I’d forgotten about Eris Morn. I’d forgotten about a lot of things from the first Destiny, actually. I checked, and apparently I played under 20 hours of the first Destiny—a far cry from the hundred-plus of hours I’ve plugged into Destiny 2 over the past couple years. Morn returns in Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, a shell of her former self after leaving to investigate the Hive in the Rise of Iron expansion. The shadows of her former fireteam float around her; darkness still seeps from her masked eyes. She speaks in a spooky voice at all hours.
Shadowkeep, it feels, is both an ode to what Destiny once was and what it will no longer be going forward. It’s both a reunion tour and a farewell tour, all bundled into one wizard-infested moon. In the campaign’s opening moments, you retrace your steps within the first “world” of the first game; then you’re promptly given a brief tutorial on the new leveling experience. When you level up now, you progress a battle pass and get actual goodies, not just Bright Dust to spend on cosmetics that you don’t even want.
You learn more about the Hive, the “Nightmares” that have infected them, the mysterious darkness of a giant pyramid, and finally, of The Black Garden, long known to be the homeplace of the Vex, and maybe something more ominous too. (The Black Garden is where Shadowkeep’s raid is, and its new co-op activity Vex Offensive.) On the horizon of the Moon, you see the striking Scarlet Keep jutting out of its surface. It is omnipresent, even when you’re across the map from it.
Shadowkeep feels like the most incomplete expansion Destiny’s ever done, but it feels that way by design. The story ends just as things get interesting. (And boy, its last boss is cool and nostalgia-baiting.) But in the months, maybe even years, to come, it’s easy to see how Shadowkeep’s story will barrel onward. After Shadowkeep’s story clumsily wraps, the expansion opens up in earnest; you have a few new quests to do. You have an intensive raid to tackle, provided you’ve pushed past the soft cap of 900 to 940. You can battle your favorite milk-robots, Vex, on the moon now that they’ve invaded, and take part in a fun six player co-op Vex Offensive activity.
For the first dozen hours of Shadowkeep, I fell back into my familiar loop. I forsook Crucible, because who cares about PvP. I balanced my time between miscellaneous quests, bounties, and the excellent PvPvE mode Gambit. It was after I reached the soft cap that my excitement over turning on Destiny 2 every afternoon slowed down. I sank into what a friend and I described as basically doing chores; going through the motions and prioritizing certain quests over others because I knew there was a Prime Engram to push me over 900 and beyond.
This reality begins to settle in once you hit the soft cap, your progress slowing to a crawl. Just the other night, during an hours long session, I inched from power level 903 to, get this, power level 905. And with how obtuse Destiny 2 is, that means there’s a lot of online guides searching in between—shoutout to our own guides for Destiny 2: Shadowkeep—to teach you the most essential activities to partake in. That’s because if you keep doing what you always did (which is whatever you desire), it’s rare that you’ll ever find goods that will inch up your power level past the soft cap. As a consequence, the activity pool effectively slims dramatically post-900. Soon, the only things worth running are Nightfall strikes, weekly bounties, designated challenges, and occasional quests or activities with a Prime Engram reward. And the raid, if you’re strong enough.
Luckily, Vex Offensive, the biggest new addition mode-wise, is a fun six-player co-op mode. Together, your team works to obliterate waves of Vex in The Black Garden, with each area and stage getting progressively more brutal. At the end, you take on a boss, but not until you’ve whittled down its shields with beamguns that specific enemies drop. It’s not the most robust activity Destiny 2 has introduced—if anything it has the most in common with Escalation Protocol—but with how much loot that drops from not just enemies, but the chests at the end of each of the three areas, it’s well worth the time.
Which brings me to Shadowkeep’s biggest issue for veteran players: there’s hardly any new loot. The campaign, in a neat twist, has you push onward to craft a full set of “Dreambane” armor to unlock a mission. But by the time I had gotten to that point in the campaign, the Dreambane armor I had been steadily crafting was woefully underpowered, and never equipped with enough perks to make me want to infuse them and make them stronger. When I finished the mission that required it, I packed away my Dreambane armor into storage as if I were saving it for a rainy day. The new armor sets, by my count, are very few—though I did recently get a drop in Vex Offensive that matches all my leaf-adorned The Black Garden guns. (If I stick with it, I’ll be in full leafy dress for when I’m properly raid ready.)
System-wise, Shadowkeep overhauls the rest of the armor as well. Now there’s a whole new feature to reckon with each drop: energy, which determines both what “energy” type it’s boosting (Arc, Solar, or Void), and with its number, how many mods you can equip per piece of armor. You might have a 903 power leveled armor, for instance, but it could also just have just 1 Arc energy attached, compared to a 5 energy piece of gear that’s a lower power level. Them’s the breaks.
The lack of new armor and new weapons sting; especially as an on-and-off Destiny 2 player over the past couple years. At the end of Shadowkeep’s campaign, for instance, my main Warlock was awarded with unique exotic chest armor… that’s literally only useful if I run with Arc abilities. As a devout Void and Solar player, it felt like a slap in the face..
It’s an annoying balance for veterans, but with tiered gear to level up, mods to equip, and random perks per drop, there’s still a lot to grind for. I’m still waiting for that perfect bow with the exploding tip and a second perk I don’t loathe. (Such as that sliding one—who the hell even slides regularly?) It’s just a bummer when you get a bunch of loot, and then find the guns are the same ones you had before Shadowkeep. The surprise is gone. It’s indicative of what seems to be Shadowkeep’s central thesis: we love the past, and we’re reinventing it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Still, some of the new loot I do like. The exotic Eriana’s Vow and the legendary Optative are quickly making me a believer in Hand Cannons. Other weapons I’ve claimed as my own include a medley of pulse and scout rifles. But a lot of the drops feel too familiar; like the power level 903 Bad Reputation I got. I shrugged, as I have one buried deep in my storage at base power level 750, thinking when I equipped it, well, I gotta have something to boost me up.
Destiny 2 isn’t masquerading as an MMO-lite anymore; it’s fully an MMO now. And it’s an MMO where we can endlessly customize not just our Guardians, but their individual weapons and pieces of armor too, as it should be. Destiny 2’s customization has never been better, even if I do still loathe consumable shaders.
Strangely, despite my many complaints, I’m still having a great time with Shadowkeep. I’m not quite raid ready yet, but I’m close, and I’m looking forward to getting a raid group together in the coming weeks to tackle the challenge. Raids have always been the highlight of The Destiny Experience™️ for me, and I bet Garden of Salvation will continue that tradition. While I’m nitpicky with aspects of it—the grind to go past the soft cap maybe shouldn’t limit the amount of actually rewarding activities to get you there (which is a problem Destiny 2 has had since launch), the lack of new loot is disappointing, the unmemorable campaign—the overall changes to armor and weapons are all for the better, I think. Shadowkeep’s future is bright, even if its first step is a bit underwhelming.
Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is the same satisfying Destiny 2 you’ve been playing (or not playing) all along. The combat feels good, the art direction’s stunning, the lore is mysterious in all the right ways. But it also fumbles in a lot of areas: its campaign is among Destiny’s weakest, there isn’t a lot of new loot, and its newly introduced systems are so convoluted that I found myself wishing there was a tutorial buried in a menu somewhere. Still, it’s a promising start for the future of Destiny 2, which is really what this expansion seems to be as a whole: the baby steps for something bigger, with no end in sight.