In my 5 years taking part in Destiny, I had come to consider that there have been points of the sci-fi shooter that will by no means change.

I thought Bungie, the famed creator of Halo, would endlessly stay frustratingly caught between delivering what it’s greatest at and what it hoped to attain. The studio is unmatched at designing exhilarating fantasy firearms to shoot at monstrous, primordial aliens, all towards the backdrop of awe-inspiring, otherworldly vistas. But it’s fallen wanting mixing these high-octane mechanical components with the narrative and social scope of a real massively multiplayer on-line game, in the vein of World of Warcraft and different titles that impressed it.

I additionally thought Destiny would stay beholden to its writer Activision, leading to all types of decision-making and enterprise decisions that run counter to delivering the absolute best product. For occasion, I believed all the progress I’ve sunk into the game on PS4, together with greater than 700 hundred hours of Destiny 2, would stay caught there, the place a dwindling group of my pals nonetheless picked up the game each week. It had by no means occurred to me that Activision, or platform proprietor Sony, would ever let my account migrate elsewhere. I thought-about it a non-starter.

Shadowkeep, the newest enlargement for Destiny 2, has made me rethink all of this. The game now options cross-save, that means I’ve moved my account over to Steam on PC, after Bungie cut up with Activision and bought the rights to the game earlier this yr. The studio has additionally restructured its total launch mannequin to accommodate a brand new free-to-play model, a seasonal battle go to assist fund future expansions, and an formidable launch mannequin that guarantees new actions and interweaving storylines at a gradual clip all through the yr, as a substitute of in massive batches that dry up rapidly.

Shadowkeep itself is not the largest or most formidable enlargement the sequence has ever seen — that continues to be final yr’s Forsaken. It’s additionally not the most spectacular from a story standpoint, as a few of its new missions and actions really feel a bit too steeped in the game’s arcane backstory. But bearing in mind these long-term adjustments to how the game might be designed and distributed, in addition to performed throughout platforms, Shadowkeep is surely the strongest illustration of Bungie’s final imaginative and prescient for Destiny so far.

Image: Bungie

For those that have by no means performed Destiny 2 or its predecessor, there is not a lot I can let you know about Shadowkeep’s plot or the precise meat of the enlargement that may make a lot sense. But to lapsed gamers or these conscious of the game’s normal themes, the game’s Guardians (that’s you) discover themselves returning to the Moon, the unique off-planet vacation spot from Destiny 1.

There, the warriors of the Traveler, an historic life type that may imbue human beings and different aliens with supernatural powers and resurrection talents, are investigating a risk that Bungie has been constructing towards for about half a decade. In the first game, it was known as the Darkness, an all-consuming evil that stands in opposition to the Traveler that always manifested itself in intangible methods, normally by corrupting alien races. The studio dropped the clumsy naming scheme for its villain with Destiny 2, however the normal define stays the similar. It’s an evil entity, and it needs to destroy humanity. So it’s essential to combat it.

This is all properly and good, and gamers that love Destiny lore will have a advantageous time returning to the Moon and reuniting with fan-favorite character Eris Morn. Exploring the previous location crammed me with nostalgia, and the new strike, the typically well-designed story missions, and the six-person raid exercise all really feel like a correct fruits of Bungie’s storytelling evolution with Destiny. There are additionally scores of weapons and armor items to gather and many lofty targets and milestones to spend your time striving for, together with a brand new energy cap and in-game triumphs and titles to earn largely for bragging rights.

Bungie has additionally begun introducing concurrent storylines to assist construct out its narrative over the course of weeks and months of real-world time. When I logged in final weekend, a brand new cutscene confirmed the machine race Vex invading the Moon. It marked the launch of an all-new seasonal exercise, tied to the launch of the Vex-themed raid, known as Vex Offensive. It was not part of Shadowkeep’s marketing campaign, however an all-new separate story thread.

Bungie has a highway map deliberate for the Moon’s endgame “Nightmare Hunts” and Vex Offensive that each construct towards higher-level actions that solely unlock late in October and November, alongside a brand new quest for a coveted unique weapon and the launch of a brand new dungeon (Destiny parlance for a mini raid). This all feels very very similar to Bungie studying from its multiplayer rivals, primarily these in the battle royale scene, about learn how to correctly tempo a seasonal content material mannequin.

Image: Bungie

Yet evaluating the success or failure of Destiny and any of its expansions is much less about critiquing the story or the particular person shifting components, and extra about how the game treats your time. And total, Bungie has overhauled Destiny 2 in stunning ways in which make it really feel prefer it’s stepping a lot nearer to the true shooter-MMO hybrid it was always designed to be.

A standout change in Shadowkeep is Bungie bringing each one in every of your characters as much as the beginning mild degree of the enlargement, guaranteeing gamers don’t spend numerous hours grinding out senseless and in any other case months-old actions simply to be on a good taking part in subject. The studio additionally simplified its infusion system so you may improve lower-level gear extra simply, and completely reworked its armor customization choices to make them extra in keeping with a real RPG.

In some ways, this is proof of Bungie discovering the proper steadiness between overtly demanding and time-consuming “hardcore” gameplay and extra informal fare. Destiny 2’s total first yr was a string of compounding failures that solely revealed themselves as counterintuitive steps months after launch, when the participant base started complaining that there was nothing to do and the game’s deficiencies turned extra evident. Bungie, in its quest to make the game extra accessible and fewer like a second job, had as a substitute drained Destiny of its most significant and sticky components.

Over the course of the final 18 months or so, the studio has been rigorously returning eliminated options, tweaking current programs and including new ones, and total, putting a greater center floor. That approach, gamers can play the game at size with out feeling like they’re pushing a boulder up a hill with out a summit. When Forsaken launched in September of final yr, it felt like Bungie had turned a nook and turned the game into one thing spectacular once more. This has continued as an ongoing, incremental course of over the course of the final three post-Forsaken expansions. But with Shadowkeep, that imaginative and prescient feels extra absolutely shaped than ever.

Destiny 2 is removed from excellent. The game’s aggressive Crucible multiplayer — as soon as occupying a complete half of the unique game — is nonetheless in shambles, affected by steadiness points, patches that arrive at a glacial tempo, and an total lack of developer consideration. Streamers have all however deserted Destiny 2 for that motive alone.

Additionally, Bungie, in its try to carry gamers again to the game beginning with Forsaken, overcorrected for my part. Many of the actions, beginning with the Black Armory enlargement in late 2018, turned far too time-consuming. I noticed virtually all of my pals, who performed Forsaken virtually every day, get burned out and transfer on as a result of Destiny 2 started demanding a lot of their time.

That is much less true now with Shadowkeep and all the methods Bungie has streamlined a lot of its extra obnoxiously grind-y components. And a variety of the previous quests from the post-Forsaken expansions are nonetheless obtainable and far simpler to sort out now that you just’re not struggling towards the energy cap. But I nonetheless really feel like Bungie continues to undershoot after which overcorrect in cyclical trend. I’m fearful Shadowkeep will carry a lot of gamers again (and loads of new ones taking part in the free-to-play model), just for the subsequent enlargement to lose them once more.

Image: Bungie

That brings us to the most vital query about Destiny 2, and one Shadowkeep is not going to reliably reply: the place is this game going, and at what level does it cease being value your time? Bungie has endured a roller-coaster post-launch improvement cycle to appease die-hard followers and reinvigorate its game. It additionally broke up with its publishing associate to assist forge a brand new path and do with Destiny what it always wished to.

By all accounts, that’s panning out. That cross-save has labored in addition to it does — regardless of a large launch day outage — is nothing wanting astounding. That it exists in any respect, partially because of video games like Fortnite, is one thing of a miracle. And for individuals getting into the Destiny universe as free-to-play gamers for the first time, they’re getting their fingers on one thing that I’ve spent lots of of {dollars} on. And I’m not mad these similar persons are getting that content material at no cost; it’s cash I take into account properly spent for the worth I obtained at the time.

Bungie hasn’t stated whether or not there might be a Destiny 3. We know there might be a full yr of expansions after Shadowkeep, as a result of there is an annual go connected that guarantees seasonal content material via subsequent summer season. But a part of the pitch with Bungie going impartial was that the studio would not have to promote items and hit income targets that have been set by one other firm.

Does that imply Destiny will change into a real service game that lives on for years to come back, like World of Warcraft or, in a extra apt comparability, its competitor Warframe? We don’t know. And that does forged some doubt on the way forward for the sequence. Why would I maintain taking part in this game if it’s simply going to get rebooted once more in 12 months? As was the case with the last yr of Destiny 1 earlier than the sequel’s launch in the fall of 2017. And how will subsequent yr’s new game consoles from Microsoft and Sony affect the developer’s plans? We don’t know that both.

For now, although, Bungie is asking its gamers for belief. If I have been requested to make that very same leap of religion final yr, forward of Forsaken and when the game appeared to be at its lowest level, I would have walked away. But I’m glad I caught with Destiny 2, as a result of it’s performed nothing however enhance in the months since. After Shadowkeep, I really feel assured the game will solely proceed to step nearer to Bungie’s grand imaginative and prescient it first conceived practically a decade in the past. And half a decade and hundreds of hours later, I can simply see myself taking part in one other 5 years of Destiny.

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