Destiny 2: The Final Shape’s Campaign Is A Messy, Moving High School Reunion

Destiny 2: The Final Shape’s Campaign Is A Messy, Moving High School Reunion

There is something about returning to many of Destiny’s previous locations, including the very first areas of the original game, that makes The Final Shape reek of high school. A lot has changed about the series in the ten years since our ghost first found us just outside of Old Russia. Moreover, running down the same halls I once traipsed with the old gang feels like a high school reunion of sorts. When I was first here, I felt so small, but coming back to my old haunts all these years later as a bigger and better version of myself has revealed just how much I’ve grown in the years since.

Destiny 2, like just about anything that’s been running for ten years, is tough to break into. There’s lots of characters, motivations, plot twists, and proper nouns to keep track of. For the longest time, Destiny 2 has reveled in these things, spinning a hell of a yarn for the fans who have stuck around for all of it over the years. The Final Shape is unconcerned with most of those nitty-gritty lore tidbits as it brings some of these arcs to a close, placing emphasis instead on big feelings and a surreal environment that lends those feelings real power. This makes it a bit messy, but there’s something deeply moving about how much The Final Shape wears its heart on its sleeve, too.

The Final Shape has the unenviable task of having to close out this book of Destiny’s history. I worried about how it might begin to tackle such an immense task, which seems impossible to accomplish to the satisfaction of everyone playing. The answer Bungie found, however, is pretty simple: keep the story lean, funnel the player to the climactic fight, and tug on some heartstrings while you’re at it.

Feelings given shape

Destiny 2’s climactic conclusion to the Light and Darkness saga does center the series’ villain, the Witness, more than it ever has before, but it’s difficult to call them and their motivations the heart of this expansion. That honor’s reserved for the most highly esteemed and messy fireteam in Destiny’s history, the Vanguard. Commander Zavala, Ikorra Rey, and the returning Cayde-6 make The Final Shape thrum with an electric and uneasy energy as their painful reunion gets swept up into the larger crisis of the end of the world.

Image: Bungie / Sony

Upon entering the Pale Heart of the Traveler, a destination that reuses and distorts several environments from Destiny’s past, things feel immediately off. The Pale Heart is often beauteous, especially where nature seems to have reclaimed long-forgotten locales, but pockets of it tout these vast veiled statues of ghastly figures that Destiny 2 players have become familiar with, and calcified hands seem to jut from the ground and caves. As you push deeper into the festering wound the Witness has cut here, the environments grow more tortured and agonized faces protrude from walls. The Final Shape leans into pain, fear, and anger, and it especially comes through in the Pale Heart. If I may, it looks good on Destiny.

This expansion’s central cast is going through it just as much as the world appears to be. Ikorra and Zavala’s reunion with their best friend Cayde-6 is…less than joyous. His appearance, as well as the current, urgent state of things, prompts crises of faiths that see some characters pushed beyond their breaking points, and here is where I’d like to give a nod to Destiny’s stable of voice actors. Everyone from Keith David (taking over as Zavala from the late Lance Reddick) to Kirsten Potter as Mara Sov clearly understood the assignment, and their line readings in this expansion are some of the most emotive and expressive stuff I’ve ever heard in the series. Mara Sov’s anguished cries for her brother haunted me the entirety of the campaign, and Zavala, Ikorra, and Cayde in particular have some emotionally resonant and tough conversations. They verbally spurn each other like jilted friends that never got over the sour end of a cherished relationship, but they also have the most tender moments of the whole experience too. Their performances help ground the finality of the events occuring throughout The Final Shape.

Growing pains

The strength of these various performances helps mask the fact that little else seems to be going on for all of Destiny 2’s countless ongoing threads outside of the Pale Heart. While I’m grateful for the emotional weight of the beats The Final Shape does deliver for some beloved characters, I can’t help but be let down that this doesn’t feel like Destiny 2’s “Avengers, assemble” moment. I will likely be proven wrong by the time the raid rolls around—and there’s a seasonal story appended to The Final Shape that’ll likely tease out some of those secondary plots—but it’s a bummer that more of the allies and friends we’ve made along the way haven’t figured in more prominently.

Image: Bungie / Sony

The Final Shape’s missions are a bit uneven, too. Though they’re certainly a step above Lightfall’s campaign, which felt tonally confused from the get-go, they don’t quite reach the highs of The Witch Queen, either. The Final Shape gets the stakes, at least, but fails to make immense moments or mechanical setpieces of them. Which isn’t to say I didn’t have a blast, because I did, especially as Destiny campaigns continue to borrow mechanics from its endgame raids that deepen the story experience. While most of the campaign missions came and went, a thrilling strike and the final mission were the biggest standouts, boasting a mixture of environmental design and mechanics that recalled the highs of Destiny’s very best encounters. But whereas I felt I could point to numerous landmark moments in The Witch Queen campaign, like a certain boss encounter in a sprawling maze-like environment, I mostly found approximations of some of Destiny’s greatest hits, including that very same encounter, in The Final Shape.

It also struggles to make the new Prismatic subclass stand out, though this isn’t exactly new to Destiny expansions. Prismatic blends all of the previous elements (Void, Arc, Solar, Stasis, and Strand) and turns players into a super-powered warrior capable of using them all simultaneously. It is the definition of a power trip, and yet, the campaign deploys the new subclass as more of a gimmick than a new part of the player’s arsenal, though I’m sure that will give way to radical builds once players clear the story and get into The Final Shape’s postgame.

I still really enjoyed The Final Shape (despite server issues) and I’ll admit that some of the cheap nostalgia plays it pulled successfully made me teary-eyed. Even if it doesn’t entirely land, it’s got so much heart, and wrings so much from a cast and world I love, that I can’t fault it too heavily for its missteps. It is at least as focused as Destiny 2 has ever been, and as the twists and turns kept piling up, I couldn’t wait to see where folks wound up. It’s a little hard to believe, but an era of Destiny 2 is ending, and true to itself, The Final Shape is an appropriately uneven but endearing close to one chapter and the beginning of a new one.

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