I can’t think of any other video game studios who have fallen from grace and rose confidently back out of the ashes twice within the space of four years but, then again, Bungie never has been one to adhere to conventional patterns, has it? With 2014’s Destiny (opens in new tab) and its sequel, Destiny 2 (opens in new tab), the Halo studio has carved out its own nebulous path in the medium with a new kind of social experience, establishing precedents that games of all genres have begun to keenly imitate in the process. Destiny is thus an ongoing grand experiment for the developer, with each new update representing another crack at perfecting the recipe for its MMO-shooter hybrid.
Destiny 2 guide (opens in new tab): Complete campaign walkthrough and guides - updated for Forsaken
Forsaken is the latest of these updates, an expansion arriving one year after the release of the base game and several months on from the disappointing Curse of Osiris (opens in new tab) and Warmind DLCs, billed by Bungie as a comeback equal to what The Taken King did for the original Destiny in 2015. That’s very big space boots to fill, given how Year 2 Destiny is nostalgically looked back on as the best days the series has ever seen but, after spending more than three weeks testing out the expansion’s campaign, endgame content, and quality of life updates, there’s no denying that the developer has filled that tall order quite comfortably, and then some.
Let’s start with Forsaken’s campaign, which is, by my account, the best storyline Bungie has written for Destiny to date. Taking cues from TV space westerns like Firefly and Cowboy Bebop, the deeply personal quest to avenge Cayde-6 doesn’t so much as raise the stakes as it does colour them with some much need pathos. There’s no megalomaniacal villain with vague designs for world domination here; this is about friends, family, and the lengths we’ll go to for the people we care about.
It’s a shame that our new antagonist Prince Uldren, who’s responsible for Cayde’s death, ends up being something of a non-entity, a mere cog caught up in Bungie’s lore-heavy fable, but Forsaken’s strengths as a Destiny 2 chapter is in its ability to finally question the “light vs dark” dogma our Guardians have been lapping up for years. Not only is the campaign’s ending surprisingly bleak and provocative, it sets up future subplots for Destiny 2 that are still unfolding across the game as we speak.
The final frontier
In addition to the campaign, Forsaken also drops two new Patrol Zones onto Destiny 2’s crammed galactic map; The Tangled Shore, a collection of asteroids that the galaxy’s hive of scum and villainy call home, and The Dreaming City, the bright, miasmic motherland of The Awoken, and Bungie’s vision for a new kind of endgame playground. It’s easy to forget that Destiny 2 is by far and away one of the best looking shooters out there, but both of these new areas are happy to remind you all over again.
The Dreaming City, in particular, is a must-see destination, not just because its otherworldly skyboxes of dewy mists, craggy rocks, and peaking pearly towers is a resplendent feast for the eyes, but the environment continues to transform and permutate with every passing week. Even recently, new dungeons, secrets, characters, and visual variations have appeared without warning via the weekly reset, adding yet further intrigue and draw to its appeal as an ethereal sandbox for high level Guardians.
The Dreaming City is also where Guardians can enter The Last Wish, the first full new Raid since last year’s Leviathan. Bungie wasn’t messing around when it promised a real challenge for veteran Guardians to sink their teeth into, and while I still think Guided Games needs be better at enfranchising those who don’t necessarily have the time or resources to even try The Last Wish, the love and care that’s gone into Forsaken’s Raid is evident from the very beginning.
It’s really, really hard, but - unlike Leviathan - Last Wish handsomely rewards those who put in the investment needed to beat it, well beyond the immediate gratification of Exotic loot. Not only that, but by showing the aftershock of the Raid’s completion upon The Dreaming City via a continuous stream of new content, Bungie has imbued The Last Wish with more meaning and connection to the wider Destiny universe, demonstrating a knack for organic storytelling that the studio hasn’t shown interest in since the early days of Destiny.
Elsewhere, Crucible has finally found rejuvenation as a viable and enjoyable use of time in Destiny 2, now that Bungie’s made its long awaited revisions to the sandbox systems and time to kill ratio, creating a faster but ultimately fairer playing field. The revamped weapon and armour slots, where certain weapon types are no longer bound to certain slots, allows players to experiment more freely with differing character builds and play styles, which in turn makes it easier to adapt to the evolving competitive meta.
Then there’s Gambit, Forsaken’s PvP/PvE hybrid mode, which is barrels of fun purely on the basis of its originality as a multiplayer experience alone, though Bungie is still figuring out the small print when it comes to ensuring a balance amidst the armoury of new weapons that players are now deploying against each other.
And it's in the small print where Forsaken could definitely use some extra work, as Bungie is still struggling to make sure every aspect of Destiny 2 is as rewarding as it is enjoyable to play. Bounties, for instance, have made a welcome return, but they remain almost just as problematic as they were in the first game. You still need to purchase each Bounty from vendors manually, adding unnecessary travel time to Guardians who just want to get through their weekly grinds, forcing them to visit the Tower, Dreaming City, and Tangled Shore before they can even make decent headway.
Speaking of The Dreaming City, its new, high level public event The Blind Well is a much more entertaining spin on Warmind’s wave-based Escalation Protocols, but right now it’s too difficult to find enough nearby Guardians to complete even the lower tiers of the activity. And when you do find yourself in a steady rhythm of levelling, Bungie seems to have taken the criticisms of overabundant Exotics way too seriously, frantically taking it to the other extreme as a result. When once they used to drop like candy, I’m now 30 hours into Forsaken and can count the amount of Exotics I’ve come across on one hand. Finding the right balance between payoff and progression can be tricky, but the stinginess of the new drop rate is a real demotivation against replaying certain activities right now.
At least the new Exotic gear that does drop is always a nice surprise. You can tell the new bow weapon types have been a real labour of love for Bungie, where every twang and quiver of arrow and string channels itself perfectly from controller to screen, while Forsaken’s exclusive pieces of Exotic armour all come equipped with deliriously creative perks that wouldn’t look out of place in a Borderlands game.
Forsaken has also added three new subclass trees to Destiny 2’s Titan, Warlock, and Hunter classes, injecting the combat with yet more dynamism and variability, and the added supers and special abilities that Guardians can wield as a result are both wildly devastating and visually striking, not to mention gleefully fun to deploy.
The Titan’s Thundercrash is my new personal favourite, letting you launch yourself into crowds like an electric missile with a death wish, while the Hunter’s Blade Barrage and Warlock’s Nova Warp ensures every class feels like a superhero discovering their new powers all over again, with the potential for experimental fireteam compositions once again significantly raised.
If Destiny 2 never really clicked with you, Forsaken’s not going to change your mind, nor does it intend to. Instead, this is Bungie’s apology letter to those who have stuck with the game through all its ups and downs over the past year, sealed with a promise to begin a new era of Destiny that’s better for everyone. There’s still plenty of work to be done to spruce up Destiny 2’s sustainability and accessibility over the long term, but Forsaken’s cleared away the rubble left by Year One’s failings and erected something much more impressive in its place.
Not only that, but the weekly updates that continue to keep The Dreaming City interesting suggests Guardians will, at the very least, have plenty to be getting on with while Bungie works out the finer details of its updated systems. Cayde-6 may be dead, but Destiny 2’s heart beats on stronger than ever.