Let’s talk about Destiny 2’s Warmind campaign and how Bungie can tell better stories

Spoilers for Warmind ahead. If you don’t want to know anything about the plot, paltry and disappointing as it is, this is when you should turn away.

Now – note first that only Warmind’s plot is paltry and disappointing, not everything else that came with the expansion. Warmind brought several other things to do, and it handles those things extremely well, but my first interaction with the expansion came from the story and, boy, was it lousy.

The expansion introduces Nokris, an abandoned son, and Xol, one of the Hive’s Worm Gods. If you played The Taken King and were invested in any way in the Books of Sorrow, this is a glorious, wonderful, magnificent thing. We’ve speculated about Nokris’ identity and the potential reasons for his absence from Hive records in the World’s Grave for years. The Worm Gods are amazing-sounding figures in Hive lore. But Nokris appears in one mission with little to no foreshadowing, hangs around for five minutes, and dies to a hail of bullets. Xol does the same.

Nokris and Xol each get one mission – Xol also gets scattered mentions in Zavala’s VO for the duration of Warmind – in which to make some sort of impact on the player. They made no impact on me. They came, they died, they were as ineffectual as a crazed Thrall hurtling drunkenly towards my Titan and they met the same fate as everyone else who stares down the barrel of my Titan’s fist gun.

This is a problem and it’s a consistent one.

So – either Bungie does not know how to tell good stories or their current delivery format prevents them from doing so. For the purposes of this discussion, I will assume the latter. And if they need to rectify that, they need to change the format of story delivery.

Embrace Public Events

Instead of half-arsed 5-mission expansions that feel like they’re tacked on to the endgame because people expect a campaign, Bungie can tell stories – drawn out, impactful, meaningful stories – through Public Events.

Consider this: After we killed Ghaul, logically, the Red War wasn’t really over. The Cabal had troops, they had commanders, they had ships. Why did the Cabal simply not press on? We certainly didn’t kill enough of them to cripple the fleet.

So, imagine, for a period of one to two weeks, at regular intervals, Cabal launch invasions in different parts of the EDZ. It’s a six-guardians-required public event, ten to fifteen minutes or so, and Cabal are dropping out of the sky like confetti at a wedding. The public event itself can have different objectives – hold down points, kill a fixed number of Cabal, kill a specific high-ranking target who spawn when enough of his troops are sent screaming to the abyss. Preferably more objectives which someone smarter and more imaginative than me can think up.

Anyway – if the fireteam does well enough, the event ends. If they do poorly, it escalates.

The event starts spawning tanks and Threshers. It gets tougher. It feels more like a warfront and significantly more insane than the ‘enemies are moving against each other’ event does when it shows up now. Functionally, it needs to be a lot like Escalation Protocol is now – scaled much higher than players will be at the time of the content drop, so players fare poorly in the event when it first launches and then dramatically better as their Light level goes up, creating the impression of slowly but steadily pushing the Cabal back and gaining ground.

So during Season 1, for 2 to 3 months, the Aftermath of the Red War starts on EDZ and goes through planets in the system – moving further away from Earth as players make more and more progress against the Cabal. The story evolves as we go through different worlds. The Cabal are getting more and more desperate. They start fiddling with tech on Nessus and riling up the Vex. That segues into Curse of Osiris, which could have flowed neatly on from the aftermath of the Red War – Cabal are screwing with Vex tech, trying to go back in time and fix their defeat, Osiris is forced to come out of the pathways between timelines to get someone on the job.

Suddenly, as the Cabal are fleeing the solar system, we have an entirely new problem to deal with. Vex are attempting to terraform other planets or some other Vexy rubbish, and we need to shoot their watery guts out. Cue a new series of public events, on different planets, which are relevant to the story and the Vex. During public events with the Vex, Osiris pops out of the timestream if certain objectives are met – similar to the way heroic Public Events can be triggered – to say hi and drop a nuke on the festitives. This runs for 2 to 3 months as Season 2.

When we’re dealing with the Vex mess, we get word – as it happened in Warmind – that the fleeing, scavenging Cabal have riled up something on Mars and we need to investigate. Cue Nokris, who we should hear about during the campaign and meet only during the last mission – in which he completely and utterly humiliates us in the story. We need to be challenged by Nokris in a manner worthy of his status as a Hive Necromancer and we need to be beaten the first time we meet him. Cue Season 3, in which we run public events on Titan and Earth and Mars, trying to figure out what Nokris is up to, fighting off armies of Hive as he attempts to swarm habited planets to feed his worm and his Worm God.

Each season culminates in one or two massive bosses, which we face in a multi-stage battle in a public space, in a strike, or as part of a raid. Season 1, for example, could have us taken on the Cabal with big enough Caballs to lead the remnants of the fleet, followed by a Light-resurrected Ghaul in the raid; Season 2 could have ended with us facing Papyrus or Panoptits or whatever the heck his name was, followed by Argos in the raid; and Season 3 builds up to Nokris and Xol.

Fitting in Lore and Rewards

I’ve talked briefly about this before, but named enemies could drop trophies that correspond to partial lore entries. Kill the same named boss multiple times and you complete the entry. It makes named enemies more meaningful beyond the fact that they simply have a name, a different-coloured health bar, and a bigger gun. Lore is in-game, meaning in a Mass Effect/Dragon Age-style codex, either voiced or not – but accessible at all times.

Rewards are tied to these trophy drops. Trophy drops get you partial blueprints for weapons and armour. Collect enough trophies and you unlock sets. Each trophy drop has a chance to trigger an entirely separate exotic quest, for weapons and armour pieces themed around that season. Season 1 is Cabal, Season 2 is Vex, Season 3 is Warmind/Hive. Each season will have multiple sets – tied to regular public events, Aftermath-themed public events, Crucible, Iron Banner.

Factions also return in a way that matters more than just their garbage token collection rallies – Dead Orbit, New Monarchy, and Future War Cult all have their own quests each season, each related to the Aftermath of the war at hand. Alternatively, one faction takes prominence each Season. Dead Orbit during the Red War because their fleet failed to anticipate and prevent the Cabal assault and the City no longer trusts them; Future War Cult during the Vex business because, hello, time travel and etc.; New Monarchy when Nokris shows up because I can’t think of anywhere else to put them.

There are also tiered rewards, related directly to event participation. Number of events participated in, events won, Cabal/Vex/Hive killed, named enemies killed, with leaderboards for individuals and fireteams who have contributed significantly to the war effort with weekly, monthly, and Seasonal rankings.

All loot rotates out after the season ends. Ranks are reset. Faction levels are reset. A new threat rears its ugly head. And we return to battle because, Guardians, the war never ends.

Also, we get to choose between weapon and armour packages again. We have kiosks for shades and ships. Between wars we take breaks to race sparrows. The Farm matters gain for some reason. Nightfalls have matchmaking. Tess only sells emotes and shaders, and is eventually found as a stain on the ground near her home because a Cabal drop pod landed on her at some point during the Aftermath of the Red War. Those are the only Cabal we don’t kill; a private felicitation ceremony is held, they are given medals, honours, a great feast, and sent home.

(Look, if I’m gonna dream, I might as well dream big, yes?)

But I digress.

But Bungie still needs to make money, so all of this can’t be free

I think Bungie can continue to charge for expansions as they do now.

You buy the expansion, which gives you the base story content and a collection of strikes. The related aftermath events that I spent all this time rambling about will only trigger if players own the expansion. I honestly think that’s perfectly fine. If I bought the base game to play the Red War, I need to only be dealing with the aftermath of the Red War. If Bungie’s willing to pack this much content into an expansion and the weeks/months that follow, they are perfectly justified in charging for it.

So the expansion still has four or five missions, but they set up the story that will be told over a period of two to three months, instead of telling the whole – ahem – ‘story’ themselves. And it has anywhere from four to six excellent strikes which no longer carry the burden of having to tie into the story. Also, as is now custom, expansions can also include a raid or raid lair.

And honestly, this much content would go a long way towards justifying a higher price tag. If Seasons were this meaningful and action packed, Bungie could probably sell more expensive DLC every quarter and I imagine that there are more people like me – surely I am not alone in this madness – who would gladly buy them just to finally be able to participate in wars the likes of which we’ve only ever read about in the grimoire.

So, to sum this up…

The way Bungie’s telling stories isn’t working. It just isn’t. They have, thus far, ruined Osiris and Saint-14, turned Brother Vance into a gibbering idiot, wasted Nokris, and turned what should have been an epic battle with a Worm God into a mild disagreement with an aggressive noodle. This need to end. And if the five mission format isn’t working, they seriously need to reconsider their method of delivery. That is all. Thank you for reading.

Trevor Coelho

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