Shadowkeep - Destiny 2's New Light

by Louis Calvert

Shadowkeep – Destiny 2’s New Light
November 26, 2019 Louis Calvert

It’s been almost two months since Shadowkeep, Destiny 2’s latest downloadable content (DLC) update, launched. Prior to launch the developers Bungie spent a lot of time soul-searching and analysing the past couple of years, with the intention of delivering something extraordinary to the players. Destiny’s original launch was plagued with issues, and Destiny 2 didn’t really meet fan expectations (for the most part) until around the end of 2018, when things seemed to begin improving in little steps. For Bungie, and for Destiny, Shadowkeep marked not only a new injection of content and updates for veteran players, but also a raft of changes and tweaks to entice new or hesitant players into the fold. So how did it go?

In short: pretty damn well, all in all — but with some issues. 

‘Shadowkeep’ refers to an alien fortress constructed on the moon. It’s home to one of the biggest enemies of humanity: the Hive, an alien species that is fundamentally hostile to other life. Destiny is a game highly driven by a deep and continuous story, and rarely is that more apparent than in the Shadowkeep DLC. In our previous article we discuss what a new player can expect from Destiny 2 so if you’re new to Destiny, jump in there. Shadowkeep gives us a gigantic new chunk of story on top of all the new activities, a dungeon, missions, loot, and characters.

Even before the first game launched in 2014 Bungie talked about the story of Destiny as an epic clash between Light and Darkness. After the initial introduction, Destiny 1 doesn’t really deal much with the Darkness at all, focusing instead on the ‘smaller’ threats of the alien Fallen, Vex, Cabal, Taken, and the Hive. Destiny 2 has been slowly revealing more about the conflict between the Light and the Darkness. With Shadowkeep we get our deepest dive yet, and it’s definitely worth experiencing yourself — so there are no spoilers here for the story content, other than to say: it’s very good!

In terms of gameplay, Shadowkeep brought a host of tweaks and updates to what Bungie refers to as ‘the sandbox’; essentially the set of rules that govern how everything in the game works. Most obvious was the introduction of ‘2.0 armour’, revamping armour and allowing an expanded range of customisation — both in appearance as well as function. Changes were also made to most weapon types, rebalances and tweaks that mostly seem to have been well-received by the community. As always with modern games (especially multiplayer online games) these tweaks and balances can be expected to continue for the life of the game and on any given week it’s possible to find commenters on Youtube, Reddit, social media, and forums complaining about nerfs or expressing joy at being able to finally use weapons that have been improved. Overall, unless you’re heavily invested in the exact numbers your weapons do on a day-to-day basis and feel the urge to continually monitor said numbers, the majority of players won’t find anything too ‘broken’ or ‘powerful’ right now, and the new armour system breathes much-needed life into a necessary-but-uninspiring part of the game.

In Shadowkeep players have been exploring part of Earth’s moon, a location originally part of Destiny 1. Bungie recreated vast portions of the original moon location and added a great deal to it for Shadowkeep. Players have been (re)discovering the grey landscape and devastated lunar mining colony around the starting location. Further in, the alien Hive have constructed a vast fortress: the Red Keep, and the DLC continues under the lunar surface in vast caverns and claustrophobic tunnels excavated by the Hive.

Players have favourably received Destiny 2’s second dungeon, the Pit of Heresy. It’s a three-player ‘mini-raid’ which is aimed at experienced players approaching end-game and features a challenging mix of combat and puzzles (as well as some truly breathtaking level designs). There are also two new versions of the popular-but-limited Escalation Protocol (EP) first seen in the earlier Warmind DLC, which was based on Mars. The original EP is essentially an open horde-mode PvE (player versus environment) event that occurs randomly on Mars. Any players in the vicinity can take part in defending locations from huge numbers of Hive attackers, increasing in severity until a final massive boss appears. While EP is good, it’s fairly old now and offers no real rewards for veteran players.

On the moon we now have the season-linked ‘Vex Invasions’, where hordes of robot Vex drop through portals which need to be closed. These are tied in with the Season of the Undying series of content and are linked to a range of mini-missions (bounties). Vex Invasions can escalate up to three times, leading to a fight with a more powerful boss at the end. Additionally, the Hive are doing some dark rituals which need to be stopped outside the Red Keep itself. A twist on the regular horde-mode EP format, this feels more like a tower-defense game which requires more tactics overall, players need to work together to prevent certain strong Hive from reaching certain areas. This event escalates several times, getting harder and introducing altered mechanics after a few levels, culminating in a massive boss fight that takes up over half the area and requires a decent level of coordination to complete – it’s pretty epic and feels closer to a full scale battle than anything else. Again this event is linked to a range of bounties rewarding currency and experience, and completing the whole thing rewards all participants with high-level loot unique to this event. Both of these drop-in events are good fun, even better when you’re in a fireteam with your friends. It’s unknown whether both of these events will continue indefinitely, it’s likely that the Vex Invasions – linked to the current Vex-themed Season of the Undying – will end eventually. 

Also new to the moon; ‘Nightmare Hunts’ are a new format three-player activity where players fight through various locations under the moon, killing powerful enemies with special resistances  before fighting a boss. These are similar to Strikes (a Destiny staple three-player mission activity), but they are slightly harder and slightly shorter than average Strikes. Like many of the new (and now older) activities, these can be optionally played at harder difficulty levels for more challenge and greater rewards. 

All in all, there’s a lot of content in Shadowkeep to keep players occupied, and this doesn’t even include the story missions, the ‘Lectern of Enchantment’ (a story-linked artefact that allows players to craft Shadowkeep specific weapons and armour by completing activities to collect materials), the new Exotic weapons (two of which are rewards for advanced story missions and activities), the Season Pass (gaining xp gets you rewards just for playing, including rare and unique items), the Seasonal Artefact (unlocks upgrades for weapons and armour), and more.

Not everything that came with Shadowkeep has been met with community approval. At the same time as the Shadowkeep DLC players also had access to the Season of the Undying. ‘Seasons’ in Destiny are essentially smaller, themed DLC bundles of new content covering two or three months that are tangentially associated with the larger DLC ‘expansions’ that arrive less frequently. For the first time it’s possible to purchase seasons individually rather than in bundles; this in theory means that players can mix and match what content they want, and make smaller purchases.

While players seemed to respond very well to Shadowkeep, parts of the community have been less enthusiastic about the Season of the Undying, complaining that there’s very little content. Since Season of Undying was included for all Shadowkeep DLC owners, it’s not immediately apparent what the problem is. As you can hopefully see from the first part of this article, there’s a considerable amount of content!

However, a smaller number of players purchased Undying only, and this is where most of the complaints come from. For those that only bought ‘Undying (for around £8.50), they got access to a relatively small bundle of items and activities compared to some previous seasons. It’s been noted that this is very likely because Bungie has been working on so many aspects of Destiny 2 that all launched at the same time, they didn’t really focus on ‘Undying as much as they would a future season. It seems equally likely that this was deliberate. It’s clear to see that buying Shadowkeep (and therefore getting ‘Undying included) gives you overall much more value for your money than purchasing only Undying (you get a lot more than four times the content for four times the cost). Similarly, buying a Season Pass (pre-paying for ‘Undying and the next three expansions up-front) again gives you a significant discount on the purchase price of each individually. Buying Shadowkeep after buying ‘Undying comes with an appropriate discount (so you’re not paying for the same content twice) so Bungie seem to be nudging people to buy their current premium content.

Personally, I have to say that the relatively small number of community complaints about the ‘Undying content feel a little churlish. The season costs £8.50 to buy, and while it’s not the most feature-packed ever, it’s certainly enjoyable and that amount of money seems reasonable to me for a few hours entertainment. A single standard cinema ticket costs about the same, after all — not including popcorn.

There’s one last snagging point with the Season of the Undying, regardless of whether players felt that the rest of the content was ‘worth’ £8.50 or not. This season has focused on a vast increase in the number of attacks by one of the main enemies in Destiny 2 — the robotic Vex — and the major activity has been essentially playing a horde mode PvE arena event (which in itself has been good fun). You and five other players fight through hundreds of Vex while making your way to the boss, a giant ‘Gate Lord’. Meanwhile Ikora Rey, one of the main non-player characters in Destiny, has been constructing her own ‘Vex Gate’ using components delivered to her by players. For weeks we’ve watched it being built piece by piece, and it’s been much-hyped that once it’s complete we’ll embark on the ‘final assault’ though the gate to attack the ‘Undying Mind’ and presumably halt the Vex invasions. For those that follow the lore of Destiny, this is very exciting; for those that don’t, the promise of more loot is always nice.

After weeks of construction the day finally arrived. Players logging on were greeted with a message from Ikora. After visiting her, players are told that the gate is complete and it’s time to “tune your loadouts” for the final assault. Exciting, right? 

Actually, no. It’s literally the exact same thing we’ve been doing for weeks — just the ‘Gate Lord’ boss is replaced with a new ‘Undying Mind’ boss that’s actually weaker and therefore easier to kill. No extra loot, no bumped up difficulty, no different location, no new missions, no astounding revelations — nothing. It’s the very definition of anticlimax.

In the community there’s been speculation that maybe something went wrong with whatever the final assault was supposed to be, and a last-minute fix-up was rushed out instead. Others suggest that since (at the time of writing) there’s just under two weeks left in the season with apparently nothing else on the calendar, maybe secret stuff is about to happen and this was some sort of Bungie-fake-out. Still others feel that Bungie just over-reached and failed to deliver.

Regardless of the why of it, the fact is that, despite an overall hugely positive response to Shadowkeep and all the changes that came with it, despite all the vast number of returning and new players that are reinvigorating Destiny 2, and despite the feeling amongst the majority of the community that this is finally the Destiny game we’ve always wanted — the slightly disappointing ending to the Season of the Undying, and a couple of other little gripes along the way, have overshadowed what should have been excitement and hype for the Season of Dawn coming in just a couple of weeks’ time.

Personally, the disappointing final assault hasn’t put me off Destiny even a little bit, and I absolutely would recommend the game to basically anyone who enjoys first-person shooter, alien-blasting, story-driven multiplayer gameplay (especially if you have a few friends along for the ride). Shadowkeep has shown how exciting the Destiny universe can be, and I see no reason to suspect that Bungie are going to fail to deliver similar outstanding content down the road. However, set your expectations wisely: don’t expect to pay the price of a takeaway medium margherita pizza and expect a five-star banquet.