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Destiny 2 Shadowkeep review in progress: Spooky moon

Destiny 2 Shadowkeep review in progress: Spooky moon

“Shadowkeep’s campaign lacks substance, but its tweaks set the groundwork for a more rewarding grind.”

  • New Moon location is full of intrigue
  • Season pass makes progression matter
  • Core gameplay feels as tight as ever
  • Underwhelming campaign disappoints
  • Lots of recycled story beats and tricks
  • New finisher system is superfluous

For what feels like the fifth time in as many years, Destiny has found itself at a crossroads. Bungie’s sci-fi looter shooter has been playing offense for years, constantly struggling to keep up with its players’ desire for engaging content that lives up to the lofty ambitions Bungie set out before the first game’s launch.

Sometimes Bungie nails it, like in the case of The Taken King, which fundamentally rebuilt the first Destiny from the ground up while offering the series’ most compelling narrative through-line. And sometimes they drop the ball, as some would say has been the case through much of Destiny 2’s lifespan.

One year after the release of Destiny 2’s promising Forsaken expansion, Bungie is once again looking to course-correct their ship with Shadowkeep. The latest expansion is significant, as its release coincides with a new Free To Play version of Destiny 2, which is looking to widen their player base (and if the launch day’s server meltdown is any indication, they might be successful).

As a result, Shadowkeep seems to be an update that’s a bit at war with itself so far: trying to be introductory enough to ease in new players, but high-level enough to keep veterans excited.

Back to the moon

Destiny 2 Shadowkeep review in progress: Spooky moon

That tension is most visible in Shadowkeep’s campaign, which makes up the heart of the new release. Whereas Taken King and Forsaken kicked their respective stories off with high-stakes, drama-laden introductions, Shadowkeep throws players directly into the action without much lead-in.

Upon booting up the game, your Guardian is shipped off to the Moon to help investigate a mysterious disturbance (which, in classic Destiny fashion, means something involving “darkness” and weird architecture). You immediately find yourself in a firefight, taking down waves and waves of enemies without much motivation.

Let’s be honest: the story missions hardly make-or-break Destiny anymore.

The break-neck, albeit uninspired, opening feels deliberate, as to focus players’ attention on one key thing: Destiny is still top dog when it comes to gunplay. Despite years of tinkering, the game’s core mechanics remain unchanged, offering players fine-tuned shooting and exciting abilities that make you feel like a superhero.

The latest update tries to add a new layer to combat with “finishers,” a new melee kill mechanic that comes straight from Doom 2016’s playbook, though these tend to slow things down and leave you vulnerable for little tactical advantage.

Shadowkeep’s short campaign never asks players to stray away from those core mechanics. Platforming and jumping puzzles are entirely absent from the new set of missions, instead throwing you into a lot of round arenas with tons of enemies to wipe out.

Destiny 2 Shadowkeep review in progress: Spooky moon

As a result, the campaign is one of the least exciting in the franchise to date, using a lot of the same tricks that series vets have seen before with a quasi-spooky backdrop. One of its best missions, for instance, is a nearly beat-for-beat reskin of one of Taken King’s finest outings.

That’s where that tension I mentioned comes into play. For long-time players, there’s a host of recycled ideas here which can make everything feel all too familiar. Meanwhile, new players are presented with a sort of Greatest Hits compilation that takes you through some of the franchise’s most memorable moments, but devoid of any context or nostalgia that makes it meaningful.

But let’s be honest: the story missions hardly make-or-break Destiny anymore. Instead, these serve as an introduction to what’s new with each update.

The end game

Shadowkeep’s brief story is mostly an excuse to familiarize players with its new/old location, the Moon, which returns from the original game virtually unchanged. In my initial time with the game, I’ve run into a host of secrets throughout its nooks and crannies, making it feel like an intriguing return rather than an easy way to squeeze content in. It feels like I’ve only scratched the surface, and I’m already eager to keep digging away at what the Moon has to offer.

The roadmap gives us something that Destiny hasn’t had in nearly a year: a good reason to log in.

With the basics explored, now I’m left with the million-dollar question: how will this update keep me engaged long-term? It’s a question we only have half an answer for currently. What we do know is that Shadowkeep introduces a Fortnite-style season pass, which grants rewards every time you rank up. This a welcome change for the series, which has always sported a comically arbitrary leveling system.

We also have a major redesign of the game’s gear system. This pulls in more ideas from Destiny 1, bringing stats like Intellect and Strength back to armor. I’ve yet to hit the point in Shadowkeep where I can start clamping down on my loadout, but the hope here is that the new system will make grinding less about raising numbers, and more about building a character.

Beyond that, Shadowkeep’s ability to keep players engaged is still a huge question mark thanks to a more spread out roadmap. In the coming weeks, players will get a new raid, new exotic quests, and new activities like dungeons and Vex Offensive. We have no idea if those will be worthwhile additions to the game or fluff. But at the very least, the roadmap gives us something that Destiny hasn’t had in nearly a year: a good reason to log in.

Despite its underwhelming campaign, I find myself optimistic about what Shadowkeep is setting up. There’s a real sense that the world will evolve in meaningful ways beyond launch day. That feeling was notably absent from Forsaken, so it’s up to Bungie to capitalize on that momentum. Let’s just hope it’s not a “fool-me-three (or five) times” situation.

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