In the months since Bungie assumed the rights to Destiny, they’ve found firm footing in independence and have been charging toward the goal of developing their sci-fi action-shooter into the massively-multiplayer dream it was originally pitched as. Shadowkeep is a deeply nostalgic expansion that, when coupled with Bungie’s new Armor 2.0 system, acts as the driving force toward Destiny’s brave new world. Is it a catchall fix for Bungie’s previous woes? No, it isn’t, but it’s a long stride toward exciting times for series fans.
For a long time, Guardians have been trying to unravel the riddles of Destiny’s pronoun game. Big, grand, empty words that sound like they carry heavy implication. Throughout the years, the Light has been tangible and we’ve seen its effects on living things within the game’s world. But as for its antipode, the so-called Darkness that looms as the end-all threat? It’s long been a nebulous concept, ill-defined and a clear failure of Destiny’s early preamble. Shadowkeep caps off a long-coming, spectacular course-correction for the franchise, as the once vague threat manifests itself in a scary, exhilerating way. At last, the presence of nothing dissipates as the void finally stares back.
As with all of Destiny’s better expansions (see: The Taken King and Forsaken), Shadowkeep continues the untangling of Hive lore. At the heart of it all is Eris Morn who, after a long time warming the bench, gets to call the play and shoulders a lot of what this expansion becomes over its runtime. Morla Gorrondona has always done a fine job playing Eris with a certain tragic sadness after her ill-fated attempt on Crota’s life cost her entire fireteam theirs. Though her goals and motivations haven’t always been clear, I’ve always found her a sympathetic, likeable character and Shadowkeep’s campaign only furthers that.
Though it’s not the first time Guardians have set foot on the lunar surface, the Moon has truly been reinvigorated thanks to all that Bungie have learned about destinations over the course of the last few years. It’s a terrific blend of the nostalgic familiar and the new, as Lost Sectors and brand new playspaces flesh out a well-rounded overworld that promises to gradually bear fruit much like Forsaken’s Dreaming City did. It’s in these evolving worlds that react to the player’s influence where Bungie keeps ticking the right boxes and pushing Destiny toward the original, overshot massively-multiplayer dream the franchise was founded on. Shadowkeep’s campaign unfolds like a mix between Rise of Iron and Forsaken. It takes after the former in length while the mission structure is more like the latter with Nightmare Hunts playing out like Forsaken’s revenge plot against Uldren Sov’s Barons. Without giving much away, Destiny’s old hands will appreciate the brief Nightmare Hunts which see past threats reenter the fold.
Along with a whole new campaign, Shadowkeep offers a couple of new strikes. The Scarlet Keep, the strike tied most intrinsically to the immediate plot, feels a lot like a lite-version of The Shattered Throne, Bungie’s take on a high-tier endgame dungeon that debuted in Forsaken. It lacks the raid-like mechanics and puzzles, though it’s aesthetically on par and feels incredible to stomp through. Of course, there’s a brand new raid ready to punish you though I must admit I’m only at a level well-suited for failing heartily so that’ll come in time.
The Armor 2.0 system isn’t exactly cut and dry, it’s a rather convoluted series of small changes that have been made to the core stats, perk layout and mods systems that Destiny’s core customisation experience hangs on. Though it’s heading in the right direction in terms of letting players craft builds that better suit their style of play, it’s rather inelegant in a lot of ways. For one, the material grind to Masterwork a piece of armour borders on barbaric and there’s a huge issue with elemental affinity which locks certain mods out of certain gear, only serving to make the grind worse.
Shadowkeep’s release also coincides with Destiny’s new seasonal drip-feed of content, beginning with Season of the Undying. Bungie happily takes a page out of Fortnite’s playbook, giving players another means of earning a lot of cool, cosmetic rewards simply by playing the game. There’s a paid version of this battle pass which, of course, rains gifts onto you with every level gained throughout regular play. That being said, even the free-to-play New Light players stand to receive a modest windfall of their own. Much like the game’s reintroduction of Artefacts that acts as a temporary boost to your Guardian’s power level, your level resets on a seasonal rotation, giving players something to strive for on a regular basis.
The execution of these wholesale changes to the core Destiny experience isn’t without imperfection, though it’s the direction that should be lauded. It’s clear it’s a work in progress and Bungie are great at listening to their community’s wants and needs so I don’t doubt that, in time, Armor 2.0 will pull together, driving Destiny through the remainder of the Season of the Undying and into the future.
THE XBOX ONE VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
The humanisation of Eris Morn, a once bleak caricature shrouded in mystique, along with a number of brave narrative turns help Shadowkeep along to a thrilling conclusion that sets Destiny up for another year to come. Though the core tweaks haven't all landed, Shadowkeep takes a beatseat to only two before it in terms of delivering rounded, high-quality expansion experience.
A Step Toward Destiny's Ideal State
Great Narrative Direction
New Seasonal Approach Will Keep Players Engaged
Armor 2.0 Is An Imperfect Change To Destiny's Core Experience
Nightmare Hunts Are Too Brief And Fall Flat As Mid-Tier Challenges