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Destiny 2: The Final Shape

Destiny 2: The Final Shape

Written by Rob Larkin on 6/28/2024 for PC   PS5   XSX  
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The saga of light and dark has been the underpinning narrative flowing through the Destiny franchise since it's launch in September 2014. Ten years of storytelling comes to its conclusion with Destiny 2: The Final Shape. Millions of players have been a part of this ride at one point or another over the last decade and in this latest major expansion we finally get to take on the Witness, the biggest of the big bads the series has ever known; but we don't take him on alone. 

I think it's important to frame here the bigger picture, not just that Destiny has been around ten years but that those ten years were anything but smooth sailing the whole way. This is a franchise marked by highs and lows, peaks and valleys. A trip down memory lane and a comparison of the major and minor DLC releases in that span show this pretty clearly:

Base Game Expansion Year Metacritic GN Score and Review
Destiny   September 2014 76 8   - https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/4538/Destiny 
  The Dark Below December 2014 63 7   - https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/4665/Destiny-The-Dark-Below/ 
  House of Wolves May 2015 72 Not reviewed 
  The Taken King September 2015 86 8.5 - https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/4992/Destiny-The-Taken-King/ 
  Rise of Iron September 2016 72 9   - https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/5244/Destiny-Rise-of-Iron 
Destiny 2   September 2017 85 8.8 - https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/5488/Destiny-2 
  Curse of Osiris December 2017 57 4.9 - https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/5556/Destiny-2-Curse-of-Osiris 
  Warmind May 2018 63 7   - https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/5699/Destiny-2-Warmind 
  Forsaken September 2018 82 8.8 - https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/5786/Destiny-2-Forsaken/ 
  Shadowkeep October 2019 73 Not reviewed 
  Beyond Light November 2020 73 7   - https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/7237/Destiny-2-Beyond-Light/ 
  The Witch Queen February 2022 86 9.5 - https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/7541/Destiny-2-The-Witch-Queen/ 
  Lightfall February 2023 69 5.5 - https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/11803/Destiny-2-Lightfall/ 
  The Final Shape June 2024 89 In progress...

You've got three real low points (post Destiny 1 launch, Curse of Osiris, and Lightfall) where the game was really struggling, marked by three outstanding high points (The Taken King, Forsaken, The Witch Queen) over these years. The first low point was not long after launch. People naturally latched on to the latest offering from Bungie as they still had plenty of credit in the bank from pioneering the Halo franchise. Destiny brought the gunplay people loved, but the game was floundering with the planned DLCs only offering mediocre improvements on a flawed overall design. The Taken King expansion was the first big turnaround and really realized the true potential of the franchise. Destiny 1 mostly rode the bones of that expansion for the next two years until the sequel released.

However, reception for the changes Destiny 2 ushered in followed by a disastrous first DLC, Curse of Osiris, nearly tanked the game. Gone was so much of what made Destiny 1 successful and even certain game modes, but what hurt the game the most was how they had stripped away so much of the power fantasy in a misguided attempt at "balance." Major surgery was needed, more drastic than even the Taken King, and Warmind wasn't it. Forsaken finally righted the ship and frankly saved the game a second time. It rolled back just about every major change and mistake Destiny 2 had introduced. The game rode that success through two more expansions over three and a half years until it's summit with The Witch Queen, which I noted was "the best game state it has ever been." Subclass 2.0 was in full effect, buildcrafting was becoming an art form, weapon crafting was introduced, and there was more to do in the game and endgame than ever before. 

But then came Lightfall, an expansion that never initially appeared on the roadmap until The Final Shape was pushed back. Bungie again fumbled so much of the progress and promise behind some objectively awful storytelling, poorly implemented new features, a lack of new actual content, a terrible design decision to try and artificially add difficulty where it is not fun to experience, and an overall feeling of a rushed project to bide time for this DLC they really wanted to ship but couldn't finish on time. So was all the damage done with Lightfall worth the wait? Well for all those who lost their jobs through layoffs in the wake of Lightfall's failure and missed revenue projections, I'd imagine probably not. But for the extra time bought to deliver The Final Shape in the condition we finally now have received it... well, what we do have is awesome. 

Firstly, the storytelling in the Final Shape might be the best it's ever been. For a game that has to hype up a big bad and deliver a conclusion with every expansion, the stakes were high to finally flesh out the Witness in this one, and they nailed it. The campaign pushes into the Raid and the character development through the NPCs that weave in and out of it all is top notch. There are so many missions where you glance to a side and find yourself allied by other heroes of the Vanguard or its troops that bring the entire conflict to life in ways this game has been missing. There are story points that volley between poignant and solemn memories and comic relief that each add welcome color to commentary.

I was skeptical at the decision to bring back Cayde-6, one of the few NPCs in the Destiny universe to really make a narrative impact but his inclusion not only makes sense but adds exactly what has been missing since his departure. I would imagine the impact of the campaign overall does rely heavily on having been there for so many of the points of the last ten years to fully appreciate. I'm not sure what a new light might think but ten years on, Destiny is a already game for the many who have dipped in already at one point or another. Although there is an updated beginner's guide here.

I think the greatest triumph of the storytelling is the final mission and how it is not locked to the Raid or any other type of exclusive endgame content. Without revealing any spoilers, I just want to note that while the Raid is incorporated into the narrative, the Raid is actually just the penultimate activity. The world's first Raid clearance unlocked one additional final mission that is a bonkers 12-player final assault that feels not unlike the seminal final moments of Avengers Endgame. It inclusively lets every player experience the story's conclusion whether they can put together a 6-man Raid team or not. 

The new playable area, the Pale Heart, is a mad hatter's fever dream of previous locations, but separated from reality just enough to mix nostalgia and platforming invention into a delicious cocktail. Divorced from any necessity of consistency with the outside world, the level design is free to just maximize fun and rewards and sprinkle in enemies old and new. Speaking of new enemies there was some trepidation about the Dread, the new faction of the Witness' own creation given our introduction to one of them, Tormentors in Lightfall, was a rude awakening. Tormentors can be such a pain if the rest of the brood followed the same path the Dread might be an unmitigated nightmare but I'm happy to report that the Dread are not the OP nightmare in walking form one might have feared. They are powerful and unique but balanced and a worthy foe.

While The Final Shape might have been the Witnesses' prefect vision for all existence, the DLC itself is imperfect. The new pathfinder mechanic to rewards is a mess that promotes anti-social behavior. The bounty system was flawed in that players would prioritize bounties over team play in the past; but pathfinder amplifies the disruption and forces players into matchmade modes fully incentivized to hurt the team chasing their own individual goals. There are also some nasty bugs both new (some activities not counting for Episode rewards progress or Warlocks getting less rep in boosted activities) and old (rendering issues making players, teammates, or opponents invisible). A bug granting players double rewards was quickly patched while most of those that actually negatively effect the game have gone yet unrecognized by Bungie.

Episodes have been introduced to replace Seasons, and although billed as the next thing in Destiny's evolution they really don't feel any different other than that apparently they could theoretically be played in any order as a standalone story and don't build off each other. But the actual content is indiscernible from that of any previous season with a seasonal episodic activity and vendor and rewards. So there is some disappointment there with reality falling short of expectations that could have been avoided if Bungie had been more forthright that Episodes really weren't going to operate any differently.  

The other major issue I have, personally is how The Final Shape initially was so antagonistic to solo players. Dungeons especially received an necessary difficulty spike that didn't change overall how they operate so much as severely limiting what weapons and abilities could be used in them, with the introduction of modifiers that locked players into certain classes and loadouts. Thankfully, on this point Bungie listened to the overwhelming negative feedback and promptly reversed course. But this coincides with a major selling point of the expansion, Exotic Class Items, being locked behind a two player activity that can't be soloed. These items have been out for two weeks and I have yet to obtain one as I am a solo player. I can matchmake or in-game LFG into many activities but this one requires steady communication and my Destiny hours are late nights when the family is asleep and shouting callouts into a mic might win me the item and cost me my marriage if I wake a sleeping wife or kid. 

Those class items speak to what The Final Shape gets right most of all, its real triumph: the power fantasy has never been stronger. All the previous missteps with "balance" and all the nerfs of years past stand in pale comparison to the power of the new Prismatic subclass which largely takes the best of all the other classes and mashes them into a monster class, creating synergies that practically break the game. And this is exactly why we play and love Destiny. We are addicted to making things go boom in the most bombastic and fun ways possible and Prismatic dials that up to 11. Don't be fooled by the weak initial taste you might have unlocking Prismatic mid-campaign. As additional aspects unlock and the buildcrafting combines them into overpowered Frankenstein like creations it will quickly become something you never wish to unequip in PvE or PvP. If my overall refrain through the years has been that Bungie's greatest error was that they kept holding back the power fantasy, with Prismatic it is finally unleashed. 

The Final Shape is not a perfect DLC, but thinking back along the 10 year history of the franchise it's hard not to place it anywhere but in the echelons of those previous high points of the game. If the Witch Queen was the previous apex of the game and deserved it's 9.5 I cannot justify giving it anything less, though I would argue it doesn't quite reach that perfect 10 given the bugs, a few missteps with Pathfinder, and my own bias being a solo player feeling left behind by some other decisions. 

As a solo player there were many moments where Bungie was clearly leaving my ilk behind. But on the other hand, they've finally unleashed the power fantasy and given players the tools to be the space wizard gods we've always dreamed of. The narrative the campaign delivers is a worthy and satisfying conclusion to all of those years spent loving this game. With Bungie already starting walking back some of the changes that hurt solo players the most, it's fair to say The Final Shape probably eclipses The Witch Queen as the best this game has ever been. Ten years on and we've arrived at the summit the journey deserved.  

Rating: 9.5 Exquisite

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.  
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...

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