As opening gambits for a year of new content to a half-decade old game series go, going all in on nostalgia is a pretty bold move from Bungie. But with a sprint through the campaign, a couple of weeks of grinding and a stab at the new raid now under our belts, it’s time to pin a score on Destiny 2: Shadowkeep.
Shadowkeep takes us back to the Moon and Archer’s Line, transforming it with deep fissures cutting into the surface of Earth’s satellite, giving all that was there the decay and signs of the never-ending battle between Guardians and the forces of darkness, as well as expanding it with new areas and the Lost Sectors that you expect from Destiny 2.
It works as well. Running through Eris Morn’s story, the appearance of an ominous pyramid ship, the return of Nightmare versions of classic enemies from the series, they tickle your memories in just the right way. But nostalgia can wear thin quite quickly, and Bungie have been quick to move on to the next thing, perhaps too quickly given the abruptness of the end of the main campaign and the size of the narrative thread it simply leaves dangling. Suddenly the Hive, and the Nightmares are effectively put to one side so that the Vex can invade and Guardians set foot once more into the Black Garden.
You’ll also be heading into the all important endgame at this point, with the grind of weekly challenges giving you a balanced diet of all the game’s co-op and competitive modes in the name of earning Powerful Rewards that push you past the soft cap of 900 light. You’ll be engaging with a variety of new and changed elements as you do so, from Armor 2.0 to revised gear mods, the Seasonal Artifact and the Season Pass track of rewards to follow.
Simply put, it can all get a little bit overwhelming for new and returning players. As discussed in my second week thoughts, the sheer number of quests you can have running concurrently is mind-boggling and easy to lose track of, while you can largely ignore these things until you fancy min-maxing armour sets and creating builds for the game’s current meta.
Armor 2.0 makes your character builds that bit more complex, adding the first game’s armour stats alongside those from Destiny 2, folding in elemental damage buffs along the way. Hunting for the perfect roll will be a long-term effort, with between 48 and 55 stat points spread between the six categories, and that before you consider the mod slots available on the armour piece.
As you level each armour piece up, funnelling increasing amounts of materials into them, it gains more points that let them accommodate more powerful mods with the various slots. Mods are single use, so you’ll likely want to save them for the gear you plan on keeping, but you have another option: the Seasonal Artifact also offers mods appropriate to the challenges you’ll face that season, before expiring at the end and taking them with it.
The artefact is a fascinating new twist for Destiny 2’s endgame, soaking up all of the experience you earn, and adding a bonus point of Light on top of your gear’s average level. It also features a grid of 25 mods from which you can eventually unlock 12, and apply to any applicable armour or weapon piece. For diehard fans, it’s this and not the Season Pass reward track that will play out into the season’s second and third month – the 100 levels of the Season Pass won’t last through the end of the first month for those.
Having the season pass, which all Shadowkeep players will have for the first season they play, also brings a new mode: the Vex Offensive. This is a fun six-player romp, spitting out more than enough Legendaries and a weekly reward to make it worth running, though if it’s single layout and pattern of play will make it get repetitive long before the season is over.
It’s really the Garden of Salvation raid that will be a lure to long term players, even if actually corralling a group of six players to play is worthy of a medal in its own right. It’s a return to the Black Garden, with an overriding theme of using players to create chains between nodes. That can be to open doorways, give each player a buff to break down Vex shields, or whatever the scenario demands.
Puzzling out what creating these Guardian centipedes can do is a key part of the challenge, but so too is the added complication of new enemy sub-types: Barrier, Overcharge and Unstoppable. Each of these has a specific counter that can only be added with the mods found in the Eye of the Gate Lord seasonal artefact. It’s something that forces you to balance your composition and capabilities beyond more visible shields, also featuring in the Vex Offensive and Nightfalls. However, thanks to the mods found in the artefact, it creates a particular meta where pulse rifles and scout rifles simple aren’t useful because the mods aren’t applicable to them. Personally, having recently acquired a pulse rifle with some wonderful speed reload perks, I’ll have to hope for next season.
While all of this has certainly done enough to draw me back into the expanding universe of Destiny, I’m not completely sold on some of the new ideas and changes that Bungie have made to their game. The depth for endgame players is great, but it’s come at the cost of potentially overbearing complexity for new and returning players, you have players pushed towards certain builds for endgame activities, there’s a distinct lack of new items in many vendor and activity loot pools, and the abruptness of the main campaign can leave you feeling shortchanged when thinking back to how Forsaken opened up into the Dreaming City. That said, it’s clear that Bungie are creating a more regularly evolving game. The part of the Tower where Ikora lives has gained some new scaffolding, as Bungie figuratively and literally build the season’s content throughout. I’m eager to see just how far they’ll go beyond adding higher difficulty Nightmare Hunts.