Destiny 2 Shadowkeep review: A new moon

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’s boring story is eclipsed by its spooky moon

Destiny 2 Shadowkeep review: A new moon

“Shadowkeep’s renewed commitment to an evolving world makes up for its run-of-the-mill campaign and recycled content.”
  • The world finally feels like a constantly evolving space.
  • The New Moon location is full of intrigue.
  • Vex Offensive is a stellar new PVE activity that’s fast-paced and gorgeous.
  • A more rewarding gameplay loop that emphasizes exploration over tedious chores.
  • Lackluster campaign fails to capitalize on its spooky potential.
  • Recycled maps and enemies feel more like a return to the status quo than new content.

Bungie is haunted.

Once universally beloved for creating the genre-changing Halo series, the developer has spent much of the 2010s accumulating ghosts that always seem to hang above their heads.

First, there was the infamous ‘10 year plan’ for Destiny, a misinterpreted contractual agreement with Activision that set players’ expectations unreasonably high. Then, there was a last-minute narrative overhaul behind the scenes, starting the game’s lifecycle off on an incomprehensible foot. The most recent drama came in the form of a high-profile break-up with Activision, leaving the franchise solely in Bungie’s control, for better or worse.

So it’s fitting that in Shadowkeep, Destiny 2’s first expansion released without Activision’s guiding hand, the player is also haunted by their past. The DLC’s short campaign pits players against Nightmares, which are essentially the ghosts of fan-favorite enemies from the past 5 years of Destiny. If that wasn’t clear enough, the narrative also revolves around Eris Morn, a beloved Destiny 1 stalwart, who is quite literally haunted by the ghosts of her dead teammates.

While the campaign’s trip down memory lane ends up feeling like a lackluster collection of recycled boss fights, Shadowkeep shines thanks to its newfound commitment to intriguing world-building, which finally gives players a good reason to keep coming back for more.

A link to the past

Shadowkeep doesn’t dabble in the past just for cheap nostalgia. Rather, the expansion takes a back to basics approach, reminding players why Destiny works at its core and setting the stage for what’s to come. The result is an uneven, but ultimately promising content dump that sees Bungie finally making the series on its own terms.

That’s not to say that Shadowkeep delivers a series-defining statement like The Taken King did for the first Destiny game. In fact, not a lot of the content available on day 1 stands out too much above previous expansions. Shadowkeep’s campaign is a run-of-the-mill set of objectives that never really capitalizes on its creepy atmosphere.

Moments of discovery are rewarding, and make the Moon worth revisiting half a decade later.

The Nightmares are just the same enemies we’ve seen since the series started, but with bigger health bars. And the new Nightmare Hunt activity feels like pure busywork, asking players to grind glorified story missions for high-level gear.

You could even look at the recycling of Destiny 1’s locations as a sort of return to the status quo. The game’s PVP mode got a trio of new maps, but two of those are from the original game. Plus, the Moon returns as the update’s main explorable area, which was a staple of the “Vanilla Destiny” experience.

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep Moon location
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’s haunting moon location

These are all welcome additions to the game, mind you. The Moon, in particular, is a great addition to the game’s list of explorable spaces. While it may look the same as it did in 2015, it comes packed with a batch of new secrets and some of Destiny 2’s best lost sectors to date.

I spent quite a while trying to figure out how to access a hidden “pathway” that opens after killing a specific high-level enemy, only to notice it floating in the sky a week later. Those little moments of discovery are rewarding, and make the Moon worth revisiting half a decade later.

Shadowkeep’s campaign is a run-of-the-mill set of objectives that never really capitalizes on its creepy atmosphere.

But all the flashbacks do fuel the feeling that perhaps Destiny 2 never needed to exist in the first place. Once you add in the return of perk-raising armor and the re-upped emphasis on bounties, the sequel feels more like the original than ever before.

Moving forward

But Shadowkeep isn’t just about the base content. Instead, all of retreading through the past only serves as a prologue. Act 1 began a few days later. Once players had time to beat the campaign, finish the game’s first quests, and get a feel for the grind, Bungie hit the first stop of their roadmap.

The content update not only brought a new 6-player raid into the mix but a seismic shift to the game world as well. Upon booting the game up, I was greeted by a quick cutscene warning me that the Vex, the game’s robotic race, was coming.

Shadowkeep PVE Mode: The Vex
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’s PVE Mode — The Vex

Sure enough, I loaded into the same Moon I’d been exploring all week and was completely caught off guard when I drove straight into a horde of killer robots huddled under a massive ball of electricity in the sky. “What is going on?” I yelped as they shredded me to pieces.

And that’s where Shadowkeep really sets the groundwork for something special. The Vex invasion immediately gave me the sense that the game world was evolving. Before Shadowkeep, I felt like the game had been reduced to a list of weekly chores. Now, I found myself loading in just to understand what else had changed. The high-level gear and cool guns became secondary to exploring the game world.

It’s hard to say if Bungie will finally be able to keep the momentum up, but the prognosis is good.

Along with the Garden of Salvation raid, the update adds the Vex Offensive mode, an excellent new activity that throws your fireteam into a series of fast-paced, timed wave fights. Both activities bring players to some of the most gorgeous locations in the franchise to date.

Rather than exploring dreary caverns and technological ruins, you’re brought to lush, green environments populated by moss-covered Vex. If Shadowkeep’s main campaign is about putting the past to rest, then the Vex update is about watching something new grow from the ashes.

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep combat
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep combat

It’s hard to say if Bungie will finally be able to keep the momentum up, but the prognosis is good. By the end of October, we’ll have 2 new exotic quests, a Halloween event, higher difficulty settings for Nightmare Hunts, a new PVP mode, and the intriguing new Dungeon update.

Had all of this dropped on day 1, it would have been tempting to blow through each in a week and be left with nothing but the grind. This more deliberate approach gives players a compelling reason to come back every few days, and that’s something the series has always lacked.

If Shadowkeep’s main campaign is about putting the past to rest, then the Vex update is about watching something new grow from the ashes.

Despite its middling base content, Shadowkeep is a confident step forward for Destiny. With the specter of Activision laid to rest, Bungie is finally free to make the game that’s eluded them this past decade. And thanks to a smart move to free-to-play, a new player base is pouring into the game free of any historical baggage. Those blank slates get to experience Destiny for what it’s always been; a fine-tuned looter shooter that’s jam-packed with action, mystery, and rewards.

With the game’s rocky history fading in the distance, hopefully, everyone else can rediscover that for themselves too.

Microtransactions

The Eververse store remains Destiny’s sole home for microtransactions. Fortunately, it continues to be rather non-invasive. You can trade real money for silver, which can be spent on cosmetic items like emotes and fancy weapon ornaments. So far, nothing on sale in Eververse has any effect on gameplay. It’s purely a way to give your character more style points, and you’ll never find yourself at a disadvantage because you don’t have the coolest sparrow on the block.

Our Take

Shadowkeep is an expansion that’s brimming with potential that it’s actually poised to capitalize on. Its campaign may be a lukewarm retread through the franchise’s history, but the endgame loop is feeling more robust than ever. If the game’s first post-launch update is any indication, <em>Shadowkeep</em> promises a compelling reason to return to <em>Destiny 2</em>, putting more emphasis on world discovery than an endless loot grind.

Is there a better alternative?

Destiny 2 still outclasses its peers when it comes to pure gameplay, and Shadowkeep’s long-term prognosis is making it look much healthier than loot shooters like Anthem and The Division 2.

How long will it last?

You can blow through the main campaign in about 6 hours, but the endgame feels longer than ever with a slower grind to max power level and new activities being added often.

Should you buy it?

If you’re already bought in on Destiny, yes. If you’re curious about jumping in for the first time, try the new free-to-play New Light version first.

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