It has been a tumultuous year for Destiny 2. The base game was good, polished and filled with typically superb Bungie design. However, a couple of months after launch it became apparent that there wasn't enough depth, and the things that got many of us hooked in the first place were exchanged for shallow systems and a more streamlined overall experience. Additionally, the first expansion (Curse of Osiris) was a concoction of mediocrity, and around that time it was discovered that Bungie had kept players in the dark about how experience points in the game worked presumably so they could sell us stuff via microtransactions. Bungie made an effort and declared it was time to listen to fans and when the second expansion (Warmind) was released, it actually felt like they were on the right track. Just a year after Destiny 2 was released, now comes Forsaken.
Everybody loves a good comeback, when a game is released to a mixed reception and then it works its way to greatness. Rainbow Six: Siege is one example and the first Destiny is another. The real question is how Bungie could let it happen again? We fully understand that you may not be prepared to give the studio the benefit of doubt for a second time, that the Destiny ship has sailed when it failed to respect its players' time. But if you're still there, you can at least be happy because Forsaken is actually really good.
We've been playing Forsaken for just over a week now, approximately 85 hours in total for this review. The rating below reflects that experience, from the first mission to the endgame. We have definitely not seen everything (the raid is releasing later this week, for example) and secrets are constantly popping up around the game world. However, we feel confident about the experience in its entirety and when more content surfaces it will most likely not affect the score in a negative sense.
By now, the vast majority know what Forsaken is about. The fan favourite gunslinger Cayde-6 dies in the first mission, murdered by Uldren Sov, and what plays out after is like an old western starring Clint Eastwood. There's not much more to it than that, but it's a tight story arc simply constructed, and although it sounds thin, it's not bad at all. Usually, the future of the solar system is under threat from all kinds of space gods and angry extraterrestrial races. The motivation here is much more personal, closer to the heart, and as a result, the investment is much more rewarding. Bungie succeeds in creating a story with clearly defined parameters, motifs, and characters that work regardless of whether you've played Destiny since 2014 or if you've just got started.
The final goal is, of course, to take revenge on Uldren after he initiates a mass escape from The Prison of Elders, where the universe's scum is held behind bars. To get to Uldren you need to first take out his companions, the barons, and this is the foundation of the campaign. There are eight of them in total and immediately after the intro, you're free to chase them down in any order you like. Structurally, it works significantly better than the more linear campaign from the base game and although the quests follow a curve that requires you to reach certain power levels, it feels much more open.
The best thing about this setup, however, is that we get eight missions that are incredibly varied, especially if we compare them to how a typical mission in Destiny usually plays out. The barons have their own personalities that make every battle feel unique. For example, the Trickster thinks it's hilarious to put out small traps in the form of engrams that usually contain loot - when a member of our Fireteam shouted: "LOOK, AN EXOTIC ENGRAM", only to realise that he had been cheated, the laughter echoed around our party chat. Alongside the barons, there is also a new enemy type called the Scorn. They are yet another version of the Fallen, although they still manage to differ enough from the original model to actually feel new.
To really set the mood there are gorgeous cutscenes that we thought were outstanding and that helped build both characters as well as the game world. Bungie has managed to capture the little details directly from the experience and the separation between gameplay and rendered sequences that we see so often isn't apparent here. Watching the Cayde-6 double jump and activating his superpowers should make any Destiny player smile. It finally feels like Bungie is starting to find a way to structure its campaigns and narrative while maintaining that feeling of an open and active game world, and we really hope they continue to develop future content in this particular direction.
The campaign focuses primarily on two new destinations. The Tangled Shore (older players will certainly remember The Reef) and the Awoken's residence, otherwise known as The Dreaming City. The story and the pursuit of the barons take place mostly on The Tangled Shore, and it is a great location built using space junk and asteroids held together with chunky chains and filled with secret caves and barren plateaus. It feels like the old west, and with the lush purple sky, it's an outstanding destination to explore. There are also recurring and new characters like The Spider and Petra Venj onhand for you to interact with. Then, when the campaign is approaching its end, it's time to kick down the gates to The Dreaming City and the first time we set foot here we nearly fainted. This is probably the best-looking landscape Bungie has created. Ever.
The name of the city tells you something by itself; it's a dreamy place inspired by fantasy stories like The Lord of the Rings - but with space magic and aliens instead of hobbits and gold rings. Just walking around and realising the scale of it, the layers of secrets waiting to be found, is an experience in itself (but we won't spoil anything - The Dreaming City is meant to be experienced firsthand). Just know that there will be secrets tucked away, challenging activities to uncover, and strange cats all over the place. The campaign could be a little longer, sure, but some of the story elements will apparently continue over into the raid. Still, a couple of extra missions wouldn't have hurt in an expansion of this size. In addition to the campaign itself, there are a couple of new strikes (assignments for three people) including one of the best that Bungie has created: The Warden of Nothing. This mission is complete brilliance in terms of how the studio respect older players, feeding us nostalgia via an adventure that feels engaging from first to last shot.
Of course, it's more than just a new story and new destinations. Just like in the case of The Taken King (the beginning of the second year of the first Destiny), Forsaken includes a lot of big changes. Some things are included in update 2.0.0 that you don't even need to own Forsaken to experience (such as weapon placement and balance changes), while other things are directly linked to the expansion. The new subclasses are one such example. Each class has got three new skills trees, which means nine brand new superpowers to use, and they actually feel surprisingly well-crafted and fun to use. The Warlock class has finally got the means to embrace the more traditional support role that many have longed for, and the Titan class has a super cool new attack which turns the player into a human missile that fires into unsuspecting enemies. In short: there is much to experiment with, and it feels like an injection of energy into an already overwhelming sandbox of features.
How weapons are handled, or rather placed, has also changed - for the better. Bungie has changed the classification of the various weapon types and opened up more ways to combine and experiment, letting you better tailor things to suit your own play-style. For example, you can equip three shotguns now, but keep in mind that the ammunition will run out must faster because all three share the same ammo. The brand-new bow also feels great and fills a gap that we didn't even know existed. With any major expansion, new weapons and equipment are to be expected, and what we've seen so far looks interesting. It often takes a couple of months before everything is worked out and it's possible to say what is good for what but there is a lot of content to explore in Forsaken. All new weapons have also been updated with randomly generated perks, something completely missing in Destiny 2 before now, adding new value to collecting weapons and then comparing and testing new combinations.
By now you have probably already heard of the new Gambit mode. It's PvE meets PvP in a new mode that offers some of the most enjoyable action we've found in Destiny before. Maybe ever. In a team of four people, you're tasked with killing enemies quickly and banking motes, while the other team does the same thing in another mirrored arena. The team that banks 75 first must then kill a boss to win the round. The twist is that at different intervals in the match (specifically when every 25th mote is banked) you can jump through a portal to teleport to the opponent's arena and start some trouble. If you get killed with motes on your person you lose everything, which means that games can swing when the right strategies are used. It's really fun, sweaty, frustrating, and rewarding. We have played over one hundred matches this week and the excitement of the final seconds of a match when both teams are roughly equal and both are trying to melt their boss is almost unbeatable. Gambit is very much here to stay.
At the time of writing, a week after release, Forsaken is riddled with irritating bugs. Some rewards don't work properly, and it's difficult to hold a team of four together between Gambit matches due to lost connections. There is nothing that ruins the game itself at the moment and Bungie is no doubt working like crazy to fix the worst of it, but it certainly creates some irritation from time to time. However, we're pleased with Forsaken. Actually, we're more than satisfied. Looking back at the past year, it was hard to imagine that Bungie would actually succeed in getting things back on track and once again find what we and so many others loved about Destiny. The beginning of the second year is off to a great start and we really hope that Bungie can avoid any more unnecessary problems in the future. One thing, however, is clear: Destiny 2 has never been so good.