Two titles in, Destiny has begun to exhibit a pattern. There’s the initial game release - one with interesting ideas but flawed execution, with a lack of things to do at the end of the game. Then two minor DLC releases, adding some extra content but not really fixing core issues. And then, a year post-release, a major expansion that borderline reinvents the game, adding a host of new material while enriching everything else. For the first Destiny, that was The Taken King. For Destiny 2, it’s Forsaken.
Forsaken kicks off with the much-publicised death of fan-favourite character Cayde-6 (formerly voiced by Nathan Fillion; now voiced by an eerily accurate impression by Nolan North). From there, it turns into a straightforward bounty hunt, the player working their way up a chain of escaped criminal masterminds - before it becomes something entirely stranger. Players will visit new locations, meet new characters, and do new things; it’s a sizeable addition to the game, introducing new ideas that pave the way for Destiny storylines to come.
Much of Forsaken’s new content takes place in two new locales, both of which reside within “The Reef,” an area of the asteroid belt inhabited by the mysterious Awoken. The Tangled Shore, where most of the main campaign takes place, is a mess of rocks chained together floating through space; definitely the most alien of Destiny's landscapes thus far. It’s inhabited by the Scorn, the fourth (!) version of the alien Fallen seen thus far, which range from carbon copies of other enemies to some truly infuriating new mechanical challenges. It also plays host to the Spider, an overweight Fallen entrepreneur who provides bounties, missions, and a delightful Tom Hardy-esque vocal performance. The missions undertaken on the Shore are more varied than what the game's delivered before, even bringing friendly AI combatants into the series for the first time.
But it's the endgame destination - the Dreaming City - where Bungie truly outdoes itself, in terms of both visual design and obtuse mechanics. Destiny has always been at its best when it’s been weird, and Forsaken leans in hard to its space-fantasy trappings. Accessible only after finishing the main campaign, the Dreaming City is a glittering, gorgeous place, full of deadly enemies to be shot at, arcane rituals to be undertaken, high-level gear to be earned, and cats to be appeased (really!). There’s even a Lovecraftian undercurrent to the whole thing, with the map occasionally shifting to an “Ascendant Plane” that twists the beautiful landscape into a dark, twisted alternate reality.
A major new addition to the game - occupying pride of place on the game’s Director screen - is the brand-new “Gambit” activity. Blending PvP and PvE mechanics, it tasks two separate teams with killing AI enemies and collecting the “motes” that drop from them. Banking those motes both summons enemies to block the other team, and builds up towards summoning a boss for your team, the defeat of which wins the round. But there’s more: every so often, a portal will open, allowing players to invade the opposing teams’ games and wreak havoc, either losing them unbanked motes or healing their boss. This tangle of mechanics enables a staggering array of tactical depth, mandating intelligent team play, and it’s among the best-balanced bits of game design Bungie has ever achieved.
It wouldn’t be a Destiny expansion without new gear and abilities. Most visible is the new bow-and-arrow weapon class, which is so goddamn satisfying to use - useful at medium and long ranges, with a satisfying tactile “pop” - that the familiar, more gunny weapons seem old and stale by comparison. Each character subclass has brand-new ability options available, expanding the range of potential playstyles for both co-operative and competitive play. Finally, we can shoot laser beams out of our freakin’ hands. The space-wizard fantasy is real.
Destiny players often talk about the game’s "grind" - the drive for ever more-powerful gear - in both positive and negative terms. Bluntly put, it's what keeps us playing, and maintaining a balance between variety of play, pace of upgrades, and meaningful rewards is something Bungie has often struggled with. At this early stage, however, Forsaken appears to bring the Destiny grind closer to an ideal than ever before. There's a much wider variety of things to do, from difficult remixes of pre-existing features to the entirety of the Dreaming City. It’s also more resource-intensive to upgrade items, encouraging players to try out new equipment as they receive it. There’s so much to do - between daily and weekly bounties, world activities, and multiplayer events - that there’s almost a sense of choice paralysis. That’s new to Destiny 2, and it’ll be interesting to see how the player base acclimates over time.
Perhaps most welcome, though least headline-grabbing, are a host of quality-of-life upgrades. A major complaint with the sequel was that it had taken steps backward, removing features present in its predecessor. Many of those features have now been restored, and where they haven’t, they’ve been replaced with interesting hybrids of systems from both games. Loadouts are now more fluid. Shaders can be deleted en masse (though perplexingly, only in stacks of five). Thanks to some strong UI upgrades, it's now clearer how to advance one's Power level, attain new gear, and discover the various activities the game has to offer. There's more incentive to do a wider array of things now, and that's great for sustained play.
Destiny 2 is a shooter in its moment-to-moment mechanics, but it’s an MMO in its attempts at longevity. Bungie wants the game to be a hobby you return to weekly or daily; a place where you hang out with friends as you shoot aliens with the best sci-fi weapons in video games. Psychologically, that’s a bit dodgy, virtually mandating that players regularly drop money on new content, lest they get left behind - but when you realise the game’s designed to be your primary gaming destination, it’s a little more understandable.
For me, Destiny is a social activity as much as anything. It's how I keep in touch with friends around the world. Forsaken expands the range of ways I can do that, and makes the experience more enjoyable all around. And what’s more, this review is being written without having played the new raid - traditionally the best and most team-oriented activity in any given Destiny release. That arrives this weekend, and though my clan Burger Party Squad will almost certainly not be ready at launch, we'll get there.
That’s the thing about Destiny. Slow and steady progression wins the race. It's true for players, and as Forsaken proves, it's true for the developers too.
UPDATE: Now that a fireteam has completed the Last Wish raid, the story has advanced in-game, unlocking a new strike and altering various things around the game world. Bungie has clearly learned from Fortnite's experimentation in live, in-world storytelling, and the results are mighty interesting.