Release Date:October 1, 2019
Platform: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
PC Test specs:
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super
- CPU: Intel Core i7-4770K
- RAM: 16GB DDR3-1600MHz
Performance Results:Slick 1440p 144Hz gaming at Ultra preset, animations are ultra-smooth, graphics are amazing, environments are immaculately detailed. No major hiccups or performance faults.
Let me preface this review by saying I haven't played Destiny 2 since its launch in 2017. No expansions, no new content--just the base game. So going right to Shadowkeep and the New Light free-to-play mode was massive sensory overload.
Ultimately Destiny 2 and its new Shadowkeep DLC was basically made for existing players. It's very new player friendly, nor does it play nicely with lapsed players like myself.
There's just way too much to do in Destiny 2 right now thanks to its dearth of bounties, missions, and activities, and Bungie doesn't explain it very well. They kind of throw you in the ocean and let you fend for yourself, and eventually you learn to sink or swim in the sea of content. As someone who played Destiny 1 since launch and chewed through every expansion, only to give up on Destiny 2 in 2017 due to the grind, Shadowkeep and New Light takes the massive investment to a whole new level.
To enjoy Destiny 2, you just have to ask yourself one simple question: Do you have enough time to devote to it?
The game becomes a kind of rampant addiction that overtakes your gaming habits, and Bungie has learned a lot about perfecting its service game craft since 2017. Destiny 2's current iteration has lots of little hooks to keep you playing as long as possible.
Destiny 2 has one of the most effective grind paths in gaming right now. But you have to spend time trying to find that path. Destiny is kind of like a codex: It's complicated, has lots of moving parts, and it can be rather cryptic. It's also a little like a big complex math problem. Once you figure out the proper sequencing of its multifaceted PvE, Solo, and PVP content, the real grind begins and the game opens up to you in new ways.
It also then demands much, much more of your time.
At its heart, Shadowkeep isn't just an expansion. It's a bold new beginning for Destiny. Shadowkeep is the first expansion to drop under Bungie's newfound independence--they now own the Destiny IP and publishing rights, and are fully separated from Activision's rule--
In this review I'll highlight the ways Destiny 2 has changed with Shadowkeep, how Bungie is both one of the best and worst live service game developers in the industry right now, and why the game may or may not be worth your time.
Destiny's Rebirth: Armor 2.0, Artifacts and More
Shadowkeep makes some huge fundamental changes to Destiny 2. There's a new seasonal system that unlocks goodies as you level up, incentivizing play and pushing you to take on daily activities. There's also an awesome new melee attack called Finishers that launch a vicious and satisfying animation on enemies with low health. It's a little bit like the assassination animations from Halo: Reach.
The biggest change is the Armor 2.0 system, which brings a whole new level of customization and grind to the game.
With Armor 2.0, Destiny 2 becomes much more RPG-like. Now every armor in the game has six base stats: Intellect, Discipline, Strength, Mobility, Reslience and Recovery, all of which do different things by decreasing and increasing passive bonuses.
- Mobility -Increases your maximum movement speed and jump height.
- Resilience - Increases the amount of damage you can take before dying.
- Recovery - Increases the rate in which you regain health.
- Discipline -Deccreases the cooldown time of your grenades.
- Intellect - Decreases the cooldown of your Super ability.
- Strength - Decreases the cooldown of your Melee ability.
Stats now go up to 100 total per armor piece, and every armor piece has a different stat roll each time.
All armor pieces also now have Solar, Arc, or Void Energy levels. Mods now cost Energy and can't exceed an armor's Energy threshold, so for example, a chestpiece with 5 Energy can equip mods that require 2 and 3 Energy or any other combination that doesn't exceed the item's available Energy.
Any armor piece's Energy can be upgraded for Legendary Shards and Glimmer. Each successive upgrade costs more and more resources, and once an item has 10 Energy, it's considered Masterwork and gives extra bonuses. This also includes Class Items like Titan Marks, too.
As for the Solar, Arc, and Void levels, those are only used by specific mods like elemental resistance mods. The elemental threshold is combined with the base Energy allocation and isn't separate. So any elemental resistance mods you equip take away from the total Energy value too.
Armor pieces can have varying number of mod sockets, and only certain mods can fit into certain sockets, eg Arms Armor Mods that increase reload speed on Gauntlets vs the General Armor Mod slot that raises resistances and the like.
Another big change that Shadowkeep brings is the Artifact. It's a new piece of gear that you get at level Season of the Undying ranking 8, and it's basically another mechanism for modding gear. It has to be leveled up by playing, but each level block gives you access to different types of mods that you can pick from.
The unlockable mods include the following four types:
- General Armor Mods
- Weapon Mods
- Arms Armor Mods
- Chest Armor Mods
- Class Item Mods
With this blueprint, gamers can unlock an insane level of optimizations for their specific builds. All mods can be removed at any time. It's basically an RPG framework that adds a lot more grind to the game.
The Never-ending Grind
Destiny 2 is a game of sequencing. The grind is almost perfectly synergized in such a way where everything you do feeds into something else. But there's one catch: You have to work to make that sequencing as efficient as possible. The work comes in with trial-and-error, research, and other somewhat tedious and meticulous planning and executing.
That's really a big part of Destiny 2 now. I always feel like I'm working towards something I may never achieve instead of playing a game. Everything I do feels like an extrinsic reward now. I feel like I'm constantly chasing loot and not actually enjoying my experiences--my playtime is constantly used to level up, get better gear, and do all the things I actually used to do in Destiny 2...but on such a bigger scale that it's overwhelming at times.
The game never sleeps or slows down, it's always demanding, offering, giving you a reason to keep playing. This is the motivating force to any live service game, but some are more pushy than others. Destiny's core tenants as an FPS with a hybrid MMO-style somewhat betray its go-go-go grind attitude.
There's an innate pressure with Destiny 2's current grind. Shadowkeep's absolutely incredible lore-filled campaign acts as a kind of refuge from the deluge of service content, and there's some neat stuff to explore. But the core heart of the game is (and arguably always has been) about progression.
There's always something to do in Destiny now. This is both great and terrible at the same time.
It's great because you'll technically never run of out of things to accomplish, but terrible because, well, a lot of the stuff you're doing is usually for the sake of the grind. It's not always for the sake of actually playing. When the playing overlaps too much with the grind you get caught in a kind of whirlwind of consistent behavior that puts extrinsic rewards--eg that gun that's on the horizon, or that new ship--ahead of intrinsic rewards, which is enjoying the actual experience for what it is, not what you get out of it.
That, I fear, has become a common thing with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, at least for me. I see now why I stopped playing in 2017. Not because I wasn't having fun, that happened too, but the fun wasn't at the forefront of what I was doing. The grind was always the most important thing.
No matter how far you get, or what you do, there's always something to chase. This infinite replayability is a godsend for some games and basically means the game just doesn't end. But the cost of that is a spinning cycle that sees players
Destiny 2 isn't really a game you can just pick and play any more--not really. It's a game about strategy, inventory management and constant gear juggling, and a bounty simulator. Destiny 2 has grown so much since I last played and that's not necessarily a bad thing. None of this is necessarily a bad thing, it just depends on how you play.
I'm not saying the game can't be played casually and enjoyed for what it is, and that you can't take a break from the infernal grind to go and simply revel in the best art direction in the entire games industry right now. That's absolutely a thing you can (and should do). But I am saying Destiny 2 has some very deliberate hooks that're designed to keep in swimming in that ever-flowing river of content.
The biggest problem with Destiny 2's grind is how cryptic it can be. Bungie doesn't guide you properly or even really highlight the correct sequencing of activities--like I said, you're just kind of thrown into this sea of stuff and left to your own devices. It's immensely overwhelming for someone like me, so imagine what it's like for a brand new player who jumped into the F2P version to play with their friends, or try it out solo.
The result is a feeling that you're not actually progressing, that your time isn't being well spent. That's the quickest way to deter someone from your game. Inundating users with way, way too much stuff to do right off the bat and making them do actual work to figure it out is a bad way for a service game to operate.
Even as I level up my Power, collect the billions of currencies the game now offers, and earn nifty gear and weapons, I don't always feel like I'm actually achieving anything.
The reason for that is there's always something better to get, some better way to use my time that I'm not yet aware of, some awesome raid weapon or ornament. The progression is so incremental that even when you get to the 950 power soft cap you're still nowhere near finished. At that point the game basically opens up for you and you can comfortably do the new Raid and grind for the best gear in the game.
As a lapsed player I feel so far behind and that I'm missing out. A new player might feel even worse. Sure they could ask friends for help and study the best ways to level up, but that sometimes makes Destiny 2 feel more like a school project than a game you play for fun.
Monetization plays a big part of Destiny 2, but only with cosmetics. Overall the game's microtransactions are unobtrusive and aren't obnoxious. There's no lootboxes, no pay-to-win schemes (except for a $20 booster that raises your Power to 950), or big shortcuts. Bungie sells weapon ornaments, emotes, finisher moves, ghost shells, ships, and shaders for a premium Silver currency that can be bought with real money.
These cosmetics are part of the grind and are sometimes doled out via bounties, but are more aimed at enthusiast players.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep and New Light have their saving graces, though.
Bungie's gunplay is absolutely incredible and the game is so buttery-smooth on PC that I simply can't ever go back to PS4. And now that I migrated my characters over with cross-play, I never have to. Even if I'm grinding for a weapon or to complete bounties or grab those shiny mod components, amazing gunplay and FPS action is always at the forefront. Irregardless of what I'm doing, that constant is always there.
Another redeeming quality is the art direction.
Bungie makes some of the best-looking games I've ever seen, and Shadowkeep is absolutely spell-binding in this regard. The environments are so twisted and macabre, straight out of Clive Barker's Hellraiser mixed with a Giger painting. The Moon is one of the most eerie places in any video game and really brings this otherworldly vibe to the experience.
There's magic in the service game elements too. It's not like you're doing the grinding by yourself, and this never-ending sea of content has lots of other swimmers too. You're going to make a lot of friends along the way to help you out, and this is the main core of Destiny's magic: The camaraderie of other players.
Sometimes that camaraderie happens without a single word. There's an unspoken bond with a teammate in Destiny, a kind of glue that holds you together. For a brief time, you're not alone in the game. You're part of a Fireteam. Whether that's a Strike or a Gambit match with a group of randoms, or a meticulously-planned Raid with a bunch of buddies across voice chat, Destiny 2's multiplayer is magical.
It's absolutely possible that the extrinsic grind can bring intrinsic rewards, and this is usually made possible with the kind of special bonding you have by playing with others. In this way, Bungie has tapped the age-old formula to live gaming success.
Destiny 2's New Light mode brings the game to everyone for the first time. Anyone can jump and play without having to spend a time. But there's a cost to that freedom: A lot of the game is a huge grind that feels like work. It's work interspersed with some of the best shooting in the entire industry, and work built around a social infrastructure where you can meet new friends and make long-lasting partners, but it's also laced with lots of tedium, grinding, and bounties, bounties, bounties.
I still content that Destiny 2 is one of the best FPS games in the industry and it's a damn good service game, but it's model need a lot of work. Especially if Bungie truly wants to capture a whole new segment of players that haven't ever tried Destiny before. As it stands, New Light and Shadowkeep are tremendously overwhelming games that don't properly prepare gamers for what they're getting into.
The sheer volume of content and the never-ending grind make the game feel like something you work for rather than play. It doesn't always respect your time or make you feel powerful insofar as the loot-chasing.
Thankfully the game always makes you feel powerful when you're shooting enemies. It also makes you feel powerful when you make new friends or even acquaintances in a high-thrills Crucible battle or Gambit Prime match.
No matter how much I do it, that part of the game never gets old. I play Strikes and Gambit matches for the sheer enjoyment of the experience. I don't get too wrapped up in the min-maxing grind or gear-chase because it seems kind of hollow; to me Destiny 2 is best enjoyed in smaller doses because that way you can digest it properly.
The goal with games like Destiny 2 is to gorge players with a content feast, but that's how you get overwhelmed and burnt out--and it's also what caused Bungie's huge re-tooling and dramatic rebirth of Destiny in the first place. Nevertheless there's something here, something that keeps pulling me back, and that's really the hallmark of a successful game. I'm at odds with Destiny 2 a lot of the time, but one thing I can always agree on is it's actual combat is fun to play.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep isn't perfect, neither is New Light, but the expansion is an incredibly savory slice of rich storytelling Bungie is known for and is absolutely dripping with flavor. The storyline goes by kind of fast, but the experience is still there waiting for you on the hallowed, blood-strewn walls of the Red Keep.
Shadowkeep is definitely worth your time if your a Destiny 2 veteran. If you're a new player, I'd recommend chewing on New Light for a while and getting the gist of things before you revisit that haunted bone-white disc in the sky.
+ Amazingly optimized on Steam and PC
+ Gunplay is still incredible
+ Campaign is dark, mysterious, and chock-full of tasty lore tidbits
+ Seasonal events and rankings add spice to everything you do
+ New RPG system greatly expands the game
- Very overwhelming to new players
- Service elements are extremely grindy, requires tons of investment
- Bungie doesn't explain New Light or Shadowkeep progression very well
- Massive in-game economy built around upgrades
PC System Requirements
Destiny 2 Shadowkeep System Requirements
Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
OS: Windows 7 / Windows 8.1 / Windows 10 64-bit (latest Service Pack)
Processor: Intel Core i3 3250 3.5GHz or Intel Pentium G4560 3.5GHz / AMD FX-4350 4.2GHz
Memory: 6 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 2GB or GTX 1050 2GB / AMD Radeon HD 7850 2GB
Network: Broadband Internet connection
Storage: 105 GB available space
Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
OS: System Windows 7 / Windows 8.1 / Windows 10 64-bit (latest Service Pack)
Processor: Processor Intel Core i5 2400 3.4GHz or i5 7400 3.5GHz / AMD Ryzen R5 1600X 3.6GHz
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: Video NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4GB or GTX 1060 6GB / AMD R9 390 8GB Memory 8 GB RAM
Network: Broadband Internet connection
Storage: 105 GB available space
Minimum 105 GB available hard drive storage space required as of October 1, 2019. Storage requirements subject to increase. After October 1, 2019, see www.destinythegame.com/size-requirements for current requirements prior to purchase. May require additional storage for set-up, features and updates, including to download mandatory in-game updates to continue playing. Users responsible for fees for broadband internet, which is required. Additional charges may apply for online content and features.
Visuals and Graphics
The Bottom Line
Shadowkeep is a must-have for current Destiny 2 players, bringing immaculate visuals, a haunting story, and big new seasonal events, but new players will be overwhelmed.