Luke Smith, Game Director at Bungie, has just released the first’s Director’s Cut of 2020. In it, he looks at the state of the game as the end of Season of Dawn approaches, and talks briefly about plans for the future.
There’s a fair bit to unpack here so I’m going to do one piece at a time, focusing on things that are bothering me the most. The first of these is narrative, Bungie’s approach to it, and the ridiculously low bar that’s called out as something that’s been working well in the 2020 Director’s Cut – “seasonal narratives are starting to connect to one another.”
This is ridiculous
If you look, story-wise, at the most coherent period in Destiny’s history, it was the stretch from Crota’s End to The Taken King. Crota’s End had consequences, one of which was pissing off Crota’s big ol’ daddy. And then, with Taken invading the entire system, Oryx appeared, was a catastrophic pain in the ass, was ended with much aplomb, and remains the only really meaningful villain that Destiny has had from the beginning till date.
That was a coherent piece of storytelling. The killing of Crota had consequences, those consequences had an impact in the form of Oryx’s appearance, and even if the story didn’t really allow us, as players, to make meaningful choices to impact it, there was still consequence.
And consequence is especially important to consider, because it doesn’t feel like anything we’ve done since has really made any sort of impact.
The threat of Siva went nowhere. The Red Legion were barely a threat. Calus is floating around Nessus and growing fat from strength. I don’t even know why we wasted time on Panoptes. Nokris was a joke of a Hive Necromancer because he actually stayed dead. (Surely more capable Necromancers have contingency plans for their own passing?) Xol turned himself into a gun and then Bungie nerfed him into oblivion. The Dreaming City continues to be cursed. Uldren is … off doing Uldren things somewhere, I suppose? Eris is being endlessly cryptic on the moon. Toland keeps showing up, hovering about, and sounding cracked. And, most egregiously of all – in my eyes, at least – there is a goddamn pyramid ship buried under the moon that is just sort of hanging out and doing absolutely. goddamn. nothing.
Every single story that Destiny has told since The Taken King ended has felt disconnected, isolated, or largely meaningless to the narrative as a whole. It doesn’t feel like a complicated tapestry or an intricate puzzle in which many pieces and moving parts will slowly come together at some point to reveal some grand design.
Instead, it really feels like Bungie has no idea what the hell they’re doing (narratively) any more.
And it’s the pyramid ship business that frustrates me the most because it could have led to an incredible year of storytelling for Destiny 2 in 2020.
Season of the Undying could have been about the Vex marshalling on all worlds for an assault on the moon. Their goal? To lay claim to the pyramid ship for some unknown Vex reason – perhaps to take it or link it to the Black Garden. The darkness could have been manipulating them or this could have been something Vex-originated that lined up well with the Darkness’ purpose and plans, so the Vex were allowed – or even encouraged – to continue.
Instead of the utterly pointless Vex Offensive activity, we should have had war fronts on every planet. Instead of being a side-attraction, the Vex Invasions should have been the star of the show. And, starting with the outermost planets, over the season, the Vex would have slowly worked their way inwards.
The format wouldn’t have needed to change much. Vex Gates open, Gate Lords show up, attempt to open portals to bring Minds through. Minds are ferried from planet to planet, eventually landing up on the moon, culminating in a massive assault on the pyramid ship itself. Players have a chance to kill the Minds on a given planet – a community goal – and if enough Minds are killed, there aren’t as many on the next planet. If we fail, however, the next leg of the invasion is even worse.
Then, the Vex Invasions could have led to side-objectives in every PvE activity in the game. All strikes, for example, could have had their enemies and bosses switched out for Vex, or only Vex-themed strikes could have been in rotation.
Each strike could have been given a new mini-objective that occurs somewhere in the middle. Not necessarily hidden, though. It could have been as simple as: you enter a particular room, the mission objective changes, and suddenly you’re required to hack a portion of the Vex gate network, kill masses of Vex units, or destroy a massive Vex mini-boss – something that contributes to the war effort.
Gambit also could have had its objectives changed slightly. In the interest of self-preservation, the Drifter could have helped run simulations to prepare Guardians for the inevitable defense of the pyramid ship against the Vex assault. A couple of new maps, random waves of Vex enemies in Gambit rounds – accompanying Fallen or Hive, or perhaps with the occasional Vex Ultra showing up to cause havoc – and instead of glowing triangles, we could have picked up glowing squares for the season.
I can’t think of a good thing for PvP, but I imagine it could involve Shaxx yelling about Vex, insisting that more grenades be thrown, and some manner of token, which would allow PvP players to contribute to the war effort as well.
And then, much like the Empyrean Foundation of Season of Dawn, all of these things would be tracked. But they’d be tracked in-game, by Ikora, who’s running a sort of war room because she hasn’t had a damned thing to do for a couple of years now and is bored out of her beautiful skull.
But at the end, we fail
Imagine that. We hold off the Vex, stop the assault, end the invasions, but the-Darkness-by-way-of-pyramid-ship somehow managed to get what it wanted. Maybe the invasion was a distraction for us. Maybe the Darkness just needed the Vex to show up on the moon, so they wouldn’t be elsewhere. Doesn’t matter. Either way, whatever the reason, the Darkness gets what it wants.
All of the rumblings about the Vex draw Osiris out of the Infinite Forest. He’s seen things there. Terrible things. The Darkness and the Vex and … something else. Something worse. Osiris realises that he doesn’t know enough about the thing to even understand it, let alone stop it. He needs help. So do we. And the only person who can help is a long-dead Titan, the legendary Saint-14 himself, who we need to save by questing through time.
And, while all this is happening, all manner of Darkness-infused creatures – not Taken, preferably something worse – are assaulting all planets, invading all strikes, messing with the Drifter’s gambit. You get the idea.
For heaven’s sake, if we’re at war with the darkness and the whole goddamn universe, give. me. a. war. And if Bungie doesn’t know how, they might want to consider playing Mass Effect. Finding the pyramid ship should have had the same emotional and storytelling weight as Sovereign showing up at the Citadel. One of those was a moment to remember. The other was a massive, pointless Dorito sitting in a cave and trying really bloody hard to sound ominous.
It isn’t just the grind that has to matter, or the loot that has to matter. When you tease the great big bad of the series for five years – five. goddamned. years – the first in-game appearance of that thing needs to shake the foundations of the universe. These story moments have to matter. And right now, they’re every bit as forgettable as most of Destiny has become.
Now, these may not be great ideas, or even good ideas
But I hope you least think they’re connected, and that I’ve made the point that I’m trying to. Because that’s really what I want. Cohesive, coherent, consequence-driven storytelling.
What I don’t understand is how Bungie hasn’t figured this stuff out. Destiny came out in September 2014. It will complete its sixth year in 2020. And, despite all of the time that has passed, Bungie remains better at teasing stories than telling them.
They’re great with vague, seemingly momentous cutscenes that hint at a great deal and say very little. The cutscene of Eris in the pyramid ship is one example. The pointless exchange between Osiris and Rasputin in the Season of Dawn is another. Uldren’s awakening is a third. Bungie sets up things that they never really pay off in any meaningful capacity and, after six years, it’s beyond ridiculous.
For what it’s worth, the only storyline that feels like it was developed in any meaningful capacity is Shin Malphur’s. He’s the only character that I believe has genuinely evolved from his original, Destiny 1 incarnation to someone that feels meaningful and consequential to the story of Destiny 2.
Strides need to be made in the way Bungie tells stories in Destiny and they actually need to take a significant story from start to finish at some point. Sure, Season of the Undying and Season of Dawn are connected. Killing the Undying Mind did some timey-wimey shit and now the Red Legion are back (I refuse to share my thoughts on the Red Legion returning because that’s a multi-page rant by itself, fuck) and you need to stop them, blah, blah, blah.
No stakes. None. (I might have cared more if the Red Legion went after my vault again.) The premise for Season of Dawn was so wretchedly boring and so unashamedly mediocre that I haven’t been able to play the season beyond a handful of hours (more on that later).
And, meanwhile, as we throw balls at glowing Cabal in arenas on Mercury (because ball throwing is peak mechanics), there is a massive, evil Dorito sitting quietly beneath the moon … and Bungie has done absolutely nothing with it.
Sure, two seasons are connected. But the bar for connected seasonal narratives needs to be a hell of a lot higher than this.