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Game Reviews

‘Metroid: Samus Returns’ Damn Well Lives Up To The Unsustainable Hype

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The Metroid franchise deserves all, and any, praise it has received over the years, if only for launching a winning formula, and one of Nintendo’s greatest franchises. From the NES debut to the Super Nintendo classic, to the underrated handheld entries, and the 3D debut, with the Prime series, the Metroid games have, for the most part, been providing fans with countless hours of high-quality entertainment. Nintendo’s sci-fi series helped pioneer the idea of non-linear exploration, and, even after 30 years, its influence on the industry is still felt. In the three-plus decades since Metroid first launched, there have been countless imitators, many forgotten and some beloved, yet despite the number of games that can trace their lineage back to Samus Aran’s first adventure, none, in this critic’s eyes, has come close to equaling the level of artistry found in the best of the Metroid series.

Metroid: Samus Returns, which launches this week on the Nintendo 3DS, can be added to the list of greatest games ever made for a Nintendo console. Samus Returns is technically brilliant, tense, and visually breathtaking, and there’s not a moment in this game that doesn’t excel well beyond the usual genre trappings. The long-awaited return to Metroid’s side-scrolling roots is simply amazing, and if you have fond memories of battling the titular parasite critters in a 2D setting, Metroid: Samus Returns might just be your kind of return trip. It’s been thirteen years since the last 2D game (Metroid: Zero Mission) was released, and thankfully Samus Returns supplies enough visual spectacle, tense action, and sticky, slithery monster attacks to hit the sweet spot with fans worldwide. Samus Returns is an experience that sticks with you and begs for numerous revisits — the kind of game that marks career milestones and makes you wonder why it has taken so long for Nintendo to give fans what they really want.

Hey Samus. Has anyone ever mistaken you for a man?

MercurySteam (best known for breathing new life into the Castlevania franchise) is the company responsible for putting Samus back on the map, and they deserve plenty of praise for delivering a game that lives up to the unsustainable hype. Samus Returns looks, feels, sounds, and moves like a traditional Metroid game, and longtime fans will be happy to know that Yoshio Sakamoto’s influence is most definitely felt throughout.

Technically, Samus Returns is a remake of Metroid II, which first launched on the original monochromatic Game Boy, but to simply label Samus Returns a remake/remaster feels criminal. The Spanish developers did well in remaining faithful to the basic structure, but took a number of creative liberties along the way, introducing a host of new features, and therefore making it more appealing to modern audiences. If anything, Samus Returns is a ground-up re-imagining of the 1991 title, and the game packs a much more visceral punch than its predecessor.

Samus Returns has been changed, updated and revamped in many ways from the original, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the plot. The story takes place immediately after the events of the first game, and right from the outset, Samus lands on SR388, the home planet of the Metroids, where she must explore a subterranean cavern and seek and destroy — count ‘em — all forty Metroids scattered across the planet. Her mission is essentially to commit genocide, and each time you defeat a parasitic monster, you must collect their DNA and bring it back to their altar, which drains a pool of acidic lava, thus allowing you to further explore the ominous planet (I swear, someone one day is going to write a 2000-word think piece about religion, war, and genocide and tie it into this game).

When it comes to technical wizardry and sheer visual spectacle, Metroid: Samus Returns unequivocally delivers.

As in all Metroid games, you start out with a limited arsenal of weapons and abilities, but over time you’ll unlock new ones, which in turn allows you to defeat new enemies and open up new areas to explore. In terms of story, Samus Returns won’t change the way people think about the franchise, but it reinforces the series’ strengths without alienating its biggest fans. Despite some gorgeously-rendered animated cutscenes, Samus Returns plays out like a silent film. That is to say, there is no voice acting, no dialogue, and no explicit storytelling. It’s just you and one bounty hunter on a mission, and its a better game for it.

When it comes to technical wizardry and sheer visual spectacle, Metroid: Samus Returns unequivocally delivers. Added to the expected nature of the game’s plot twists is the spooky, H.R. Giger-influenced production design, fluid controls, and colorful visuals. Samus Returns is bright, beautiful, yet dark and brooding. The level of detail in each of the environments is remarkable — from the plant-infested caves, bubbling pools of lava, crystal caverns, glistening waterfalls, and the vast subterranean Chozo ruin, Samus Returns may just be the best looking game on Nintendo’s portable system. MercurySteam really pushed the 3DS to the limit, especially with the boss battles, which feature some of the biggest highlights the platform has ever seen. In fact, Samus Returns is such a visually exquisite, unmissable game that it demands and deserves to be seen and played on the biggest screen available; it’s a shame it isn’t available on the Nintendo Switch as well.

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Of course, as with the best Metroid games, as you explore the world, there’s a powerful feeling that you’re completely alone, and that feeling of isolation goes a long way in helping to heighten the slow-building, atmospheric tension. Truth be told, reviewing the game prior to release brought back a feeling I haven’t felt in quite some time — the same feeling I had as a kid playing through a game before the days of online walkthroughs and Let’s Play videos. There was nowhere for me to turn to for clues — no Nintendo Power, no strategy guide, and nobody to help. It was just me making my way through complex environments, and being forced to play the game with little in the way of directions.

Compared to Metroid II, Samus Returns is massive, and if my memory serves me correctly, it seems that the original game’s entire layout has been completely redesigned. This is without a doubt the biggest map of any Metroid game outside of the Prime series — a dense and complex maze that requires you to constantly explore and re-explore areas. Yes, Samus Returns does require quite a bit of backtracking, and in true Metroid tradition, you will constantly come upon locked areas forcing you to investigate every nook and cranny. The good news is that the game is constantly rewarding players for backtracking since every area is littered with new surprises, abilities, and upgrades that you won’t have access to right away. And with each new ability, Samus is able to unlock new areas and uncover secrets hidden throughout the serpentine labyrinthine.

Metroid Samus Returns is quite simply an amazing game, and another huge win for Nintendo

In addition, in order to aid the player in their journey, Samus Returns includes a new ability that makes probing every corner of the planet easier. The scanning mechanism acts as a cheat (recommended for newcomers) and reveals the secret entrances to nearby rooms and lost treasures. Meanwhile, thanks to the 3DS’ dual screens, the second screen not only serves as a helpful map, but also allows you to place visual markers to help you find your way around.

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In gameplay, Samus Returns distinguishes itself from the older games by adding some new moves, the best of which is a timed counter-attack. Though parrying takes a bit of time to get used to, it becomes incredibly useful in boss fights. And that’s not all: in previous Metroid games, Samus can attack in eight directions, but with this installment, that is no longer the case. Samus Returns introduces Free Aim, an ability that allows Samus to aim in 360 degrees by holding the left trigger. Upon doing so, her gun will release a laser pointer that can easily target enemies from afar. The level of freedom this gives players is much appreciated, as it allows you to easily pick off enemies from a distance, solve puzzles, and uncover hidden secrets. There are other abilities as well, including the Grapple Beam, Power Bomb, and Super Missile pulled from later Metroid games, and the likes of the heat-resistant Varia Suit, the screw attack, the Ice Beam, and the High Jump Boots all make their return as well.

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Finally, I can’t end this review without mentioning the boss battles. Like Metroid PrimeSamus Returns cleverly places equal focus on exploration and combat, and as mentioned above, the objective is simple: kill Metroids. All forty serve as mini-boss battles. While the notion of 40 slightly-evolving mini-boss battles may seem a tad bit tedious, these Metroids come in five types, each representing a stage in the alien’s life cycle. The highlight of the game is the Metroids themselves, and as you progress through the game you’ll come across increasingly more advanced versions, starting with the Alpha Metroids, and eventually working your way up to the Omega Metroids, and so on. Early Metroids are fairly easy to defeat, needing only a counterattack and a few missiles, but the Metroids quickly evolve, leading to complex battles with challenging attack patterns to memorize.

In boss fights, countering often loads a cutscene, and don’t be surprised if, while in battle, a Metroid decides to just get up and slither its way to another room, forcing you to give chase. It’s tempting to continue to describe the brilliantly-staged scenes of horror and surprise, but it would be a shame not to allow the game to reveal its own secrets. It’s enough to say that the tension is savage, and that you are held in suspense, right up to the very end. There’s one fight in particular that will blow you away, and regardless if you are familiar with the ending of the original game, Metroid: Samus Returns has a surprise for everyone who finishes it.

Metroid Samus Returns is quite simply an amazing game, and another huge win for Nintendo, who is having a banner year. It’s also a great game for anyone not familiar with the franchise, as newcomers will welcome the scan ability mentioned above, and Samus Returns also comes with numerous checkpoints and a teleporting station that makes backtracking through areas less tedious. In almost every respect, Samus Return is a near-perfect game. It takes much of what worked in the original and dramatically updates it to modern times. It’s everything a sequel should be, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a masterpiece, there’s definite mastery here.

– Ricky D

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Booski

    September 14, 2017 at 9:18 am

    Great review. My anticipation to play this is unreal. Like you said, what a year for Nintendo, might go down as their best ever.

    • Ricky D

      September 14, 2017 at 9:33 am

      Thanks. I was kind of afraid I was overselling it when I wrote the review but this is my kind of game. I didn’t 100% complete it but I did finish it in less than 10 hours which is great for someone like me who works a lot and doesn’t have time to play many long games. But I really think it is a great game for anyone who has never played Metroid since the check points, map and teleportation helps you move around the world. I only wish it was on the Nintendo Switch so I can also play it on my big screen TV.

      • Booski

        September 14, 2017 at 9:48 am

        Nah, I don’t think you oversold it. Plus 9.2 seems to be around the sweet spot most people are rating it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo made an HD port for the Switch eventually once 3DS sales of the game have dropped off. Do you think you’ll end up 100 percenting it?

        • Ricky D

          September 14, 2017 at 1:49 pm

          I wish I had time. Maybe in a few years when I go back and replay it but I work a lot. I have a full time job and I wear many hats here at Goomba Stomp. Feel free to check out our Nintendo podcast. We will be discussing it on the next two episodes. Also, I hate scoring games and personally I am trying to remove them from the site but I did notice Nintendo Life gave it a 10 . To mean, a 10 mean there are no flaws and honestly, I feel like 9.2 may be too high since it still technically is a remake.

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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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