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Guardians on the Moon in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep Bungie

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Destiny 2: Shadowkeep review: A look into Destiny’s future

Destiny 2 may finally be finding itself

Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep was never going to be Forsaken, but it also didn’t have to be.

With last year’s expansion, Bungie rebuilt an uneven game into something the team hoped players wanted to sink hundreds of hours into again. Shadowkeep didn’t need to reinvent the wheel again. Instead, Destiny 2’s latest expansion aims to set a foundation for a sustainable game — one that players can potentially play for years without losing interest.

And the good news is that Bungie may have succeeded in that goal.

Even more Destiny

Shadowkeep doesn’t offer the same amount of content as Forsaken. It’s a smaller drop, with only one new location, no new Super abilities, and far fewer new and returning Exotics.

But Shadowkeep isn’t just an expansion with new content, it’s a shift for the franchise. Shadowkeep tackles the seemingly impossible task of creating a sustainable game that’s accessible for new players, while also offering new refinements to the formula for veteran Guardians. And it had to do so without also weakening the experience for players who choose to play free with Destiny 2: New Light, Bungie’s new free-to-play offering.

As an actual expansion, Shadowkeep offers a fantastic suite of new content. The Moon is a fan favorite in terms of locations, and Bungie made good on its promise to create a warm sense of familiarity mixed with a sense of unease about what has changed since we’ve been there last.

The raid and Nightmare Hunt modes are also a ton of fun, if not extremely familiar. If you like Destiny 2, it’s certainly more Destiny 2, but the changes to the structure of the game itself that arrived next to it are what help make the release seem so all-encompassing, and it’s extremely hard to separate the two releases for this sort of review, so we’re going to dive into it all.

A return to numbers and builds

The new Armor 2.0 and season pass systems are free for all Destiny 2 players, in fact. Armor 2.0 is Bungie’s most striking attempt to bring stats that matter back into Destiny, instead of just focusing on systems in which the player is trying to make a single number go up.

Destiny 2 Warlock Armor 2.0 Bungie

In addition to Destiny 2’s original three character stats of Resilience, Recovery, and Mobility, the Armor 2.0 system reintroduces the Discipline, Intellect, and Strength stats from the first Destiny game. Combined, these six stats can increase my health, reduce the time it takes that health to recharge, increase my movement speed, and reduce the cooldown of my three abilities.

Each new armor piece could contain more total stats than my last, and I can look for rolls that specifically offer a stat I’m looking for. If I want to make a build all about using my Super all the time, I can grind for armor with high Intellect roles, for instance. My decisions suddenly have a lot more power to determine how my character fights, and how effective they can be while tackling higher-level challenges.

In addition to the extra stats, I can spend some of the game’s many currencies to upgrade my armor pieces so I can slot more mods inside. Mods are powerful abilities or stat bonuses that attach to my armor pieces and offer effects like an increased chance to find rocket launcher ammo or the ability to reload hand cannons faster. There are over 100 mods in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, and I can put them together in a nearly endless array of combinations to design my character’s loadout.

This is a sweeping change. Armor isn’t just a cosmetic decision attached to a single power score, like it has been for the past two years of Destiny. Now, you’re selling yourself short if you focus only on the most powerful gear without also considering how all these stats work together to further your goals. All these returning stats and in-depth gear customization options give players more ways to impact their character and more meaningful things to care about.

The only way to get gear with the best, highest stats is to complete difficult content like the raid. If I want the best gear, I need to beat the game’s hardest content. There’s just more to care about now, and player decisions have much more of an impact on their characters. That’s a positive, meaningful change.

Warlock Armor 2.0 customization Destiny 2 Bungie via Polygon

Upgrading my armor isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it. The process is also designed to funnel me into the game’s more challenging areas. Armor pieces only have so much energy when you pick them up, and that energy is what’s used to power mods. Upgrading that capacity with Glimmer and Legendary Shards is pretty easy, at first, but each upgrade becomes a bit more expensive until I have to track down materials that are much more rare, such as Enhancement Prisms or the super-rare Ascendant Shards.

Getting enough of any of these currencies to fully upgrade a piece of armor could take a significant time investment, as well as a coordinated group willing to work together to play through the most challenging sections of the expansion. It’s a system designed for veteran players who never want to stop playing, and are willing to do what it takes to get the absolute best gear.

Stealing seasons

Each new season of Destiny 2 — a three month content cycle, each with a new theme — comes with new armor to farm and upgrade. But it also offers a season pass to upgrade and chase, along with new armor mods to acquire. Bungie intends to refresh the meta game of Destiny every few months, creating a new, slightly altered game for players to come back to year-round.

Shadowkeep launched alongside the Season of the Undying, a Vex-themed season. Taking a page out of games like Fortnite or Apex Legends, the experience I earn while playing goes toward unlocking items in the Season of the Undying pass.

Destiny 2 Season of the Undying pass Bungie via Polygon

But the season pass has two tracks: one for free players and another for those that pay. Shadowkeep came with the Season of the Undying premium pass, but in the future, players will need to purchase season passes individually for access to new activities and the premium track to earn all the items.

The items on both tracks range from in-game currencies — like those needed to upgrade armor — to cool cosmetics. One of the rewards is a new seasonal Exotic, the Eriana’s Vow special hand cannon. Free-to-play folks need to upgrade their season pass to level 35 to earn the Exotic, while Shadowkeep and Season of the Undying players earn it at level one. Paying is always going to have its rewards, after all.

The season pass has become somewhat of an addiction for me, and it’s changed the way I play Destiny 2. Leveling up has become my most anticipated new milestone everyday — one that’s attainable even if you can only play an hour at a time. New bounties — repeatable daily side quests that ask you to kill X type of enemy or use Y type of weapon — offer tons of experience to help level up the season pass very quickly. And even better, they promote different play styles every day, so I’m never using the same weapon for too long.

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep image of Guardians protecting a plate Image: Bungie

These two systems help create a foundation for Destiny moving forward. With Armor 2.0 and the addition of seasons, players have many different pursuits to keep them busy for the long haul. A new content drop offers new armor and mods for hardcore players to collect and use to create new builds, and the new season pass creates a casual, or compulsive, series of goals for everyone.

Bungie has finally created a formula that makes Destiny 2 both deeper and more satisfying, with a release schedule that makes it easier to plan your sessions and to know when new content is about to drop. I’m not just excited about playing all that Shadowkeep has to offer, but also to see what’s happening next, and that’s a huge improvement from where the game was even a year ago.