Exploring Destiny 2: The Final Shape – An In-Depth Review-in-Progress

With a character-driven story and a focus on enhancing its gameplay on nearly every level, The Final Shape feels like what Destiny 2 has been trying to be all along.

By Phil Hornshaw on June 6, 2024 at 2:53PM PDT

It’s impossible to think about The Final Shape without the context of the last 10 years, seven other <a href="/games/destin…

2-expansions, and four original Destiny expansions, plus the campaigns that came with the releases of both games. This eighth Destiny 2 expansion is, to some degree, the culmination of the somewhat haphazard decade-long journey that the first game spawned. And while the story itself hasn’t always been consistently building toward a conclusion, there’s a clear, mostly positive evolution across all those steps that informs what The Final Shape is to Destiny as a whole.

I’ve noted in the past when expansions were high water marks for Destiny 2 as a game, but this is something else. The Final Shape isn’t just another step forward in a long march of progress, but a leap. At least so far, two days in, The Final Shape is as close as Destiny has ever gotten to the original promise of the game when Bungie first described a shared-world sci-fi fantasy shooter set in a strange and far-flung future. This isn’t just Destiny 2 as the best it’s ever been–this is Destiny 2 as it always should have been.

It all begins with a story campaign that plunges players into the Pale Heart of the Traveler in an effort to thwart the Witness, Destiny 2’s arch-villain, from harnessing the game’s complex, physics-defying abilities to alter reality itself. It’s clear from the start that developer Bungie has opted for a fresh approach in these chapters, preferring simple, character-driven narratives over its typically intricate, technical plots. The Final Shape is easily the finest narrative Destiny has unfolded in an expansion, articulating the stakes and the emotional undertones effectively, and guiding players from the outset to a direct confrontation with the Witness.

The narrative benefits significantly from the Pale Heart itself. Each expansion in Destiny 2 typically introduces a new celestial body or locale filled with intriguing event locations, but the Pale Heart is inside the Traveler, the mystical robotic deity at the franchise’s core for a decade. Embracing this fantastical aspect, it presents an environment that is peculiar, familiar, eerie, and often striking in its artistic design.

The Pale Heart’s reality springs from the memories and emotions of those within it, reconstructing well-known sites from across Destiny’s lore, though often in unusual combinations or altered by sinister influences. It stands out as both a paradise and a nightmare within the Destiny universe, fully indulging in the game’s more peculiar facets, which are among the highlights of Destiny 2. This environment offers a broad array of locales conducive to battles, exploration, and climbing, providing a myriad of fresh gameplay situations and combat challenges that revitalize familiar actions after a decade.

The campaign merges numerous outstanding features of past Destiny 2 gameplay to forge an exceptional experience, particularly in the challenging Legendary mode. It presents the most mechanically intricate campaign to date, with every major combat engagement incorporating an additional challenge, such as a harmful atmosphere necessitating periodic interactions with a specific object to acquire a protective aura, or foes that release “runes” upon defeat aligned to specific locked doors, challenging players to recall earlier seen symbols to use the correct keys.

Destiny 2’s campaign and broader game content, particularly in the tougher raids and dungeons, benefit from the inclusion of complex gameplay elements which, despite their simplified nature in the campaign, retain an engaging quality. These introduce a strategic component to the otherwise straightforward action of combating alien foes, enhancing the overall fun and dynamism of the gameplay without tipping into frustration. The multitude of fresh and appealing mechanics found in both the campaign and throughout the Pale Heart makes every aspect of The Final Shape stand out, presenting a continual sense of novelty and excitement.

The addition of a new enemy faction, the Dread, infuses the game with a variety of new enemy types that thoroughly alter the dynamics of combat. Unlike prior expansions that introduced minor changes, the Dread’s impact on tactical engagement is profound. Predominantly, they wield abilities that were traditionally exclusive to players, utilizing debuffs and positional manipulation to challenge players in new ways. The tactical shifts brought about by the Dread, particularly their capability to disrupt player positioning and expose them to risks, significantly enhances the combat scenarios of Destiny 2, introducing new layers of challenge and strategy to the gameplay.

Within The Final Shape, level design follows strong principles, although it tends towards smaller, more confined arenas that intensify encounters with the Dread. These constrained settings increase the threat posed by the enemy’s skills in controlling the battlefield and displacing players from cover. However, these settings can occasionally restrict the fluid movement and speed that is characteristic of Destiny 2’s combat system, especially during the Legendary campaign. While these focused environments offer new challenges, they sometimes limit the expression of the game’s core combat dynamics.

Another prominent feature introduced in The Final Shape is the Prismatic subclass, offering players a new array of combat options. Unlike previous subclasses centered around specific themes, the Prismatic subclass allows for the amalgamation of abilities from existing subclasses, fostering novel synergies. While it might not be as revolutionary as previous subclasses upon their debut, the potential for creative combination and optimization of powers, weaponry, and armor offers players the opportunity to enhance their effectiveness and enjoyment through strategic experimentation.

Bungie has been refining its subclass abilities intensively, ensuring that each offers unique gameplay styles and applications. These enhancements lead to novel and ingenious combinations in Destiny 2’s vibrant sandbox environment. The latest update, Prismatic, doesn’t reinvent the game but enhances it with new Super abilities and perks via The Final Shape, and introduces Transcendence—a “mini-super” that includes a distinctive grenade and other subtle perks. The ability to blend tactics such as freezing, igniting, or rushing with electrified speed augments the gameplay, allowing for dynamic and exhilarating new experiences.

However, it’s the narrative approach of the campaign that leaves a significant impact. Traditional Destiny 2 expansions are often criticized for their convoluted and unfocused stories involving unknown antagonists and confusing plot devices. These expansions, aiming to cater both to newcomers and the uncommitted players, usually shirk from deep, immersive storytelling. This results in narratives that neither engage the veteran players nor satisfy the casual ones, often being difficult to follow and even harder to resonate with.

In a refreshing shift, The Final Shape breaks from previous narratives, crafting a clear and engaging storyline irrespective of the player’s familiarity with the franchise’s lore. The expansion explores a new, mysterious setting where all players, new and old, learn the rules simultaneously. The campaign succeeds primarily because it focuses on its characters—centering the narrative around their emotions, conflicts, and interactions. Such depth in character-driven storytelling makes every mission feel significant and impactful, not only due to the looming cosmic threats but also because of the personal stakes involved in the present moment.

What truly sets The Final Shape apart is Bungie’s newfound confidence in its world-building and storytelling, expecting players to understand or intuit the context of relationships and plot dynamics. The narrative occasionally pauses to delve deeper into character development through cutscenes, heartfelt monologues, or intimate campfire discussions. This approach makes for a campaign that not only engages players but also invites them to care deeply about the unfolding events, distinguishing it significantly from other narratives in the series’ history. This campaign might lead one to ponder how different the game could have been if such narrative care had been a consistent element across Destiny 2’s storytelling in the past decade.

The Final Shape, the latest expansion in the Destiny 2 saga, cannot be fully appreciated just yet. Completing the primary campaign reveals the Pale Heart for further exploration, dense with additional missions. Initially, the quality of both the new destination and the subsequent missions holds up impressively. It’s important to remember, however, that an expansion isn’t wholly understood until the raid drops, and in The Final Shape, that means awaiting Salvation’s Edge to fully resolve the ongoing narrative with the Witness.

Despite minor concerns like the sizes of the arenas, it feels like The Final Shape is epitomizing what Destiny 2 aims to be. It amalgamates the essence of Destiny—superb combat mechanics, challenging puzzles, inventive platforming, engaging encounters, unique abilities, rich worldbuilding, and stellar art direction—bringing these elements together more cohesively than before. Key characters are integral to the narrative, deepening the engagement with the unfolding war and its impacts. Improvements to the user interface enhance gameplay clarity, making standard MMO operations more manageable and comprehensible.

While the definitive verdict on this expansion awaits the culmination of its narrative through upcoming updates, The Final Shape is already showcasing Destiny 2’s potential achievement of its ambitious vision. By fusing and refining its best concepts, the game projects confidence and mastery of its universe. As this chapter aims to conclude the current story arc, the anticipation grows not just for how this saga ends, but also for what new adventures await in the universe that Bungie continues to expand.

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