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‘Far Cry 5’: A Powerful Vision of an All-American Nightmare

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Belonging. Far Cry 5 asserts that it’s the one thing we all equally crave. Our baser instincts push us to satisfy our bodily needs at almost any price. Yet, it’s our hearts, minds, and souls that drive us to seek belonging. Whether it’s as part of a community, a country, or a cult, finding it can often be troublesome. What is easy for some may be difficult for others.

Our society may be largely post-industrial, but many of towns and villages across the world are not. Just as whole industries were sold off and relocated, entire communities crumbled into disrepair. Generations have grown up and lived in the shadow of inescapable and inexcusable poverty. The very infrastructure of modern life was stripped away from them once they failed to yield a profit.

Sowing the Seed of Armageddon

America has also seen vast swathes of its population systematically vilified and denigrated in the wake of “shifts in market forces.” One such community is Hope County, the fictional area of Montana in which Far Cry 5 takes place. Its farms are struggling, its industry all but abandoned. The local population has fallen prone to crime, violence, and substance abuse. Just as in many real American communities, the system is utterly broken and no one left knows how to fix it. It is a community in crisis and despair; a situation that makes it ripe for exploitation.

Step forward the Seed family: a cunning group of manipulative idealogues who threatened, coerced, and murdered their way to power all in the name of salvation. Your character barely has time to take off their training wheels before they’re sent out to help arrest Joseph Seed. Seed is the founder and leader of a cult that views him and his siblings as the only ones capable of helping mankind survive the coming apocalypse.

It’s a simple mission that immediately goes awry. It sets into motion a chain of events that forces the player to wage their own personal war against the cult and its legions of alarmingly well-equipped soldiers. Along the way you encounter various NPCs who can be called into combat at any time, each with their own associated perks and bonuses to make combat more efficient and fun. There are twelve main companions to unlock via set-piece side missions, each complementing different play styles from dedicated stealth to the kind of all-out approach that would make even Michael Bay think there was one explosion too many.

Ultimately, players progress to the point where they’re ready to destroy the cult and liberate Hope County from its clutches. Taken at face value the plot is no more interesting or engaging than that of any other action game or movie ever made: kill bad guys and save the day.

Far Cry 5 pushes that basic structure further through themes of governmental responsibility, corporate excess, religious fundamentalism, domestic terrorism, and the failure of the American Dream. However, it’s never heavy-handed with them unless it absolutely needs to be. If you take a closer look at those motifs and expand their in-game setting to a broader real world context, then this game has significantly more depth.

Beyond Politics

Far Cry 5 has been lambasted for not being as critical as some gaming media outlets would have liked. It does little in the way of dismissing Christian fundamentalists, gun culture, and the kind of reckless Republicanism responsible for the election of Donald Trump. Such criticism of the game drastically fails to understand that Far Cry 5 is about something far more powerful. It’s about the wholesale abandonment of entire groups of people who have been deemed surplus to requirements, and the extraordinary lengths they’ll go to in order to find reasons to wake up in the morning.

Some might find it absurd to think that willingly becoming a member of a militantly strict organization could ever be appealing. Yet, the absence of any real meaning can severely impact a person’s life. No education, no job, no family, no future and no possibility of that ever changing. Their salvation would take the form of anyone or anything promising to make you feel like you belong and that you matter.

Lead writer Drew Holmes has gone to great efforts to make sure that the story doesn’t launch unwarranted broadsides against anyone. Rather than take the easy route of playing towards the stereotypes of impoverished simpletons, every character, villains included, has their own reason for behaving the way they do. Far Cry 5 wants us to examine the nature of our own reality and dare to think, if only for a moment, that maybe some worlds deserve to end.

Into the Wild Green Yonder

The open-world action experience that Ubisoft has cultivated over the last few years is on triumphant display in Far Cry 5. Gunplay is both slick and satisfying, with unobtrusive controls enabling rapid access to a wide range of firearms at any given time. Returning Far Cry fans will find a familiar arsenal, while new players have plenty of opportunities to get a feel for their weapons.

The progression system has been replaced with a series of challenges that reward perk points for reaching in-game milestones. These come from obtaining a set number of long range or weapon-specific kills. While an understandable progression system (due to extra modes added), this renders the game somewhat lacking. The upgrade and skill system of the previous titles felt far more satisfying and meaningful because you actively pursued them. The new method has the same end results as the old: your character grows in power. It doesn’t detract from combat or exploration, but this change should have added to the older systems rather than replaced them.

That aside, Far Cry 5 has added some much needed refinement to the series. Instead of climbing high vistas to scout out new locations, players must actively explore the environment in order to find new things to do. Through small changes, the game has greatly enhanced the feel of traversing a new open world. Although the gameplay opportunities that come with new locations are fun, the core elements remain the same.

There’s an unquestionable sameness that permeates map locations and has plagued the series as a whole. Perhaps the overhaul Ubisoft have given the series this time around would have had more of an impact if it had been more total in scope. Regardless, this remains a quintessential Far Cry title that delivers on the expectations that have been established as the series has evolved.

Polished Play

Moving between various locations and objectives will likely have you embroiled in all manner of random, unscripted encounters that really do give the impression that you are in the middle of a small town civil war. The result is a constant drip-feed of combat. On the one hand, it means that you’ll never find yourself without a target to feel the scathing wrath of your incendiary shotgun rounds. On the other, however, it also means that things can get just a little bit ridiculous. Molotov cocktails, hordes of cultists, aggressive airplanes, and rabid bears and wolves can make for an interesting encounter, to say the least.

Getting from A to B in Far Cry 5 is a bit of a double-edged sword. The open-world combat means that the action is practically non-stop, and any individual play session will be filled with memorable moments. However, the developers could have dialed it down a notch when it comes to the encounter rate, as sometimes it’s hard to take a breather and enjoy the surroundings.

Homeward Bound

The environmental artists at Ubisoft have outdone themselves with their work on Far Cry 5. In my review of Assassin’s Creed: Origins, I gushed about the astounding level of craftsmanship exhibited in the game’s world design. Whatever Kool-Aid those guys were drinking seems have been doing the rounds in the Far Cry offices. The pseudo-Polynesian/South East Asian paradise featured in Far Cry 3 and the secluded Himalayan country of Kyrat in Far Cry 4 were both equally breathtaking in their own right, but Hope County is presented in such a complete and aesthetically coherent manner that it makes my brain gasp just thinking about it.

The game world is divided into three distinct areas under the sway of one of the Seed children. There’s the craggy slopes and deep valleys of the Whitetail Mountains, the lush, rolling pastures of Holland Valley, and the twisted waterways and dense forests of the Henbane River. Each region is lovingly crafted, with great care spent on even the tiniest detail along with judicious use of ambient sound and lighting effects to create a tantalizingly realistic sense of place. The Dunia engine is being put to exceptional use here with some areas of the game world looking so close to realistic that I could practically smell the coffee and apple pie.

The art team was able to create their own vision of Montana with such uncanny accuracy because they spent two weeks there meticulously documenting the area’s wildlife and landscape, as well as getting to know a bit more about the history of its inhabitants. Such hard work and dedication obviously paid off as Far Cry 5 is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. There’s an effervescent luminosity to the world which means that even if the landscape of Hope County isn’t too-far removed from reality, it still has an other-worldly quality that makes it a captivating place to explore.

Far Cry 5: An All Encompassing Experience

This game should be played if for no other reason than to experience its achingly magnificent evocation of reality. If Far Cry 5 is the continuation of a new trend at Ubisoft then I’m optimistic about the company’s future. This game is an improvement over the previous installments in every way possible. Ubisoft seem to be taking much bolder, more confident strides with each new game they release.

Maybe it’s the harsh lessons they learned from the Assassin’s Creed: Unity era, or maybe it’s a new found commitment to the creation of quality titles rather than just by-the-numbers annual cash-ins. Whatever their new game plan is, I hope they stick with it. If they continue on the path they’ve chosen then I’ve no doubt they will go on to create many more “must play” titles just like Far Cry 5.


Pros:

  • Compelling narrative and varied cast
  • Gorgeous environments
  • Frantically fun gameplay
  • Crammed full of meaning, if you know where to look

Cons:

  • Somewhat formulaic
  • Less meaningful character progression
  • Easily confused AI

Chris is a Cambridge, UK based freelance writer and reviewer. A graduate of English Literature from Goldsmiths College in London he has been composing poetry and prose for most of his life. More than partial to real ale/craft beer and a general fan of sci-fi and fantasy. He first started gaming on a borrowed Mega Drive as a child and has been a passionate enthusiast of the hobby and art form ever since. Never afraid to speak his mind he always aims to tell the unvarnished truth about a game. Favourite genres: RPGs, action adventure and MMOs. Least favourite genre: anything EA Sports related (they're the same games every year!)

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ricky D Fernandes

    April 6, 2018 at 6:43 pm

    I’m pretty much new to the series. I played a bit of Far Cry 3 but never finished it. I have to say though, I’m loving this game. My favorite character has to be BOOMER!

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Game Reviews

‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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Game Reviews

‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy

Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.

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With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego GamesWoven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.

Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.

Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.

However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.

But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.

Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.

But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.

And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.

Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.

Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.

‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).

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Game Reviews

‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ Review: Moon’s Haunted but Still Shines

‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ returns to a familiar destination but Bungie is reworking Destiny with each expansion and Shadowkeep is no exception.

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Destiny 2 Shadowkeep Review

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep may be a return to a familiar destination, the Moon, but Bungie continues the trend of reworking Destiny with each new expansion, and Shadowkeep is no exception. Replete with a reworked season pass system, progression systems, customization options, sandbox re-tuning and quest interface, Shadowkeep is both a welcome iteration and extension of the existing Destiny 2 experience offering more RPG-esque player agency than Destiny has ever seen before. While the game is still haunted by some overly familiar issues, Shadowkeep is a welcome expansion and a promising start to the third year of Destiny 2.

Old Haunting Grounds

The Moon isn’t the only familiar face in Shadowkeep. Keeping with tradition, Eris Morn has returned from a long absence for another dark, lunar expansion (the first being D1′s The Dark Below when the character was first introduced) as she investigates a disturbance deep within the Moon. Quite literally haunted by the past, Eris has called upon the Guardians to assist her in finding the source of the phantoms plaguing the Moon and vanquishing “Nightmare” versions of familiar visages from the past.

All is not entirely as old players might remember. An immense hive structure, the Scarlet Keep, now overshadows previously unexplored territory on the Lunar surface. New Lost Sectors hide in the depths of the Moon, and new secrets a la the Dreadnaught or the Dreaming City lie waiting to be discovered by inquisitive players. And at the very center of the expansion an ancient, unknown threat lies in wait, an ominous foreshadowing of the trials ahead.

While the expansion does a decent job ensuring the familiar haunts don’t feel overly recycled, it’s hard to say Shadowkeep makes the most of the Moon. The campaign opens on such a high note as players storm the moon in an unexpectedly matchmade sequence before individual Fireteams independently uncover an unanticipated twist that absolutely shatters expectation. Unfortunately, the narrative quickly devolves into uninteresting fetch quests that fail to live up to the intrigue of the initial mission nor live up to the narrative heights of some of the most memorable missions the Moon previously housed including fan favorites The Sword of Crota and Lost to Light to name a few. That’s tough company to keep, and Shadowkeep fails to measure up.

Similarly, a bit of that intrigue is reintroduced in Shadowkeep‘s final mission, but, like the campaign as a whole, it’s over before the player knows it and fails to live up to the precedent set by previous, lengthier campaign conclusions. More mileage is gotten out of the narrative and destination in the post-game in the way of a new weapon farming system, a new activity known as Nightmare hunts that play like mini Strikes, and a Strike proper, but that does little to alleviate the disappointment of an overly terse campaign that reads like a teaser for what’s to come over a distinct, fleshed-out story.

A New Era, a New Season

Part of that is presumably courtesy of a shift in Bungie’s approach to content releases. While the previous expansion, Forsaken, similarly opted for procedurally released content over the course of the season, Bungie has doubled down on that strategy with Shadowkeep ensuring there’s something new to be experienced each week that players sign in. While certain activities have alway arrived post-launch including raids, dungeons, and exotic weapon pursuits, Shadowkeep and its “Season of the Undying” has seen new PvE and PvP activities launched after the expansion’s initial drop, adding to an already lengthy list of Destiny to-dos.

Central to the season is the new PvE, matchmade activity, the Vex Offensive, which pits six players against waves of Vex combatants paired and features some minor puzzle elements, all for the sake of earning a series of weapons exclusive to the mode. While the Black Garden locale of the mode is certainly eye-catching, the Offensive, with its recycled mechanics and familiar enemies, doesn’t leave much of an impression beyond that. It might pale in comparison to activities introduced in past seasons (like Warmind‘s Escalation Protocol, or last season’s Menagerie), but is intentionally terse, intended to match this new seasonal philosophy, and will be removed from the game after Season of the Undying (though the exclusive arsenal will still be available in the loot pool obtainable through undisclosed means). Like the Vex themselves, the Vex Offensive might not seem like much independently, but collectively is a piece of a greater whole challenging and rewarding players for participating within the specific season.

Bungie is further defining each season with the inclusion of a seasonal artifact and a season pass system. The artifact, again only available for the season, offers players an avenue for additional, limitless Power gains while also offering unlockable gameplay mods encouraging players to utilize specific classes and builds. The Oppressive Darkness mod, for example, debuffs enemies hit by void grenades, encouraging players to construct discipline-oriented, void builds. Another mod, Thunder Coil, increases the power of arc melee attacks by fifty percent, giving all new life to the Hunter’s Arcstrider subclass. Meanwhile, the season pass operates similar to that of Fortnite or any number of games and replaces the previous cosmetic only level up system of Destiny 2‘s past. From the season’s outset, any and all experience goes toward unlocking rewards from the pass including new armor, armor ornaments, exclusive weapons and exotics, and engrams. The experience requirement for each level is static, meaning progress is fair and steady throughout and never feels throttled. Both seasonal systems are fantastic new additions that reward players for playing the game while making experience gains more purposeful than any other time in Destiny‘s endgame.

New Duds to Boot

Shadowkeep also marks the debut of Armor 2.0, a new system that allows players more agency in character customization than ever before. Whereas armor previously rolled with random perks and a roll of only three stats (Mobility, Recovery, and Resilience), Armor 2.0 comes with no perks and six stats as Destiny 1‘s Intellect, Discipline, and Strength (determining the charge rates of player’s super, grenade, and melee abilities) make their triumphant return. Instead, Armor 2.0 has slots for modifiers so players can pick and choose whatever perks they want just as long as they’ve unlocked those mods. Mods are acquired from most activities, while enhanced mods (better versions of certain traditional mods) are exclusive to some of the game’s more challenging content. While the grind for mods seems excessive in the face of the rest of the game’s grind, it’s a one-time affair, some of the best mods are unlocked via the seasonal artifact, and the payoff is astounding, providing customization like never before.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Axe to Grind

Speaking to the grind, Destiny has often struggled and failed to find the perfect balance of meaningful power climb and tedious grinds recycling the same old activities. Luckily, at the outset of the climb towards max power, Shadowkeep strikes a much better balance centered on beloved ritual and new and or seasonal activities. Power drops now operate on a clearly labeled, tiered system, incentivizing players to prioritize new or challenging activities for maximum gains. Ritual activities (Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit), though tier one, retain their relevance by offering multiple weekly powerful drops for match completions, vendor bounties completed, and rank progression. Previous, otherwise irrelevant avenues towards power have been retired, but this is a welcome reduction and there is no shortage of powerful drops in the climb to max power. That isn’t to say that the grind couldn’t be shorter ensuring more players can participate in endgame activities when they first arrive, but progression generally feels smoother than any time in Destiny‘s past.

Conversely, content flow might overwhelm casual and even dedicated players as there’s simply too much to do and grind for players tight on time. Bungie now considers Destiny and MMO with proper RPG mechanics, and, in terms of time commitment, that really shows with Shadowkeep. On a certain week, a player might have an accomplished week in-game after sinking only three to five hours into the game. Other weeks the game seems to demand closer to the ten to twenty-hour range. One week, for example, saw the release of the new dungeon, a new Crucible game mode, an exotic quest, a new public event, and the start of the Festival of the Lost, a limited time, Halloween event. That’s simply too much, feels like poor pacing, and favors streamers, Destiny content creators, and hardcore players for whom Destiny is their exclusive hobby, a burgeoning theme with Season of the Undying. While it’s certainly exciting that there’s always something to do in D2, it doesn’t seem true to the game’s roots as a hybrid, a shooter with MMO elements, that could be taken at a more casual pace but still offered an engaging endgame for the dedicated audience. Now, there’s only an endgame with no end in sight.

A Better Destiny Awaits

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for players who want to pay a minimal price for seemingly unending content, and in that regard, Shadowkeep is a steal. A sensational new raid (minus some finicky new mechanics), a foreboding dungeon, an immense new arsenal to grind for, and a better tuned PvP and PvE sandbox in which to enjoy them mean Shadowkeep will keep Guardians’ attention the whole season long and is an excellent proof of concept for the seasonal structure going forward. If Bungie can keep this pace up, year three of Destiny 2 could easily be the best year in franchise history. As a general caution though, Destiny 2 now clearly caters to the hardcore, requires MMO levels of commitment, and is best enjoyed with a regular group; casual, time-restricted, and solo players beware. It might not be the best single expansion release in franchise history (that’s still a toss-up between The Taken King and Forsaken), but, beginning with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, the third year of D2 is the closest the tumultuous title has ever come to Bungie’s ambitious vision for the shared-world shooter and the game fans have been waiting for these past five years.

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