Destiny 2: The Final Shape Review - Becoming Legend

  • First Released Sep 6, 2017
  • PC
  • XBSX
  • PS5
  • PS4

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.

It's impossible to think about The Final Shape without the context of the last 10 years, the seven other Destiny 2 expansions, and the four original Destiny expansions--plus the vanilla campaigns that came with 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, in which Bungie has continually tried experiment after experiment in gameplay, adjusted and recalibrated its storytelling, and worked and reworked its approach to running a live-service game. While the additions haven't always consistently built toward a story conclusion or a definitive vision of the game, there was 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 a step forward in a long march of progress, but, in every single way, a leap. Through its campaign, its new destination, its new activities, and its post-campaign story continuation, 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 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 starts with a story campaign that tosses you into the Pale Heart of the Traveler in a bid to stop the Witness, Destiny 2's long-gestating ultimate villain, from using the game's convoluted physics-ignoring powers to rewrite reality. It's immediately apparent that developer Bungie has taken a different tack from how it usually approaches these chapters, with lessons learned from its consistently strong seasonal stories that usually spend more time dealing with the humanity of the characters than confusing sci-fi concepts.

A coherent and captivating campaign

The Pale Heart is beautiful, full of strange and twisted imagery from the long history of Destiny.
The Pale Heart is beautiful, full of strange and twisted imagery from the long history of Destiny.

The Final Shape avoids past pitfalls by pulling together the best elements of all Destiny 2 stories, setting clear stakes and motivations for the antagonist, while keeping a tight focus on Destiny 2's main cast of characters as they head toward a likely suicidal, potentially world-ending confrontation. The Final Shape is easily the best story Destiny has ever told in an expansion, clearly laying out what is at stake and, at least emotionally, how it'll work, and setting players on a journey straight from point A to point B and a final confrontation with the Witness.

A major benefit to that story, and the campaign in general, is the Pale Heart itself. Expansions always bring new destinations to Destiny 2, usually a new planet or moon with lots of cool places for events to happen, but the Pale Heart is inside the Traveler, the magic robot space god that's been at the center of this franchise for 10 years. Leaning hard into that magical side of the game, we get a location that's strange, familiar, uncanny, and often remarkable in its art direction.

The idea is that the reality of the place is manifested from the memories and emotions of the people within it, creating meldings of familiar locations from throughout Destiny's history, but often recombined in strange ways or twisted by corruption. The Pale Heart is a gorgeous and fascinating place to explore, at once a heaven and hell of the Destiny universe. It leans all the way into the game's weirder side, which comprises some of the best elements of Destiny 2, and offers a ton of different places to fight, run, and climb, a variety that it uses to provide new gameplay scenarios and combat encounters that feel fresh and interesting, despite players doing more or less this exact thing for the last 10 years.

The campaign combines many of the best elements from years of Destiny 2 gameplay to create a standout experience, especially on the challenging Legendary difficulty. First, it's the most mechanically intensive a campaign has been. Just about every big encounter has an extra layer to deal with, like toxic air that requires you to periodically zap a specific object while you stand next to it to gain a protective buff, or enemies that drop "runes" when they die that correspond to locked doors, requiring you to remember which pictures you saw earlier to activate the correct keys.

Especially in the Legendary version of the campaign, the new Dread enemies are dangerous, challenging additions to the Destiny 2 combat lineup.
Especially in the Legendary version of the campaign, the new Dread enemies are dangerous, challenging additions to the Destiny 2 combat lineup.

Usually, these kinds of elements are relegated to Destiny 2's tougher and more teamwork-intensive raids and dungeons, its best and most fun content. They're simpler here so that a single player can handle them, but still more complex and engaging than what Bungie usually presents in a campaign, adding a cerebral layer to blasting through hordes of aliens that increases the chaos without ever being overwhelming or frustrating. The sheer number of new and compelling mechanics, both in the campaign and scattered across the Pale Heart itself, is remarkable, and makes most everything you do in The Final Shape seem interesting and different from what players have become accustomed to.

Survival of the fittest

The second major addition is an entire new enemy faction called the Dread, which adds several new enemy types to battles and rewrites the calculus of Destiny 2's firefights in significant ways. Destiny has added a few new enemies to its long-standing factions over the last few expansions, or changed slightly how a few of them operate to force you to adjust your tactics. Those are minor adjustments next to the kind of whole-cloth tactical alterations the Dread can bring to a fight, especially on higher difficulties. The most common and toughest of these wield powers that have mostly been the purview of the players up to now. They focus on debuffs that slow you down or freeze you in place, suspend you in the air so you can't maneuver for a few seconds, or grab you and yank you out of cover and into danger. Bungie put a lot of their focus for the Dread on messing with your positioning and flushing you out of safety, and it makes fighting these enemies fraught. They're a phenomenal addition to the combat landscape of Destiny 2, changing the makeup of fights in significant and surprising ways and supporting a bunch of new challenges.

Level design in the campaign, and throughout the Pale Heart, is also generally strong, although Bungie has opted for smaller, tighter arenas than in the past that, at times, feel a bit constraining. These rooms feel like they're aimed at putting you closer to the Dread more often, making their area-denial and cover-flushing abilities more dangerous. But it can also feel like you're stuck shoulder-to-shoulder with an army, turning a firefight into a firing squad. Speed and movement are as much a part of Destiny 2's shooter DNA as gunplay, and while smaller battlefields can test players in different and interesting ways compared to open ones, the string of them in the Legendary campaign starts to constrict some of the best and most fun elements of Destiny 2's battles.

The Prismatic subclass combines powers from other subclasses to make new synergies, finding cool new ways to make the existing sandbox fun.
The Prismatic subclass combines powers from other subclasses to make new synergies, finding cool new ways to make the existing sandbox fun.

The final major addition The Final Shape brings is Prismatic, a new subclass for players to use. Where the last two subclasses had specific focuses--Stasis was about slowing, freezing, and shattering enemies, and Strand was about tying, suspending, and shredding them--Prismatic gives you a slate of options drawn from each of the other subclasses, so you can combine abilities to make new synergies. It's not quite as drastically new or exciting as Strand was when it was fully unlocked in the last expansion, but recombining the lego blocks of Destiny 2's different powers and abilities feels great when you get the right mix of abilities, guns, and armor working together for peak build efficiency.

Bungie has been improving its subclass abilities for a long while now, increasing the ways they're distinct and unique in their gameplay styles and uses, so fitting all those pieces together in different ways genuinely leads to some clever and creative new opportunities. There are already a lot of great tools to play with in Destiny 2's sandbox. Prismatic doesn't drastically change it up--The Final Shape adds some new Super abilities you can use with it, alongside new perks for buildcrafting and Transcendence, the new "mini-super" that gives you a cool new grenade to use and some other more minor benefits--but just getting access to mixtures like freezing your opponents, setting them on fire, and closing the distance with an electrified speed boost is an excellent way to create exciting new moments.

Character building

The thing about the campaign that has struck me the hardest, though, is the way it tells its story. While the seasonal stories between each major chapter have had the space and depth to tell some strong, affecting narratives, Destiny 2 expansions are absolutely lousy with badly told, confusing ones, where monsters you've never heard of before show up out of nowhere to threaten the solar system in vague ways using undefined proper nouns. It has often seemed that, because expansions are major points of entry for new, lapsed, or casual players, that Bungie has avoided committing too hard to stories that require much understanding of or investment in the world it has created. Though Bungie moved toward telling a more cogent ongoing story leading to the climax in The Final Shape, it still seemed that the campaigns were unwilling to rely too much on the game's characters or its wider lore. The result is a mess of campaign stories that generally serve neither the casual nor the hardcore audiences very well, and even the best Destiny 2 expansion stories are a little hard to follow and, much more damningly, hard to care about.

Cayde-6 has returned from the dead in The Final Shape, something that's a source of both joy and pain for the other characters.

Cayde-6 has returned from the dead in The Final Shape, something that's a source of both joy and pain for the other characters.
Cayde-6 has returned from the dead in The Final Shape, something that's a source of both joy and pain for the other characters.

The Final Shape completely upends this trend. It helps that the Witness's deal is clear regardless of how well-versed you are in space magic, and that you're exploring a wild new location where Bungie can make up new rules that everyone is learning at the same time. But what makes the story of the campaign work is the characters, and The Final Shape's willingness to center them, to sit with them, and to engage with them. We've never had a Destiny 2 campaign care so much about the people taking part in it, where the radio banter is as much about how characters are feeling and coping and their conflicts with one another, as it is about what to shoot. It has the result of making missions feel important and meaningful at every step--not just because there's a big universe-ending threat at the end, but because of how everyone involved is affected here and now.

Most importantly, though, Bungie trusts its own worldbuilding and its audience with The Final Shape in a way it usually doesn't with expansions. It expects you to either know enough about these characters to follow along or to pick up the dynamics from context. Importantly, though, the campaign is willing to just stop between missions and take a moment, using cutscenes, monologues, or conversations by a campfire, and push that characterization to the forefront. These elements have always been here, but they previously required you to do the homework of reading flavor text on weapons or digging into in-game lore books, and thus always felt like things that would be really good if Bungie actually put them in the game.

In The Final Shape, Bungie does put them in the game. This is a Destiny 2 expansion story that feels like it really cares about what it's portraying and expects you to care, too, rather than coming off as fearful that you might get bored and turn the game off if people talk for too long without you shooting anything. It's so much better than nearly every other Destiny 2 campaign that it makes you wonder what the game would have been like if Bungie had been willing to treat the rest of its stories this way across the last 10 years.

Gameplay evolution

New abilities and UI and UX improvements go a long way to improving Destiny 2 in The Final Shape.
New abilities and UI and UX improvements go a long way to improving Destiny 2 in The Final Shape.

The focus on character-building continues even after the campaign, into additional story missions and activities that send you out into the Pale Heart to explore. As it happens, some of the most interesting and affecting story moments happen after the campaign, but Bungie doesn't turn down the quality in any of these missions. Some hint at specific new threats or create additional mysteries that have to do with longtime antagonists such as Savathun, but they all utilize Destiny 2's characters in particular ways. Leading up to The Final Shape's raid, Salvation's Edge, you work through individual stories with your most important allies that do even more to flesh out their positions and their personalities. It's all as rewarding from a story standpoint as it is fun to play through.

And a lot of it is extremely fun to play through. The Pale Heart is a phenomenal location thanks to its variety, but it also uses Destiny 2's long-time ambient public activities and marauding groups of enemies in smart new ways. Like the campaign, there's a huge emphasis on additional puzzles and mechanics everywhere in the Pale Heart. The biggest areas of the location include a specific activity called Overthrow, which is a multi-stage, escalating battle against enemy forces that consists of a bunch of smaller, objective-based activities. There are a ton of these, and they're all different from one another and specific to both the area and the "level" of Overthrow you're currently working on, advancing in difficulty as you complete them. Each requires a different combat approach or a different objective focus, making it feel like Overthrow is a combination of 10 or 15 public events played in quick succession. Overthrow defaults to being an event you take on alone, but while it feels like a public event, it works just as well with a team or solo--there aren't any elements that less knowledgeable teammates can mess up for you, and the density of elements makes Overthrow fun alone or in a group. It's a highly engaging and highly rewarding activity that's so varied that it's a blast to play through even over and over again.

The extra mechanical focus throughout the expansion also translates into a bigger emphasis on cooperation than Destiny has ever worked into its lower-level activities. Once you work through the hidden secrets of the Pale Heart, you can access Dual Destiny, a special Exotic mission that's played only with two players--you can't access it alone, and it can't be done with a usual fireteam of three. Dual Destiny is awesome, maybe the best single mission in Destiny 2 ever. It's tough and full of smart puzzles, requiring the kind of communication and teamwork Destiny 2 usually reserves for three-player dungeons or six-player raids. Playing it felt like hitting a Destiny raid for the first time, what I previously thought was a singular experience. To say anything more would be to ruin a phenomenal, unexpected experience that I absolutely loved, and which has secured a place in my personal pantheon of great video game moments.

Overthrow is full of great, small activities that combine together to make a massive, unique-feeling battle.
Overthrow is full of great, small activities that combine together to make a massive, unique-feeling battle.

There are a few other unexpectedly great bits, as well. There's not much fanfare for it, but The Final Shape includes a few campaign missions available with "Cooperative Focus," which changes up the experience by adding tougher mechanics that, again, borrow from the best instincts of the raids and dungeons. These aren't just campaign missions that are scaled to be more difficult to accommodate three players; they have added elements that require teamwork and communication, like enemies that can't be killed unless attacked from two different sides simultaneously, or a debuff that will kill you if your teammate doesn't take it from you at the last second--then dooming themselves to death if someone else doesn't intervene. It's a series of fun and challenging additions that lean on all the best elements of Destiny 2, and like Dual Destiny, perhaps the best part is the unexpected discovery of these excellent design changes.

A satisfying shape

Finally, there's The Final Shape's raid, Salvation's Edge. While some raids are better than others, in my estimation, there's never been a bad one, and Salvation's Edge is another in that long tradition of great gameplay experiences. Demanding a high degree of cooperation and communication from its six-player teams, it's just a blast, with some smart (if head-scratching) new mechanics, tough fights, and beautiful, weirdo locations that outdo even the already impressive art direction of the Pale Heart. Salvation's Edge is also a fair bit longer than most raids have been of late, which is nice for those high-level players who raid every week and are looking for a greater degree of challenge.

It's fun, in other words, and while Destiny 2 players have come to expect a lot from Bungie's raid team, the gameplay depth on display makes even Salvation's Edge a surprise for just how good it can be. I don't think it's necessarily my favorite raid, but it's a properly solid, exciting, and intense culmination of the story. Bungie nailed making the final confrontation with the Witness feel like the massive, complex, and dangerous battle with a near-god that the story demanded.

Like all Destiny 2 raids, Salvation's Edge is full of great encounters and has some incredible visuals.
Like all Destiny 2 raids, Salvation's Edge is full of great encounters and has some incredible visuals.

An excellent and extremely fun addition, however, was making the final culmination of that battle a special mission called Excision--the game's first 12-player PvE activity, accessible even by players who haven't finished the raid. The mission gives an appropriately over-the-top feel to the climax of the story, with 12 players providing the ludicrous scope it deserves, but which doesn't require being the kind of person who raids in order to fully experience it. Excision is its own kind of unique, surprising moment in an expansion that has turned out to be absolutely full of them.

Even little things like the user interface is improved with the new Pathfinder system, making tracking everything happening in-game or completing regular MMO tasks easier to understand. The game now includes fewer currencies and offers more clarity on objectives, and a lot of things that were previously scattered around or hidden behind different activities have been added to vendor menus to make tracking and completing them simpler.

Apart from a few tiny quibbles about little things like arena sizes, this truly feels like what Destiny 2 has always been trying to be. The Final Shape takes everything that's good about Destiny, from great combat design and inventive enemies, to puzzles and platforming, to creative encounters and fun abilities, to cool worldbuilding and excellent art direction, and brings them all together in ways the game has generally struggled to in the past. It centers its best characters in the campaign and gives you a reason to care about this war they're waging and what it's doing to them.

What's more, though, The Final Shape often goes above and beyond those improvements and great ideas. With elements like Dual Destiny, it has raised the bar on the best that Destiny 2 can be. With Salvation's Edge and Excision, it sticks the landing on its 10-year narrative. And with additional story missions and character beats waiting after you complete the campaign, it sets up a future for Destiny 2 that seems just as engaging and fascinating as what has come before--if not more so, thanks to everything Bungie has learned throughout that journey. The future of Destiny 2 has perhaps never been less clear, but if Bungie can maintain the excellence of design and the clarity of focus of The Final Shape, that future has never, ever, been more exciting.

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The Good

  • Storytelling is clear and interesting, willing to slow down and focus on the game's characters
  • The Pale Heart is a cool, weird, beautiful place that's interesting to explore and lends itself to great battles
  • Dread enemies are legitimately threatening, offer fresh challenges, and often tactically upend battles
  • Prismatic subclass makes the most of all the improvements Bungie has made to abilities in recent years
  • Tons of quality-of-life improvements throughout
  • Post-campaign missions are excellent, and additions of cooperative play make for some of the best moments in Destiny 2, bar none

The Bad

  • Arenas in the campaign often feel small and cramped, undercutting some of the speed and movement that makes Destiny 2 fun

About the Author

Phil Hornshaw has been playing and covering Destiny and Destiny 2 for the last 10 years. That seems absolutely ridiculous. What even is time. PC review code was provided by Bungie.