Destiny 2’s latest expansion feels like a new beginning for the franchise. For the first time since the Myth trilogy finished in the late 90s, developer Bungie is officially on their own. Both developing and publishing their own game, the studio promised to embrace the RPG/MMO aspects that the Destiny series only flirted with.
Enter Shadowkeep, a darker tale that not only aims to expand the franchise’s lore but introduces a number of massive gameplay changes that will fundamentally alter how players build and use their Guardians. Even with a few minor blemishes, Shadowkeep is a superb DLC that will keep me engaged for months to come.
Set on Earth’s moon, you’re tasked with joining an assault against the Hive who has constructed a crimson-colored fortress on the floating rock. This routine operation quickly spirals out of control with the discovery of a mysterious ship hiding under the surface of the moon. This revelation triggers a chain reaction that floods the moon with spirits of dead Guardians and returns old foes from beyond the grave. Faced with enemies new and old, it’s our job to uncover the secrets of this mysterious spacecraft while pushing back the darkness.
At the center of all this is Eris Morn, a Guardian who hasn’t been seen since the original Destiny. The resident expert on the Hive, darkness, and all things spooky, Eris acts not only as a vendor but our guide through this twisted tale. While the darkness serves as the plot’s main focal point, its the exploration of Eris that steals the show. Having endured a massive amount of emotional and physical trauma, Bungie dives deep into the psyche of this character. Actress Morla Gorrondona perfectly captures the balance between Eris’ resolute demeanor and increasingly haunted life.
The Earth’s moon serves as the second major character in Shadowkeep. Acting as a new area to explore, the broken, infested moon has its own unique personality. Filled with dark halls, towering, gothic fortresses, and wandering wraiths, Bungie has made this patrol zone come alive. About the size of Nessus, the moon boasts a ton of new and returning locations, all of which have been changed due to the Hive’s activities. It’s absolutely captivating at times, as the moon’s haunting beauty washes over you every time you load into a new area. This is visual storytelling at its best.
Unfortunately, the plot fails to stick the landing. Instead of delivering a satisfying conclusion, it simply ends with a supremely abrupt cliffhanger that is clearly designed to continue into later seasons. It’s frustrating, especially since the rest of Shadowkeep’s plot is superbly paced and delivered. Having the game’s final moments cut to black left me bewildered, staring at my screen waiting for more information that would never arrive.
Connecting into the core story is a new activity called Nightmare Hunts. This brief, matchmade mode sees a fireteam battling their way through a mini-dungeon and slaying a boss at the end. All of the bosses are returning foes from the Destiny franchise, which adds a nice veil of nostalgia over the encounters. Currently, only the lowest tier version of these hunts is available, but as the month progresses tougher variations will unlock. It’s a nice, brief distraction, but I wish the returning bosses offered unique loot that would give players more of a reason to grind for high scores.
Speaking of high scores, Nightfalls have received a rather dramatic facelift. Boasting four difficulty tiers, numerous new modifiers, and even limited matchmaking, there’s more of a reason to dive into this existing content. Shadowkeep also introduces two new Strikes, both of which are quite enjoyable. The Crucible has also been overhauled, thanks to more playlists, better competitive balancing, and a handful of new maps. While it’s not the most balanced PvP meta Destiny 2 has seen, shooting other Guardians still remains engaging.
For those seeking a tougher challenge, Shadowkeep’s Garden of Salvation raid may be one of the toughest offerings from the developer. Broken up across four major encounters, this activity will push your team to its limits. Mixing both mechanic-based encounters with fearsome bosses, Garden of Salvation has the potential to be one of the best raids in the game’s history. However, the raid desperately needs some polish as it’s filled with glitches.
This can cause a ton of frustration, as entire encounters can suddenly end because of an object vanishing under the map or new gameplay concept failing to function as intended. As someone who considers himself a fairly hardcore Destiny 2 player, Garden of Salvation is simultaneously one of the most captivating and disheartening raids in the game’s history. I genuinely love the environmental design and sections, but a pinnacle activity should not be this buggy.
Tying this all together is the Season of the Undying and new Season Pass. The latter is Destiny 2’s version of a battle pass, which contains 100 levels of rewards that players unlock by simply earning experience. I was a bit hesitant at first about some of the game’s loot getting locked away behind an alternate rewards system. Yet, the Season Pass’s rewards were remarkably steady, acting as a nice bonus for completing bounties or simply grinding for gear. While I wish there wasn’t an Exotic weapon tied to this pass, it’s far less intrusive than I expected.
So far the Season of the Undying has proved to be a generally intriguing addition alongside Shadowkeep. With the mechanical Vex now invading the moon, players will have to contend with massive armies appearing out of nowhere. It’s a terrific way to make the world feel more alive, especially since the Vex will shoot at anything. This transforms the moon into a massive warzone with Vex, Fallen, and Hive all battling it out for supremacy. Building upon this is a limited-time activity called the Vex Offensive.
Just like the Menagerie, this mode has teams of six – which can be put together via matchmaking – fighting off hordes of Vex, destroying floating crystals, and slaying a large boss. With a generous amount of rewards, the Vex Offensive feels like a better, more robust version of The Reckoning. Even though it doesn’t have rotating encounters or bosses, it’s a short but generally sweet mode that serves as a nice way to earn some new gear.
Finally, Shadowkeep comes with the hyped-up Armor 2.0 system. Stripping randomly rolled modifications from armor pieces, players can now manually add what they want onto the gear. This gives an insane amount of freedom to users, drastically expanding the customization and build options available. Since mods are no longer consumed upon use, there’s a greater incentive to experiment. Along with these mods, Armor 2.0 introduces three new stats on top of the existing ones, along with showing the numerical changes your upgrades will cause.
It’s remarkably deep and absolutely overwhelming at times. There’s so much to consider when crafting your perfect Guardian. Bungie’s choice to lean into the RPG mechanics was a superb choice that has been desperately needed. With so much to consider, we cannot wait to see all the crazy, unique builds the community comes up with. This is all without adding in the new Seasonal Artifact which not only provides unique mods but an ever-increasing power buff to all your characters.
Shadowkeep is packed to the brim with new changes and content that we couldn’t possibly cover it all in a single review. From new Exotics to the controversial Eververse store to the flashy melee finishing moves to the entirety of Year 1 going free-to-play, there’s something for any Destiny 2 fan. This DLC may not be as lengthy as Forsaken, but its alterations to the overall formula will be felt for years to come.
Destiny 2 Shadowkeep Takeaways
Shadowkeep is more than just an expansion, but the first step towards a new future for Destiny 2. Plunging headfirst into the dark abyss, this new adventure is utterly engrossing even with a weak ending. Exploring the cracked moon is a delight and the various gameplay changes to most activities are more than welcomed. Despite the unacceptable level of bugs in the Garden of Salvation raid, Destiny 2’s Season of the Undying has been generally entertaining.
Shadowkeep may not be the best expansion in Destiny 2’s history, but it’s a loud declaration about what to expect in the future. There’s no better time to pick a Ghost, grab a gun, and shoot some aliens. Destiny 2’s fourth major expansion is a terrific addition for both new and old players.
Our Destiny 2 Shadowkeep Review Score: 8.5 out of 10