The Forsaken King
Destiny 2 has been taking us on a bumpy ride for over a year now, a journey I’ve talked about extensively in our review in progress for the newly-minted Forsaken expansion.
So let’s just jump right into it, shall we?
Destiny 2: Forsaken (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Release Date: September 4, 2018
I’ll really get right to it: Forsaken‘s contained campaign is good, and some of the best work the series has seen to date. The willingness to eschew the “MCU speak” silliness of some past storylines has paid off, as Forsaken‘s tale is gripping from start to finish. We kick off with the main course, featuring a huge death of someone that’s been in the series since day one, then we season it a little bit with a revenge tale featuring all of the denizens that murdered said character, and finish it all off with a satisfying and creepy final dessert boss that sets the tone for the rest of the expansion: possibly Destiny 2 as a whole.
The rogues’ gallery miniboss angle is really what holds up the foundation of this DLC. Most of them sport unique personalities that you rarely get to see in a shooter like this, like “The Trickster,” who literally trolls you by providing fake ammo boxes and exploding items. Of course this is Destiny, so there are exceptions. The Hangman, one of the said rogues, is just a giant version of an existing enemy (Ravager), and the only other differentiating factor is that flames will occasionally pop up from floor grates. Destiny (collectively) still just throws adds at you during moments that really should be more intimate, and liberally uses the “immune boss runs away momentarily then comes back” mechanic. Each fight was fun in its own way, but several elicited all-too-familiar sighs.
One confrontation (The Rifleman) features holographic images meant to confuse the player, and I said to myself: “hey, this is the perfect opportunity to have an add-less fight where these holograms can give it a different feel, where one individual is forcing you to fight an army that consists entirely of himself” Nope, that one has adds too. That and the re-use of enemy models is too much. I sincerely hope that in the future Bungie completely revamps how the AI reacts from just about every angle. There’s a problem when I know exactly how a brand new enemy I haven’t seen before is going to react because it’s using the same formula as something that was in the original Destiny four years ago.
That said, the locations don’t deserve the same level of scrutiny. The Tangled Shore, throughout my eight-ish hour campaign journey and beyond, holds up as a worthwhile hub area. It’s a place I can “check in” and turn in bounties from around the world, giving it that extra bit of allure that helps cement its importance in both the universe and the current state of the game. Then there’s the Dreaming City, another endgame hub to mess around in. This one is for folks who are working their way past the soft level cap (500+), or, in other words, beyond the item level that’s easily attainable without powerful (over 500) gear — I’ll get back to all this in a moment if you’re lost.
Anyway, Dreaming City is great. Having a giant challenging zone that sort of “intros” the upcoming raid is a genius idea, and is much more pointed than anything they’ve done in the past. Instead of racing through planets and then shipping off to a completely random location for an endgame activity (like Leviathan) I’m genuinely more invested in the upcoming Last Wish raid, given that I’m spending time right outside its gates. Bungie also cleverly brought back the Court of Oryx endgame public event concept in a much better format than Escalation Protocol; which will probably never stop being fun as you don’t need to rely on matchmaking, or annoying out-of-game group apps, when you just have a few minutes to spare.
It’s not just the same old song either, as gearing changes allow for a little more variation with primary and secondary loadout spots, and the new supers are different enough to make an impact during raids and also expand on the three subclass system. Bungie is notoriously bad at actually keeping up on subclass balance (typically one falls completely behind), so I’m not holding my breath that everything will be relevant down the road. In terms of other quality of life enhancements, a collections tab straight-up in the pause menu is a nice touch, as are Triumphs, which are now not just special rare yearly events, but a permanent achievement-like fixture. These strides feel like the first real upgrade since Destiny 1.
Speaking of upgrades: they’re harder to get now and it’s a tough thing to reconcile, even as a player who has had three max-level characters for every new content drop from Destiny‘s 1.0 patch until Warmind. Infusing (read: transferring item levels) gear is a huge pain due to massively increased costs, most notably the requirement of Masterwork Cores. Destiny 2 just got a whole lot grindier, perhaps more than it’s ever been in the history of the series. It’s a philosophy they experimented with in the last micro-expansion to try to artificially extend the life of the game and are now doubling down on it. If you’re a casual player you might be running into more roadblocks if you’re looking to do more than just story content.
For instance, having to wear a full set of current faction armor for the completion of certain powerful gear milestones (now confusingly renamed) is a pointless requirement and has no place in a game like this. Bungie has just discovered the concept of MMO faction reputation (they had it in previously but it was mostly a nominal way to get tokens) and went overboard with it. Other games also have timers or helpful ways to showcase when these events and rewards reset, but Bungie leaves it up to you to figure out. That helpful “milestone” tab that can be viewed anywhere you’re located? It’s gone, they’re all scattered about the world map now for you to manually find and discern. It looks like there are more milestones now (that’s how Bungie is pitching it), but I’ve found that gearing is even more of a slog with generally less powerful gear yields. Even clan grinding is tougher.
On the PVP side of things — well, the PVP-PVE combo side — there’s Gambit. This new mode is a blend of both styles of play, as teams battle it out against AI troops in their own little map, but have the ability to “invade” an enemy squad to meddle in their affairs, or lock down their point-scoring hub. It sounds complicated, but it’s all really straight-forward: you kill enemies, bank points, then beat a boss at the end to win.
I was highly skeptical of Gambit initially but after finding myself dive into 15 matches just for the purposes of this review, I changed my tune. Each round feels different, and although I typically skip out on PVP experiences in Destiny (I don’t think they’re generally fun and the game isn’t always properly balanced for them), I love this hybrid format. Anything can happen and “hero moments” where you single-handedly turn the tide are much more impactful.
Gambit can also be snowbally. If you really get an early lead on locking out the other team it’s hard to catch up. I’ve seen matches where my team had completely demolished the boss before the opposing side had even deposited one mote. There’s also a bit of jankiness and potential for trolling with the way it’s framed. In several instances I had teammates who swept up all of the motes before I could get them and never deposited them, handing the other team a win. Invasions are kind of wonky with the presence of supers, as players generally encroach, pop them, and kill several foes right off the bat. Even with “leaver penalties” I’ve played in many matches where multiple players level right away after a short deficit. In-progress joining doesn’t solve much: by the time folks get in the damage is already done for that round.
I sincerely hope they actually support Gambit long term. I’m not just talking about one map per micro-expansion, but a legitimate attempt to make this the next big unique thing. To be frank I wouldn’t mind if Bungie eliminated PVP altogether and just focused on Gambit. For far too long it’s attempted to balance pure Crucible PVP with PVE and it just hasn’t worked out. Destiny is a PVE game first and foremost, and PVP just hasn’t reached the eSports heights they hoped it would with years of attempts.
If this review reads like a roller coaster of emotions, that’s because Destiny 2: Forsaken, like all things post-2010 Bungie, is lopsided. There’s a lot of steps forward here and several steps back. Bungie is one of the oddest developers in the business right now as it’s completely capable of crafting a fantastic looking and great playing world, but it keeps making questionable decisions in its attempt to juggle a shooter with MMO elements crudely pasted in.
Forsaken‘s initial story salvo is entertaining, but there’s still work to be done a year into the sequel. Given that the MSRP of everything so far has added up astronomically ($59.99 for the base game, $24.99 for the Season Pass, $40 for Forsaken, $34.99 for Forsaken‘s season pass) it might be a hard pill to swallow. If you’re ready for a guaranteed momentary thrill ride, pony up, otherwise you can continue to wait it out to see if the momentum continues.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. Endgame was reached with at least one character that has extensively played through the Dreaming City.]