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Destiny 2’s Forsaken expansion might be the best the series has ever been

Bungie’s latest and biggest expansion is a giant and much-needed reset for its shooter-RPG hybrid

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Image: Bungie

Destiny 2 is a tough video game to judge. It is not anything like, say, the new Spider-Man, which came out last week to near-universal acclaim. If you understand that the latter is a story-driven, single-player action game, and you trust what people are saying and sharing about it, then you likely have a reasonable expectation about whether you’ll enjoy Spider-Man. Meanwhile, you could have spent 300 hours of the last 365 days playing Bungie’s Destiny 2, and I would not be able to say with certainty that you will find the game’s new Forsaken expansion, which also came out last week, to be fun or worth the time, effort, and money it demands of you.

That’s what makes Destiny 2 — and the Forsaken expansion, in particular — such a challenging game to discuss. It is a game that constantly changes over time and to the whims of both its vocal fan base and the sometimes arcane wishes and desires of its sprawling development team. (Many on the team spent their early careers turning Halo into an iconic video game franchise.) In that way, the Destiny game you played three or six months ago may be unrecognizable from the one you play today. But despite its constant evolution, the emerging consensus of the past year is that Destiny 2 is a game that overpromised and underdelivered, costing players $90 for the base game and its two expansions. So the question now is: is Forsaken the time to jump back in, especially considering it costs another $40?

After having spent well over 25 hours with the game over the last week or so, I can say that, on the surface, Destiny 2 is better than it’s ever been. It might even be the best iteration of the series developer Bungie has ever produced. Forsaken massively improves on almost every element of Destiny 2, either by incorporating a working piece from its predecessor or reworking an existing and dysfunctional element until it’s reached a happy medium. There are still flaws and annoyances and kinks to work out, but those pale in comparison to the improvements Bungie has made.

The Dreaming City, a new destination in Forsaken that will house the expansion’s raid encounter, is one of the most visually stunning environments Bungie has ever created.
The Dreaming City, a new destination in Forsaken that will house the expansion’s raid encounter, is one of the most visually stunning environments Bungie has ever created.
Image: Bungie

Crucible, Destiny 2’s competitive multiplayer mode, has received some of the most notable fixes. Bungie has made profound mechanical changes to how weapons are equipped and function, added more power across all subclasses, and created an all-around faster experience that manages to recapture some of the glory and unadulterated chaos of the original Destiny. Even just wielding the new combat crossbow weapon type to secure a victory in a tense enemy encounter is among the best-feeling experiences the series has ever offered.

Meanwhile, the main narrative of Forsaken is meaningful, with sharper writing, a darker tone, more clever humor, and a non-linear structure that rethinks how Bungie tells stories in this universe. Elements from the first Destiny, including randomized weapons that have the potential to be one-of-a-kind, long, and complex questlines for rare exotic weapons, have returned. Newer features, like the excellent Gambit game mode and multistage enemy encounters that up to nearly a dozen players can participate in, are now cornerstones of how you can spend your time.

Forsaken’s Gambit is a perfect blend of teamwork, strategy, and competitive play

Even the menus are vastly improved. The new Collections screen, now placed right within the character menu, lets you access every firearm, armor piece, collectible, and lore passage all in the same place. The Triumph screen, also found in the character menu, gives players a near-endless stream of achievements to unlock, medals to earn, and other boxes to check to keep them busy and working at their own pace toward a goal of their choosing. You’re also given a Triumph score to compete with friends.

All of the above mentioned improvements are so shockingly effective that it’s hard to imagine the game shipped without them, leading many in online forums and elsewhere to declare that Forsaken is what Destiny 2 should have been at launch. Yet you may be wondering why, if the original game didn’t have much of this, have people continued to play it?

Every class in Forsaken has received three new subclass trees, designed as either more offensive or defense alternatives to the game’s existing superpowers.
Every class in Forsaken has received three new subclass trees, designed as either more offensive or defense alternatives to the game’s existing superpowers.
Image: Bungie

That’s a complicated question. For starters, when Destiny 2 launched, it was lauded for the way it better respects a player’s time, with Bungie deliberately removing some of the worst aspects of the original game that earned it a bad reputation over its three-year lifespan. That’s why I made the headline of my initial impressions piece, roughly one year ago, “Destiny 2 is everything fans have been asking for.” It truly felt like the game had improved by ditching its most repetitive and disrespectful elements, or what RPG fans love to call “the grind.” There were also a number of novel improvements that players now take for granted: maps and visible public events, faction leaders, easy-to-find quest lists and milestones, and the removal of terrible, time-wasting elements like weapon perk unlocking and material farming.

But as days became weeks and weeks became months, and the amount of time people spent in Destiny 2 ballooned from a dozen hours to more than 100, it became clear that something was missing. We simply couldn’t see it at first, because Destiny, by its very design, requires a significant time investment to engage with it in all its forms. But even by the end of the first month and into the second, it had become clear to the die-hard players — the ones who raced through all of its content and began voicing complaints in fan forums and on Reddit — that the game simply didn’t have a lot to do. It turns out that a grind, if it’s designed the right way and rewards time spent appropriately, keeps players hooked and happy.

‘Destiny 2’ didn’t have enough to do, and what it did offer just wasn’t that fun

Even worse: what Destiny 2 did offer just wasn’t that fun. The game’s first big raid was a slog to get through and even less fun to repeat, and the competitive Crucible felt flat and uninspired. Everything seemed to come to a head around springtime of this year after the first expansion failed to fix any meaningful issues with the game and Destiny 2 could be well on its way to being considered a failure. Warmind, the game’s second expansion that came out in May, made big strides toward getting things back on track and laid the groundwork for Forsaken. But it’s entirely understandable why fans felt trepidation about this latest expansion and whether it could truly revive the game. Why keep coming back to something that continually disappoints you?

Forsaken, in many ways, is a mea culpa from Bungie. The company has traditionally kept its development process under wraps, its long-term machinations secret, and its corporate inner workings away from the public eye. Over the last year, Bungie has opened up in video after video, with key designers and executives acknowledging the game’s faults and the misconceptions about what players wanted and what would be healthy and productive for the game.

Forsaken’s campaign features a darker story that sees you avenge the death of a longtime fan-favorite character by hunting down a series of escaped prisoners.
Forsaken’s campaign features a darker story that sees you avenge the death of a longtime fan-favorite character by hunting down a series of escaped prisoners.
Image: Bungie

One common theme Bungie has come back to repeatedly throughout is that the makers of Destiny 2 want it to become a hobby again, a game that brings friends together for long and rewarding play sessions many times a week. In some cases, the original Destiny was a game you played every day, and my more than 1,300 hours in that game and the numerous friends I have made through it is a testament to how powerful and deep the relationship it fostered with its players became.

That’s why you might hear some odd terminology flying around the Destiny fandom if you were to go looking these days — saying that Bungie has allegedly “fixed” Destiny or that Destiny is “back,” as if it had taken a long sabbatical in the countryside to find itself. People are playing the game again, vigorously and for hours each day. It feels like the first game, in the best way possible, in that people don’t have to think about why they’re playing it or what they’re getting out of it. There’s no time to question why you’re playing when there’s so much to do.

Forsaken feels like the first ‘Destiny’ in the best way possible

A given play session might involve knocking out a step or two in an exotic quest; completing some daily strike challenges; switching over to Gambit once you have a team of three other friends to play it with; switching to the Crucible to get your competitive fix; and then maybe playing a high-level activity for the chance to raise your light level a few points. Suddenly, you’ve spent two or three hours with your friends in Bungie’s universe. That’s the Destiny cycle, and it’s what its players hoped for the most since launch.

Of course, all of that existed in the base game in some form or another — although it was noticeably less fun and dynamic — and many critics and players, myself included, heaped much of the same effusive praise on Destiny 2 when it first launched. How do we know we’ve gotten it right this time? How does even Bungie know it’s gotten it right this time when players have spent more hours playing Forsaken in the last week than its development team could possibly have play-tested for?

It’s impossible to say until we’ve lived with the game for much longer. But that’s what makes Destiny such an exciting and influential series. It is an ongoing experiment that never stops changing. It may not be the revolutionary marriage of first-person shooter with massively multiplayer online game that we were originally promised, and the game could very well peter out again, just as it did one year ago. But with Forsaken, Destiny 2 is better than it’s ever been and it is undoubtedly worth coming back to. What you get out of it from there is your choice. Thankfully, this time around, there are many, many choices to make, and all of them feel rewarding.

Destiny 2: Forsaken is available for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.