Destiny 2: Let’s talk about Season of the Splicer’s Epilogue

Spoilers within. Also, the Epilogue is pretty awful.

After a season of simmering tension between the people of the Last City (who have been riled up by Lakshmi-2 of the Future War Cult) and the Eliksni of the House of Light, things finally come to a head in the Last City itself. Lakshmi opens a gateway to the Vex network directly in the Eliksni Quarter and after roughly ten to twelve minutes of dull-as-dishwater fighting, the portal is closed, the Eliksni are saved, one cutscene plays, and the epilogue is … done?

It’s not so much that we need to defend the Eliksni from a Vex onslaught as much as it is that we need to deal with a minor inconvenience of Vex before we fuck off to gild Conqueror or Dredgen or something. That’s how bad the Epilogue is. It’s short. It’s paced terribly. It is accompanied by a rather lousy cutscene. And it has no real emotional impact whatsoever. The one thing that it does exceptionally well, mind, is the delivery of dialogue. Mithrax, Ikora, and Saint-14 all sound frantic, genuinely caught by surprise at a threat that they did not plan for or anticipate. Problem is, the threat itself is laughably pitiful.

I was originally not going to waste time writing about this since writing this is probably going to take me longer than it took me to play the actual Epilogue. But then I saw a tweet from Joe Blackburn that got me somewhat riled up.

It says:

The team has really raised the bar these past few months. From art, activities, rewards, and narrative its inspiring to see it all come together. Love watching what used to be some of our biggest weaknesses turn into our greatest strengths.

Most of what he says is accurate. Art is fantastic. Bungie has set a bar so high that few, if any games on any platform have the capacity to match it. Activities have been a mix of highs and lows across the years and, outside of raids which have always been stellar — including the new Vault of Glass, which I truly believe is far superior to the original — there are enough interesting reasons to come back to Destiny, week after week. Rewards have been especially good this season; I’ve enjoyed the weapons, the armour chase, and actually took the time to build out a collection of high-stat armour sets for my Titan just because the grind to do so was both enjoyable and achievable.

But narrative? Oh no.

Bungie has some fantastic lore. They’re incredible at world-building. They have a massive collection of characters and places and races with tremendous story potential. But their ability to actually use these pieces, to bring them together coherently and meaningfully, is almost impressively bad.

All of Destiny’s stories lie firmly in the relentlessly-mediocre-to-somewhat-decent range of quality. Drip-feeding tiny bits of story through repeatable weekly missions has reduced seasonal storylines to a handful of lines of dialogue and one weekly lore card, none of which tend to be especially meaningful in the context of everything that is happening in the game. I do understand that it’s hard to build momentum and create urgency when you’re also trying to drag a storyline out over three months. But the seasonal approach to storytelling feels like it’s doing more harm than good.

Take Season of the Splicer, for example. At one point, the Tower was covered in Taken blights. They were everywhere. And not a single one of the Tower’s many NPCs had so much as a word to say about the matter. Sure, dialogue is expensive and time-consuming to record. But what about a few lines of text? What about moving people around so they look like they’re looking at the blights or reacting to their presence in some believable way? Hell, why not clear the Tower out for a couple of weeks? Just leave Zavala and Ikora in their spots and give us some text saying that the Tower has been quarantined. Something.

There was a blight just behind Zavala when all of this was going on. Zavala was facing away from it, staring out into the distance as is his custom. But there were also two guards with rifles standing and facing away from the blight. In what universe does this make sense? Maybe point the guns towards the big nasty Taken thing that just randomly showed up?

Then, later, when the Endless Night finally lifted, the sun was just suddenly and randomly shining at reset. With no comment from NPCs. No dialogue, however minor, from the major players in the Tower. No relief. No reaction at all to the end of an event that supposedly had the Last City buckling under its weight. Sure, Mithrax had things to say but he has things to say every week. But when something big happens, a hell of a lot more people than Mithrax need to have something to say.

And if that wasn’t irritating enough, we now come to the Epilogue. I expected little to nothing from the experience, and I was still disappointed. I knew there would be an Override in the Last City. I assumed it would be in the Eliksni Quarter. So when I launched the Override mission, I was hoping that Bungie would have at least tried to do something interesting with the way they executed it. Regrettably, I was wrong.

Overrides are a cakewalk at the best of times, with far too few enemies for a six-player activity. And, given the context of this particular Override, since it would have come as a surprise to everyone in the Last City, it’s reasonable to assume Guardians wouldn’t have been able to assemble in time to defend the Eliksni Quarter, making it the perfect excuse to create a solo Override mission.

In that scenario, one Guardian — our Guardian — would make it to the Eliksni Quarter in time to fight off the Vex. Then, while Saint-14 and Mithrax defend the Eliksni, our Guardian would enter the Vex network and close the gate. A solo Override would have been a good change of pace from the seasonal formula, maintaining story context while not requiring a whole new event, story mission, or expunge to be created. It would have made sense.

But no. I matched up with five other random Guardians. We stomped the Override flat. The Override itself had Taken spawning instead of Vex, which also seems relentlessly stupid given that subsequent cutscene shows Saint-14 and Mithrax fighting Vex and not Taken. I was done with the mission in about ten minutes, probably less, without even trying.

And then, after the mission ended, came what is probably one of Destiny’s worst cutscenes ever. Saint-14 and Mithrax are defending a group of Eliksni from Vex who cannot hit a single shot. Saint-14, legendary Titan, whose helm buffs the Ward of Dawn, did not use his Ward of Dawn. Not once. Hell, he didn’t even put up a barricade. Mithrax, Sacred Splicer, with his deep and profound understanding of technology, just sort of zapped at Vex with Queenbreaker’s Bow.

There was even a point during the cinematic at which Saint-14 and Mithrax actually stopped shooting the Vex so they could gesture heroically and yell inspiring dialogue at each other, and the Vex still didn’t land a single shot. Where were these Vex when I was doing day 1 VoG, for fuck’s sake? The only way those two were ever in danger of dying was if they shot themselves or each other. And it’s a miracle that the Vex are even considered a threat in this universe because they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn if they were throwing an even bigger barn at it.

But, despite all of this, I’m seeing people on Twitter and Reddit applaud this bare-boned monstrosity of a story conclusion. There are people who have actually said the Epilogue made them cry — and not tears of rage or frustration or disappointment. These people were actually so affected by this footnote-on-a-post-it of story content that they were actually moved to tears.

I can only assume that all of these people have never read a good book, watched a good movie, played a good videogame, or were perhaps born at the very beginning of Season of the Splicer and therefore this is their first real exposure to even the idea of a narrative.

None of this should be applauded. Bungie has spent the better part of a decade telling impressively forgettable stories. Destiny continues to exist almost entirely based on the strength of its gameplay.

And Destiny’s gameplay is genuinely amazing. Whether experienced solo or with friends (although it’s much better with friends), Destiny is unequivocally some of the most enjoyable FPS content that’s available today. It caters to an impressively wide audience as well — from folks who only hop on for a couple of hours a week to those who dedicate hours every day in pursuit of perfect rolls of the best items. There’s a great deal to enjoy here and there has been for years now. It’s why I still play and why, despite the god-awful in-game storytelling, I continue to play.

But Bungie also only does the bare minimum when it comes to in-game storytelling. Maybe the problem is time or resources. Maybe they have a vision that they’re simply incapable of executing within the constraints of the seasonal model. I don’t know what the problem is. But the story of Destiny has been a problem since 2014. Seven years is a long, long time to have gone without even coming close to a solution. Sure, we have grimoire in the game now, but what else has really changed for the better?

If anything, Bungie’s ability to tell a story in-game has gotten worse since they scrapped the idea of doing proper campaigns and moved into the seasonal model. At this point, I’d prefer to have no story content for the bulk of the year and then one big chunk of (potentially meaningful) story in an annual expansion, rather than be endlessly disappointed by poorly executed story beats and wasted opportunities.

Instead of story content, give us more lore books during the seasons. Bungie may not be able to tell a good seasonal story, but they sure as hell can write one. I’d much rather be reading page after page of well-written history and backstory that fleshes out the universe, the factions, and the characters, than have to deal with these profoundly forgettable and largely disappointing seasonal narratives.

And sure, maybe Joe’s right. Maybe the narrative bar has been raised over the last few seasons. But the bar was already disappointingly low to begin with. Getting it a couple of inches off the ground isn’t anywhere near good enough. The real standard for quality is set by the teams that are responsible for art, sound, and gameplay design. These are Bungie’s greatest strengths.

Narrative continues to be its greatest weakness.

Trevor Coelho

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