Release Date: September 4, 2018Platforms: XBO (reviewed), PS4, PCDeveloper: BungiePublisher: ActivisionGenre: Online Shooter
Editor’s Note: This Destiny 2: Forsaken review doesn’t take all endgame content or the expansion’s upcoming raid into account. Once we play through all of that content, we’ll update this review with a score.
Cayde-6 is dead, and you’re determined to avenge him.
Bungie’s E3 announcement that the next large expansion for Destiny 2 would feature the death of a fan favorite character made a stir. It also raised expectations for Destiny 2’s version of the first game’s landmark The Taken King expansion. Thankfully, Forsaken delivers, with expansive new maps, a unique and entertaining hybrid PvP challenge, and a story full of mystery. That said, Destiny 2 has not transformed into a character-heavy game; nor has it found a perfect balance between grind and levity for players of all commitment levels.
The expansion includes two new social areas, the new campaign, and new PvP and PvE activities, and raises the level cap to 600. You can also purchase an Annual Pass together or separately, for more content throughout the year. I’m not sold on the idea that the Annual Pass will contain enough new activities to justify paying extra, especially when you’ll get seasonal events for free. That’s might be a story for another time. (Transparency: Activision provided me a review copy of Forsaken with the Annual Pass.)
Forsaken‘s plot builds momentum well, especially toward the end, but some characters still feel under- or unevenly written. The silence of the player character is jarring, and Bungie seems to be doing some adjusting when it comes to dictating what is canon for the player’s Guardian and what roleplaying can be done within the game. Growing pains in that regard do hurt the immersion, but overall the game world is well crafted and adds compelling new challenges to chase. Lore-focused players will experience a different kind of connection to The Taken King, with some hidden quests and surprises. This expansion contains what might be my favorite Destiny 2 moment ever in the form of some payoff on a long-debated clue in the lore.
The story’s major weakness is that it presents a question that it can never really answer. Several characters suggest that the player could solve a problem with something other than violence. Regardless, the main game mechanic is still “shoot things.” The inevitability of the answer wasn’t a major distraction for me, but it does dredge up some old conversations about asking players to solve problems they aren’t actually capable of solving. It’s another case where the tension between what you imagine your player character can do and what the game actually allows them to do clashes.
For the most part, I was happy to move on and explore instead of worrying about it. One of Forsaken’s major strengths is the size of its locations. The endgame location, Dreaming City, is a strained-glass heaven, beautiful and strange. Its polar opposite is the Tangled Shore, a grim desert where nearly every line of sight ends in a ridge or a cliff. Enemies are silhouetted against the sky like gunslingers at high noon.
The Baron enemies reminded me of some of the more unique big bads from the original Destiny. Each fights in a different way and their missions are varied and fun to traverse, if a bit short. I especially enjoyed the Machinist, which sends you hurtling through an industrial area in a tank, and the reality-warping Mindbender.
Also of note in these sections is the score by Michael Salvatori, Skye Lewin, Rotem Moav, and Pieter Schlosser. The music in both of the Baron missions and the cutscenes made me immediately want to find the soundtrack. It’s a big, symphonic score with less electronic sound than Destiny often employs, and it works great. (There’s also a musical in-joke stashed on the Tangled Shore.)
The new enemies, the Scorn, aren’t as big a game changer as the Taken but do bring some cool new weapons. They’ve brought their own version of the Guardian tether, which can immobilize players, and their aesthetic is a creepy zombie look.
Cutscenes are well-crafted, with a distinct Western flavor and a story that kept me guessing what was going on and how the player would resolve some of the questions. In true Western fashion, violence and fighting for coin comes at a moral cost. Characters question whether their motivations are pure or their revenge justified.
Also pretty heavy on the Western flavor is the new hybrid PvP/PvE game type, Gambit. In this mode, players kill enemies to bank points; when the bank is full, a boss appears. Players can also jump from one team to another to take turns killing Guardians. The various mechanics mean the tide can turn very quickly, and it often takes coordination to win.
A three- or four-Guardian team with an effective strategy can make a huge difference in Gambit. I felt real fear when an enemy Guardian invaded, and real victory when my team narrowly won. The biggest problem with Gambit is the long loading times — the Gambit announcer is a fun character, but between loading in from orbit and a brief lobby in his ship, just starting up the best two of three matches can take a matter of minutes.
Gambit is a unique multiplayer mode, and something I’ve been hoping to see shooters do for a while—introduce a game type for people who just want to dip their toes into PvP but aren’t quite ready for or interested in going head-to-head with other humans.
Forsaken also adds a PvE event called The Blind Well, but I haven’t progressed far enough to tackle it yet. I have had a look at some of the Dreaming City’s Ascendant Challenges and secrets. It doesn’t really match the Western theme, and some major questions about what this place actually means to the Awoken race aren’t really answered in the dialogue. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful new part of Destiny 2’s science fantasy aesthetic, and I look forward to spending more time there. With more to come, this might be Forsaken’s version of the Dreadnaught—a new public space that always offers new things to do.
The quality of life improvements are mostly welcome. Material requirements have become more stringent, but it is possible to buy them from vendors instead of farming them on planets. The menu now includes Collections, where you can see the gear you’ve picked up and recover items you discarded. At last, lore cards are available on screen in their own tab.
Of course, all of it comes back around to Cayde. Nolan North replaced Nathan Fillion for the roguish robot’s last mission. His voice doesn’t perfectly match, but he brings the same energy, and Cayde felt alive enough for me to feel real emotion at his death. I’ve spent four years with the Vanguard now, and after two Destiny 2 expansions that felt more like stopgaps than big story, it’s a joy to get back into Forsaken. I expect players will be exploring the Dreaming City and firing up Gambit for a long time to come, especially after The Last Wish, the expansion’s new raid, arrives on Sept. 14.