Editor's note: This review was originally conducted in a podcast format, available as a video above or right here as an audio file. A summary of the review follows. Note that after this review was recorded, Bungie announced that it would begin including the previous DLC releases, Curse of Osiris and Warmind, in the Forsaken package on October 16.
It's becoming a tradition for Bungie to release a Destiny game with some persistent issues, then hammer those issues out into a smoother, more pleasant shape with a major expansion a year later. Just like The Taken King made the original Destiny a more interesting, rewarding game, Destiny 2's big 40 dollar add-on Forsaken has done the same for the sequel with dramatic improvements to loot and character progression, a more intriguing story and set of new areas to explore, and a major new multiplayer mode. Most importantly, all these pieces fit together more seamlessly than they did in the release game. It's easily the best Destiny 2 has been so far.
Forsaken picks up the story of the Awoken, the wispy blue space people who live in the asteroid belt, after they were all but annihilated by Oryx's Taken fleet in the previous game. The Queen's whereabouts are still unknown, sniveling Prince Uldren is back and more deranged than usual, and he's backed up by a distinctive rogues' gallery of especially nasty monsters, drawn from a new enemy faction, who you'll spend much of the campaign facing down in unique boss fights. The Forsaken campaign spans two new patrol zones: the ramshackle Tangled Shore, a thieves' den made up of a bunch of lashed-together floating rocks, and the Dreaming City, the mystical ancestral home of the Awoken which has a distinctly fantasy-like bent and houses the most secrets and side activities of any Destiny zone in recent memory.
The flow and design of the campaign's story missions take a lot of creative liberties with Destiny's mechanics and structure, resulting in what's probably the most consistently surprising and entertaining chunk of story content Bungie has created to date. Forsaken dispenses with wisecracking robotic series regular Cayde-6 early on in a dramatic fashion, but the game doesn't get much lasting material out of his death. The more enduring storyline around the Awoken's quest to retake their homeland works much better, and weaves through every bit of the content here, from the initial campaign through post-story world missions, the new (and very tough) raid, and even on into the weekly loot grind, which now revolves around a bizarre metanarrative in which the characters themselves are trying to understand why they're repeating the same actions over and over again from week to week. There's ethereal Awoken magic and strange goings-on at every step. The story content isn't just wide-ranging and weird, there's also just a huge amount of it, certainly the most Destiny has packed into an expansion to date.
Due to a number of design missteps, Destiny 2 came and went for a lot of people. Thankfully, the changes Forsaken makes under the hood are what really prop up all the new story stuff and give the game more staying power. Bungie has made loot meaningful again by... making it more like the loot in the first game, which is to say every weapon and piece of armor once again comes with a random set of perks. So if you get three of the same scout rifle, they'll all have different firing characteristics that make it worth comparing them and picking your favorite, instead of just trashing all your duplicates. There are dramatically more "powerful gear" quests day to day and week to week that give you chances to get better items. The new collections interface lets you keep track of and reacquire all the old gear, cosmetic items, shaders and so forth you've found so far. There are even new ways to earn in-game currency for cosmetic items that you would have just paid real money for back at launch. It's just a tighter, friendlier game in nearly every way.
The new four-on-four Gambit multiplayer mode mostly does a great job of rounding out the usual assortment of strikes, Crucible, weekly challenges and so forth. Taking a few MOBA cues, it tasks your team with killing enemies faster than another team who's playing on a separate map, with both teams racing to hit a quota that spawns a boss you have to kill first to win the round. Where Gambit gets interesting--and wildly exhilarating or infuriating, depending on which side you land on--is that your team has limited opportunities for one player to invade and kill the other team, which can massively hamper their progress toward spawning their boss (or will just heal the boss, if it's already out). There's the potential for massive swings in match momentum, depending on how you invade or get invaded, how you strategically use your super ability to clear enemies quickly or wipe the other team, and so forth. You can pretty much singlehandedly gain an insurmountable lead for your team or stage an improbable comeback with a crucial play. Gambit is full of extreme highs and lows, though due to the 20 to 30 minutes it takes to finish a match and its reliance on competent teamwork, it tends toward lows in the same way MOBAs do. Feeling like you just wasted half an hour due to a boneheaded team or one ruinous invasion from the other side is awfully demoralizing. Gambit is best played with a squad of friends who know what they're doing.
At its heart, Destiny 2 is still of course a loot-based game, with all the inherent drawbacks of a genre that functions largely like a capsule machine. You might play it compulsively, or stay up late trying to grind out weekly activities before you lose them. You might spend an evening grinding out Crucible kills only to get three equivalent sets of the same boots. But at least the structure is now intelligently designed, and the content is creative and varied enough, that it's actually worth coming back to the game even after you've finished the story. Bungie has clearly learned its lesson after Destiny 2's missteps, and finally found a winning formula that sets up a brighter, more enduring future for the franchise. Hopefully this time that lesson will stick.