Oh, Destiny 2. You are a conundrum in a game form. On one hand, you are mechanically one of the best shooters available, and it’s so easy to get drawn in to the minute by minute gameplay loops you offer. On the other, you actively push me away, requiring me to grind near endlessly for any character improvement and locking the best parts of you away behind a Light number I may reach eventually. Someday. Maybe.
So, does Forsaken, Destiny 2’s first expansion, offer anything new? In much the way that The Taken King reset Destiny, Forsaken fixes some of the mistakes that made the sequel feel boring and listless. It also presents a story that seems to build to, well, something, and implements a system that lets the player feel like they are accomplishing something in the vast playspace that Destiny offers. At the same time, some changes to the loot and light system feel almost regressive, offering clear paths towards progression, but making the journey up the light ladder feel like an endless crawl up the down escalator.
We’ll start with the positive, though. Bungie has made no secret that Forsaken starts with the death of one of its most prominent characters. Cayde-6, famously voiced by lovable rogue Nathan Fillion, dies during a prisoner riot/escape from the fabled Prison of Elders. In a performance worthy of Nolan North, because it’s actually Nolan North doing his best Nathan Fillion since the latter was unable to return to voice Cayde, your Guardian attempts to help Cayde and Petra, second in command to the Queen of the Awoken, quell the riot, only for it to end in one of the most awesome and savage cinematics Bungie has ever produced.
From there, The Guardian goes against protocol and makes the killing of the person responsible for Cayde’s death a personal matter, giving Forsaken a very Kill Bill feel, complete with a list of dangerous Fallen that escaped with Uldren Sov, the Awoken that killed Cayde, and the brother of Mara Sov, the Awoken queen that Petra serves, even though she too is dead. The reasons behind the escape and where the story goes are a little off the rails, but by the end there’s a nice payoff and a deeper mystery that feeds directly into the raid added for the expansion.
In fact, the way the story plays out through multiple types of Destiny content is a beautiful addition, and it really lets Bungie tool around with quest design and original content. From chasing a Fallen on the back of a hoverbike, to following a mad bomber wearing what looks a giant mine on his back, each of the individual bosses are both challenging and entertaining. The final boss is a bit of a letdown, as Destiny tends to devolve into “shoot the big monster thing” as opposed to person-sized baddies, but the lead up is nothing but fantastic, and the Cthulhu-esque nature of the final bad thing is fun in a dark tentacle wants to eat me kind of way.
Introduced through the story are two new areas to explore. The Tangled Shore, a mass of grey rocks within the beautiful purple miasma that is The Reef, is the first stop for your Guardian. Run by a Fallen named Spider, a four-armed gangster sitting pretty at the top of the alien underworld food chain, The Shore is home to the majority of the baddies you are chasing, as well as having at least one area that houses each of the games three main evil types. Scattered among them, and holed up with each of the fugitives, is a new type of enemy called the Skorn. Resurrected Fallen, The Skorn have a bunch of unit types just built around charging your Guardian and smashing you into the ground as hard as possible. Their ranged units drop into stealth while moving and are super-annoying to chase down, but their different feel marks a nice change from what’s made up the majority of Destiny for the past three years.
Past the Shore is a second, smaller area called The Dreaming City, which can only be accessed after an attunement quest of sorts, which takes you around the solar system after different objectives. Most of the parts are easy enough to do on your own, and even easier in a group. The final part is the only questionable one amidst the group, relying on a random activity to spawn on the Shore. Only having the opportunity to play at night, it took nearly a week for me to finally complete it, and naturally your experience may vary. Were I not trying to review it, I probably would have dropped out two days in, and come back every once in a while, but given that the final mission is locked behind this wall, I stuck it out. You’re welcome.
Helping you through these new areas and baddies are a host of new abilities, each of which, outside of the first, is locked behind the highest level light content available in the game. I hope you are starting to see a pattern with this. The abilities themselves show up as a third branch in each of the subclasses, and each is pretty powerful. As I tend to enjoy the Hunter class more than the rest, I’ve spent a huge amount of time with the new flaming knives solar abilities. Hurling an almost endless stream of flaming death has not yet grown old.
Should all that not be enough for the expansion, Bungie also added in a new PvE/PvP mode called Gambit, which is a ridiculous amount of fun. Two teams of four guardians battle AI enemies in their own instanced level, collecting motes to turn in at a central collection point. Collect enough and you summon in a Primeval, a Taken badass on steroids. Turning in motes in five, ten, fifteen mote increments summons additional Taken on the other team’s side and stops them from turning in their own motes until they clear them out. And finally, to make things even more interesting, a portal opens up throughout the match that allows one player to jump into the other instance, giving them a chance to ravage the other team. Outside of the raids themselves, I don’t think I am going very far out on a limb to call Gambit the most fun I’ve had in Destiny 2, and I hope, with some minor tweaks to a certain sniper rifle, that it sticks around for a good long time.
While all the additions coming with the expansion are good, both the best and the worst parts of Forsaken lie in the incremental changes. On the good end, there is now always something to do in Destiny, and Bungie does a great job of using the map to show you where all the action is. There are both daily and weekly quests, each offering loot in varying in quality depending on your light level. It’s easy to see what you need to do to continue to grow in light, and being able to open the game, pick a thing and know, should you complete it, that you’ll get at least a modicum better feels great.
Where it starts to break down for me is the grind ladder that is the light level. Starting at 500, you begin to hit a series of soft caps where normal drops in the world are simply good for nothing but breaking into their component parts. This leaves your source of leveling light up to completing daily/weekly quests, weekly bounties, and random drops of the new Prime Engram, which is guaranteed to give you an item four-five light above your current level. With the minimum light level to get into the true end game activities starting at 540, you’re looking at weeks of grinding ahead of you. For a person who casually enjoys Destiny, I have resigned myself to only watching streamers run the raid, as I will, if ever, only reach that level of light months from now. And that’s if I stick with it, which, let’s be honest, probably is not going to happen.
Forsaken continues Destiny’s great tradition of taking a lackluster opening salvo and beefing it up with content that makes the game feel complete. Were it not for the superhuman light level climb in front of me, I would have absolutely no issue recommending this the same way I recommended The Taken King. If there was a version of original Destiny you had to play, that was it, just as Forsaken is the definite version of Destiny 2 - as long as you’re willing to make that climb.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!