Destiny 2: Season of Arrivals – First Impressions

It has, admittedly, taken me a while to find the words to properly express how I feel about Destiny. And then, just when I was starting to despair, Th3Jez found the words for me. At 4:47 in this video, Th3Jez looks deep into my soul and sums up my feelings about Destiny so eloquently that it’s basically poetry. He says:

“This game is garbage from deep within its foundations but I can’t stop playing it and I love it so much.”

In one sentence, that’s it, that’s Destiny. This not only sums up the way I feel about Destiny since Shadowkeep, but also exactly how Season of Arrivals feels as well.

This is Bungie’s off year

Allow me to explain. Every alternate year, Bungie puts out content that’s largely rubbish, only to get their shit together the following year.

Destiny year 1 was far from great. I don’t need to rehash that, most of you know what that was like. That was Off Year 1. Then The Taken King happened, and Bungie experienced their first Good Year. Then there was the Gap Year, in which we got Rise of Iron, which was good enough, but nothing to write home about – it was just meant to tide us over until the next year.

The Gap Year was followed by Destiny 2 and its first two expansions which, as we all know, represent Off Year 2. Then Forsaken came out, the game was good again, the three seasons that followed were largely excellent (Opulence in particular was brilliant and I personally am fond of Gambit so I liked everything that year), which gave Bungie Good Year 2.

With Shadowkeep, Bungie began Off Year 2 in which, as time has proven, they will make bad decisions, apologise a great deal, promise to fix stuff the following year, and reveal all sorts of interesting roadmaps to make us believe fervently that a Good Year is coming soon.

Shadowkeep really set the tone for the quality of this year of Destiny. The campaign started powerfully, came to a screeching and abrupt halt, and created plot threads that were utterly abandoned by the two seasons that followed it. It dialed the meaningless grind up to eleven, throwing as much random busywork into the experience as possible just to keep people playing.

And, after two largely mediocre seasons, Bungie caps off a relentlessly average year with the slightly above average Season of Arrivals. Slightly.

But because it’s Bungie, and because they can’t make sensible decisions for two years in a row, for every good thing that they’ve done in Season of Arrivals, there’s also one dumb thing.

For every rose, a thorn

The Pyramid ships are here! Finally! The first one made itself known above Io, a place steeped in Destiny lore, and kicked off the season in terrifically ominous style. It felt like a powerful, meaningful beginning. So after I did a couple rounds of the first seasonal activity, I went to talk to Asher, just to see if he had anything to say. There was, after all, a goddamn pyramid floating above his rock and this is a man who complains about Cabal drills. Surely he’d have something to say.

Nope. Not a word. Not a peep. Turns out, for Asher to even acknowledge the pyramid’s existence, you need to wait for a quest to become available. Then, one of those steps involves talking to NPCs on different planets who suddenly acknowledge that oh yes, there is a problem, can you please go and shoot a thing or twenty.

The opening moments of the season were great. Incredibly powerful stuff, because Destiny has been building up to this for years and now it’s finally happening. This is the equivalent of the Reapers finally arriving in Mass Effect 3. But when the NPCs in the world fail to acknowledge it, the illusion shatters.

For all of their endless talk about ‘living, evolving world’, it’s disappointing to see that Bungie still can’t get the basics right.

And speaking of basics – the seasonal activity is a public event. A good old fashioned public event, harkening back to the first days of Destiny 2 when public events were the only thing that mattered. To Bungie’s credit, this particular event, called ‘Contact’ is tremendous fun. It’s short, incredibly intense, thoroughly action-packed, and does not involve Bungie’s favourite mechanic – ball throwing. For not having to throw a ball at anything alone, Contact earns bonus points in my book. Plus it’s just fun and I love running it.

But it’s a public event. Which means you may sometimes repeatedly load into empty instances and not really be able to complete it. You may be stuck with people whose light is too low, or who aren’t really interested in doing the event but are in the instance anyway, or who leave midway through the event forcing you (perhaps with one other random) to struggle through the thing on your own.

The problem with shoving an activity into a public space is that it’s harder for people who want to do the activity to find each other. I should be able to load into an instance on Titan just to faff around without taking away a spot from someone who wants to actually do the Contact event, and vice versa.

I’m reasonably certain that Bungie knows this. But either this is extremely difficult to implement, or whoever’s calling the shots doesn’t really think that this is a problem, despite the ‘public’ nature of these events largely tanking the ability of some people – myself included – to actually be able to appreciate these things. Later in the season, once people have maxed out their light and have nothing to grind for, trying to get a Contact completion will be a nightmare.

Then there’s weapon retirement and, unsurprisingly, Bungie’s implementation of it is relentlessly, almost impressively stupid. I love the idea of sunsetting, mind you. Giving weapons and armour a shelf life means that Bungie gets to meaningfully overhaul the weapon and perk pool over time and come up with some potentially creative collections of gear and perks simply because they’ll disappear from the meta the following year. It allows for periodic infusions of fresh, interesting ideas into what has become a very dull, very stale loot experience. Terrific, terrific idea.

But remember, we’re talking about Bungie here. So what does Bungie do? Bungie says, “Hey, that Last Perdition you have? The pulse rifle that you got during the Season of Opulence, with the great roll that basically carried you to Fabled so you could get your Recluse, remember that gun? We’re sunsetting that gun – you’ll only be able to infuse it to 1060 power so, after Season of Arrivals, it won’t be worth much. But don’t worry. DON’T WORRY! WE’RE GOING TO ADD LAST PERDITION BACK INTO THE LOOT POOL SO YOU CAN GRIND FOR IT ALL OVER AGAIN AFTER IT GOES AWAY IF YOU REALLY WANT IT ISN’T THAT AMAZING?”

Bungie’s implementation of sunsetting is pissing off beyond belief. Weapons that are being sunset at the end of Season of Arrivals have been reintroduced in Season of Arrivals so you can regrind your rolls all over again.

This is what Season of Arrivals, and by extension this whole year, have been like

There have been some genuinely good ideas. The return of Saint-14 – but while ignoring the darkness storyline completely. Trials coming back – but at the expense of PvE content. Rasputin resurgent – but he does squat for one whole season and then does a big thing at the end which is better watched in a timelapse video. Customizability with armour mods – but with arbitrary elemental restrictions for no particular reason so you have to maintain multiple sets of armour in a game that still – still – does not let you save loadouts.

There’s a small spark of genius in every idea that Bungie has. But the implementation of nearly everything that Bungie has introduced from Shadownkeep onwards has been lacking. It feels like decisions haven’t really been understood or thought through.

I find myself often asking ‘who approved this?’ as I play through the game. Surely there was a design document. Surely there were review meetings. Surely there were prototypes. Surely there was playtesting. Surely someone looked at some of these things and realised just how much was lacking. But whether for want of time, interest, or who knows what else, a lot of barely fleshed out, half-baked ideas made it into Destiny 2. And this entire year, from Shadowkeep onwards, has been poorer for it.

Season of Arrivals is no exception.

But I love it so much

Despite everything I have just said, I have spent every free moment of the last few days playing Destiny. You see, I kept thinking about the tree. It’s the single, most breathtaking piece of art that I’ve ever seen in Destiny — or even in videogames in general — and is the best thing to come out of Destiny since the first time I fired it up to play it. It’s the wallpaper on both my phone and my work laptop. That image is branded in my brain.

I was thinking of that tree on Io, everything that it stands for, and after not playing Destiny with any degree of seriousness for a good while, I needed to see it again. I needed to see it. To feel the sense of wonder that only Destiny can really inspire.

Because when I was there, on Io, in the shadow of the last place the Traveller touched — without saying or doing anything besides simply allowing me to be there — Bungie managed to make me feel like I was part of something incredible. Something magical. A story that spans ages, that began when the universe was still young, that will go on long after the universe spirals downward into darkness. A story in which my Titan, for the last five years, has played a small and meagre part. There on Io, for the briefest of moments, I was part of something bigger than myself.

And for all that Bungie frustrates me, for all that Destiny often frustrates me, the fact that the game can still make me feel like that is worth holding on to. Because in those moments in which Destiny actually lives up to its potential, it simply has no equal.

So, to sum this up …

If you enjoyed Shadowkeep and the content that came after it, you will probably enjoy Season of Arrivals. If you have not played Destiny in a while and just want more, Season of Arrivals will probably satisfy that urge.

But if you quit Destiny because Bungie needs to be held to a higher standard of content quality, they haven’t really made much progress and there is no reason to come back. They continue to make the mistakes they have always made and, as usual, we are being told that next year will be better.

Season of Arrivals, like so much of Destiny, is more of the same. It is garbage from deep within its foundations. But I can’t stop playing it. And I love it so much.

Trevor Coelho

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