Destiny 2: Shadowkeep review: Ghosts of the past

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is the first major expansion for the popular MMO shooter since developer Bungie’s split from Activision Blizzard in January. Though Bungie has maintained a parade of events and updates for the game throughout 2019, they set themselves a rather high bar to jump over with the new expansion. Here was what Bungie’s Tuesday looked like:

– Open the long-awaited cross-save functionality, allowing players to import characters from one system to another
– Move the PC version of Destiny 2 from Activision Blizzard’s BattleNet app to Steam without losing everyone’s characters and progress
– Relaunch the Destiny 2 base game as a free-to-play title
– Launch the Shadowkeep expansion
– And accomplish all of this as an independent studio with no help from a publisher

It’s a series of launch goals so lofty I don’t know that we’ve seen anything quite like it in this or any hardware generation. Bungie have moved mountains to get all of this to happen on the same day and, regardless of your feelings about Destiny series, that’s to be respected.

On with the review.

The plot of Destiny 2‘s latest expansion Shadowkeep can be summarised thusly:

Shadowkeep‘s story begins with the return of Eris Morn, a character prominent in the original Destiny expansions The Dark Below and The Taken King. Eris is inextricably linked to the Hive infestation of the Moon, the sole survivor of a mission to clear the Hive out of the Hellmouth that met with devastation at the hands of Crota, later destroyed by the Guardians in the raid Crota’s End.

When a mysterious pyramidal construct is discovered in the bowels of the Moon’s crust, blood-red vestiges of the dead — including a huge red tower dubbed The Scarlet Keep — begin to appear, warning of a coming clash with an unknown enemy. Long dead foes from the past, including the Hive prince Crota himself, begin to reappear in spectral forms. The shock of their return sends Eris scrambling back to The Tower, seeking help from Zavala and Ikora. You must get to the bottom of what has occurred on the moon, why it is so super haunted all of a sudden, and uncover who or what is pulling the strings.

The story is your fairly standard Destiny affair — utterly bewildering but very urgently told, and with great cinematic flair. As ever, you’ll have to do a bit of reading in the lore Grimoire to really grasp what is happening and why you should care. For Destiny fans, well-used to the game’s opaque story and the extra homework it demands, this is all very much par for the course. If you’re jumping in because the game has gone F2P and you’re curious, you might be a bit confused.

You might also feel that it’s over quite quickly. Shadowkeep‘s story isn’t terribly long, you can actually count the number of story missions on one hand. Compared to something like the meaty story from the Forsaken expansion, you might feel a bit underwhelmed by it. In truth, the story isn’t actually over yet. If Bungie is to be believed, the story will actually continue sporadically with each new seasonal arc. Currently, we are in the Season of the Undying. There are a further three seasonal arcs planned across 2019 and 2020 so e xpect the story to pick up again then.

In terms of art design, Shadowkeep is as high quality as ever. Bungie’s fascination with scale and colour continues to be one of the series’ most startling aspects — no-one is quite as good at the round-a-corner reveal as Bungie in full swing. The reveal of the mysterious pyramid about 30 minutes into the story, this massive superstructure that lurks in the dark and shattered heart of the moon itself, is breathtaking and terrifying in its immensity. Elsewhere, Bungie tries to deploy a very different palette — lots of smoky blacks and blood reds make up the Scarlet Keep and its denizens, stark splashes of colour against the grey lunar landscape.

The moon itself is a returning map from the original Destiny that has been scarred and ravaged by the ongoing war against the Hive. Parts of it are absolutely the Moon level you remember from the original game, and parts of it are drastically changed. In fact, it’s a much larger space than it was in the original Destiny, with Bungie finding ways to take what was a small space and turn it into something a little meatier. Your initial impression will be of a map that is quite small when compared to others in Destiny 2 but you’ll quickly discover that the bulk of the Moon’s map is concealed below the surface. The winding tunnels bored in its mantle by the Hive will take quite a while to fully explore.

Loot and rewards have been slightly tweaked to be more interesting than before. It’s still not quite the full ARPG experience many players want, but there are now more ways to mess with your gear that allow them to remain viable for longer. Destiny‘s problem, as far as its weapons and armour goes, has always been that of disposability. So driven were you to make the big Power number go up that you’d simply mill anything that didn’t make the cut. In a game like Borderlands, that makes sense — there are a billion guns and throwing them away for a newer model is entirely in-keeping with that game’s story and vibe. In Destiny, it’s always felt oddly wasteful. With all these new options, it now feels like I’m making the most of every single bit of loot I pick up.

Armour 2.0, as Bungie refer to it, does away with all the one-use consumables you would use to upgrade your gear, instead letting you mix-and-match craftables and consumables to your heart’s content to create a genuine build. As I say, it’s not exactly operating at the level of an ARPG or anything, but it’s big step in a direction I’m very excited about. Additionally, if there’s a particular look for your Guardian you prefer (because as most Destiny players know, most of the work we do, we do in the name of Fashion), you can now hold onto looks you like in perpetuity.

The post-game also feels like there’s more do than ever, or at least greater rewards. Players now have access to a long list of seasonal rewards that function similarly the Fortnite Battle Pass. For every seasonal level you gain, you unlock the next tier and the attendant loot — often valuable crafting materials but there’s bright engrams or high-level gear in the mix too. Helps keep you on the grind, and the best part is that you’re rewarded for simply playing. If you’re out there running down old quest lines, battling it out in the Crucible or still trying to figure out what the hell the Black Armoury is about, you’re contributing to your seasonal rank.

Shadowkeep is both a reverential look back at the history of the Destiny series to date and a determined eye to the future. There’s more to do, more to keep you coming back and a short-and-sweet story that will genuinely give you the creeps. If you’ve ever wanted to jump into Destiny 2, I don’t think there’s been a better time.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Extremely cool setting; Great art design; Armour 2.0 is a blessing
Lowlights: Short story may leave some cold; Still not enough crunch for the ARPG hardcore
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Bungie
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Available: Now

Review conducted on Windows PC using a retail code provided by the publisher.

David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.

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