Shadowkeep: A Refreshing Return to the Moon

“Destiny 2’s” latest expansion is not just a rehash of old content; it’s a reimagining

Image courtesy of Bungie.

Image courtesy of Bungie.

The moon’s haunted. ‘Nuff said.

“Destiny 2’s” newest big expansion, “Shadowkeep,” marks the start of the game’s third year of content and the start of Bungie’s newfound freedom from Activision. Released on Oct. 1, players return to a location from the first game, the moon. Only this time, things are quite different.

Let’s start with the campaign. Eris Morn, a character from the first “Destiny” game, has awoken something dark and powerful on Earth’s moon. The insect-like Hive have built a massive fortress, and old bosses from previous expansions, called Nightmares, have somehow come back to life for revenge. The mission: Help Eris stop the Hive and take down the resurrected monsters. Sounds easy enough, right?

Without spoiling anything, “Shadowkeep’s” base story is on par with the previous big expansion, “Forsaken.” The story kept me engaged by sending me around Earth’s moon, looking for clues about the Hive’s assault and where the Nightmares came from. We get to learn more about Eris Morn, a dark and mysterious character who appears to be less human and more otherworldly.

The first “Destiny” suffered from not being able to flesh out characters within the gameplay, relying on in-game lore cards to do all the explaining. “Destiny 2” has given the characters more personality and more story, and it’s Eris’ turn in “Shadowkeep.” Throughout the campaign, we learn about her old fireteam that was killed years ago and find that she is not as insane as we all thought she was. As you collect memorabilia about her dead team, she becomes more human, and you sympathize with her as she grieves. Eris turns from a creepy shadow to a tragic survivor that you want to help.

The cliffhanger at the end tops off the whole mystery that the campaign is based around. The ending brings up a lot of questions and possible theories about our characters and the main enemy pulling all the strings, called the Darkness. The campaign leads directly into the raid, the Garden of Salvation, but doesn’t have a segway period of gameplay like “Forsaken” did. In “Forsaken,” the end of the main campaign led to the events in the Dreaming City, an in-game location that was revealed after completing the main story. It provided more things to do and discover before the raid.

Unfortunately, “Shadowkeep’s” story stops after the campaign and starts a new, separate one with another alien threat, the robotic Vex. Hopefully, future seasons will tie things together a little better. Overall, it was a few hours of monster-killing that served as a good start to the new year of content. It wasn’t necessarily amazing, but it served its purpose and set up another year of “Destiny 2.”

The final components of “Shadowkeep’s” story-driven content are Nightmare Hunts. Nightmare Hunts are quick, three-player activities that revolve around venturing into the Hive fortress to hunt down and defeat a Nightmare. The beginner difficulty is relatively easy and doesn’t require much coordination to complete, but the Hero, Legend, and Master difficulties do. A fireteam is definitely recommended if you want to take down the Nightmare. Nightmare Hunts aren’t exactly the most engaging content, but they are a fast and farmable activity that provides something to test your teamwork and killing skills.

A new content season, the Season of the Undying, kicked off and added additional narrative to the game and tied the raid into the expansion. The season sees the Vex invade the moon with massive waves of forces coming through portals all across the landscape. Stopping incoming Vex grants some pretty decent gear, but where you can get the most bang for your buck is with the cooperative arena, the Vex Offensive. This is a six-player activity that pits you against challenging Vex hordes with objectives to complete throughout three different areas. The final boss fight is like a mini raid that tests you and your teammates. It not only features a new mechanic, but also throws even more enemies at you to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The Vex Offensive has one major problem: it gets pretty repetitive. Three straight runs isn’t really something I would recommend unless you want to turn your brain off for an hour or so and shoot robots. The low power level recommendation holds it back from being truly challenging, so hopefully the arena gets an update to difficulty and rewards. That being said, the Vex Offensive is still a nice side event that compliments “Shadowkeep” by offering a straightforward way to get loot and ties in nicely to the raid, the Garden of Salvation.

The raid is impressive. The Garden of Salvation was released four days after the expansion’s initial release date, giving players time to complete the main story and level up as much as possible. Taking place in the mystical Black Garden, you face off against one of the galaxy’s biggest threats in a wondrous realm far from anything players have ever seen. The Black Garden is a beautiful landscape that mixes organic with inorganic, like a mechanical temple overrun by vegetation. The Garden is something “Destiny” players have been itching to see more of since the first game, and the raid certainly does not disappoint.

I was able to get the hang of the raid mechanics fairly quickly, with the first three encounters going by with few to no restarts. But the last encounter with the main boss really demanded a lot more that I was anticipating, requiring five tries to beat it. Thankfully, my clanmates were patient with me and reminded me of what to do. For “Destiny 2” veterans, the final encounter requires the same level of focus that was needed for an older raid, the Spire of Stars.

Garden of Salvation brings new mechanics that test your team’s puzzle-solving and communication skills, like all raids do, and pushes your management skills to another level. To my surprise, the raid’s ending actually tied back into where the “Shadowkeep” campaign left off. In fact, the final boss wasn’t even the main threat that the content season is built around; the Undying Mind, a major Vex commander, is set to invade in the next few weeks and conclude the Season of the Undying.

Along with the new story, “Destiny 2’s” gear and stats system got a huge overhaul. In the game’s initial release, armor was dumbed down and only featured three important perks that controlled your abilities. Mobility, resilience and recovery represented your character’s movement speed and jump height, how much damage you could resist, and how quickly your shield would recharge after taking damage. With the release of “Shadowkeep,” Bungie rolled out what they called “Armor 2.0” that completely changed armor and stats.

In addition to the original three stats, Bungie added discipline, strength and intellect. These values were featured in the first “Destiny” game and represented the recharge rates of grenades, melee abilities, and super abilities. These stats make loadouts more impactful to different play styles. And on top of that, the new system allows you to put the weapon perks you want on any piece of gear, further enhancing the customizability. Armor 2.0 makes gear more meaningful by allowing you to fine-tune your loadout however you see fit. So if you want to be extremely fast, have a grenade ready every 30 seconds and always have sniper rifle ammo, you can now do exactly that.

Armor 2.0 brings Bungie’s RPG dreams to life and evolves the game drastically; the current game is unrecognizable compared to the initial version. It may confuse some of the more casual players, but the changes bring another layer of depth to “Destiny 2.”

“Shadowkeep” gives players a new, haunting experience that takes the “Destiny” universe in the right direction. Though more content is yet to be released, players still have a lot to work with to keep them occupied until the next season releases. Catering more to the hardcore audience, “Shadowkeep” expands on the narrative and the gameplay with a new gear system featuring more stats and more customization. Since Bungie’s split with Activision and the regaining of control of “Destiny 2,” the future seems brighter than ever for the franchise; “Shadowkeep” is just the beginning.