I’m 14 hours into Destiny 2: Forsaken. I’ve completed the main story, played a few Gambit matches, explored the Tangled Shore, and dipped into the Dreaming City. And yet there’s so much more left to do.
That’s probably my biggest takeaway so far: this is Destiny’s meatiest expansion to date, quite comfortably bigger than The Taken King. Bungie was clear about wanting to turn the game back into a hobby, and it shows. Even without the incoming raid there’s so much to grind for here it’s almost overwhelming.
A look at the new Triumphs and Collections tabs on your UI shows just how much of your activity is now measured and put toward a goal. Every gun in the game has a menu entry, which is unlocked if the gun has dropped for you. You can then make a copy of said gun at any time, and given that the community has picked out some hidden gems even among the less-desirable blue guns, it’s a more useful feature than it first appears. I’m not so sure about Triumphs, which are essentially achievements, and many are similarly as pointless (e.g. get 200 kills with your grenade).
In a similar vein, most vendors offer bounties now. These were in Destiny 1 and always kind-of annoyed me. They are one-stage quests made of mindless busywork, hiding behind the thinnest veneer of narrative justification: “enemy activity has heightened here lately [it’s the same as ever, of course] so kill 50 Fallen,” for instance. But as absurd as they are if you stop and think about them, their inclusion rarely grates, as they can be completed in the background of a more meaningful task.
Now it’s personal
It was a bold move killing off Cayde-6 in Forsaken’s opening, especially given that it would serve well as the gut-wrenching twist at the end of a campaign. Here, though, it’s the hook of Forsaken’s story. Bungie told us this was coming weeks ago, since when the loveable Hunter’s many fans have been more invested in Forsaken than any previous expansion.
The result is a story that feels much more personal than the galactic threats of Dominus Ghaul, or Oryx before him, and it’s all the better for it. Fighting for your very existence often makes for a pretty dull plot: it’s morally uncomplicated, and tends to unite people. By contrast, Forsaken begins as a mission of either justice or vengeance in Cayde’s name, and the questionable distinction between the two is a theme that recurs in meaningful ways. One low-spoiler example is the wedge it drives between his surviving comrades, the Vanguard leaders. Ikora wants vengeance and can’t abide the supposed cowardice of ignoring an attack on one of their own. But Zavala insists on pragmatic restraint, and on defending Earth’s Last City from the dangers which escaped space-prison alongside Cayde’s murderer.
The campaign is still easy, but the new weapon slots make it a lot less boring
Said murderer is Prince Uldren of the Reef. In the first game, he was an ally – albeit an unwilling one, not to mention a prizewinning tool – so his actions in Forsaken raise many questions. But even without that context, Bungie quickly establishes that Uldren is not all he seems by teasing a possible motive and then subverting it. It’s much better-handled, and comes to a more satisfying conclusion, than the confused waste of potential that was Ghaul’s arc in Destiny 2. The writing has improved too, with most of the cringeworthy cliches confined to an exuberant Cayde-6 as Bungie sends him out on a high: “Sorry, not sorry!”, “Ok, now I’m pissed!”, “Just another day at the office!” What follows is deliciously dark by contrast.
After the first couple of missions, you’re made to explore the new location, the Tangled Shore, by completing bounties for Spider (a corpulent, cunning Fallen, instantly one of the more enjoyable planetary quest-givers). With its luminous purple skybox and barren wastes, parts of the Tangled Shore are as distinct and gorgeous as any other Destiny planet, but a lot of it is given over to Fallen dens that we’ve seen before. The two new public events here are great, though, and I suspect most of my post-campaign time will be spent in the utterly stunning Dreaming City, so the Tangled Shore does not outstay its welcome.
A hateful eight
The campaign deviates again from the traditional linear structure when you’re asked to hunt down Uldren’s eight Barons, six of whom are placed on the map as Adventures – a type of side-quest. Accordingly, they can be completed in any order (though they do have ascending power levels), and can be repeated, should some future quest or bounty require it. This is a conscious effort to give Forsaken’s story content more replay value than previous once-and-done campaigns. All told, there are only five ‘traditional’ missions, but if you add the six Barons and the bounty hunting, it’s not much shorter than the vanilla campaign.
Created by Uldren’s most senior baron, the Scorn are a twisted version of Fallen, but they’re far from the paradigm shift most players want from ‘new’ enemies. Lurkers are Dregs with a shield, Raiders are Vandals that can turn invisible, Scarabs are (yet) another form of suicide bomber, and Ravagers will run at you swinging an admittedly cool fire-loaded flail.
Each of the Barons is a character. The Trickster is a cackling Rita Repulsa,the Mad Bomber a petulant child, the Rifleman a cocky blueblood who threatens to put your Ghost on his wall next to Cayde’s. It’s not Shakespeare, but shouting at my PC feels a bit less daft when the shape on the screen is a humanoid alien who’s been insulting me in English, rather than a mute space worm, or a robot sphere who may or may not have even been addressing me.
Each Baron has a few gimmicks to match their personality, though there’s a risk of overstating their impact. For all their tricks, they don’t really ask much of you. They’re the same bullet sponge blobs we’ve been killing for years, except one can clone himself, one goes invisible and can lay mines, and one shoots cluster missiles which you need to dodge via the radical tactic of moving. You may have to hide or run around a bit to outlast or avoid [insert gimmick here], but once you’ve done so, one Baron feels much like another. Both in terms of characterisation and gameplay, the Barons are among the best fights in a Destiny campaign – but that only exposes how limited Destiny’s single-player content is. (An exception is the Rider, whom you fight on a gun-toting jetbike through a series of ever more confined arenas.)
Fortunately, Forsaken’s much-publicised shake-up of weapon slots raises the baseline of its combat dramatically. Anarchy now rules your mouse wheel and your 1, 2, and 3 keys, but it’s a good anarchy: many different gun types can be equipped in these slots, with sniper rifles, shotguns, fusion rifles, the odd grenade launcher, and the excellent new bow mixing freely with the old staples in slots one and two. The outcome is combat that feels more varied and exciting. Once again I can plug half a dozen Acolytes with thumping hand cannon headshots before pulling out a shotgun to smoke a Knight at close range without worrying about wasting my heavy. The campaign is still easy, but the new weapon slots make it a lot less boring. The only downside is occasionally forgetting which button to press for which gun.
Many assumed that Destiny 2’s weapon slot changes – now undone – were made with PvP in mind, since Bungie could never get sniper rifles and shotguns to feel balanced. I’ve only played a couple of matches so far, but they have definitely returned, and the Crucible more generally feels much faster and wilder for it. The full implications for competitive PvP likely won’t become clear for another couple of weeks, but it’s interesting that Bungie has chosen to rest the hardcore Trials of The Nine mode for a little while. If balanced PvP was ever important enough to Bungie to reorient the entire PvE game, it seems the studio has revised its priorities.
In the meantime, we have Gambit, and it is terrific. Two teams of four kill PvE enemies and race to ‘bank’ the motes they drop. First to bank 75 motes summons a boss, first to kill the boss wins the round. It’s accessible, offering something to fans of both PvE and PvP, yet also deep, as opportunities for team synergy abound. Matt reckons it’s Bungie’s best idea since Halo, and I’m inclined to agree: it may be the most original feature in Destiny.
Finally, a brief word about the Dreaming City. It’s an achingly pretty place: a cosmic Rivendell of alabaster domes and purple crystal, mirrored by a dark other-dimension into which you are occasionally sucked. It’s also a decent size, comparable to the Mars map added in Warmind, and early reports are that it’s packed with secrets to keep players engaged post-campaign.
I’ve yet to get a decent handle on those secrets. I’ll update this review-in-progress once I’ve had a chance to do so (as well as to play some strikes and some more Crucible), but so far, Forsaken has brought huge improvements to the quality and quantity of content in Destiny 2. Many of my own and the community’s criticisms have been answered, while those which remain – such as the ease and simplicity of its single-player – are more easily swallowed thanks to the new weapon slots and subclass powers. Can Forsaken do for Destiny 2 what The Taken King did for Destiny 1? If anything, that may be underestimating it.
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