening the path to the new max rank. It was utterly refreshing that Bungie reset the playing field for the start of Shadowkeep, setting all players and all your historical gear to have a Power level of 750, levelling off all the previous game activities and content to the same 750 Power level and letting players new, returning and current simply dive in. It’s a fairly short sprint up from that point to the soft cap of 900, with the regular run of play always offering you something that was a bit of a step up, if not a huge leap, but as always, this slows down dramatically as the soft cap comes into play, and you’re pushed to grind through weekly bounties, challenges across the various game modes and endgame activities to keep on inching up to the hard cap of 950 light – though this is more of a semi-hard cap (arf) in reality.
It’s at this point that the sprawl becomes baffling and messy. Far, far too many things are simply thrown into the Quests section of the game menu, whether they’re story mission chains, weapon challenges to earn a new gun, exotic quests, something game mode specific or overarching seasonal goals. It makes actually finding what you want to do next nigh on impossible, and that can be an active impediment to your progress – if you don’t work through the Cryptarch’s easily lost and unremarkably named quest chain to complete bounties and challenges of various types, then the weekly challenges don’t trigger on the Destination map.
And that’s another thing. You can only keep track of Weekly Challenges with destinations, modes and vendors through the Destination map, not through pinning them. The Milestones overlay sits there unused now, when it could be incredibly useful for working through each week’s content.
Actually earning gear and levelling up has also been muddied. Breaching the soft cap was made clearer in Destiny 2 with the Powerful Rewards, but now that’s obscured by weekly activities giving having a bracketed tier rating. What’s the difference between a Tier 1 and Tier 3 Powerful Reward you ask? I’ve got no idea. I completed a challenge with a Tier 3 reward and was handed a Legendary armour piece just two points higher than my max light at the time.
That might have partially been affected by the cap softening effect of the Artifact, the seasonal item that simply soaks up all the experience you earn, levelling to add a few points of extra Power to your armour total and offer you a choice of armour mods to unlock that can be applied to armour and guns as many times as you like.
Weirdly enough, given my complaints over bloat and complexity, I actually quite like how this works and how it impacts the renewed Armor 2.0 system in the game. This throws even more spaghetti at the game’s wall of endgame grinding, and I think it sticks. It brings back the classic armour stats from Destiny 1 – Intellect, Discipline and Strength – and adding their cooldown reducing effects alongside the mobility, toughness and health recharge stats of Destiny 2 armour thus far. Hunting for that ideal loadout just got deeper, whether you’re going to cross your fingers for a fairly even and balanced roll or one that suits your punch heavy Titan or super spamming Warlock.
As I continue to work my way up the power rankings, I’ve not bothered myself with digging into the mods system too much, with armour wanting to be levelled up so that you can apply more and more powerful mods, and me saving up my resources until such a point as this isn’t just a waste of effort. However, there are some intriguing new effects that hook into the Season Pass exclusive Vex Offensive and the regular Vex Invasions that infiltrate the Moon.
With the main campaign for Shadowkeep leaving us on a cruel tease of what’s to come, letting us step into the long teased pyramids of the Darkness and abruptly chucking us back into the world to carry on like nothing’s changed (because it hasn’t really). You still have Nightmare versions of Hive knocking around and Nightmare Hunt missions to revisit the Nightmare versions of classic bosses that you battled through the campaign. The real meat of the game’s future comes with the Season Pass though, which brings with it the Vex Incursions and Vex Offensive mode.
It has a fun and cool effect, breaking through the nostalgia effect of returning to the Moon and the Hellmouth, but also drops a new mode to run through and grind for Vex-related kills. It’s a fun mission to run, somewhere between a Prison of Elders style horde mode and a linear Strike, but it’s amplified by having six players with matchmaking to give it a little hint of Raid-style combat. It’s also great for picking up meaningful rewards for the grind of levelling up, with each run spitting out a few decently levelled engrams.
One week down and another 51 to go (maybe) before the next major leap for Bungie and Destiny, and Shadowkeep is doing a good job of sinking its hooks back into me. I admittedly bounced off year two and Forsaken not long after its release, but for whatever reason, I’m enjoying Shadowkeep that bit more, feeling more engaged with the content of its first season and looking forward to see how Bungie can continue to drip feed new content and story beats into the game once more.
I’ll certainly be pushing on to try and tackle the Garden of Salvation Raid, likely waiting until I’m closer to the 940 suggest Power level before attempting it and putting finger to keyboard once more for our full review.