On the Eve of Destiny 2, Where Do We Stand?

Here we fucking go again, huh? It’s been three years since I first played the Destiny beta, and expressed my skepticism that it would shake out to be a good game. Two and a half years since my big breakdown of why Destiny and its DLC packs, The Dark Below House of Wolves were collectively a mess of wasted ambition. How The Taken King stood poised to finally realize some of that ambition, but we’d all be better off if it didn’t, because then we could all just write Destiny off and forget about it. It’s been two years since The Taken King actually released, and I recorded a deeply conflicted podcast where I tried not to recommend the game despite my enjoyment because of a certainty that it was all going to go bad. Well, we stand on the precipice of another major Destiny launch- Destiny 2. Let’s figure out where we stand, shall we?

The King is Dead

My fears about The Taken King shortly after its release were formless, like mist- it is only with time I was able to condense them into understanding. Yes, The Taken King was a good game, and a great addition to Destiny. Full stop. Nothing after this is intended to take away from that initial launch. But that’s all it was- an amazing launch. And then the Destiny “live team” showed all the vitality of a beached whale.

Breaking down every event they released would be a waste of time for all involved. Suffice it to say that between their Halloween event, Sparrow Racing League, and Valentine’s Day celebration, I was not fucking impressed. Zero new missions. Zero new Strikes, or Raids, only a few new pieces of equipment- mostly tied to out-of-game promotions like Recruit a Friend or buying a Red Bull. From September 2015 to September 2016, the content released was so scant and of insultingly poor quality that it genuinely would have been better if they released nothing at all. As is, logging in to the Tower and being given a quest to Trick or Treat filled me with contempt for the game. The contempt faded, in time- there wasn’t enough substance to those updates to even despise. They were a waste of time, pure and simple.

There isn’t much else to say for this year of Destiny, because they didn’t do anything. For a year, the game mumbled in a corner. And then we were given a new expansion.

 

Iron’s Deficiency

This was it- the last hurrah for Destiny 1. Priced the same as The Taken King, Rise of Iron was poised to be a similar breath of fresh air for the game. A new threat rose (har) to oppose the Guardians- a sort of biomechanical menace born of technology gone wrong called SIVA. It was time for us to tread corners of Earth previously unexplored by Guardiankind, and reclaim the legacy of the original protectors of humanity, the Lords of Iron. Get hype, or something.

It’s not particularly fair to criticize the story of Rise of Iron within the context of Destiny. After all, most of The Dark Below was a series of missions where you shot a bunch of Thralls until a spooky lady came on your radio to shout “CROTAAAA” and then you went home. In that company, Rise of Iron is very nearly Proust. Still, its general atmosphere feels wrong, and it took me until a specific side quest to figure out what the problem was.

I was doing the Khvostov Exotic Auto Rifle questline, trekking across an icy remix of the Old Russia map that I’d walked a thousand times over the course of vanilla Destiny, when it hit me. The weapon itself is a powered up, Exotic version of the very first gun you pick up in the game, and was requested to be made into an exotic for ages until finally Bungie pulled the trigger. As the questline to rebuild the first gun I’d touched into a beast proceeded, the game took me on a whirlwind tour of some of the first locations in the game. The pile of wrecked cars I awoke from at the very beginning, after character creation. The hangar I got my very first ship at. And as I got the final piece of the gun, my Ghost took a moment to talk to me.

As I sat there, listening to Nolan North pontificate about how far we’d come, and what a crazy amazing journey it had been, I realized… they were treating Rise of Iron like a victory lap. Reworked versions of the Fallen I fought at the very beginning of the game. Visits to old locations with new decorations. A handful of confetti tossed over the same content they’ve served up, over and over. But it’s okay- if I weathered the storm and grinded my way up to 370 light, I could play the raid, and see the Fun that they built and then cordoned off from the rest of the game. I poked at it for another few hours, and made negligible progress towards the minimum Light required to experience the Fun.

That was the end of my time with Rise of Iron. There was a reason they kept talking about Destiny 2, and the future of the series, and not about Rise of Iron. It was a content bandaid to keep those with a crippling Destiny addiction from going through withdraw, and nothing more. To anyone whose appetite for Destiny was less than insatiable, there was nothing to hold your attention. That they thought they’d earned a victory lap after what Destiny 1 was struck me as pretty hilarious, at least.

Against My Beta Judgment

I didn’t plan on playing the Destiny 2 Beta, truth be told. Once they announced how little content it would hold, my curiosity evaporated: they were showing so little, and none of it was going to prove my concerns right or wrong. One mission, one strike, and a smattering of PvP wasn’t enough. Bungie could obviously throw together one good story mission: I wanted to know if they could keep it going. The Strikes were never really my problem with Destiny- they could be a bit tedious, but they were serviceable and fine. And I couldn’t give less of a shit about Destiny’s wildly unfun PvP. The beta had nothing that I needed to see.

It was mere days before the beta that I realized I actually had no choice in the matter. By accident or bizarre fate, I had played every public release of Destiny so far. I dipped my toes in the first public alpha, I came back for the public beta, I played the base game, then its two initial DLC offerings, and at last its two expansions. When they unveiled Destiny 2 live on stream, and a friend asked me to offer takes on the fly, I realized how far in I already was. I was observing minor changes to UI, loadout changes, different abilities, all without them being expressly pointed out. My mind plucked them out of the footage, and I exclaimed “he’s using two auto rifles!” with an astonishment that my friend couldn’t comprehend. I was going to play the beta. I was a fool to think I was capable of avoiding it- of not seeing for myself.

As I did in the beta for Destiny 1, I leave Destiny 2 cautioning everyone against getting hyped. Smart changes have occurred, of that there is no doubt. But Destiny is playing catchup for the sins of the first, and it’s not enough to merely improve on the first. There are so many wrongs to right- the dearth of content, the incoherent storytelling, the tedious mechanics in everything but the most lategame of content. The storytelling was better in the single story mission they let me play, and the mechanics were more varied than Destiny 1’s solo missions, but… well, even if these carried across the entire game, was it enough?

Making a great game, especially a triple A game, is a moving target. Every year, expectations are pushed further as amazing new games are made. Sure, throwbacks can be successful, and even a valuable glimpse at things we’ve left behind. But if Destiny 2 simply hits the mark that Destiny 1 was aiming for, who will care? Nothing I saw in the beta made me expect anything more than that.

I will play Destiny 2. I don’t know if I think it will be good. I don’t even know if I’ll enjoy it. I’ll play it because, as I’ve heard so many people say before diving into bad games, “I need to know.” Good or bad, Destiny has me transfixed- and there are countless others like me. So many that will follow Destiny regardless of its actual quality because it’s impossible to look away. Its unique combination of great combat in tedious missions, amazing lore buried within a separate app, a powerful vision of magical space warriors whose abilities in practice are all so mundane… we can’t be free of it, of wanting to see it reach the promise held in its ideas. But to anyone not ensorcelled, please… wait for reviews. This one could break either way, and break hard.

I was thinking of it like a pitch in baseball, but other meanings of “break” work pretty well too, huh?