Year 7 of the looter shooter franchise is close but Bungie’s inability to tell a compelling story remains.
There’s never a dull moment when Bungie’s Destiny series is involved. The game launched as a venerable dumpster fire, possessing great gunplay and gorgeous visuals but a terrible story, repetitive missions, a nonsense story and lackluster end-game content. From there, it’s seen every controversy and outrage you can imagine. Overpriced DLCs, selling dance emotes, content droughts, matchmaking woes, balance issues, Eververse, a sequel that reset everyone’s progress and streamlined the end-game to an insulting degree, reskinned loot, even more overpriced DLC, XP throttling, RNG loot boxes, more matchmaking woes – the list goes on and on.
Last year, the company parted with Activision and made Destiny 2 free to play, adopting a seasonal battle pass approach starting with Shadowkeep (though the concept of seasons only really got rolling after the launch of Forsaken). Of course, this year is no different with Destiny 2: Beyond Light but the shared world shooter is undergoing its most radical shift yet. With the expansion’s launch in November, more than half of the current game’s content will be going into the Destiny Content Vault.
This means that Strikes, Crucible maps, Exotic quests, campaigns and entire planets are being effectively retired. Some Exotics, like Whisper of the Worm and Outbreak Perfected, can only be obtained through missions like The Whisper and Zero Hour. With those missions being removed, there won’t be any way to obtain them until Bungie introduces a new mechanic down the line (which it’s currently working on).
The justification for this approach is that the current game has become too bloated and requires some excessive trimming not to only make way for new content but ensure better performance. Of course, Bungie is also using the vault as a means to not only reintroduce this content down the line but to bring back old Destiny 1 content. Say hello to the Cosmodrome in Destiny 2 in November, though it’s not going to be the full size version from the first game. The Vault of Glass is also coming back sometime post-expansion launch.
However, some interesting bits of information surrounding the Destiny Content Vault have been going around in the past few weeks. It all started with YouTuber Aztecross making a video stating that Beyond Light was essentially Destiny 3. This is due to a meeting that took place last year with Bungie director Luke Smith meeting with content creators about the current state of the game. Apparently, Smith said that the vault was for the purpose of rotating out planets and activities to improve them. This “rebuilding” process was also necessary given the number of bugs in the game.
Even more interesting is that Smith apparently asked why these content creators wanted Destiny 3 at all and noted that delivering larger new play spaces, more RPG elements and so on was feasible with the current game. Of course, I say “apparently” because Bungie hasn’t confirmed any of this when explaining the Destiny Content Vault. Furthermore, Aztecross indicated that he may breaking some kind of non-disclosure agreement by airing all of this but felt it was necessary because it reflected well on the developer’s overall goal. Again, Bungie neither confirmed nor denied all of this.
Regardless of what the current plan is, it’s already obvious that Bungie isn’t making a Destiny 3. On top of Beyond Light and the Destiny Content Vault, it also unveiled the next two major expansions coming to the franchise – The Witch Queen and LightFall – in 2021 and 2022. Furthermore, the game’s current state as a free to play title and pseudo-MMO doesn’t serve as incentive to pump out a new sequel. There’s a reason why you haven’t seen sequels to League of Legends or Dota 2, much less World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 14 or even Phantasy Star Online 2. Along with cultivating communities on a certain base, the sheer amount of in-game purchases and the like would be difficult to carry over into a new game.
Bungie would know – it faced similar kinds of backlash with Destiny 2. While many were intrigued by the new story and overhauled mechanics (before mercilessly tearing down both after launch), there were plenty annoyed about having to leave behind several years worth of progress. Removing everyone’s favourite loot, only to reintroduce and resell it to them down the line didn’t help matters either. Some of these mistakes are being avoided while others aren’t.
However, it’s important to point out what purpose the Destiny Content Vault really is. Much like the various seasons that Bungie has released and the timed content it’s put out, this is a means to get people playing via FOMO or Fear of Missing Out. With Destiny 1 expansions, players were encouraged to line up from launch and get themselves raid ready. If you didn’t or perhaps fell behind on the grind, there was no guarantee that you’d be able to participate in the shiny new end-game content. And the more you delayed this process, the less likely you were to find other players for raids.
With Destiny 2 post-Shadowkeep, the application of FOMO has been a lot more obvious. Experience this limited time seasonal content now because it’s going to be gone when the season ends! Grind out this battle pass and get all of that loot because it’ll be gone when the season ends (despite a lot of the armor being reintroduced in later seasons). Even now, you should probably hop into Destiny 2 and get as many Exotics and Catalysts as you can, or maybe even enjoy all of the content that’s there while it lasts. Because in due time, it’s all going to be gone.
Such an approach isn’t really new. In fact, Fortnite started the whole vaulting process way before, throwing guns, items and other crazy mechanics away, only to sometimes bring them back later (which was more of a way to keep the game fresh but still). The same could be said of Battle Passes, limited time events, cosmetics, special DLC tied to real-world events (whether it’s Street Fighter 5 tournament skins or Overwatch League All-Stars skins). You could even go further into the real world when it comes to limited time collectible figures, special editions, fancy console variants and so on. For better or worse, FOMO is an inherent part of commercialism so it only makes sense to see video games adopt it.
My main qualm with Bungie’s approach isn’t necessarily to do with the removal or return of content. I’ve long since abandoned any pretense of the game being a looter shooter where I create the most powerful character, much less participate in a collection game to gather every item available. But the one thing that’s hard to abandon is that sense of wanting for greater things. Of following a story and ultimately see the world grow, if not being influenced by my actions. Which only seems fair given how many cosmic shifts are taking place with each new Hive pantheon death but isn’t really happening.
And while the story seems like it’s on some kind of track, it doesn’t feel wholly organic. Instead, events happen as more of a consequence of Bungie’s live-service practices as opposed any actual plot development. Beyond Light sees players traveling to Europa to deal with a new Kell of Darkness. In-game, Europa hasn’t been mentioned (and if it has, it’s inconsequential to the point of not existing) but suddenly becomes important because, well, Darkness and that’s where the new expansion is. It’s a shame because the House of Darkness is composed of former House of Devils, Wolves and Dusk members, all who have had interesting stories in the universe.
Even crazier is the fact that Eramis and her pre-House of Darkness crew actually had a role in the Zero Hour Exotic quest. However, that didn’t serve to plant the seeds for what would happen next. No, instead, Eramis is just on Europa now and has the House of Darkness.
Maybe Beyond Light will explain what she was up to in the Grimoire but all this lore feels like an after-thought as opposed to actual story-telling that’s playing out before us. Look no further than the current goings-on during Season of Arrivals. The Traveler’s Chosen Exotic quest finally dropped and it saw players helping various vendors like Asher Mir and Sloane evacuate their planets. But did you know that vendors like Asher Mir, Sloane and Brother Vance have been killed during the evacuation of various planets against the Pyramids of the Darkness?
It’s all according to the lore that players have collected recently but there’s a problem: The vendors are still very much alive on these planets. So what gives?
Well, Beyond Light was delayed from its launch in September 10th, which also meant that old destinations have been delayed in their vaulting. This was meant to be a send-off of sorts for these characters, explaining their absence for the future. Due to the expansion being delayed and Bungie not wanting to hold back on content, this weird mix of story-telling has happened. It’s not something that you can really blame the developer for but it does highlight the problems of trying to pursue an evolving story like this.
Destiny has never really known what kind of story it’s trying to tell. Blame the live-service model and shifting creative decisions throughout the years but it’s just been one big mess since day one. The first game took a dark sci-fi fantasy route that was completely lost when it came to explaining what players were doing, who the enemy was and what exactly they were trying to accomplish. Things improved with subsequent expansions but the core story never really advanced forward.
Cue Destiny 2 and Bungie seemed keen on turning the game into a Marvel Cinematic Universe wannabe, desperately trying to retcon several key elements of the lore while pretending it was a brand new beginning. Several key characters like Lord Saladin, who had players helped in Rise of Iron, didn’t even recognize them – and that was just the tip of the immersion-breaking for players. Brother Vance was retconned to be a fanboy for Osiris. Cayde-6 became the venerable court jester. Even with some interesting lore bits here and there, the story being told in-game was just a mess.
One can find many interesting tales in the lore but that overarching narrative isn’t translated to actual gameplay. For all the neat stories told about Oryx’s origin in The Taken King, the Books of Sorrow were interesting lore that had nothing to do with the game. Perhaps the one great instance of lore tying seamlessly into the gameplay was with Forsaken where Oryx’s actions, the Ahamkara, Riven’s fate the Dreaming City curse all culminated in an amazing way. And that’s been tossed aside and forgotten without even needing to remove it from the game.
That’s why it’s hard to really take assumptions like Beyond Light being Destiny 3 even the least bit seriously. It’s a new starting point, again, with which to introduce some new gameplay mechanics and hooks that players will engross themselves in before the next big expansion that overhauls everything. All the seasons and content in between is fluff. It’s time-wasting, sometimes entertaining fluff but fluff in the grand scheme of things. Osiris’s Sundial, the Leviathan, characters like Asher Mir, Failsafe and Hawthorne, Uldren Sov, the Vex Invasions and Vex Offensive – none of this feels like it’s part of an actual living universe, which makes their disappearance all the less significant from a story-telling perspective. And it’s not like they don’t have interesting stories – they do, just not in the actual gameplay being presented.
Everyone has their own idea of what a sequel should be, especially when it comes to RPGs. Having played The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky and Cold Steel series, I feel that each new game is a venerable new story with memorable characters and adventures just waiting to be told while expanding on the overall series as a whole. If I think of a game with a continuous story in the MMO space, one that continues building on its content rather than arbitrarily retiring or ripping it out for later, then titles like Final Fantasy 14 come to mind. These are games that treat their characters and events with respect, building up interesting settings and locations that are actually alive as opposed to pretty movie sets that you have no interaction with.
Even with all the loot changes, nerfs, bugs, Bounties, uninspired content and arbitrary grinds, Destiny 2 is a fun shooter. However, it’s also the epitome of the live-service model – chugging along, trying new tactics and gimmicks to say afloat, and drip-feeding content to its most loyal players. All pretense of telling a compelling story, much less one that will have a satisfying beginning, middle and end while being supported by consistent world-building and lore, was tossed out the window a long time ago. All that’s left is that next dopamine hit, that sensation of being part of something greater with the next expansion launch before inevitably waiting for next year’s offering to maybe, hopefully, finally move things forward.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.