In January 2019, Destiny 2 developer Bungie stunned the games industry by announcing that it had split with publisher Activision and would henceforth publish the persistent-world online multiplayer shooter itself. Shadowkeep, the fourth expansion for Destiny 2, represents the first fruit of Bungie's bid to take back control – and vindicates the developer's decision in impressive style.

That's because Shadowkeep isn't a mere predictable collection of downloadable content: it ushers in a number of fundamental structural changes to Destiny 2 which take it closer than ever to Bungie's original vision for Destiny – of a persistent world supporting an ever-evolving overarching storyline – which didn't really begin to crystallise until Destiny 2.

But, word of warning, if you've never dabbled in the world of Destiny 2 and don't really know what it's all about then the following words might go over your head. We're not explaining the story of the DLCs step-by-step, rather advising on the points of difference you'll find.

New elements

The main new fundamental elements that Shadowkeep brings to Destiny 2 are a complete rejig of the armour and weapon systems, and a progression system which lasts the length of each season and brings tangible rewards whenever you level-up (by continuing to participate in Destiny 2's myriad activities on a regular basis).

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The two of those systems feed into each other thanks to a clever device in the form of a seasonal artefact (the Gate Lord's Eye at the time of writing), which lets you forge mods that complement your play-style, allowing you, for example, to equip your favourite weapon with shield-penetrating or disruptor rounds, or add buffs to your grenades or melees. Judicious use of armour mods provide all sorts of handy perks, so the new armour system counts as a success.

The whole Power system has received a reset, too: when you fire-up Shadowkeep all your existing items will have been bumped to 750 Power, and finishing Shadowkeep's campaign should get you to around 900, at which point you must take on the most exotic activities, such as raids, strikes and weekly challenges, to keep on building your Power levels. Which makes the endgame much more interesting.

Finishers

Shadowkeep even brings a whole new gameplay mechanic to Destiny 2: called Finishers, these let you take down enemies which you have sufficiently weakened using a single blow. Finishers add even more satisfaction to Destiny 2's gameplay, and while they all have the same effect, you can collect different ones (which essentially have different animations).

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Story-wise, Shadowkeep centres squarely on the Moon – a long-neglected planet for those who have worked through Destiny 2's previous expansions. Eris Morn has reappeared there, and once you locate her, you find she has uncovered a mysterious pyramid which seems to be connected to an invasion by the Vex, and is inhabited, due to some sort of timeline trickery, by so-called Nightmares: essentially stronger versions of powerful enemies you have faced in the past.

Shadowkeep's campaign doesn't boast a storyline as coherent as, say, that of the Forsaken expansion, but it's pretty meaty, as a result of adopting a structure which encompasses various strikes and bounty-style activities. Clearly one of its main priorities is to prepare you for the new activities which the expansion brings to Destiny 2's endgame.

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And those are very fine indeed. There's a new raid, entitled Garden of Salvation – which is typically long, challenging and arcane, and recommends a Power level of 940 – along with two new strikes. In addition, there are three three-player Nightmare Hunts – handy for yielding engrams that bump up your Power level when you pass 900 – and a timed six-player activity called Vex Offensive, in which you close down Vex portals by taking out Gate Lords. Additionally, it adds three new Crucible maps, and sees the clever PvPvE Gambit mode go from strength to strength.

Verdict

If you own Destiny 2, Shadowkeep is pretty much a must-buy. It has a far-reaching effect as far as refreshing the whole of the game is concerned, and thanks to the season progression, offers more incentive than ever before to keep playing Destiny 2 on a regular basis.

We suspect it truly reflects Bungie's vision for the game – as opposed to being filtered through Activision's vision for it – and it certainly bodes very well indeed for Destiny 3.